This week, Apple confirmed the longstanding rumors that the company has agreed to acquire PrimeSense, the Israeli company that invented the technology behind the original Kinect for Xbox 360. All of Apple's moves are scrutinized closely, but this one is worth paying closer attention to than most.
The PrimeSense technology was astounding when it was first incorporated into the Kinect. This was not only because of what it could do — see you in 3D and model your skeletal structure as it observed you moving in physical space — but also because of how the company did it. Instead of imitating the $10,000 military-grade hardware of its predecessors, the company insisted on using off-the-shelf technology, whether hardware or software, so that the cost to deploy the solution would be laughably low, compared with prior imaging solutions. That's what made Microsoft so interested — Microsoft's own motion-sensing engineering group was years away from a homegrown Kinect experience and saw a chance to jump ahead of the market with PrimeSense. And jump it did, selling by our estimate more than 30 million cameras around the world, boosting sales of the Xbox 360 console even after it was already nearly five years old.
Now that Microsoft has moved beyond PrimeSense with the Xbox One and Apple has swooped in to buy the company, it will be tempting to think that Apple wants the technology so that it can finally make a successful play for the living room, something it has repeatedly failed to do with Apple TV. Certainly, the Primesense tech works great in the living room, and Apple would be foolish not to try it out there.
With the release of the Xbox One around the world today, Microsoft is now in position to see if it will catch up with Sony's successful PS4 introduction, which reportedly sold more than a million units on day one. Many are asking which console will win. That's actually the easy part. The harder question is whether game consoles will still matter in two years at all.
It feels a little like we've been here before. Back in 2007, both Sony and Microsoft were working hard to push the next generation of a technology they were convinced everyone would want. I'm not talking about the PS3 versus Xbox battle, though, but the war over high-definition video.
Most will barely remember that while Sony backed Blu-ray, which eventually won, Microsoft was betting hard on HD-DVD. I was courted at the time by both companies, eagerly trying to persuade me that their version of HD would win. We called the war for Sony at the time but made it clear that it would be a Pyrrhic victory: There would be precious few spoils to earn from that success.
We were right, much to Sony's distress. That's because the battle was fought over a physical storage format that was rapidly losing relevance. Digital downloads had already begun, although they would never really catch on. More importantly, that was the year that Netflix added online movie viewing, foreshadowing and encouraging a future that would be streamable.
That's why the right comparison today is not between this and the last-generation game console launches. It's instead between game consoles as a whole and all the dozens of other ways people can play games, watch video, interact with friends, and otherwise pass their free time.
If companies are to thrive in this digital age — where buyers, empowered by technology, are in control — what should B2B marketing leadership do to evolve and survive the current pace of change?
Evolution is one of those great marketing clichés. The progression of man from ape to Homo sapien in five simple steps is one of those popular images most of us are guilty of using at one point to illustrate progressive change. But cliché also implies recognizable. Ask anyone to describe Charles Darwin's theory in one short sentence, and you will hear, "Well, it's about the survival of the fittest."
It's interesting to note, on the 154th anniversary month of the first publication of On the Origin of Species, that this description doesn't quite go far enough. What Darwin said was, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." (Image source: Wikipedia shows the only image in the original publication of On the Origin of Species — Darwin's handwritten diagram showing how characteristics diverge over time.)
Listen up, B2B marketing leadership, this means you.
Over the past nine months I've been interviewing chief digital officers and senior digital leaders across a variety of industries to gain insight into the emerging role of digital leadership. My colleague Martin Gill and I wanted to discover why firms hire chief digital officers and what they are responsible for — more importantly I was looking to discover what CEOs should be doing to set up their businesses for success in a digital world.
One aspect of the research I'd like to highlight here is the need to think of digital as more than simply a bolt-on to your business. To create a digital business able to compete in the age of the customer, we need to think of building out a digital business ecosystem. I know what you're thinking — "not another ecosystem" — and yes, it's a very overused term, especially by consultants and analysts. But I simply can't think of a better term to describe the interconnected and codependent relationships needed in a fully digitized business (see diagram).
Regardless of your politics, you had to be amazed at the depth and breadth of the discussion around the impact on the Republican brand during the recent government shutdown. At times, it seemed that the health, survival, and credibility of the Republican brand generated more press than potential resolutions to the crisis at hand. And with good reason. The strength of the party’s brand — and the messages it represents — will have a significant impact on its success going forward.
Maintaining a strong brand with a clear, compelling, and relevant message is a universal challenge, whether you’re marketing a Fortune 500 company or a political party. As a business-to-business (B2B) CMO, it’s time to put your brand front and center — and make sure that it accurately represents your company strategy, provides value to your customers, and delivers on its promises. Why now?
Strong brands deliver strong results. B2B companies with strong brands deliver 20% higher financial returns than those with weaker brands. Case in point, IBM, the world’s strongest B2B brand, has consistently grown its brand value since 2006. In a world where CMOs are held increasingly accountable for business growth, developing and strengthening your brand must be a key focus.
Apple just announced that it has cumulatively sold more than 170 million iPads since the product first debuted in 2010. For context, if iPad Nation were a country, it would be roughly tied at No. 7 with Nigeria, set to eclipse Pakistan next quarter and Brazil the quarter after that.
This boldfaced proof of digital disruption’s power to upset markets has left companies in every industry struggling to keep up with a consumer population that is happily disrupting itself. For someone who spends his days researching digital disruption and modeling its effects, on the one hand, this is good news: Everybody believes in digital disruption. On the other hand, it raises a very real problem: Nobody knows what to do about it.
Today when I meet with companies bent on becoming digital disruptors, one of their first questions is no longer, "How much time do we have until we have to respond?" but rather, "How do we get started right now?"
There is no single answer to this. Some companies are best served by locating their disruption initiative outside the company in an innovation lab where it can quickly generate disruptive momentum. Others can get a boost of internal support by building an internal innovation team and drawing resources from a supportive corporate structure. And some companies can launch multiple focused disruptive initiatives across many different groups in the organization, each one tasked with a specific disruptive goal, as long as the culture of the company is ready to incubate the efforts.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of moderating panel discussions on the importance of a strong working relationship between CMOs and CIOs at the Direct Marketing Association 2013 Strategic Summit and the Forbes CMO Summit. Both panels were composed of a mix of CMOs and CIOs from some of the best-known organizations including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Akamai, Motorola Solutions, Collective and more. All of the participants reinforced the critical need to find a way to work together more closely. But they describe it more as a marriage of necessity than a relationship they are excited about.
It’s clear these two C-execs haven’t reached power couple status quite yet. In fact, a recent Accenture report confirms that while on the surface, CMOs and CIOs seem to agree, only one in 10 marketing and IT executives in that study said collaboration is at the right level. Taken together with my panel participant’s comments, it’s clear that only some progress is being made to align. In my new report, The CMO And CIO Must Accelerate On Their Path To Better Collaboration (subscription required) for which we partnered with Forbes to do our own investigation into this couple’s dynamics, we find that more collaboration is still needed. In other words, the relationship between CMOs and CIOs is in need of serious couple’s therapy.
I was fortunate to participate in a recent Forbes CMO Network invitation only event designed to explore how technology is presenting new ways for CMOs to think about, plan, and execute their marketing strategies.
The event, “Funding the Next Wave of Digital Disruption: An Insider’s View of the New Companies & Technologies Transforming Marketing,” hosted at the offices of leading venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) provided a unique insider’s view of the newest cutting-edge companies and technologies coming out of Silicon Valley.
I left the event with an even stronger belief that marketing and technology are forever intertwined. And, as highlighted in my "The CMO’s Role In Technology Purchasing" report (subscription required), it’s time to ramp up your technology IQ now or risk being left behind. Why now?
Watching Amazon.com cut the prices of last year’s Kindle Fire devices shortly after they debuted, you may have concluded that Amazon’s tablets weren’t performing well. You may have further speculated, as I did earlier this year, that maybe Amazon didn’t need to commit to the tablet strategy. After all, Amazon has a great relationship with its customers whether they’re on PCs, mobile devices, or iPads. You (and I) would be wrong. Today Amazon doubled down on a tablet strategy, announcing three new devices for sale later this year. A new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD (starting at $139), a 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (from $229), and an ultra-skinny 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX (from $379). In one fell swoop, Amazon:
Commits to tablets as a way of committing to customers. Yes, tens of millions of people already have iPads, but another 40 million people in the US will get their first tablet between now and the end of 2016. And chances are very, very good that Amazon has a credit card on file with most all of them.
Stacey and I caught up last week, and she peppered me with some interesting questions about the business value of thought leadership, how to organize/staff around thought leadership, and what are the leadership/governance models that work. We thought it would be fun to write up our chat in the form of a (rather lengthy) Q&A, shared with you below.
Reading through it, I think it's important to approach thought leadership as an organization, and not just a marketing activity or program. True thought leadership happens when the market talks back, and you get to exchange valuable insight with other leading thinkers on the topic. Kinda like Stacey and I do here.