Will Yahoo and Intel finally deliver on the promise of Internet-enabled TV in our Living Room?

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Yahoo's Widget Channel software for TVs shows a link to Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site, stock prices, and an advertisement. (Credit: Yahoo)

At CES 2009, Intel and Yahoo will reveal the latest in their Connected TV initiative, a program they hope will “mark the beginning of their Internet-fueled expansion to the world of TV.”  According to CNET, the companies have different goals with the Connected TV initiative.

For Yahoo, it’s establishment of the Widget Channel, a software foundation that can house programs for browsing photos, using the Internet’s abundant socially connected services, watching YouTube videos, or digging deeper into TV shows–and through which Yahoo will be able to show advertisements. For Intel, it’s a foothold in an industry whose microprocessors have typically been cheaper, less powerful, and less power-hungry.

Internet-enabled TV (also called IPTV) has been a buzzword for years now, but it has also been filled with lots of empty promises for consumers.  With that in mind, the Connected TV initiative has taken a consumer view, instead of a technology view, to figure out the future looks like.  Thanks to the help of several of Intel-employed anthropologists, they concluded that:

Unlike the PC, TVs are social. People watch it together, and what they watch turns into what they talk about. Another difference from PCs: it must be simple and reliable.  When bringing the Internet to the TV, You couldn’t just turn it into a PC.

Probing further, the anthropologists asked people what they thought the future of TV would look like.  CNET reports that the answers fit into several key buckets:

  • Something that would provide relevant information in real time, such as the weather right before heading to a sporting event.
  • Something that would connect them to other people they care about, a variation of social networking.
  • Something that would let them participate more with what they’re watching, for example by figuring out where a show’s cast members already had acted, or finding, rating, and sorting content.
  • Not a full-on Web browser, nor a keyboard to clutter up the room.

Additionally,when Connected TV initiative showed consumers initial concepts, they learned that:

  • People didn’t like the Widget Channel controls appearing on the left edge of the screen. Instead, people prefer the bottom, where they’re accustomed to seeing text already.
  • People expressed a powerful desire for a big button to make the software go away in one fell swoop–no menus or arrow keys or complication–so they could get back to watching TV when they wanted. That big button is also used to activate the Widget Channel.
  • Nobody wanted yet another remote control.

All of this research has led to the latest iteration of Internet-enabled TV that Yahoo and Intel will unveil at CES 2009.  While I may be an optimist, I really think they have potential of pulling this off and bringing the promise of IPTV to life.  Here’s why:

  1. An industry alliance can drive simplicity:  The struggle for IPTV has always been the number of players involved.  You need a solution that works for the TV manufacturers, cable companies, Internet media players, etc.  The Connected TV initiative shows promise because it brings together Yahoo, Intel and multiple TV manufacturers.  If IPTV is ever going to live up to the promise, it will take an alliance like this to pull off.
  2. Connected Consumers want information at their fingertips:  When I mentioned this article on Twitter, Jon Burg asked if web-enabled TV is something consumers will care about in 2009. I think they will but only if it is information they care about and want in real-time.  For instance, every Fall I sit with my laptop open on Sundays, tracking my Fantasy Football teams.  I’d much rather have that info streaming through widgets on the TV while I watch the games.  Same goes for customized CNN news feed or stock tracker running across the bottom of the screen.
  3. Advertisers want a replacement to interruption marketing:  Lots of people have been forecasting the death of TV advertising.  But let’s face it…that industry isn’t going away anytime soon as long as TV is central to people’s lives.  However, marketers do want a replacement to the ever-increasingly DVR skipped :30 second TV ad.  If marketers can join in the Connected TV initiative, they might just be able to help shape the future of TV advertising to one that is consumer-friendly…and dare I say, even beneficial to the consumer.

Whether or not the Connected TV initiative finally delivers on the high hopes of IPTV is anyone’s guess.  But I’m hopeful they pull it off and equally intrigued by the opportunities it will open up for Brand Managers and marketers worldwide.

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Consumer-centricity

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Jared Meisel, Management Director, Shopper Marketing at DraftFCB.  Jared is an old friend who I worked closely with while on P&G’s Walmart Customer Team and one of the biggest proponent’s of putting the consumer first.

Earlier this month, Brian Reich spoke at the New York Media Information Exchange Group and argued that ad agencies needed to disappear. (A three-minute clip of his speech is available here). Brian’s point was that media companies (experts in connection) and product companies (experts in products) no longer need a middle man (ad agencies) to reach consumers. They can partner and develop advertising programs by combining their knowledge of products and media.

In principle, this seems to be a sound argument. We all want to eliminate the middle man—for cost savings, simplicity and efficiency. It is certainly true that product companies know the most about their products, and media companies about media. I would even agree that the old ad agency model is no longer relevant—if an agency is not bringing its clients creative ways to reach consumers, the agency is not doing its job.

Brian claimed that a media-centric and product-centric approach would reach consumers. But as I thought about this, a question stuck in my head: Who represents the consumer? There is plenty of new media available, and yet most is not effective in reaching consumers. There are plenty of new products being launched in the market, and yet many are not successfully resonating with consumers.

Media-centric and product-centric approaches are no longer effective. Marketers must take a more consumer-centric approach. Here are three specific ways in which we as marketers are failing to represent the consumer in our approach to marketing:

  1. We are not clearly defining the true business issues or problems: Of course we want to increase sales, build awareness, and drive trial. But why isn’t that currently working?  What about the product, target, or marketplace (competition, retailers, etc.) is keeping us from delivering the results we need? We all agree that it is important to define the business issue, and yet it is amazing to me just how little time is actually put toward this. Looking at the data, knowing the product, and understanding the target can enable marketers to take a very creative approach to framing up a business challenge. This will not only help us and our partners think differently about the issue, but it will also result in a creative approach to solving the problem. Be warned—to do this right, you need to take an honest, consumer-centric look at your product. More on that point later.
  2. We are incrementalizing on the incremental: In an effort to continue delivering new products and product news, companies have begun to drive in the well worn ruts of the incrementialized road. This happens with products and it happens with marketing. By simply applying the Logic of More—one is good, two is better and three is best—we have created an environment in which we are handcuffed into force-feeding more and more products into the market, creating more noise for consumers to ignore. And not so ironically, the percentage of new products that succeed continues to decline.
  3. We take the wrong approach to delivering products: Said another way, we are letting the tail wag the dog. Forgive the pun, but if success for all products ultimately means getting it into consumers’ hands, how do we not let those who use and buy our products drive our plans? Said another way, why do we take such an R&D (or existing technology-centric) approach to developing new products instead of letting the need or consumer drive our approach?  The answer is a complicated one, filled with corporate structure and departments, but then again, how many times must we fail before we start to question the approaches that lead us to creating the wrong products?

So, who will be bold enough to take a more consumer-centric approach to do this?  It is a challenge to us as marketers to be more creative—not just in our output, but in our input and in our approach.

Disclaimer:  This posting reflects my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer or its clients.

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Two must reads on Social Media

While I was on the road this past week, I finally had a chance to finish two books that have been sitting on my nightstand.  Both are must-reads for any marketer/brand manager that is trying to understand the changing landscape that puts the consumer in control:

  • Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Written by my good friend Pete Blackshaw, this book talks about how in a consumer-driven world, business leaders need to establish credibility for their brands by listening and engaging with customers.  My favorite part of the book comes near the end when Pete talks about the Consumer Relations Department.  For years Consumer Relations has been a forgotten cost center, often outsourced to the farthest reaches of the globe in an attempt at lowering costs.  But in today’s world, Consumer Relations is often the front line for listening to consumers.  Pete makes the point for rethinking the Consumer Relations Department by taking money away from Mass Media and investing it to form better relationships with Consumers.  I couldn’t agree more.
  • Groundswell – Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies:  I have become a big fan of Forrester recently and this book does nothing by reaffirm that faith.  Unlike other books on Social Media that focus on the technology, Groundswell focuses on the social shift of how consumers behave and the impact it is having on business.  They do so by looking at 25 real-life case studies of the Groundswell in action, while layering it with deep Forrester data.  They also take the book one step further with not only a great blog, but also a free Social Technographics Profile for your customers.

These two books are at the top of my list for anyone wanting to understand the dramatic change that has taken place in the consumer landscape.  Great stuff.

Is there such a thing as Consumer 2.0?

Recently the guys over at Mr Youth, sent me a paper they wrote on Consumer 2.0 and the 5 Rules to Engage a New Breed of Consumer.  Accordingly to them, the following 5 rules dictate how brands should interact with a new breed of “connected” consumers.
  1. Authenticity Trumps Celebrity – Consumer 2.0 responds to honest, relevant messaging from peers over marketing speak and celebrity endorsements
  2. Niche is the New Norm – Consumers 2.0 do not form a mass market. They relish in choices and look for products and services that speak to them personally
  3. Bite-Size Communication Dominates – Consumer 2.0 digests short, personal and highly relevant messaging in bulk while growing increasingly adept at blocking out noise
  4. Personal Utility Drives Adoption – Consumer 2.0 chooses to consume what they find useful in their lives over manufactured marketing needs
  5. Consumers Own Brands – Consumer 2.0 will speak about, re-purpose and associate with your brand as they see fit

Overall I think these are great rules, though I would push back on a couple of points they made:

  • Is it really the “Demise of the Glamorized Celebrity”? – Mr Youth makes the point that in today’s world, there isn’t a celebrity a brand can bank on that consumers want to completely emulate.  I tend disagree.  Sure consumers have woken up to the fact that most celebs are simply endorsing a product for the paycheck.  And sure every celeb can fall out of favor and hurt an endorsement.  But celebrities are at an all-time high today…they just aren’t as “lasting” as they once were.  For instance, thanks to The Hills, Lauren Conrad is now a “real” celebrity even though she was a nobody a couple of years ago.  Celebrities can still be a great benefit for a brand, but it is no longer as simple as signing the biggest name.  An authentic celebrity endorsement can still be worth its weight in gold.  Just ask the latest “it” fashion clothing who appeared in the pages of US Weekly or the folks over at Pinkberry if a celebrity endorsement helped them at all.  Authenticity may trump celebrity, but it is trumped by authenticity AND celebrity together.
  • Is there a “Decreased Power of the Brand.” – This is one I just flat out disagree with.  The report says that they aren’t anti-brand but instead they just don’t care about wearing brand logos, don’t believe in advertising, etc.  If anything, I think brands are more powerful than ever today because consumers are looking for brands they can identify with…brands with a purpose that say something about them.  10 years ago, you just needed a powerful brand that could appeal to everyone like Nike.  But today consumers are turning to brands like Method, Whole Foods, and others that stand for something, that have a Brand Purpose.  Brands mean more than ever today, but at the same time, brand building takes more effort than it did in the past in order to make someone care.
  • Does the term “cool” holds less weight with this generation? – I think the point Mr Youth is trying to make is that “cool” has lost its universal meaning…but not its meaning all together.  It is just that the emergence of the niche has allowed cool to mean different things to different people.  And best yet, as they point out, people that define “cool” the same way as you are just a click away.
  • Is there an increase in the type of social connections? – I find this chart from the report pretty interesting.  It says Consumer 2.0 has 3 types of friends.  I do believe this exists but I wonder if the line between each is that defined.  I think to my own social network and I don’t know if I can define people into each bucket (except the bucket of close friends that is). 
Breakdown of Consumer 2.0 "friends"

Breakdown of Consumer 2.0 Friends

The report is for sure worth a read so check it out for yourself.

Brilliant trailer by Microsoft Advertising

I just got tipped off to this trailer for a “movie” by Microsoft Advertising.  Surprisingly funny.