Obscure Interactive – New Website Launch

Obscure Interactive is a user-centered design consultancy which I have been a marketing consultant for since the past 2 years. We have recently launched our new website (http://obscure.pk) with a new brand identity. The old logo of Obscure Interactive, which was a result of a brainstorming session, had an asterisk sign (*) and green and black were the corporate colours. The old brand identity of Obscure was stolen by a competing firm operating from Karachi as their own logo. Even their website seemed to have been inspired by our old website design. Lucky for them, we had already scheduled time to work on Obscure’s rebranding initiative. We figured that it was time to push things into top gear instead of taking action against the offenders – legally and socially.

We took the rebranding of Obscure as a full time project with identified tasks, milestones and deliverables. The brainstorming sessions which involved white boards, markers, good old multi coloured post-it notes, and many a piece of paper resulted in a thorough analysis of the market situation and Obscure’s position in it. We worked through it all – competitor analysis, SWOT analysis, the brand essence which involved heated discussions between the lead User Experience Designer and myself, and the brand personality that was initially quite hard to define.

Since we are a company which believes in creating meaningful user experiences in the online connected world, we were faced with the challenge of communicating the same through our brand identity. We chose a rather odd colour – a sunlight copper- to represent energy. The use of an arrow in the logo depicts goal-directed motion. Also, it symbolizes a human figure which shows the importance of people at each stage of experience design – the people for whom the experience is being designed (our client’s customers), the people who design it (a vivacious team of user experience designers + marketing strategists + architects), and the people who ask us to design in the first place (our clients). Finally, the use of a circle symbolizes completeness and implies a sense of security.

In terms of communicating the core message of delivering quality every time, we came up with the idea of documenting our approach (http://obscure.pk/whatwedo.php) and case studies. We still have to add more case studies along side adding a “Buzz about Obscure” section. So keep visiting!

Facebook or Fakebook?

Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances but it has shortcomings of its own. One of the biggest weaknesses of Facebook so far has been its lethargy in taking action against fake profiles. There are all sorts of weird people who like impersonating others probably because they have little happening in their own lives to amuse them. Facebook offers the option to Report/Block this person at the left side of each profile page. Once you click on that it asks you whether this person is impersonating you or someone else etc. If you report a profile more than once, the system recognizes that you have submitted a prior request. Now if I have submitted a prior request then what is taking Facebook administrators so long to fix the complaint! Customer service anyone?! Or is it that we are not really the customers because we don’t pay a penny for using it.

Germany's New Controversial AIDS-Awareness Ad

Germany’s New AIDS awareness Ad starring Hitler is causing quite a stir and controversy (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1921012,00.html). Germany’s latest AIDS-awareness commercial evokes some strong emotions: shock, disgust, nausea. And that’s exactly the point. The controversial ad, which was released online on Sept. 3 and starts running on German TV on Wednesday, Sept. 9, shows a couple having steamy sex in a dimly lit room with menacing music playing in the background. The viewer sees only the back of the man’s head until the very end, when the camera pans to his face — to reveal that he’s Adolf Hitler. Then the slogan flashes across the screen: “AIDS is a mass murderer.” Continue reading Germany's New Controversial AIDS-Awareness Ad

How Twitter can potentially change the way we live

Found a superb article on Twitter while going through Time Magazine (June 5, 2009). The article by Steven Johnson focuses on “how Twitter will change the way we live”. You can access the article on http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604,00.html.

The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression. You hear about this new service that lets you send 140-character updates to your “followers,” and you think, Why does the world need this, exactly? It’s not as if we were all sitting around four years ago scratching our heads and saying, “If only there were a technology that would allow me to send a message to my 50 friends, alerting them in real time about my choice of breakfast cereal.”

I, too, was skeptical at first. I had met Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-creator, a couple of times in the dotcom ’90s when he was launching Blogger.com. Back then, what people worried about was the threat that blogging posed to our attention span, with telegraphic, two-paragraph blog posts replacing long-format articles and books. With Twitter, Williams was launching a communications platform that limited you to a couple of sentences at most. What was next? Software that let you send a single punctuation mark to describe your mood?

And yet as millions of devotees have discovered, Twitter turns out to have unsuspected depth. In part this is because hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds. The technology writer Clive Thompson calls this “ambient awareness”: by following these quick, abbreviated status reports from members of your extended social network, you get a strangely satisfying glimpse of their daily routines. We don’t think it at all moronic to start a phone call with a friend by asking how her day is going. Twitter gives you the same information without your even having to ask.

The social warmth of all those stray details shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I think there is something even more profound in what has happened to Twitter over the past two years, something that says more about the culture that has embraced and expanded Twitter at such extraordinary speed. Yes, the breakfast-status updates turned out to be more interesting than we thought. But the key development with Twitter is how we’ve jury-rigged the system to do things that its creators never dreamed of.

In short, the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to it.

The Open Conversation
Earlier this year I attended a daylong conference in Manhattan devoted to education reform. Called Hacking Education, it was a small, private affair: 40-odd educators, entrepreneurs, scholars, philanthropists and venture capitalists, all engaged in a sprawling six-hour conversation about the future of schools. Twenty years ago, the ideas exchanged in that conversation would have been confined to the minds of the participants. Ten years ago, a transcript might have been published weeks or months later on the Web. Five years ago, a handful of participants might have blogged about their experiences after the fact.

But this event was happening in 2009, so trailing behind the real-time, real-world conversation was an equally real-time conversation on Twitter. At the outset of the conference, our hosts announced that anyone who wanted to post live commentary about the event via Twitter should include the word #hackedu in his 140 characters. In the room, a large display screen showed a running feed of tweets. Then we all started talking, and as we did, a shadow conversation unfolded on the screen: summaries of someone’s argument, the occasional joke, suggested links for further reading. At one point, a brief argument flared up between two participants in the room — a tense back-and-forth that transpired silently on the screen as the rest of us conversed in friendly tones.

At first, all these tweets came from inside the room and were created exclusively by conference participants tapping away on their laptops or BlackBerrys. But within half an hour or so, word began to seep out into the Twittersphere that an interesting conversation about the future of schools was happening at #hackedu. A few tweets appeared on the screen from strangers announcing that they were following the #hackedu thread. Then others joined the conversation, adding their observations or proposing topics for further exploration. A few experts grumbled publicly about how they hadn’t been invited to the conference. Back in the room, we pulled interesting ideas and questions from the screen and integrated them into our face-to-face conversation.

When the conference wrapped up at the end of the day, there was a public record of hundreds of tweets documenting the conversation. And the conversation continued — if you search Twitter for #hackedu, you’ll find dozens of new comments posted over the past few weeks, even though the conference happened in early March.
Injecting Twitter into that conversation fundamentally changed the rules of engagement. It added a second layer of discussion and brought a wider audience into what would have been a private exchange. And it gave the event an afterlife on the Web. Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.

The Super-Fresh Web
The basic mechanics of Twitter are remarkably simple. Users publish tweets — those 140-character messages — from a computer or mobile device. (The character limit allows tweets to be created and circulated via the SMS platform used by most mobile phones.) As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers. When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page. If you follow 20 people, you’ll see a mix of tweets scrolling down the page: breakfast-cereal updates, interesting new links, music recommendations, even musings on the future of education. Some celebrity Twitterers — most famously Ashton Kutcher — have crossed the million-follower mark, effectively giving them a broadcast-size audience. The average Twitter profile seems to be somewhere in the dozens: a collage of friends, colleagues and a handful of celebrities. The mix creates a media experience quite unlike anything that has come before it, strangely intimate and at the same time celebrity-obsessed.

Read more on http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604,00.html

Boomer Marketing

This book, written by Ian Chaston, will be released on June 12, 2009.  You can pre-order it on Amazon.com for £23.74. Readers should note that Boomer Marketing is the first book to address the current global recession and the effects of the same on a company’s marketing strategies. The author’s main argument is that companies need to revise their strategies to focus on baby boomers that are those consumers who are in the 50+ age bracket. These consumers are the wealthiest, fastest growing consumer group in the world. Visit www.amazon.com to buy this book.

Apple iPod: A strong purpose brand (question mark on usability)

Today, I managed to lock my iPod again!!! I thought maybe this is THE END of the iPod! No more Apple iPod playing awesome tunes in my room and car. The poor thing regularly travels with me unprotected, jacketless. And just once in a blue moon, this beautiful thing simply refuses to behave itself. Being the proud owner of a 4th generation hot black iPod for over a year now, this was the first time that I saw this little lock icon on the top of the iPod screen. I tried pulling on a few tricks to make it work but all my endeavours rendered themselves fruitless.

So I called a trusted friend who provides expert solutions in computing matters and more. The advice was obvious (to search in Google) but with a twist (write the entire statement ‘there is a lock icon on my ipod’). So I searched Google to find a way to make the little lock icon disappear and turns out I just had to slide a switch. There is a tiny switch right at the top of the iPod which holds the magic. I had absolutely no idea that I had accidently put the iPod on hold. Now when the iPod is on hold, a patch of red colour shows from underneath the slider, which in normal conditions (that is when it is not on hold) is a hardly visible white colour. If I had seen that red colour, I would have figured that something is not right here… I need to slide this switch back. But I was looking at the screen, not at the top of the iPod. That is not the mental model… looking at the top of the iPod!! Who does that… that too when your iPod is lying on your study table?! There is a sleek ‘HOLD’ engraved on a silver surface by the side of this slider and it is so sleek and subtle that one never remembers that its there. So I am wondering if the problem that I faced today is a usability issue. Well I love iPod because it’s slick and very usable… errrrr… maybe the usability team at Apple just needs to tweak this little problem in the next generation of the iPod.

Well the music is playing now and I am loving it. Being a marketer and an individual who is deeply interested in product innovation and blue ocean strategy, Apple is the company that has it all for me. Revolutionary products that have redefined industry boundaries topped up by award-winning advertising. Oh yes, great leadership as well. Steve Jobs is a true maverick! Out-of-the-box thinking has become somewhat of a cliché in my field of work but Jobs does it beautifully all of the time. In my study of brand communities, I found that Apple enjoys one of the strongest brand communities today…. Evidence of it is the number of blogs and websites dedicated to Apple products by Apple aficionados. People are spreading the word and any marketer would know that nothing works wonders for a product as well as WoM communication. And the product delivers its promise. Remember the launch of the iPhone and people queuing up for days to buy the phone? The excitement of the customers around the launch by itself created media frenzy.

Personally speaking, I find Apple iPod to be quite an amazing companion. For once, people replaced their habit of carrying books around in trains and tubes in the UK with carrying an elegant iPod on the way. Carrying an iPod is considered “cool” and rest assured people will turn around when they see the distinctive white headphones. Now Londoners seldom take a note of anything that a passerby may be doing. Everyone is just too busy to bother with such trivialities. Where no big brands of clothes or accessories get attention, aha, in comes Apple comes with its iPod, and voila!

I owe some of the inspiration behind some rather gruelling projects complete with tight deadlines to the iPod and Tiesto. Playing In Search of Sunrise3 on the iPod makes me focus a 100% on the work that I am trying to get done. It works like a miracle.

Purpose brands: A Likely Cure for Marketing Malpractice

Purpose brands create powerful means of differentiation in the minds of customers as they are tightly associated to the job for which customers hire them. Advertising and WoM communication play a vital role in building awareness for the purpose brands and creating positive and strong brand associations, which result in brand equity. Brand equity is the added value a brand name brings to a product or service besides the functional benefits. Brand equity in case of purpose brands is built when the product does the job and people talk about it. High brand equity implies that customers perceive that the brand is of high quality, have positive and strong associations related to the brand, and are loyal to the brand.

The in-depth interviews conducted in my research revealed that the purpose brands in the selected product categories of Search Engines and Portable Digital Media Players were closely tied to the job for which customers hired these brands, and they were primarily built on WoM communication. The findings of the online questionnaires suggested that the two purpose brands had relatively higher mean scores, and enjoyed significant differences in mean scores in terms of the three core dimensions of brand equity (brand awareness / associations, perceived quality and brand loyalty), compared to the relatively more generic brands. It was concluded that there is a difference in the influence of purpose brands, compared to relatively more generic brands, on brand equity, and the influence seems to be positive.

The purpose brand approach has significant implications for marketing communications. Job-specific brands create meaningful differentiation in the customers’ minds, which could imply that marketers may need to spend less on overall advertising, other than the occasions of creating brand awareness when the product is launched and for reminder advertising. This in turn could improve the profitability of the companies. Purpose brands should be able to create a strong ‘pull’ for a brand and in this event, Internet marketing becomes a powerful tool for information dissemination. The limitations of the research were that the brand selection could be refined to enable selection of more combinations of purpose brands and relatively generic brands, and the sample could include more than just student samples.

Glossary

Advertising

Any paid form of nonpersonal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor

Brand awareness

The ability for a buyer to recognize or recall that a brand is a member of a certain product category

Brand associations

Anything linked in memory to a brand

Brand equity

The added value a ‘brand name’ brings to a product or service besides the functional benefits

Brand loyalty

Tendency to be loyal to a brand, which is demonstrated by the intention to buy the brand as a primary choice

Perceived quality

The consumer’s [subjective] judgement about a product’s overall excellence and superiority

Purpose Brand

The brand of a product that is tightly associated with the job for which it is meant to be hired

WoM communication

Oral, person-to-person communication between a perceived non-commercial communicator and a receiver regarding a brand, a product, or a service

Purpose branding

Making a decision about one’s MSc research project is a daunting one. That too when one wants it to act as a foundation for a PhD in the future. Well there I was, sitting in my small and rather pretty room in Guildford, thinking through all the things that ever fascinated me in the world of marketing. And it was an awakening – I thought of the article on Purpose Branding by Christensen et al (2005) published in Harvard Business Review. From there on purpose branding and the holy grail of brand equity, as some may put it, is a passion for me. Much of this blog is dedicated to marketing and a few other things that act as a source of inspiration for those who want their spirit kindled.