UBER Taxi. Differences vanish.

UBER Taxi

unnamedUBER Taxi is not a typo. It’s the reality of what all too often is a brand migration from competitive redefinition to equal and alternative.

What made UBER so appealing a while back? Was it the business model of independent owner/operator?

Was it the UBER application that allowed users to order a hire from their smart phone? Was it the GPS tracking of the ride that you could track in REAL time on your phone? Was it your ability to pay in advance, save a few bucks, pounds, or euros? Was it the simplicity of not having to figure a tip?

Disruptive Innovation

It was all of those things. UBER was the definition of a disruptive innovation.

London Taxi. Uber Taxi?The means to hire a ride was transformed for the better. It was cheaper, predictable and more convenient. Sure, it was still easier to hail a cab in New York or London because of the abundance of taxis in most major cities.

But if your travels took you to a restaurant in an area of the city that was less popular — heck, UBER was great.

But UBER’s difference is shrinking. Like so many revolutionary ideas before, as the business matures, the differences shrink.

A few weeks ago, I hired an UBER ride and the driver had posted a sign in his vehicle that read: “Tips are Welcomed.” Sorry, buddy, but UBER is a tip-free ride in my book. Pay tips and you are an UBER Taxi. No different then a NYC Yellow Cab.

Disruption has a short life

Disruptive innovations often have a short shelf life. Competitors in the legacy markets adapt to the new changes and soon the differences that made the service or product so revolutionary become table stakes. A few examples? The BlackBerry took the interactive pager and telephone to new heights.

UBER TaxiThe innovation revolutionized the market. Enter the iPhone, which was the disruptive innovation that changed mobile communications and killed the BlackBerry. Just this past week, BlackBerry ceased production of its old style (retro, believe it or not) keyboard. Try to buy any phone today that is not smart and you will see how the market adapted.

Xerox pretty much invented the office copier. Today, it has become a verb that has nothing to do with the brand itself.

So much in our world loses differentiation and becomes synonymous with the product or service they were meant to displace.

UBER has poor brand management

The UBER Taxi is just such a service because no one is actually managing the brand. The brand’s promise is left up to the independent drivers and, as fares increase, taxi companies roll out apps, drivers/operators solicit tips…and the differences vanish and UBER becomes UBER Taxi.

esurance as UBER TaxiDid you ever wonder why so many of our newspapers have dual names? Like the Herald Tribune, daily competitors became one entity.

Unless UBER continues to disruptively innovate and create a brand message beyond smart phone accessibility we can expect an UBER Taxi service that is a division of Yellow Cabs in NYC.

Remember when esurance was trying to disruptively innovate the world of insurance? It claimed lower overhead because of its on-line model and independence. Today? It’s a division of Allstate.

Pokemon GO and PokeStops a boon for business

On Monday, I wrote about the popularity of the new Pokemon Go app and how its popularity both befuddled me and intrigued me.

Pokestops
Pokemon Go means even Pikachu can be found at PokeStops

At last check, the game now has been downloaded well over 7.5 million times and is making in the neighborhood of $2 million per day. It is the most popular app in Apple’s app store and is on track to be used by more people than Twitter. Additionally, some estimates report that Pokemon Go is being played nearly 45 minutes a day per user, more than any other social app. The Holocaust Museum and Arlington Cemetery have already outlawed the use of the app on their grounds.

A new opportunity for businesses – being near PokeStops

Thinking about it today, the Pokemon Go brand can be a powerful tool for businesses. As I wrote, the emotional drivers of this craze is that those who use it believe they are cool when they use it and are at important places. It is also much the same for businesses. They have an opportunity to connect with a new target audience.

PokestopsOne of the game’s intentions is to urge people to get out and walk, looking for these virtual Pokemon characters. Throughout the augmented world, there are PokeStops that give players items like eggs and Poke Balls. Businesses have the ability to purchase (within the Pokemon Go app) items called lures that entice Pokemons to their location for a period of time.

Store owners have reported immediate increases in traffic and sales if they are near a PokeStop and have an active lure. There is no other current form of advertising with this impact on such a wide scale. These businesses, in essence, echo the brand face the player has – I am cool because I use it and my location is important. The businesses are aligning themselves with a very coveted age group and making their own locations important.

Eventually, the game’s developer, Niantic Labs, will make it possible to purchase PokeStops. As of now, the best businesses can hope for is that they near one. But the power of this Pokemon Go craze cannot be denied and, most importantly, should not be dismissed by businesses needing to connect with a potentially new audience. Latching onto the Pokemon Go phenomenon means you are cool and where you are is important.

That will make your business important too.

A market study in the era of Peak TV

The winners and losers of Peak TV, and what Apple TV can do about it

We are living in the world of Peak TV, a term coined by FX President John Landgraf a few years ago – and he was right in many ways. We are living in an unprecedented era in which the TV options are more varied, more accessible, better overall and just plain more.

In 2015, there were a whopping 409 original scripted series, which is double what was produced six years ago and is now a record. 2016 promises to top that.

Landgraf coined that term because he believes the industry can’t sustain that kind of production. There are only so many eyes watching screens so how can more than 400 shows exist and networks continue to succeed?

For the first time, networks are taking on the challenges of Peak TV by viewing themselves as brands rather than simply deliverers of content. If you’re just a collection of shows without a guiding principle then you won’t succeed. That’s true in television and it’s true in any business.

How do networks figure out their brand? How does it affect which shows a network airs? And how can brand aid in the battle against (or co-exist with) the streaming giants of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu?

With most of us waiting breathlessly for a groundbreaking Apple TV to fix this problem, what are the networks doing now and what should Apple TV look like? What is the future of Peak TV?

The streaming networks changed everything

Let’s start answering those questions by addressing the elephant in the room: Streaming networks. They have significantly changed the landscape because it took the power from the networks and gave it to viewers. No longer would consumers be beholden to what the networks offered and when they could see shows.

The viewer emerged as the one in control.

Netflix
Netflix changed the way we watch TV.

Consumer control is now the way of the world. The days of being told that you could only watch a limited offering at a certain time are gone. That is the single biggest reason why the streaming networks have succeeded.

Sure, their offerings have often been stellar. But that’s only a small part of it. Netflix, which started as a mail order DVD rental service, didn’t really take off until it jumped into streaming with content that was early seasons of current and past shows from other networks.

You might even remember the outcry when founder Reed Hastings planned to split the two sides of the Netflix business into two different brands, causing fears among Netflix customers that their subscriptions were going to double. Hastings backed off.

The success of Netflix was in giving customers control, thus positioning TV networks as out of touch and even arrogant. The idea that you could only watch what you wanted under somebody else’s rules created images of TV execs sitting in their offices and smoking cigars like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Netflix also structured its services as subscription based instead of on a pay-per-view basis. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons Apple has struggled with its online services is because it is not subscription-based. In music, Pandora and Spotify have overtaken the industry because they’re subscription based. When Apple finally released a subscription-based Apple Music, it was too late. (That and other problems.)

Subscriptions add the illusion of control because, subconsciously, the viewer (and listener) believes they are watching (and listening) for free. When you charge on an individual basis – like what Louis CK did recently with his critically acclaimed series Horace & Pete – many commentators were outraged that the comic would charge per episode. How dare he?

The advantages of being a cable network

Before we go any further, let’s put this out front. We’re not going to examine the broadcast TV networks: NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX. Those networks still air shows that get high ratings and bring in tons of money even if their ratio of failure is enormous. In fact, they are the ones hurting the most from Peak TV.

We’re more interested in the networks that have upped their sophistication, matching the tastes of the television watching public and critical landscape. Let’s focus on the cable networks.

Within them there are subsets. There are the prestige networks like FX and AMC (for my money, the two best networks on TV). Then there are the niche players, ranging from a powerhouse like ESPN to The Food Network, Bravo and Nickelodeon. We’re not going to get much into the niche networks but just note: They should not be ignored. HGTV’s Fixer Upper, for example, is a ratings juggernaut.

A third subset is the premium channels like HBO and Showtime, which have a different delivery and payment system than the rest.

What are the advantages to each? For FX and AMC, they have each created a prestige brand based on the success of its shows. Breaking Bad and Mad Men made AMC. The Shield provided liftoff for FX.

Peak TV
Two shows that lifted the AMC brand.

Both networks then became known for high-level, gritty programming that led for FX to roll out Justified, The Americans, Fargo and The People vs. OJ Simpson. All are terrific.

AMC had original programming before the double whammy of Mad Men (July 2007) and Breaking Bad (January 2008) gave it the identity it has now.

What’s interesting about each is that they both started as niche programmers. AMC was the place for cheesy moves from the 70s and 80s. AMC, after all, stands for American Movie Classics. (Although its definition of classic was different than mine.) FX was the place for special effects-laden action movies that had completed their theater and premium channel runs. (The name FX was actually supposed to mean FOX +, of a sort. But the movies they aired suggested otherwise.)

Therefore, each had to overcome pre-conceived notions about themselves.

To do that, each rebranded itself with an actual meaning. AMC rebranded under the theme of “Story Matters Here,” which immediately set it apart from both its past history and other networks. (The less said about its current theme, “Something More,” the better.)

FX added the theme of “There is No Box” (meaning, think outside the box). Soon, the programming each offered fulfilled their promises – that they were different and better.

Could they work as a streaming service? Well, each has a streaming app today and they are two networks that most rely on so-called second-day ratings, meaning viewership measured by DVR recordings, cable on demand and streaming from their apps. Sure, it could work as a streaming service.

Peak TVBut part of the advantage of being on a cable (or satellite) system is increased awareness and brand recognition. You have the ability to promote your new shows during commercial breaks of your current ones. While cutting the chord is becoming increasingly popular, only about one in seven Americans have actually done it.

There’s another advantage that needs to be addressed. The Internet, specifically, the online press. The critical TV landscape changed when some sites, like the now defunct Television Without Pity, began recapping shows that aired the night before. Those recaps started out as funny jibes (the recaps of Survivor on TWP were freakin’ hilarious) but have now become serious journalism.

Any website that covers TV in some fashion now has re-cappers – and that includes The New York Times.

While those re-cappers do write about the streaming shows from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon (AV Club is probably the most robust of them all), it’s what has aired to the nation the night before that gets the most ink and attention. There’s a different immediacy when recapping the day after most viewers have watched that program.

In the age of Peak TV (or, as Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman rephrased it, “Too Much TV”), generating that kind of chatter and momentum puts you in the current zeitgeist. Google how many sites are still trying to find ways to recap Game of Thrones weeks after the last episode of Season 6 and you’ll get my point.

The premium channels

The dominant premium channels are HBO and Showtime, with subsets also succeeding (Cinemax, owned by HBO, and Starz). Their advantage is that they are compensated directly from the cable subscriber, a kind of Netflix with a middle man (the cable system) and a regular programming lineup.

Considering what we have examined before, premium channels would seem to have the best of both worlds. You have subscribers (like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon). You have the advantages of being on air (like FX and AMC). And, in the case of HBO, you also have a standalone streaming service available without a cable subscription.

The HBO model is the best in the industry, but you’ve got to wonder. In this era of Peak TV, does the future of HBO really look that bright?

I’d say yes because HBO built its business on the shoulders of the best brand in the business. “It’s Not TV. It’s HBO” was brilliant. It was a stronger version of AMC’s “Stories Matter Here” because it more clearly explained that HBO was different and better.

HBOIt also gave the network brand permission to do anything. It could do drama, comedy, documentary (it has the best documentary division on TV), comedy specials and movies. HBO is so good at branding that its theme for HBO GO, “It’s HBO. Anywhere” speaks to the control issue that streaming currently owns.

HBO has a model to follow, but there is another issue to consider.

The relationship between content and brand

As part of our brand relaunch process, we do a brand audit. This exercise looks at everything the brand does, both physically and emotionally, so we can be sure the brand can fulfill the promise. One of the values we examine is brand-product relationships. Do the products themselves follow the brand?

Brand AuditFor example, if the brand promise is about simplicity, do the products of the brand make things simpler for its customers? If they don’t, we tell the company that they shouldn’t create that product because the brand will become less believable. Do it only if it fulfills the promise.

How do the current networks stack up?

The interesting one for me here is AMC. “Story Matters Here” has directed the network to develop a menu of tough, interesting dramas. They may be of varied quality, but there’s no doubt that Preacher, Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, The Night Manager and Turn came from the same network. That’s not say they have the same style or storytelling angle, but that they fulfill the brand promise.

It’s when they networks away from their promise (if they even have one) when they struggle. For example, what does A&E stand for? Who is the A&E viewer? A&E stands for Arts & Entertainment, although the network has long dropped that association.

It has the successful Duck Dynasty (although it’s not as successful as it once was), but its lineup is littered with The Wahlburgers, Escaping Polygamy, Storage Wars and Bates Motel. The problem A&E has is that it doesn’t have a brand promise that can direct its programming. With that lineup, I don’t even know what that promise would be. This is a network in dire need of a rebrand.

Apple TV

Here’s what we know. Streaming networks have given back control to the viewer and probably started Peak TV in the process. Sophistication is in (even in comedy). And having a brand promise that is fulfilled by your programming is the road to success.

Visibility and preference win the day.

In reality, the way to create a successful network is the same process in creating a successful brand. You find the value that has the highest emotional intensity in the market (through quantitative research) and align your brand with that intensity.

The streaming services have done so well because their own models are aligned with a belief that had been increasing in intensity ever since Apple introduced the iPod: I believe things turn out better when I’m in control. That intensity has gotten stronger in the era of Peak TV.

The one thing missing in the TV landscape is a focused brand promise that is clearly stated and differentiating. Even with the positions of HBO and AMC standing tall, no one has clearly stated who the viewer is when they are watching that network.

Let’s make an assumption. Let’s pretend quantitative research demonstrated that the highest emotional intensity among viewers was the difficulty that FX President John Landgraf stated. That Peak TV means there’s too much good TV.

So how does Apple TV (or something like it) capitalize and align itself with that belief? Since we’ve been waiting years for Apple to fulfill the deathbed promise of Steve Jobs that he had “figured out TV,” we’re going to state what Apple TV should be.

It should be a portal that allows you to build your own network. Apple collects all the access to your channels and develops your own, customized network where you add shows and requests in one place. I’m not just talking about shows that appear on your cable system. It would include Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. That is, you would build your network with streaming networks, cable networks, premium channels and broadcast networks combined into one portal.

This may sound like something similar to a DVR, but not if you had the ability to have one search engine, program your networks, categorize your shows and, mostly importantly, see yourself in the brand itself.

You simply tell Apple TV (through Siri, I imagine) what you want to watch now and in the future, and it pulls it up in an interface that you control and program.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the future of TV is apps. It’s in simplicity because right now (according to our imaginary research) viewers are overwhelmed with choices and have no easy way to navigate it all from all the sources at their disposal.

Our brand promise is that we make Peak TV watching simple because it’s the smart thing to do.

We have a brand promise and have given control to the viewer. It’s a demonstration of the way to win in today’s current TV landscape: To have a clearly defined brand. Without it, you are A&E.

In a way, I think that’s the problem the broadcast networks are having. The definitions of what describes NBC over CBS or any of the others are blurred, and often defined by on-air personalities. CBS probably has the best brand in the market but that’s mostly because it has procedurals that have many variations (such as the CSI and Law & Order series) and appeal to an older demographic.

Hannibal
The Peak TV show that got away.

We leave you with this. The most interesting broadcast network TV show of the last decade was Hannibal, a dreamlike expression of evil that was gorgeous and disturbing – and canceled after two seasons. It should have been a gigantic hit. But it aired on NBC and nothing about NBC’s brand gave it permission to run Hannibal. Viewers, therefore, were sure that Hannibal was a failure without seeing a frame of it.

If Hannibal had been on AMC, FX or HBO, I believe it would have been a smash.

Brand is the key to success for any business. It’s just as important in Landgraf’s Peak TV.

What is the deal with Pokemon Go?

I am the last person to comment on the mania surrounding a Nintendo game, but the immediate popularity of Pokemon Go is too immense to ignore.

And too interesting to leave alone, too.

Pokemon Go
The Pokemon Go craze has been swift, but what does it say about its users?

Reports are that the game has been downloaded more than a million times since its release just last week and Nintendo’s stock has jumped 25%.

What’s going on here? Is this just a fad or something larger?

The trick of Pokemon Go is that it uses augmented reality in which players use their phones to find Pokemon characters in real places, like churches, malls and just down the street from where you are standing. People are walking around their cities with their phones out, looking for these characters, capturing them and using them to fight battles with others who have captured other characters.

My Twitter feed was swarmed by this craze over the weekend with posts from celebrities, reporters and authors. You know, intelligent and thinking adults. Pokemon, which I’ve always thought was just a kids’ card game with silly looking characters, has taken quick root with a larger demographic with Pokemon Go.

Why Pokemon Go is so popular

To understand why people have flocked to this game, you have to understand how preference works. We buy the things that define us in an aspirational manner, even if we are not aware of it. (Most of the time we are not.) I didn’t buy a sports car because I thought it made me look cool. I did it because I wanted to be cool.

The brands we most covet align themselves with such identifications. The Nike wearer is one who wants to “Just Do It,” win without the hassle that usually clutters our life.

Pokemon Go has tapped into a very interesting desire – The yearning to make your current world important. The game is a fantasy that your everyday life and everyday places are important and part of a larger universe.

Intellectually, we can all make the argument that our current surroundings fit that definition. But Pokemon Go makes it real. Well, as real as an app on your phone can make it real.

Of course, you may be seeing people walking down the street, looking at their phones and bumping into things. There have already been reports of injuries as well as users finding a dead body and others luring robbery victims. As sad as those things are, those events increase the importance of this augmented reality.

I haven’t downloaded this app yet and doubt that I will. (Famous last words.) But the appeal of it lies in a self-identification of many – and that’s why so many people are hooked.

The mistake of the Fitbit Blaze

As a gadget guy, I’ve dabbled in the world of wearable technology and have looked at everything from the Apple Watch to the new Fitbit Blaze.

Fitbit Blaze
The Fitbit Blaze looks awfully familiar.

For a time, I gave the original Fitbit a shot. I liked it enough, but soon found the charging and syncing process to be a few too many steps than I wanted with a wearable device. I was also overly worried about the clasp coming undone (which happened once) and hitting the pavement. First world concerns, I know.

I bought a Pebble Steel too but I didn’t stop there. I gave the Apple Watch Sport a go and loved the device — it was everything a Fitbit was plus a ton of apps, and it looked great.

While I loved the Apple Watch, I went back to my classic pocket watch timepieces. Folks that know me can attest to my penchant for these classic beauties. From now on, I’ll always have one connected to my belt loop and resting in my pocket.

Consequentially, while I no longer have wearable tech on my wrist, I get the gist of the market.

Fitbit Blaze is copying the Apple Watch.

In my experience, therefore, not even the Fitbit Blaze has the functionality of the Apple Watch.

The Fitbit Blaze, which was introduced at the Las Vegas CES convention, looks a lot like an Apple Watch and not much like the Fitbit aesthetic.

This is unfortunate as the Q3 earning call for Fitbit was unrivaled, prompting many to call it the “most successful wearable tech company on the planet.” That claim wasn’t an understatement. The company’s revenue was up from $152.9 million to $409.3 million (which came about by having 4.8 million units sold.) However, since the introduction of the Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit’s stocks have plummeted, hitting an all-time low of $18.50.

The wearable market is confused by the Fitbit Blaze.

When you create a device that looks similar to a product created by one of the most coveted brands in the world, you have a problem on your hands – or better, wrist.

Fitbit has claimed that its segment of the market is entirely different than Apple’s. It is right to say that. The Fitbit line, including the Fitbit Blaze, is all about health. Therefore, the devices are intentionally simple because they serve one purpose: to act as a monitor for those seeking an active lifestyle. So why is the Fitbit Blaze more like an Apple Watch than Fitbit?

Fitbit must be sure that the physical nature of the devices it constructs remains both visually and tactilely similar to its brand. To run from that mindset is to ignore what gave it a huge percentage of the wearable market.

Ultimately, the introduction of the Fitbit Blaze should serve as a foreboding symbol for Fitbit. The company should take a hint from Apple and think different.