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Lincoln self-parking feature: video makes it look like a “me-too”

December 30, 2008 1 comment

I saw a tweet from Scott Monty, who is in charge of social media at Ford, with a video of the Lincoln MKS parking itself. This is admittedly cool technology, and it’s nice to have in a luxury brand such as Lincoln. However, Lexus got there first. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lexus first demoed their self-parking feature in an LS460 in Dearborn, MI in September 2006. And there have been many ads on TV about the self-parking Lexus. (And the Volkswagen Tiguan, as well.)

The YouTube video about the Lincoln is definitely demo-quality — it’s obviously not meant to be a glossy champagne-glasses-against-a-black-background ad like the Lexus ad. But the narrator, who is one of Ford’s chief engineers, talks about the self-parking feature being “brand-new” technology — as if Lexus hadn’t gotten there first.

So this Lincoln video — which is meant, I think, to get people to think of Ford and Lincoln as technology innovators, and tout a competitive advantage — says to me two things:

1) Ford and Lincoln are two years behind Lexus in technology development.

2) Ford and Lincoln are so out of touch with the rest of the world that they believe this feature is innovative and the technology is “brand new.” Did they not see the Lexus ad on TV? Or the demo in Dearborn? Do they think their potential customers never saw the Lexus ad?

After Scott Monty sent me to a couple other sites, I realized that Ford thinks its system has competitive advantages over the Lexus system. The Ford system is based on ultrasonic technology (Ford says the Lexus is based on a camera system), and it works with their new fuel-saving power-steering system so it’s significantly lower in price–Monty says it’s far less than the $6,000+ Lexus option.

But I’m frustrated with this video–and the attitude in the video. The video does not acknowledge that there is other self-parking technologies out there, so if you know Lexus and VW already launched it, Lincoln seems disingenuous. It seems like a “me-too” technology, when really it should be marketed as, “Yeah, we did it; but we made sure to do it right.” After all, the Detroit Free Press says that the Lexus system “quickly became the butt of jokes because of its slow and inconsistent operation.” If that’s the case, looking like a me-too laughingstock technology doesn’t seem like it will sell many cars.(By the way, if anyone has any links confirming that the Lexus system is the butt of jokes, please post the URL in the comments. I wasn’t able to find anything during a short Google search.)

The bottom line? I did not get the message that the Lincoln self-parking technology *actually* works well when Lexus’ doesn’t, nor did I realize the technology was substantially different. Acknowledging Lexus got there first but that Lincoln’s system is superior would have gotten the message across better.

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New Media: Same As The Old Media

December 29, 2008 2 comments

Odd things happen when revolutionary ideas come out. The advent of “new media” or “social media” has led some people to conclude that the rules of “old media” don’t apply. This is true in some cases — for instance, the company no longer has control of the message. But when attracting audiences and getting value to customers, many of the old media rules still apply.

Mack Collier, host and emcee of the excellent blog “The Viral Garden,” has a post about “The ‘Authority Matters’ Argument” on Twitter. He says it better than I do, but the gist of it is that it’s not how many Twitter followers one gets a post out to, it’s how compelling the post is.

Mack’s post (and specifically, the “Authority” argument that he’s critiquing) reminds me of one of my first tradeshow experiences. I was working for a computer security company, and we had a tradeshow booth that was, in my opinion, awesome: we had a James Bond-type theme, and we hired a sexy actor/actress combo to do a skit with a computer security twist. We had some sort of spy gadget type giveaway — and we got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of leads.

But when our salespeople followed up with those leads, no one wanted to talk about our products or get a demo. They had all simply wanted to look at the sexy people — which is why they stayed for the skit and got their badges scanned — or get a free spy gadget. The tens of thousands of dollars we had spent on the actors and the spy gadgets had attracted an audience — but not an audience that would buy our stuff.

We had forgotten one of the rules of marketing: target specific audiences and make it clear that you provide value.

Mack’s point is that the size of one’s Twitter network does not necessarily equal influence, just like the number of leads at a tradeshow does not necessarily equal revenue. It seems to me that some people have ignored the value proposition in the Twitter world. But it’s still true. Targeting audiences with specific value that you can deliver: it works better at tradeshows, and it works better on Twitter.

Categories: Marketing

The hype about SaaS, and other jargon

December 22, 2008 5 comments

So Software-as-a-Service — SaaS — has been the hype du jour for about 18 months now. And in 2008, everyone and their mother had a thing for SaaS. “Now SaaS-compliant!”

But hype, after all, is just hype. Software-as-a-Service is nothing more than software where the functionality is online, not living on your PC (or in your server room).

The two most successful SaaS products are Salesforce.com and Skype. Salesforce.com is successful because it takes something difficult–a centralized database that needs to be update every minute–and puts it out on the Web, where companies can instantly access their data. Instead of spending thousands of dollars and several months to set up a CRM system, you can use the one hosted by Salesforce.com, and begin using it right away.

With Skype, you can call (or IM) anyone who also has Skype. And for a low price, you can make calls to regular phone lines too.

These are value propositions for customers, and the only thing that SaaS has to do with it is the delivery method and the functionality. But customers don’t care if it’s SaaS or not. All they care about is whether or not the programs have the functionality they need, whether it works, and whether they find it easy enough to use.

Many companies think “SaaS” by itself will magically start selling their products — this is the reason why so much crappy marketing has been done that uses hypecentric words-du-jour that all mean the same thing: bullshit.

My favorite hype-word right now is “cloud computing” — and even the tech guys who attend cloud computing conferences roll their eyes whenever that phrase is mentioned.

The bigger problem is that companies who use jargon in their marketing material tend to see the world only from the lens of the company, not the point of view of their customers, or any of their other stakeholders. It’s a recipe for an uphill battle in sales, if not downright failure.

Categories: Marketing

The best toy ever

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Lexus has a marketing campaign that compares the best present Gen X-ers got as kids (remembering the Christmas when you got the Big Wheel or the Atari 2600) to getting a new Lexus for Christmas.

While the commercials definitely take me back to how freakin’ great it was to get the Big Wheel or the Atari 2600, there is NO WAY that getting those gifts can compare to getting a luxury car. It’s apples and oranges, first of all: the Lexus does not have the Cool Factor that those two gifts had. The Big Wheel and the Atari 2600 defined entirely new sets of toys — hell, they defined new INDUSTRIES. The Lexus ES is going to be a blip on the radar screen in history.

Here’s the problem for me: the commercial — while attention-getting, and emotion-stirring, and beautifully art-directed — does not make me want a Lexus. In fact, it’s not genuine: a Lexus for Christmas will not even come close to replacing my Atari 2600 memory, and I don’t believe anyone at Lexus thinks it will, either.

In response, Acura has made a commercial that 1) succeeds in ripping off the Lexus ad, 2) isn’t as memorable as the Lexus ad, and 3) manages to be more genuine precisely because it doesn’t pile on the hyperbole. “The Joy Is Back,” Acura says — which would be true if I got an Acura. (Make mine a TSX.) Acura is genuine, even if they’ve ripped off Lexus. Lexus is not, even if their ad gets more attention.

…And MORE!

December 5, 2008 2 comments

Jason Cohen of Smart Bear Software has an interesting post about the ubitiquous, sometimes inaccurate, and usually awful “…And More” phenomenon that is sweeping the nation: e.g, Bed Bath & Beyond; Linens & Things (RIP). He discusses some sites that say “and more” without actually having “more.”

There is one example of the “and more” I’ve seen that I think is useful: “Beverages, and more!” While the company’s punctuated name bugs me, I think it’s a synonym for “related items.” Such as:

> Wine and cheese
> Beer and pretzels
> Margaritas and salt

And this actually works when attracting customers. “Hey, we need beer and snacks for the Raiders game!” “Hey, we need wine and cheese for the 49ers game!” Beverages, and More! is actually the first place that springs to mind for me, because they have stuff to drink and stuff that goes with the stuff to drink.

However, I think it’s telling that they’ve rebranded themselves as BevMo! recently, although I believe that has much more to do with de-genericizing their name than with addressing the “and more” phenomenon. (See: FedEx vs. Federal Express; GE vs. General Electric; etc.)

Categories: Identity and Branding