Apple is still innovating… perhaps just not how you’re expecting

28 Jun

Do you know what I’m tired of? I’ll tell you.

I’m tired of seeing advertisements for smartphones that make me feel inadequate.

I’m tired of seeing beautiful people in private member’s clubs, looking no more dishevelled as they pour themselves out of cabs at five in the morning than Kate Moss on a photo shoot.

And I’m really tired of learning that people who own smartphones are always having fun, laughing over upbeat music, as they sit there in their perfect clothes, running around beautiful landscapes, taking photos of all the friends they’ve made because they have the coolest phone on the beach.

Advertising fatigue

These kinds of advertisements are not for consumers like you and me; they’re for a demographic of early smartphone users who have long since disappeared. How do I know? Because we all now own one. And yet, this is still the way we’re being sold to.

Galaxy S4 Group Play Ad

Take for instance the recent Galaxy S4 advert. It shows off the ‘Group Play’ function in a locker room filled with chiselled hunks. They need motivation to win their Basketball game; something I can of course relate to.

HTC One Boom Sound Ad

Or there’s the HTC One Boom Sound advertisement, which demonstrates another feature – frontal speakers that improve the listening experience, because every person who owns a smartphone loves the latest bands.

The problem is, it’s not just hipsters and teenagers who own smartphones now. So isn’t it time to move on from this narrow, under diluted perception of consumer appeal? Smartphones aren’t new any more. And while Samsung and HTC might not get it, with a great sigh of relief, I am pleased to say: Apple gets it.

And now for something a bit different…

Here comes the breath of fresh air.

Thank goodness for that. Thanks Apple.

Until now, smartphone and tablet advertising has focused on the rational ‘you need this feature’ advertising appeal. But Apple’s new approach takes a welcome step away from this. It’s distinctly emotive; arguably a little overdone, yes, but this is new territory, so I think we can cut them some slack. Largely, the iPhone hasn’t changed, but this new marketing approach acknowledges that we, as consumers, have. Who needs product innovation when you have product placement innovation?

Gone is the slick, the modern, the minimalist. Instead, Apple has brought back the clutter, the real world – a girl on her bed, children in a classroom, a woman on the subway – no longer people in glorious, unrealistic and featureless environments. Yes, it retains an element of Apple’s clean advertising, but that’s their brand. Nonetheless, Apple has tapped into the truth that people’s lives aren’t shiny and perfect as they’ve been made out to be. For me, that’s where the emotional connection lies – Apple are acknowledging that they’ve been wrong, while simultaneously asserting that, once again, they’re the first to get it right.

If that’s not enough, then the ethereal, acoustic soundtrack ought to win you over. It’s burnished with naturalism rather than with a cheap, irritating hook (I refer you to the Galaxy S4 advert above). We can suddenly let ourselves feel that Apple understands us… that their new smartphone will blend perfectly into our daily – real – lives.

Innovation in advertising

Despite complaints that Apple is failing to innovate, such as this one by Heidi Moore in the Guardian earlier this year, it is clear that they continue to stay one step ahead of consumer fatigue.

I know what you’re thinking – this is just an ad campaign – and you’re right. It might not seem like a big step. But then consider that this is arguably the first smartphone advertisement of its kind which promises to improve our lifestyle without shoving sexy features down our throats. And it comes from a company that brought us the smartphone in the first place… Does that not count for something?

I predict that this is a benchmark for smartphone advertising. I’m not saying the campaign is perfect, but it’s a start. Apple made a name for itself by doing what others didn’t dare to try, and now they’re doing it again. This ‘feely’ advertising might be sick-making for some, but looking at the bigger picture, it makes a damn refreshing change from the norm.

Made in California. Bring it home, Apple. Good work.

Keep up with all my latest opinions by following me on Twitter, @WillHillier.

Do you disagree? Here’s an alternative perspective.


Playing it safe: 5 tips for successful email campaigns

24 Jun

Today, I received an email. It went something like this:

“Hi Colin, How are you? We hope you’re great! Isn’t this weather nice? Check out our courier services – we offer the best rates for all your last minute needs.”

Well, I thought, how friendly and informative. There are just two problems. Firstly, I’m a marketer and writer; unless I decide to set up a print, publish and distribution service from my flat, I can’t see I’ll ever need the services of a courier. The second minor oversight is that my name isn’t Colin.

Why do companies do this? Why do they insist on invading my privacy, and invading it badly? Being marketed to has become a cultural norm: people expect it. But they also expect it to be done well. In short: they don’t want to be sold something they don’t need, they want to be sold something they didn’t know they needed.

While some organisations have it nailed, many companies out there still misunderstand the concept of social media and are using it in all the wrong ways. Others have misinterpreted it even further, by assuming that the informality brought by social media gives them inexplicit permission to be over familiar with their audience. While fine in the context of social media, this assumed familiarity has started creeping into areas of digital marketing where it is doesn’t belong. One of these is email marketing, and today’s top tips post is focused on those who have got it all wrong… not in my Twitter feed, but all over my inbox.

1. Give people something for free

Sending a campaign to inform somebody of a new product or service is all well and good, but why should they care? Have a little sympathy with your audience… they’re being sold to on the television, via their apps, on the way to work, AT work… whatever you’re promoting, make it worth their while. To a certain extent it depends on what you’re marketing, but a pretty universal rule of thumb is that if people get something for nothing, they will remember you. Whether it’s a voucher or a giveaway; something as simple as a demo of your new product, or even a link to a great case study or website; so long as it’s good enough value for the time they took to click through, you will stick in their mind.

2. Don’t personalise campaigns with first names

Of course, whatever content you’re sending it should be personalised to the audiences’ interests, but including somebody’s name on email is not a substitute for appropriately targeting the content. People aren’t stupid; they can smell a mail shot a mile off, and personalising it with their name only draws attention to the fact that the sender is trying to hide that they have sent this to an entire database of contacts.

As my earlier example demonstrates, personalising an email campaign can also backfire. Your contact database no doubt includes some distribution lists. This means that although the name of your contact was correct at the time of entry, and their job may still exist, the person receiving the emails may have moved on. And that’s when you risk turning your ‘Norman’ into another opt-out. Remember: the less you personalise an email, the less that can go wrong with it.

3. Ensure the tone matches your brand

If you’re adamant that you want to personalise your campaign with the recipient’s name, of course that’s up to you. Nonetheless, I would suggest only doing so if ‘casual’ matches your brand and tone of voice. Opening with somebody’s name immediately informalises your message; so don’t then make the mistake I’ve seen countless companies make, and follow it with corporate spiel. Once again, this looks generic, lazy, and stands out in all the wrong ways. Even the most informal of brands (such as innocent drinks) never personalise their campaigns. But they are well targeted and well written, so when I receive a mail from innocent, I don’t mind that it isn’t addressed directly to me.

Finally, if your campaign tone is informal, does this accurately reflect your brand? This is a very common mistake. If you have a corporate tone of voice, keep your campaign’s tone corporate. I see a lot of campaigns, well written by an enthusiastic marketing executive… however, when I click through to their website, it’s a different story. Yes, you need to grab attention, but not at the expense of giving your audience a consistent experience.

4. Target the right people

This sound obvious, but make sure your content is relevant to the audience you’re writing for. A friend of mine recently told me that the marketing department for the company she used to work for sent every email campaigns to the entire database. Your content may be perfectly relevant and interesting, but if the copy in front of it aims to capture too broad an audience, it will not just dilute it but make it irrelevant. And that means opt-outs.  Instead, take some time to write different copy for different audiences, and to send out different emails. It will take longer, but it will pay. And in case you’re worreid, this isn’t just speculation ; I’ve consistently seen much better click through rates on targeted campaigns and far greater numbers of opt-outs in untargeted ones.

5. Send from the company, not an individual

If you’re an individual, send your campaign from you. If you’re a company, send it from the company. Unless your CEO is Mark Zuckerberg or someone equally notable, nobody cares that your CEO has personally endorsed this message. In fact, it could hurt you as it risks coming across as arrogant. As such, avoid signing off from an individual at all costs. Sometimes I receive emails from a CEO, a Marketing Director, or worse yet; a Business Development Manager. Everybody knows this is code for ‘salesman’, and if you work in Marketing, you’ll probably be wondering why somebody in sales is sending marketing campaigns in the first place.

Essentially, sending from an individual has the same effect as sending to one. You’re trying to say: ‘This message is from us to you’. Unfortunately, what it’s really saying is: ‘We can’t get our marketing right; you probably shouldn’t work with us.’ This may sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s also the reason why good marketing departments don’t deserve the bad reputation brought upon them by people who think they know better… marketing is not about your ego but your audience. Your only job is to stay one step ahead of them so that you can continue keeping them happy.

And finally…

I will end on a perhaps controversial note by saying that you should avoid personalising your email campaigns altogether. Instead of faffing about with mail merges and custom fields, concentrate on targeting your content to your audience. If you can show the reader that you’ve understood their needs enough to get the tone, offering and layout right, then really you’ve done your job, right? It doesn’t get much more personal than that.


Did Microsoft know about PRISM?

10 Jun

I’m normally one to leave conspiracy theories to the alien abductees, but this recent ad campaign for Internet Explorer had me a little suspicious:

Though clearly intended to reassure users about the security of their private data, this one seemed a strange step away from the usual ‘features and benefits’ advertising we’re used to seeing from Microsoft.

It jarred. Rather than reassure me, this new campaign drew unnecessary attention to the fact that Microsoft has access to my private data in the first place. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fact we all live with. But let’s face it; none of us really want to think about it, let alone have it rubbed in our faces by giggling babies and girls studiously doing their homework.

With hindsight, the quote “The lines between public and private may never be perfect” takes on a potentially chilling new meaning. Could it possibly be code for, “We don’t give away your private data to most people, but sometimes we give it to the NSA”?

Though along with Google, Apple and Yahoo, Microsoft has denied all knowledge of the PRISM surveillance programme, I get the feeling they weren’t quite as outraged as they should’ve been, their statement reeking of the standard ‘yep, we spearheaded the WHOLE thing’ denial.

Tut, tut, Microsoft. Tut, tut.

In case you’re interested, here’s their statement (also found on their website):

“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”

Hmm. Very convincing.

Was this seemingly innocuous, though weirdly unsettling ad campaign a strategic move? From the perspective of the media, yes, whistleblowing is pretty instantaneous. But if watching the X-Files all these years has taught me anything… it’s that when somebody is about to blow the cover on a secret government initiative this far-reaching and controversial; somewhere, somebody important knows the leak is coming well enough in advance to tell the interested parties to cover their backs. And heck, if you’re an interested party, wouldn’t you want to cover you back anyway, I mean, just in case? I know I sure would. So here’s my first ever conspiracy theory… drum roll please:

Microsoft were using this ad campaign to cover their backs (wow, that feels good).

“Your privacy is our priority”. That’s clearly Microsoft’s party-line. Of course you must make up your own mind, but given their wobbly track record with privacy, the fact that they were rumoured to be the first corporation involved in the PRISM programme way back in 2007 and all my woolly circumstantial evidence and wild assumptions, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Microsoft were approached by the National Security Agency to set the blimmin’ thing up in the first place.

Be well and browse safe. Or better yet, just don’t browse. In fact, maybe even try the library? It’s been a while since I set foot in one, but I think they still have paper books in there… Anyway, you get what I’m saying. Look after your privacy.