Adventures in Merseyside: part three

It has been over a decade since I left Merseyside to move down to London. During this time some things have changed. None more so than Liverpool Lime Street. The formerly grimy station has had a makeover. An independent coffee shop that any city would be proud of sits between platforms 7&8 with bacon rolls included on the menu to appeal to the taste of the local clientele alongside the Illy-branded expresso cups. Though free Wi-Fi would be a nice touch.

Alongside this progress has come a blandification as traditional Liverpool boozers and independent trendy bars face off with a plethora of lifeforce draining chain establishments like Walkabout, Revolution and the Slug & Lettuce. Some of these chains are champions of the vertical drinking establishment – so not great for a city that has enough social ills already.

I like: Sephora “vending machine” at airport

Sephora “vending machine” at airport, originally uploaded by Salim_Mitha.

Salim took a picture of this cosmetic vending machine at Dallas Fort Worth airport which I geeked out on. Whilst the brand is owned by LVMH it sells cosmetics in JC Penney, so no brand manager having to worry about providing an appropriate luxury experience via a vending machine like you may have to do with more upmarket brands like Darphin or Clinique.

Now if they could vend fragrances in the same way, it would make gift shopping much easier for men rather than having to negotiate duty-free shop assistants.

Links of the day

tweetaways.com – an easy way to pick a random twitterer who tweets a specific phrase

Postling – ping.fm with scheduling

I, Cringely » Carried Away – legislation aimed at hedge funds provides temporary issue for VCs.

The Big Shift: Moving to LTE From WiMAX

Putting Online Privacy in Perspective – O’Reilly Radar – Tim O’Reilly’s take on the Facebook debacle

The World Cup 2010 on Weibo – China’s answer to Twitter

Will Apple Embrace the Web? No.

BSA: Hardware Without Software Not Tax Deductible

A VC: I Prefer Safari to Content Apps On The iPad – CD-ROM vs the web all over again

Is Amazon Losing Its Edge as a Media Retailer?

Adventures in Merseyside: part two

The heart of Birkenhead has developed some new contradictions. Housing and buildings are being demolished and then promptly replaced with bland apartment blocks. Given that much of the brick work was much better in the Victorian houses that the apartment blocks replaced. My Dad told me about flats for homeless people being built that required two car parking spaces for each apartment. Obviously the planning department involved know about a different kind of homeless people to the Big Issue sellers I see in London.

The shopping centre features empty stores as the shops all migrated to the far end of the shopping centre. However in a sign of development the shopping mall features free wi-fi.

Thinking about the ‘Made in China’ brand

Its hard to think now that ‘Made in Germany‘ did not stand for excellence, especially when we think about brands like Zeiss, Leica, Miele, Siemens and Daimler-Benz. But at the beginning of the 20th century ‘Made in Germany‘ stood for cheap and tasteless products.

China is in a similar situation, despite being the workshop of the world for all intends and purposes and coming out with some of the world’s most iconic and innovative devices ‘Made in China‘ is still perceived as poor-quality and cheap. All of Apple’s products are made in China but proclaim ‘Designed by Apple in California‘. So maybe China could learn something from early-20th century Germany?

Germany got out of its low quality reputation over a few decades (about the length of the Chinese economic miracle) by forming an organisation with a mix of members drawn from artists, designers and big industry called Deutscher Werkbund.  The Deutscher Werkbund was a combination of a lobby group, standards body and catalyst for good design across all disciplines: product design, factories, typography and industrial standards. Their members did landmark work for industrial titans like AEG, Bosch and Volkswagen.

Quality was at the centre of everything that they did. Products became sophisticated in their design. They put a lot of thought into how an identity was instilled through design into the most boring of objects.

An unintended side-effect of the  effort of the Deutsche Werkbund was that Germany had a sound industrial infrastructure that the national socialist government took advantage of. The German government closed down the Werkbund in 1938. But it also laid the foundation of the German post-war miracle, the government reinstated the Werkbund in 1949.

China has a government that can make things happen, the companies, the engineering talent, legions of artists and many great designers – it is just a matter of putting these groups together and giving them the permission to do something really great.

Adventures in Merseyside: part one

I drove back to see my parents in Liverpool and used a satellite navigation system on the journey for the first time (despite the fact that the route is something that I know by heart). I found that the device changed my driving style in subtle ways. I relied less on road-markings and found the experience less stressful as the device is very forgiving of wrong turns. I also found that encouraged me to ensure I kept my speed more consistent rather than relying on the engine noise and occasional glances at the speedometer.

Links of the day

US lawmakers target prepaid mobile anonymity – forget about getting a local SIM for when you travel to the US in the future. You can anonymise SIMs just like bank accounts taking them over from overseas students who go back home

EETimes.com – Will proteins revolutionize computing?

Viewing a website is a ‘transactional decision’, says OFT’s behavioural ad study | Pinsent Masons LLP

Drill (Down), Baby, Drill: Facebook’s New “Simple” Privacy Settings Still Pretty Complex – Danny Sullivan lays the smackdown on Facebook

MIIT: China Added 8.497 Million Phone Users In April 2010 – ChinaTechNews.com

TechnoKimchi :: Why Google needs to do a FAR FAR better job in Korea – wrong on so many levels, Google seriously needs to clean house on this

How Apple’s mobile strategy popped a cap in Microsoft’s value | VentureBeat – Microsoft for years has suffered from a reputation discount, though recent business steps won’t have helped. Re Vista, Win95 was more of a dog in terms of product execution, it was marketing that dropped the ball

iPageRank – checking data across a number of services – does a similar job to Quarkbase and seems to be a bit faster

Jargon Watch: Icing

CNet had an interesting article on how the US version of Smirnoff Ice had become part of university fraternity house culture in the US. In a move that would have made the Portman Group cringe, fraternity members have a drinking game. According to The Awl the rules are straightforward:

…hand a Smirnoff Ice (the warmer/more disgusting the flavor, the better) to a friend (your “bro”), and he must get down on one knee and chug the malt beverage, regardless of location and situational appropriateness. HOWEVER. If said friend happens to have a Smirnoff Ice on his person, then the bro who initiated the battle has to chug BOTH Ices.

This is known as an Ice Block.

This has to be documented and posted online naturally and a whole eco-system of websites like Bros Icing Bros and You Got Iced!.

Smirnoff must be hoping that such a cultural phenomena doesn’t take off in the UK, where the drinks are vodka rather than malt-based and the reputational impact would be huge.

Links of the day

Don’t Blame Apple for Its Music Monopoly. Blame the Big Labels. | AllThingsD

Time to Get Your Game On With Zynga and Yahoo! | Yodel Anecdotal – interesting move that diversifies Zynga beyond Facebook

Lady Gaga’s Manager: We Make Music Videos For YouTube – YouTube killed the MTV star?

No Robots Allowed | Search Engine Journal – Great SEO basic tips

TelecomTV | Yahoo! CEO curses her way through announcement of strategic alliance with Nokia

Malcolm Barclay: “Expectations of mobile technology outweigh what’s possible” | Mobile Industry Review – pretty much the same with most technologies

Razorfish Releases 2010 Outlook Report – PSFK

Facebook’s Culture Problem May Be Fatal – Harvard Business Review – a bit dramatic in parts but really good points well made

80 UK tech journos you should be following on Twitter | stedavies.com

China’s Five-Star Infrastructure, Underused – Forbes.com – ready for greatness

Satirical BP Twitter account draws more followers than official BP America accounts

MySpace, Friendster Blew It: Why Facebook Rose to the Top – last man standing basically

Stop The Presses: ‘Sunset’ For Print In Five Years, FT Sees | paidContent

The reason Robbie Bach was fired | Asymco – interesting analysis on HP | Palm deal from a Microsoft perspective

German brands fall short on social media – Warc

Facebook sees mixed results in Asia – Warc – doing well in India, but badly in South Korea and Japan

Reporting Adverse Events in Social Media « ScienceRoll – Gordian knot in online pharma marketing

MediaPost Publications Analyst: Microsoft Ready To Reorg Big Time 05/26/2010 – getting the marketing right and improving online marketing strategies

Heyman Associates – Digital in corporate comms survey – interesting that a lack of expertise comes up

EETimes.com – Survey reveals EUV to be used for making chips in 2014

Yahoo Buys Indonesian Location-Based Social Network Koprol | paidContent – Foursquare on the cheap

Q&A: Gerd Leonhard on why social media beats search | Econsultancy – interesting interview with Gerd Leonard. What about social search?

Yahoo’s New Core Competency Seems to Be Outsourcing to Others

The Mongoliad – Neal Stephenson’s new work

Foxconn’s CEO speaks out against suicide, 11th employee dead – reasonably sane piece by John Biggs on the 11 suicides

Bartz: “Google Is 90% Search, That’s A Fact” – Except It’s Not – Google’s numbers are more diversified than search

Tongue-twisting brand extensions

I was reading this morning about the launch of KitKat Chunky Caramel Duo by Nestlé. Whilst I am sure it fits in a brand hierarchy and had been focus-grouped to death. Did anybody think about what it would be like to pitch in? “Hi, my name is Ged,  I am calling on behalf of my client Nestlé, to invite you to the product launch of our latest chocolate bar; the KitKat Chunky Caramel Duo,” seriously try it out on your colleague and see how linguistically awkward it feels.

With confectionery, a lot of sales still go through independent retailers and in at least some of the retailers you would need to interact with member of staff to ask for what you want. I suspect that brand managers didn’t think of the shops (like off-licenses) I have been into in moodier areas where the consumer is screened from staff and goods by a perspex wall. I would expect these kind of names from technology company products: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium edition springs to mind as a great example, but I would expect better from an FMCG firm.

Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week

Content and brand promise

I have been having conversations over the past few months. with a number of people who talked about video as the panacea of social media, many of whom struck me as being driven by a televisual vision of the future a la Max Headroom, or that bit in Back To The Future were the 1950s Doc Brown sees a 1985-vintage JVC camcorder or “portable television studio” as he puts it and realises why they would need a movie-actor like Ronald Reagan as a president in the future. Text was derided as old hat and images have never had the degree of respect that they deserve.

My own view veers towards pragmatism. Video can be extremely powerful, especially in conveying emotion and telling a story.  However as with every other touch point for stakeholders I view socialised content as having an implicit brand promise for stakeholders.

When we speak to our bank or IT technical support we have a certain expectation about how long we will be kept listening to hold music before speaking to someone who can help. We will only tolerate a certain length of queue in a bank branch but will put up with a longer queue for a major sporting event or cool nightclub.

text versus audio versus video

We have similar expectations of socialised content in terms of its utility and or entertainment value. We can browse a magazine article or scroll through emails. If something grabs my eye I read it. Using RSS I surf almost 700 feeds for something of interest. It is harder to do this with audio files, but you can listen to them and do something else. I often do house chores whilst podcasts play in the background.

Video however is the most demanding of content. It demands my complete attention and time since the content by its nature is both immersive  and tricky to skip through to find interesting nuggets. Consequently, I have a higher expectation that the content on the video is sufficiently interesting or entertaining to keep me engaged.

A failure to provide me with a sufficiently engaging experience, not only leaves with an unfavourable feeling towards the video, but I also assign a negative mark against the brand that the content is from. This means that video content is a high risk, medium-to-high reward proposition.

Thinking about the appropriate medium for content requires asking the following questions:

  • Is there anything in the video which could not be done with audio?
  • Is there anything in the audio which would make it more interesting than in print or as a blog post?
  • Can the content be made more understandable, grasped more easily using an infographic rather than reams of explanatory text?

On the other hand you could get it very, very wrong.

A great example of this is Mr T ‘putting the T in IT’ for Hitachi Data Systems.

Critique of new UK administration’s broadband plans

Left Foot Forward asked me to critique the broadband plans within the new UK government administation’s programme at the end of the last week. It seemed timely to wrap this in with a quick post-election review of the digital economy act. When I kicked the tyres I found that it was essentially more of the same and some of the thorny issues that affect broadband infrastructure where either under-resourced or (like cell tower planning debacle) failed to be addressed at all.

It was blatantly obvious to me that parliament as a whole is digitally illiterate.

You can find Coalition’s super-broadband plan unworkable over at Left Foot Forward.

Links of the day

Platform Wars: The Next Generation « The Jiveman: – nice perspective on iPhone and iPad platforms

The dark side of PR [Monocle] – ‘PR people help build dialogue between corporations or political leaders and the media; they are an essential tool for transparency in business and government

White House ‘West Wing Week’ Videoblog Goes Behind the Scenes

Oprah Time: The Winter Men by John Paul Leon and Brett Lewis

I was in Gosh! Comics and decided to take a punt on a book based on its cover. That book was The Winter Men by John Paul Leon and Brett Lewis. Leon and Lewis shake up the traditional superhero canon by basing their story in the post-communist Russia.

The main protagonist is a former special forces operative who is now a policeman weaving in and out of the political intrigue involving the mayor, the government, oligarchs and political factions. It is the most detailed dense graphic novel I have ever come across and I mean this in a good way. Leon and Lewis manage to encapsulate the intrigue and culture following the collapse of communism.

Without giving too much away the story has a new twist on superhero mythology which is a homage to the ‘man of steel‘. The artwork is bleak and dark, reminding me of Frank Miller’s artwork.