Gender-type products and branding

Genders-specificity has significant meaning in marketing. In many cases, the brand personality depends on it. Typically, we still associate a doll and a football with girls and boys respectively. But there are many products that are out of this classification, kind of gender-neutral. How about a laptop? Does a bottle of water have gender association? Most likely not.

However, marketers see opportunities where others don’t. How about making a gender connection to a gender-neutral product? For example, in many cultures, pink is perceived pink_laptopas a “female” biased color. How about making a pink laptop and transform its gender neutrality? Such a change may make certain segments of female customers to crave for these laptops. In fact, Google Trend shows that “HP pink laptop” is the most searched word among “pink laptop” brands. There are other “pink” words that are associated with these searches, although it may not necessarily imply that all of them were done by female consumers. Interestingly, many people searched for “pink elephants” as well. Most likely inspired by Disney’s Dumbo? No wonder marketers have better tools today to know what you are thinking!

Do you think such transformation will always contribute to a brand’s strength?

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Three challenges in E-branding

E-branding could be seen as an extended part of general brand management with some extended characteristics typical to online environment. Therefore, what we know about brand management is also applicable in e-branding, with the difference that the modus operandi, situational factors and customers’ issues could be different. Based on past research and consumer experiences, there could be three key challenges that we need to face when managing e-branding efforts. These are: managing off-line branding, managing online reputation (consists of managing online community, word of “mouse”, and online credibility), and adoption of technology and design. In fact, these three factors are critically interconnected to each other.

First, we often forget the fact that offline branding acts as a backbone for online branding. It matters a lot how offline advertising, pricing and distribution are designed for efficiency. It matters how the product delivers its promise to actual customers to create an offline reputation that will ultimately be reflected in online messages. Think of Apple. Its online reputation is backed by its core product features and offline services.

Second, managing online reputation is a huge challenge. Consumers may have some negative experiences which can have quick and devastating effects on potential customers, even though the percentage of faults may Emailbe meager. It matters how quickly the complaints and redress requests are taken care of. Trust is another factor in online environment. Customers need to know that their personal information, including credit cards will not be abused. Flood of spam emails after buying something online may indicate that the company has sold your email address to advertisers, of course, with your inadvertent consent written under “agree” button in fine prints that we hardly read. How careful is the company in sending a quality product, on time, and as advertised in their websites?

Online community is another front that company should take care of. Product enthusiasts write blogs, comment on facebook, or even write opinions in company’s facebook page. The e-branding plan must spell a interntclear strategy on how these online communities will be managed and engaged effectively. Well-managed and engaged online communities offer three unique advantages to companies. These online forums provide valuable feedback on customer experience, brilliant improvement ideas may come from customers, and customers often help other customers to solve product related problems. Canon camera blogs could be excellent examples where users provide help to other users in their product/photography problems. Some brands tend to have only online presence and almost no consumer engagement (look at the facebook page of Batabd). Mere online presence and no interaction with consumers are synonymous to online notice boards! This is not what e-branding is all about. In contrast, the facebook page of Banglalink Mela could be a good engaging example. Ultimately, employing PR professionals in handling online communities may save money and reputation for the company in the long-run. This is not an easy or trifle job that a company may overlook, underemphasize or underfund.

Third, the technical backbone, particularly security and user-friendly web-design have great impact on online branding. Is your infrastructure geared to handle the peak number of visitors? How secure is it from online threats and information leaks? Do customers feel comfortable to navigate and get all the information they need? In addition, the online environment neither has a front-desk executive, nor any sales person that approaches you for a sale. The web-design serves these difficult roles at the same time! A well-thought-out design is imperative besides offline branding and a vibrant online community.

These challenges are not easy to handle at the same time, when they are blurred by many smaller challenges as well. These tasks cannot be handled by only IT professionals or brand professionals alone. It needs cohesive and comprehensive teamwork under a common e-branding plan. After all, putting up a facebook page like a notice-board is not e-branding.

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Dechnology: The story of getting close to tech customers

Dechnology stands for products where design and technology are intertwined to give unique customer experience. There are conflicts whether engineers or marketers alone have the skills necessary to understand technology and customers’ preferences and vice-versa, it appears that the co-integration of these skills are vital for a competitive tech market-space.

While mere existence of technology does not mean anything to customers unless supported by useful customer-end applications, this is also the fact that difference in design can make a big difference to customers even with the same tech products. This is to be noted here that the concepts of design and style are not the same (click here). While “design” is more linked to “functionality”, “style” is more linked to appearance and aesthetic part of it. So dechnology products are actually outcomes of understanding unique customer insights, crafted with technology to confer superior customer experience through functionality.

It appears that we need more cohesive teams of tech and marketing people to deal with this dechnology issues.

 

 

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Branding Free Email Services

When it comes to something “free”, we unconsciously signal our minds to expect less as compared with the “paid” version. To go straight to the topic, Gmail branded itself by breaking this perception off as compared email1with its competition. The winning formula has been very simple, classic and obvious. Yet, it seemed that competitors traditionally followed the same “less expectation” paradigm when designing their free email services, until Gmail came up with its overwhelming muscles, whistles and bells. This proved once again that marginal and thrifty increment in rewards cannot pull and keep your customers, particularly when another competitor can sweep you with a sudden impact of bundle that creates a wow effect.

How about copying the competition? Laggards may not have that good luck in the world of branding.

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Is There Any Difference Between Design and Style?

When it comes to branding, it is important to talk about the difference between design and style. In everyday terms, we often interchangeably use these words meaning the same. However, they are not the same thing.

Style is more concerned with visuals or outer look of a product. It creates important aesthetic value for consumers. On the other hand, design is more concerned with the basic layout of a product with its core functionality and user experience in mind. For example, assume that someone copies the outer look of an iphone (this would be illegal) but the phone operates with Android OS, then the “style” is the same as iphone but the “design” is not. The phone is, at least aesthetically, styled like iphone, but it is designed to operate like any other Android phone. On another note, if a motorbike is colored differently to attract college going students, with some minor changes to make it look like an alien vehicle, we are talking about style here, and not the design. Can the style affect the design aspect in some cases? It could. If the alien style of the chassis makes it easier for the bike to reduce air-resistance and achieve a smoother ride, then we can say the style has its “design effect”. Can the design influence the style in other cases? It could. If a product like a pair of sunglasses is “designed” to use in a sunny day, then it would be “styled” with dark colors to achieve its design objective. The dark color is the inevitable “style effect” of design objective in mind.

As brand professionals, we must be sure to think about which one we are going to change for creating a superior customer value. While both types of changes may create superior customer value, it is usually the design change that is more often looked upon as revolutionary by customers. Sometimes it might be the change in style that can give us added mileage against competitors. At the end, it is always helpful to see the fine line between the two.

 

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Facebook’s Selective Feed: Did you “Like” It?

Have you noticed how Facebook is becoming very selective in giving you notifications of friend’s updates? Unlike 50 notifications a day no matter who posted it from your friends’ list, it is now focusing on fewer selective feeds based on the level of interaction (e.g., liking or commenting) with your friends. The less you interact with a friend, the less likely you receive notification from Facebook in the news feed. Well, if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on pretty much everybody, you won’t be able to tell the difference in the new feed stream. But the good part of this selective feed is that you are not tired of using facebook since your feeds are selective. Sometimes you might wonder how come Facebook knew from whom you expect status updates most! We don’t feel like being spammed like we feel about our emails, where many of us are already having over 1,000 unread emails accumulated from the past, that we did not feel like to delete but was never opened at all!

There is a problem though. Even if you very much “liked” somebody’s post in the past who was not frequently active in Facebook, the lower interaction arising out this situation may make his feed less visible to you in future. This does not mean that you liked his posts less. It seems that Facebook treats “very much like” and “somewhat like” at the same level once you click the “like” button. And it is legitimately so because our emotions are in our minds, and a mouse blinking with pesky led bulbs has no way to tell facebook about the strength of our likes.  This sort of selective feeds may sometimes lead you to search for friends in facebook because you feel they had no status updates, where they actually had status updates that became missing in your feed. So where is the improvement then? Facebook revealed these changes and experiments in the beginning of 2015, and we hope it would be able to read our minds better on what news-feed we really want and what we don’t.

 

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Supersize Cellphones: What is the Future?

(You might be interested to read the Part I first).

Have you noticed why we don’t complain much about all these bulky gadgets? Because the functional leap is huge. That big thing in our hand is a powerful communication hub, our news source, our weather channel, our navigation equipment, our banking services, a video camera to catch up our memorable moments, or we can just take a casual snap of an interesting event and instantly share with friends, what not? The whole world can be connected with so many apps and interesting features. So why complain about the size when you have overwhelming functionality?

In future, more surprises are probably waiting for us. The upcoming Nano-technology would most likely find a way in future cellphones. Internet would most likely be free. The only thing we might need to carry is the screen (of course, in a user-friendly format:), because everything else will be compact and light-weight. Probably the screen size won’t be small, but it might become extremely light-weight, compact and with a supercharged long-lasting battery. How about functionality? Only time will reveal. But it is most likely that the next generation of consumers would laugh at the configuration and functionality of our current smart-phones just as we did to our earlier generations of cellphones!

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Supersize Cellphones: the Past & the Present

Cellphones were big when they were commercially introduced in the ‘90s. If you could get hold of an earlier model of Motorola, you would lough out at its size, weight and configuration. But that thing amazed us in the 90’s because it was simply an awesome idea at that time—it ran on a battery, you could carry it with you without wires and you could talk while moving! It was a paradigm shift at that point, so the size and weight did not matter, the functionality did. However, any stranger could easily tell that you are carrying a phone because your pocket looked unusually bloated!

Then there came a wave of tech advances. Phones started shrinking in size, increasing in its functionality and configuration. There came a time when companies were competing on how smaller these gadgets could get with its increasing functionality. Remember how Nokia 1100 became a flagship with its battery capacity, compactness, light-weight built and an amazing torchlight?

Then came the wave of Qwerty phones and this was where the size started growing, reversing the trend of micro-sizing the earlier phones. With the advent of smartphones in the early 2000’s, the size started growing again, of course, along with increasing functionality. Today, many of us have bigger phones, almost bigger (but flatter) than the early ones that consumers saw in the ‘90s. Ironically, today’s phones are not only bigger, they are battery eaters too! In order to support these power-hungry gadgets, we have now devised “power banks” which are as big as these phones are. Voila! Now we carry two big gadgets with us all the time. Today, just like early days, anybody can tell that you are carrying a cellphone because your pocket is unusually bloated, or your lady’s purse is full of it! Oh, where is the advancement then? (Here is Part II)

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Whom do we tell to have patience?

If you call a mobile service provider to talk to a representative, you might often be thanked for your patience. Visit a crowded bank or superstore, for example. Oftentimes they don’t have service planning based on peak hour and a calculation on how many service counters would be needed to support the peak demand. Hey, stay on queue and have patience, and thank you very much for your patience.

In a connected world where we cannot wait to share anything starting from our new-hair-cut-gone-wrong to a bunch of half-done potatoes on our oven, where in the world a company can tell customers to have patience? Not having patience is my consumer right and if you cannot put up with me, I have other companies who are more than willing to accept me as their customer. You don’t even know when I clicked to another channel because you just started those lousy advertising. I will be right back when you are done.

Therefore, in a competitive world, it is about how companies can become patient and not customers. Companies need to build capabilities and efficiency to serve customers better. This is where we see online self-care options and automated services for frequently faced problems. Companies probably need to think about reversing the patience factor and make some “wow” changes, so that eager customers cannot wait to have their services.

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Can Volkswagen Reclaim its Innocence? Part II

(Following Part I)

Down the road, the image loss is huge. Volkswagen scandal will be included in the future business texts as a case study with Volkswagen name in it; law students will find the brand in cheating case studies; software engineers will study this as an ethics case in software development; corporate practitioners will be referring to VW as how corporate leaders fail in upholding business ethics—and so on. The image cost is enormous, probably beyond US$ 82 billion.

So what? So are the histories of many renowned brands that had scandals in the past. Big corporations have a history of getting away with big scandals. Almost nobody served jail time for the Wall Street fiasco, the Ford Pinto’s gas tank failures, the General Motor’s  ignition switch disaster, or Toyota’s sudden acceleration defects, or any number of other corporate-driven criminal or damaging activities. With great lawyers, dilly dally tactics, political connections, lobbyists and power projection at right places—all these add up to cost and face savings in the long-run. With future innovation and wider consumer acceptance, connected by the “system” support, some day consumers will forget and forgive these issues. Brands will follow its course with its corporate parents who were not as honest as expected.

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