A media frenzy arose last night when the Financial Times suggested it had word from the inside that Apple is closing in on buying Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion. The immediate response from all quarters has been puzzlement and on multiple levels. As the sun rose today, so did the doubts about the impending deal. Generally, large strategic acquisitions — like when Google bought Nest for a similar figure — can be justified on the basis of buying something you don’t already have: a promising new technology, a large customer base, or entrée into a desirable industry. None of these things apply to this acquisition by Apple. Acquisitions at a more mature business stage can typically be justified purely on a revenue or margin basis or the desire to snap up a brand with more energy. Those don’t apply here, either. Even those who have tried to stretch the argument a bit have suggested that Apple could be buying Beats purely for a quick road into the music streaming business as a hedge against Spotify — except that Apple owns the music industry and doesn’t need Beats to build the music streaming offering that the company has denied for years that it should even consider getting into.
April 22, 2014, was not just a regular Earth Day. It was also the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair, one of the most amazing wonders of the world for its time. The 1964 World’s Fair, along with the famous Isaac Asimov, set people’s imagination on fire with a glimpse of the future of technology and a series of predictions of what our life would be like in 2014. And as we reflect back to what the fair and Isaac prophesized about life 50 years into the future (or exactly where we are today in 2014), it’s uncanny how much of what was showcased and predicted are now a part of our everyday life. From satellite phones to multimedia communication, interactive 3D TV, and driverless cars, our world has definitely changed. But sadly, the infrastructure that supported it all, the fairgrounds themselves complete with the iconic 140-foot-tall unisphere, has remained stuck in the past, a relic of that historic point in 1964. And for marketers, this tale provides an important lesson to learn.
Google acquired Nest for billions, and then Facebook spent several more billion on Oculus VR. We’re only a few months into 2014, and already billions have been spent by some of the world’s largest digital players, with each of these companies eager to own the next big thing. Mobile is right here, right now, but everyone knows that very soon, there will be something else. But what else?
In the battle to find and claim the next device that everyone will want, these companies will soon realize that next big thing is not a thing at all: It’s your voice.
Voice control suffers from the same things plaguing augmented reality or virtual reality: It has been around for so long that we think we know what it is. Any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation knows that voice control involves invoking an invisible computer with a command, “Computer,” followed by a query, “How many Klingons does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Maybe that’s a question you don’t want the answer to, but the computer — as voiced by Majel Barrett in the TV series — would know it.
It’s possibly a long history of popular depictions of voice control that made us collectively show so much enthusiasm for Siri when Apple first debuted it in 2011. It’s also partly to blame for why we quickly turned on Siri, declaring her soothing semi-robotic tones to be merely amusing at best or irrelevant at worst.
When Microsoft recently announced its long-rumored Cortana voice service for Windows Phone 8.1 as a catch-up to both Siri and Google Now’s own voice interface, the interest was modest, perhaps because if Siri hasn’t changed the way millions of Apple users use millions of Apple devices, how can Microsoft initiate a wave of behavior change when it has so few Windows Phone users?
Here at the Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City, one announcement that’s creating buzz among the 6000-plus attendees is a new customer profiling feature. Called Master Marketing Profile (MMP), Adobe says this new capability gives marketers a view of customer data that spans a broad range of third-party systems, real-time analytics, and behavioral sources. (First of its kind in the industry? Not sure; Demandbase may care to differ, but I’ll let them settle that score separately.)
Dynamic customer profiling is something all marketers should get excited about.
It’s the type of technology evolution, when coupled with the right marketing practices, that is closing the gap between the amount of data available to us as marketers and our ability to get value from it. From my perspective, B2B marketers need to make a date with their big data destiny, and the time to schedule this appointment is now.
Empowered business buyers — sporting digital devices giving them information about and access to the products they want as consumers — now bring these always-on, always addressable expectations into the office. This presents big problems to B2B marketers, content to lead with products and features, who now find they need to fulfill these expanding digital expectations by getting closer to customers and knowing much more about them — a tough problem if access to, quality of, and practices around using customer data are underdeveloped.
For the past two weeks, the Sochi Olympic Winter Games showcased the best athletes in the world competing to win Olympic gold and be recognized as the best in the world. So, what does it really take to be an Olympian? A commitment to understanding the competitive environment to find your edge along with a willingness to put in the hard work to continuously excel above the rest.
Four years between Olympic Games is a lifetime in competitive sports. Yet from time to time, we find success stories such as Apolo Ohno (2002, 2006, 2010), the US women’s hockey team (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010), Dick Button (1948, 1952), and Bonnie Blair (four Olympic Games between 1984 and 1994) staying at the stop of their sport year and after year. How do these Olympians succeed when so many others have tried and failed? These unique stars understand that they must learn, grow, and evolve as the sport they play in changes. Beyond keeping up with the daily physical demands and competitive nature of the competition, they understand that staying at the top and winning requires them to be agile, evolve their skills, and always be looking just ahead of the curve.
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News out today confirms that Sony has indeed sold off its Vaio PC arm, ending 17 years in the personal computer business. And that CEO Kazuo Hirai has also decided to separate the TV division into a standalone unit in order to better heal it. Although he insists for now that Sony has no plans to sell that division, it would be foolish of the company not to consider any good offers. If there are any.
Because really, who would want that business? It has lost nearly $8 billion in the last 10 years and has been rapidly losing share to Samsung and LG and is about to get attacked by Chinese TV makers eager to have more influence in the US and other Western markets. I saw a very impressive offering from Hisense, TCL, and Haier at this year’s CES and expect them to make inroads against the more expensive panels from Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp, all of which have struggled to keep up.
Marketers, you are officially on notice: The very idea of brand relationship is going to become irrelevant thanks to digital disruption. If you continue to focus on building a wonderful brand relationship with your customer, you will one day awake to find that someone else has taken your place in your customer’s life — not with a more compelling brand relationship, but with a more compelling digital customer relationship.
Someone out there is building the “ultimate customer relationship,” a type of digital bridge I write about in my most recent Forrester report, "Start to Build Your Ultimate Customer Relationship." That ultimate digital customer relationship is the type of relationship that digital tools and services enable and that digital consumers welcome. They’re happily signing up for anything that tethers them to a source that can give them more of what they want, more easily than before. Even with the supposed threat of privacy all around us, consumers are diving into deep digital relationships with companies or brands that deal with the most sensitive aspects of their lives. Weight-loss app Lose It helps users log personal information such as calories consumed and tell others of their goals, leading to the loss of more than 27 million pounds so far; Square gets consumers to email cash to friends — thus introducing them to Square and inducing them to sign up; and Airbnb has welcomed more than half a million listings of spare rooms and apartments that have been visited by more than 9 million guests. What’s more personal than your weight, your money, and your spare room?
Second only to March Madness (with the latest from Warren Buffet), this is my favorite time of year for sports — conference championship weekend and the run-up to the Super Bowl. While the Patriots fell short this past Sunday and Belichick is far from my favorite coach, I have to admit that his belief that the team must continuously understand the field they play in and adapt their game plan to win hit home for me as lessons that marketers can learn.
While X’s and O’s matter in the NFL game, as I discussed in my “How To Build A Strong B2B Brand“ report (subscription required), for business-to-business (B2B) marketers, maintaining a strong brand with a clear, compelling, and relevant message is the key to meet empowered buyers’ changing needs head-on and win the battle of mindshare and wallet share. As a B2B marketer or sales enablement professional, it’s time to put your brand and go-to-market message front and center — and make sure that it accurately provides value to your customers across all of the stages of the buying journey.
In this research (subscription required), we found that, on average, B2B marketers expect to see budgets increase by 6%, compared with last year. This outlook is cautiously optimistic since 45% of respondents hope to hold budgets flat with 2013 and another 22% expect to see still more decreases. Pressure to hold the line on spending continues as 73% of respondents say they still feel budget pressure. (You can also see AdAge coverage of this survey here. And from CRM.com here.)
But here's the kicker; managing leads to revenue shouldn't end with a signed contract but should continue across the entire customer life cyle. It's about turning leads into long-term loyal customers. After all, a revenue event is a revenue event; it doesn't matter if it happens from engaging with a prospect or with an existing customer.