Monthly Archives: August 2009

Kodak Throws Down the Social Media Gauntlet

Post image for Kodak Throws Down the Social Media Gauntlet

Over the past few months I’ve been analyzing social media marketing data produced by our alter-ego/partner SocialRep. One of the industries SocialRep tracks is consumer electronics, which includes endless sub-sectors where pitched battles for the hearts and minds of consumers play out every day. Many companies in this industry have become savvy about social media–few industries attract more online dialog than electronic gadgets–but the tactics companies use to integrate social media with traditional marketing programs varies widely.

One of the more interesting battles has been playing out in the pocket video market, where the Flip made a splash three years ago introducing a tiny video cam with no tape, just memory, and they dominated the competitive share of voice in online dialog for that sector ever since. What made this remarkable was that Flip’s maker, PureDigital, was an upstart, and they caught the industry heavy-weights flat-footed. Sony, JVC, RCA and other household brands were slow to respond until the brush fire started by PureDigital became a serious sector of the video market.

If it looked like the Flip came out of nowhere, in a way it did. PureDigital had been making cheap disposable video cameras for sale in CVS Pharmacy, and they anticipated market demand for a reusable version–a cheap video camera that would slip in your pocket. At the time, interest in YouTube was exploding, but the big handycam players were still focused on big and expensive cameras–at least, big and expensive compared to the Flip pocket cam. The tradeoff with pocket cams, of course, is quality; a tiny camera forces lots of compromises. But if you’re creating short video for sharing online, you can afford a drop in quality that no one will notice on the Web. And the opportunity to capture candid moments they’d never haul out a standard video camera to film caught the imagination of web-savvy consumers.

In time, competitors joined the fray. Creative Labs, the prolific engineers that produced the Sound Blaster and essentially invented MP3 players, outdid the Flip with a smaller camera called the Vado that went head-to-head on features and quality. Kodak appeared with their own version, the zi6, and took an interesting niche approach by creating a ruggedized version targeting the travel market. Sony came out with the Webbie, and Samsung and RCA weighed in as well.


So now you have the typical consumer electronics market dynamic: a number of players, each kicking and scratching for a foothold based on features and price. With each successive release of an updated model–which seems to be at a pace averaging two releases per company, per year–the competitors up the ante in one way or another. One company comes out with an 8GB camera, another comes out with a higher quality lens. In this way, the market slowly ratchets forward, with each competitor leveraging an incremental advance on features, quality or price. It’s a Kabuki dance that plays out the same away all across the industry. That is, until now.

If you carefully track the social media conversations about pocket video cameras, you eventually wind up with a comprehensive list of all the features people care about. Not everyone cares about the same features–some want better audio features, some want better editing software, some want higher video resolution–and the wish extends down to special features that vary among the different categories of users and their intended applications for the camera. As each new release of a product comes to market, you can track which features get checked off with a cheer, or with a groan when one contingent’s favored feature doesn’t get upgraded. This is one of the great promises of social media–listening to consumers to plan and build better products.

It turns out, Kodak was listening as well. Kodak’s CMO, Jeff Hayzlett, has been both celebrated and bashed for his approach to marketing, which includes a heavy dose of social media. Kodak is all over Facebook and Twitter–they’re just winding up a contest on Twitter to rename their newest camera–and they’re doing all the things social media gurus say a savvy company should. But when they announced the release of their newest camera, they demonstrated that they really had been listening. Instead of making an incremental advance on one or two features to move an inch ahead of the competition, Kodak cleaned up the entire list of every feature consumers had mentioned online on their wish lists. In one go. And it was uncanny. As I went back through the SocialRep data looking at the features consumers had discussed over the past 6 months, it was obvious Kodak had created the same list, and used it as a product roadmap for the Kodak zi8.

So this will be an interesting case study.

The zi8 was announced a few weeks ago, and the response to the announcement among the gadget analysts was almost apoplectic. Everyone cheered. When the advance models went out to reviewers, you could see the dialog shift ever so slightly. “Sure, it’s 1080p resolution, but how much difference does that really make? Tough crowd, but of course, reviewers need something to complain about. The real question will be how consumers respond when the camera rolls out next month–no word on Amazon pre sales yet–and what that says about social media as a marketing tool.

Will Kodak displace the Flip in competitive share of voice? (A “forensic” analysis of Flip’s marketing tactics and how Kodak’s tactics compare is an entirely different topic, but one I’ve been tracking as well for a social media case study.) There are so many angles to look at now that there’s a clear case of a company leveraging social media to tune product development. Clearly, the market has been recalibrated for pocket video cameras–every player will now have to approach parity with Kodak in features sooner rather than later. But will that kind of development acceleration across the market help Kodak? It will certainly shift the focus of development to a new set of features next year, which could give Kodak an edge as they look ahead while all their competitors focus on playing catch-up. But do they have a vision for where to take the market now that consumer’s baseline ideals have been answered?

Needless to say, I’ll be continuing to watch this play out, and watching more of the data as the story unfolds. I’m hoping maybe I can draw my friends Jonathan Knowles and Victor Cook into the discussion to parse some of the competitive market share data.

Disclosure: SocialRep is a MotiveLab partner, and provides social media intelligence software to Creative Labs.

Wikipedia and the Natural Selection of Truth

Siamo sabbia in un soffio di vento che già se ne vaThe Internets are buzzing today over changes announced to the process of editing articles on Wikipedia, which represent a major step in the evolution of the world’s first crowdsourced encyclopedia. Moving forward, changes to articles will not only require registration, but any changes to the biographies of living people will require approval from an authorized editor. This is another big evolutionary step from what started out as a completely open encyclopedia allowing additions and edits from anyone. Between two articles, one at The New York Times and one at CNET, you can get most of the relevant history and analysis of implications. I’ve got a different angle.

I grew up surrounded by books. One entire shelf in the living room was devoted to the weighty volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which subtly took root in my mind as the tangible embodiment of objective truth. I didn’t question, until much later, the concept of an ultimate authority for the veracity of basic truths, much less any motive for manipulating dry facts. Later in life, when I followed my parents into journalism, my first internship out of college was working as a Fact Checker for a large magazine. My only job was to read draft articles line by line, and make use of every reference source imaginable to double check the truth of every stated fact. I couldn’t believe the diligence required to get a single article into print, but it taught me that even careful writers make mistakes of omission and commission–and it gave me an added sense of faith in journalism and the pursuit of objective truth.

The Internet seems to have changed all that–or to put it more accurately, the Internet has helped disabuse me of my illusions. I remember in the early days of the mainstream Web, when I could follow major news stories from new angles. I remember reading news about the war in the former Yugoslavia, for example, on a translated version of Russia’s Pravda, and realizing how far truth diverges on different sides of the front line–and how much bias I had missed in the media I grew up accepting as objective truth. That was almost 15 years ago. Today, the fragmentation of media and the rise of blogs and social media has created a world of Truth on Demand–we can all subscribe to sources of information that mirror our values, our expectations, and our cultivated biases. Even the most fundamental facts can be, if not disproved, battered into irrelevance by an avalanche of counter claims and noise.

This, to me, is the greater backdrop of Wikipedia’s evolution. The institutional control of facts is disintegrating in front of our eyes, and although Wikipedia embraced that anarchy, it’s ultimately proving unworkable for a proposed universal reference of objective facts. Someone, ultimately, has to arbitrate what is published as true. The question is, how large can a community of people that accept that arbitration grow, before it divides into competing interests of what is determined to be true? And who, in the end, owns the power of arbitration? One fact The New York Times conspicuously missed in its reporting on Wikipedia is that the foundation started by Ebay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, just gained a seat on Wikimedia’s board in return for a $2M donation.

Welcome to the natural and economic selection of truth.

Photo credit: apesara

What I did on my Social Networking Vacation

tracksYou know that feeling you have when you come back from vacation? I mean a real vacation, not a couple of days off still tethered, where you slip back into your routine as if you were never gone. A real vacation means disconnection, unplugging from the routines and modalities that form the cast iron mold of daily life. When you return from disconnection, if you’ve really achieved it, reconnection is uneasy. All of the routines are familiar but they don’t quite fit. Everything that used to run on autopilot now occupies a thread of attention. For a while at least–maybe just a day, or a week–you’re an observer of the episodes of your own life. What do you see?

The conventional wisdom about vacation is that it provides perspective. By stepping outside daily routines, you can see things differently. And there’s a simple scientific reason for this. Routines are a mechanism that allow living organisms to conserve energy and prioritize attention. The more behaviors we can relegate to autopilot, the more energy and attention we can conserve. Our environment solidifies those routines, providing constant cues to keep the autopilot on track. When you get to the corner, turn right. When you open the front door, keys go on the hook. Have you ever had the experience of driving miles to work and suddenly realizing as you step out of the car that you have no recollection of the trip? That’s autopilot–a critical evolutionary mechanism for living organisms, but also a barrier to change.

Unplugging from routine by taking a vacation breaks the patterns and cues that help your life run on autopilot, providing the familiar and valuable opportunity for perspective. The challenge is, when you come back to ordinary life, the environmental cues and routines are a powerful draw to put you back on autopilot. Which is why so often the epiphany gained on the mountaintop fades away on reentry–and also why I think that fleeting sense of uneasy recalibration when you return to routine is more important than the epiphany of perspective. The most earthshaking insight on vacation is meaningless if it dissolves in the return to an old routine.

So why am I navel-gazing about vacation and breaking routines? Because I’m just coming back from my own vacation from social networking. At some point this spring, in the middle of all the growing hype over all things Twitter, I realized I needed to step back, unplug, and find some perspective. I turned off Twitter, stepped back from Facebook and Friendfeed, and put blogging on the shelf. Since I have social media clients and customers, I was still hearing the noise from the echo chamber, but I dropped all my own routines until I lost the imperative to connect online myself. Instead of dutifully blogging and tweeting, which, as a social marketing professional I’m supposed to do, I spent weeks offline, focusing only on my business and customers. Then I returned only as a consumer, finding new places to connect that really interest me, like Gizmodo and my new favorite site ThereIFixedit, and going on Facebook and Twitter just to connect with friends.

The insights I had on that vacation were useful–I’ll write more about why I think Twitter is going to fade, why SocialCRM is a 4-lane highway to a one-lane dirt road, and why automation will be the catalyst for the next Google–but for the moment, I’m focusing on the return, the uneasy recalibration to old routines. The critical insight for me is to really inhabit that discomfort. Magnify it. Watch routines as a detached observer as long as I can so I can make choices about what routines to drop because, as comforting as they are in easing the expense of energy and attention, they don’t work for me anymore.

One change has already come out of that resistance. I realized this blog wasn’t working for me. I was writing about what I felt I should write, rather than what really motivates me. Actually, Jeremiah Owyang pointed this out to me earlier this year in response to a post I wrote that wasn’t about marketing, but was an observation about life. He said that wasn’t what he read my blog for as a social media professional. He was right, but I realized that made me feel cornered. So I’ve made some structural changes that will take effect this week. From now on my professional social media posts will all originate at MotiveLab, and will appear on this blog as a syndicated excerpt. If all you want is marketing insights, they’ll still be embedded in this feed. On this blog, I’ll be writing about other things that interest me–still from the perspective of a marketer and technologist–but also giving me space to include navel-gazing insights about life, the universe, and everything. If you want to tune that out, just subscribe to the MotiveLab feed.


Photo Credit: Chris Kenton