A Snap Lesson from Snap

A Snap Lesson from Snap

The pundits are already sounding the death knell for Snap after it’s poor performance last week. It doesn’t help that at every step Facebook has copied Snaps’ coolest features to Instagram or its own platform. Snap is, unfortunately, perfectly primed to fail. There are three primary reasons why.

  1. The Easy Stuff is Done: Snap, then SnapChat, entered the market with a value proposition to hit the youth market. They did that well. The app isn’t that easy to use but most of all, unlike Facebook the parents weren’t there. But the problem is, the easy stuff is done. MySpace died for lack of innovation. Facebook has everyones address book. People are lazy. They don’t like to re-establish all their connections and followers unless porting them is easy. And if their friends come over. This is why LinkedIn has cornered the professional social network segment, Reddit the forums sector and Twitter the microblogging segment. Any new disruptor is going to have to find a very strong value proposition.
  2. Lack of Unique Technology or IP: While Snap does have some cool tech, like its glasses, it doesn’t have anything patentable (although a patent has its dangers too) or unique enough to be acquired or be highly differentiated. Competitor platforms like Instagram and Facebook have significantly more market share. They can easily copy and port over the features of Snap and reach a broader audience, thus further reducing consumer desire to switch.
  3. A Fickle Demographic: Snap, like Twitter, is struggling to find revenue opportunities. Its primary demographic is under 25 and that’s a fickle market for brand loyalty at the best of times. Given that its prime segment is 11-18, well that’s even worse and they have little disposable income and are very anti-advertising. Even though some major, older demographic brands set up Snap accounts, they haven’t gained much traction and many brands and marketers have abandoned Snap as too difficult a platform and little to no return on campaigns.

Can Snap survive? Possibly. It isn’t dead yet. They could come out with some really cool feature that Facebook or someone else can’t copy. They might become a sort of underdog like Apple was for years and secure a small, but loyalty and potentially profitable market. This is though, highly unlikely. They are now prime for acquisition by Facebook, Google, Amazon or Apple (GAFA as they’re sometimes known.)

Any startup considering entering the social media space and trying to knock down Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc., may want to second-think that. They were the easy things to do in the tech space and social media. Where opportunity lies is in building tools and services that integrate into these existing channels with a good monetization strategy. These won’t be easy, but they’ll likely be more financially lucrative.

What do you think?

Smarthomes: The Big Challenges

Smarthomes: The Big Challenges
The smarthome market, meaning the home where your fridge, stove, microwave, lights, furnace and perhaps soon your toilet, are all connected via WiFi and managed through your smartphone, is set to reach $137 Billion by 2023. This according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. The first major entrant into this space was thermostat company, Nest. Google bought Nest a few years ago. The smarthome market is part of what is termed the Internet-of-Things (IoT), which includes just about anything you can stuff a sensor and WiFi connection into. This market is growing, there is little doubt. Yet it is facing some tough problems. In order for the smarthome market to truly take off however, these problems will need solving.
A major issue is getting these various devices, such as thermostats, smoke detectors, light controls, TV’s and sound systems, to all play nicely together.  It doesn’t help when you have to access several apps to do different things. Consumers are lazy, so IoT devices need to think from the perspective of laziness. Most don’t. There are some “home hubs” on the market that can do this, sort of, most of the time. Amazon’s Alexia is going down this path and of course, Apple has HomeKit and their new speaker called HomeHub coming this fall. Which brings us to the next issue; complexity.
The Nest and Phillips HUE are fairly easy to set up as are others. While most may be easy to set up on their own, having several of them brings complexity to the whole thing. This is a huge barrier to adoption for consumers, even more so than interoperability. This usually results in the geek of the house setting them up and managing them. Then other family members have to download the apps and get everything working. Another barrier.
Uptime and Downtime
All of these devices rely on consistent WiFi in the home. While it’s getting better, even broadband can be spotty at the best of times. Not very helpful on a cold evening when you want to turn the heat up as you pick up groceries on the way home. A secondary issue is demand placed on the router and data collisions as devices compete for bandwidth. Too many devices can wreak havoc on a WiFi router.
This is the 800 Lb gorilla in the room. And it’s a nasty one. There have been a number of issues with smarthome devices being hacked, either within the home or the company’s data centre. IoT device makers have been notoriously lax in their security, mostly in rush to get products to market and make them easy to use.
Value Proposition
Then there’s the value proposition. People adopt technologies that reduce or eliminate work or improve their lifestyle in some other unique way. The most successful of the smarthome devices to date have been thermostats. Light bulbs that change colour are cool, but a luxury at best.
These are the major issues smarthome devices face today and will have to address in the near future. It is likely that companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft will create the “hubs” that make interoperability work. To a large degree this makes sense. But no doubt the likes of Amazon and Apple will find a way to make it a pay-to-play deal for device makers.
What issues do you see? If you have a smarthome device, how has your experience been?

The Smarthome: The Golden Market Being Missed?

The Smarthome: The Golden Market Being Missed?

The race to bring IoT or Internet-of-Things devices to consumer homes is a few years old now. Right now, it’s a plodding sort of race. Most people are familiar with the Nest home thermostat, then their smoke detector that has had its share of issues. There’s the rather fun but nowhere near essential Phillips Hue lightbulbs that you can change colours with from your smartphone. It is very early days for these connected devices. Yet adoption remains small market scale.

The Real Opportunity for IoT Devices In The Home

Where the real opportunity to build a beachhead market rests is with the 60+ market. And the competition is beginning to heat up for this market. There are several key factors why smarthome device markers would do well to target this market;

  1. Higher disposable income (on average) than “Millennials” (which are not really a logical market segment anyway.)
  2. They’re adopting smartphones and tablets quite happily and at scale.
  3. Smarthome devices can offer family connection security

Those aged 35 and under often don’t have significant disposable income, so smarthome devices remain a luxury more than a need. Products that fill needs always do better than those that fill a want. It’s a basic marketing principle that remains valid even in a digital age. Research by the PEW Centre shows how those 55+ are adopting smartphones and tablets as the image from The Economist shows below;

Smarthome devices that will likely underperform in the 60+ market are those with always-on cameras. An older generation finds cameras invasive and they take their privacy very seriously. Smarthome products that will likely succeed are those that use sound and spacial monitoring. One such device is HomeExcept, a very clever device that uses thermal sensing to monitor a home for patterns. If there’s one constant as we age it’s that we like our patterns, or daily routines if you will. The HomeExcept provides a mobile dashboard via a smartphone app that kids or care takers can monitor. It’s subtle and hangs out in the background and relies on the cellular network rather than potentially spotty WiFi. Clever. Such invisible devices are more likely to succeed with senior citizens.

Devices like the Amazon Echo could have applications built on them that leverage sound monitoring for similar patterns. The added benefit is that they can also be used for ordering need products like milk or detergent.

Positioned properly, smarthome devices for seniors stand to be an excellent entrance market for IoT device creators. Eventually we will see smart toilets that have built-in sensors to monitor blood sugars, hydration and perhaps other health conditions. If smartphone apps are tied to these devices it will force makers to develop very good UX or they will fail. Designing for seniors forces simplicity, which will translate well into other, younger market segments.

Smarthome creators would do well to look harder at the 60+ market, perhaps pivoting to this market for initial entry. There’s more money available than younger markets in both disposable income and healthcare for the 60+ market such as care homes. The population in the developed world is ageing. Done right, smarthome devices can solve a lot of problems. But developing the marketing message and positioning must be as carefully thought out as the UX and underlying technologies.

What do you think?

Is It Time for an International Cybercrime Court?

Is It Time for an International Cybercrime Court?
It seems not a day goes by that we don’t hear about some form of ransomware, major database theft or breach of a corporate or government network. Then there’s fake news and alleged election hacking across a number of western democracies. There is little doubt that cyber crime is on the rise. But how do governments deal with it?
Jurisdictions, Prosecution & The Burden of Security
Each country has a different approach to cyber crime laws. And they all vary in the degree to which they proceed with prosecuting them. The other major challenge is that cybercrime today is often conducted from a country outside the target. This is certainly the case with alleged election tampering, ransomware and data thefts. Corporations and governments are struggling to deal with the rising threats and right now the heaviest burden rests on them to implement better cybersecurity practices.
An International Cybercrime Court?
Even when cyber criminals are identified, if they’re outside the country where the crime takes place, catching and then prosecuting them is hard. Extradition treaties need to be in place and the justice system in the country where the crime originated has to have some motivation to assist. Unfortunately, many of these attacks come from countries where such motivation is minimal and treaties don’t exist. And obtaining proof can be burdensome at best. And what about when the crime, such as wannacry, potentially comes from a foreign state actor?
Solving geopolitical cybercrime is complex and there is no easy answer. Perhaps though, it is time to consider an international cybercrime court? Modelled off the ICC (International Criminal Court?) Perhaps it could be added to the ICC run from The Hague?
Such a court however, would require countries to sign on and agree to the rules of conduct and bringing alleged perpetrators to justice. Not a simple task by any means. It would be expensive as well. Then there’s agreeing to legal commonalities, data and privacy laws. And of course, at what point is a cybercrime considered serious enough to warrant such a degree of prosecution?
Certainly this is no easy task. There are many other issues to consider. There are estimates on the costs of cybercrime, but it’s hard to know for sure; some companies never report breaches and some don’t know about them for months or years. Then too, is the question of whether such an approach would even deter cybercriminals at all?
What do you think?

Algorithms Explained in Plain English

Algorithms Explained in Plain English
All too often we hear startups pitching their product as having “algorithms” and therefore Artificial Intelligence or AI. The term AI and algorithms are tossed about like popcorn in a movie theatre. And algorithms are simply the butter you lavishly heap on your popcorn; makes it taste better, but it’s not AI. So what are algorithms and how do they apply to AI? You can’t have AI without algorithms, but they aren’t AI in and of itself.
An Algorithm Explained
Quite simply, an algorithm is nothing more than a recipe. It’s not the ingredients that go into the recipe, it’s the process, the steps in a recipe. An algorithm would tell you the process to make a stew through each step; cook stew meat, finely chop vegetables, add beef broth, add in broth and vegetables to meat, heat until ready. You can use the same algorithm every time you make the stew, except you may add different spices or vegetables, which is the “data” or ingredients. Humans have been using algorithms for thousands of years.
Getting to Artificial Intelligence
Algorithms are at the core of AI. Laid over top of algorithms are probability calculations. These calculations use data and today, often massive amounts of data, what we now call Big Data. Then there’s machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, cognitive computing, pattern recognition and so on. AI can consist of these various elements mixed together in different ways. Algorithms are the processes of bringing all these ingredients together and telling them what to do.
This is a highly simplified explanation of what makes up AI and the role of the algorithm. But an algorithm alone is not AI.
The Rise of the Algorithm
As our physical world has become fused with the digital world (phygital if you will), algorithms play an ever more important role. It is algorithms that are the secret sauce for Google for their search engine. For IBM Watson and other advanced computing platforms. Their importance can’t be overstated. Creating really good algorithms is an exceptional skill that pays very well if you are good at it.
To a large degree, the word “algorithm” has been latched upon by marketers (I’m guilty of this) as well as startups and news media to the point it’s almost become a sort of meme. If you understand the place and role of an algorithm however, you can better understand how emerging technologies are being pitched and packaged.

Top 7 Toughest Marketing Challenges

Top 7 Toughest Marketing Challenges
This is a great time to be in marketing. It’s also a very tough time to be in marketing. I’ve been marketing technology and biotech for over 25 years and co-founded the ad creative awards program Ice Awards in 2001. I’ve never seen such challenges. Let’s take a look.
  1. Digital Ad Conundrum: Brands are increasingly shifting their budgets to digital channels. This is a boon and a nightmare for agencies. With ad blockers on the rise and consumers learning to ignore ads it creates a conundrum for marketers.
  2. Marketing Automation: With so many digital channels and the rise of mobile, the tech industry has responded with an abundance of marketing automation tools. The challenge for marketers is to find the right mix and then there’s the challenge of #1 above coming into play.
  3. Analytics Overload: With all these digital tools comes a dearth of analytics. Social media monitoring, web analytics (each having their own methodology), Big Data analytics and so on. The debate on what to measure, how and why has been raging for well over a decade.
  4. Geopolitics: Digital channel giants Facebook, YouTube and Google are facing an ethical dilemma; monitoring for terrorism and human rights abuses and how much responsibility they bear. Marketers have to now be more aware than ever of geopolitical issues.
  5. Social Norms and Rules: With the current U.S. political climate and the earth’s climate, brands are making political and social stands unlike ever before. This can build brand loyalty and also alienate some segments. But marketers now have to have an eye on societal issues unlike ever before.
  6. Educating Marketers: Look at almost any marketing job description today and brands are calling for skills/certifications in HubSpot, Google Ad Words and analytics…brands want skills universities are lagging behind on teaching. Students need to get certifications beyond a marketing degree just for entry level jobs.
  7. Emerging Technologies: From Virtual and Augmented Reality to Artificial Intelligence and cryptocurrencies. These technologies offer some exciting opportunities, but for marketers, the challenge is how to leverage them and when to invest.

These are the main challenges I see today. There are, no doubt, more. What do you see?

The Benefits of 3D Mapping Our World

The Benefits of 3D Mapping Our World
Most of us have used Google Maps at some point and some of us just about every day. Then there’s Apple’s Maps (which are slowly getting better.) A new company called Carmera is paving the road to 3D mapping not just for autonomous vehicles, but for architects and city planners. And it’s autonomous vehicles that most will think of for using 3D mapping. But it plays a bigger role in our society as we increasingly fuse the digital and physical worlds we occupy.
Beyond Vehicles and City Planning
As embed more and more sensors into devices from lamp posts to cars, buildings and windows, we’re going to be able to “map” our physical world in incredible ways. Here are some of the uses and advantages of 3D mapping our world;
Firefighting & Policing: Fire departments will have continuously updated information on cities and the buildings. Both police and fire can use VR and AR tools with 3D maps for training simulations. It can also provide criminal intelligence and help reduce risk for raids. Firefighters can constantly update plans and strategies for fire fighting.
Infestation Management: Rats, always the rats. And increasingly those urban pandas…raccoons. Using 3D mapping cities and pest control services can map infestation movements and develop countermeasures.
Insurance & Actuaries: Two groups that are hungry for data. They can use 3D maps of urban areas to help with risk analysis and predictive analytics for building insurance.
Healthcare: Hospitals can use 3D maps to plan ambulance routes and perhaps as part of epidemiology studies and preparations.
Logistics: Companies like FedEx and UPS or DHL could use 3D maps for planning delivery routes and drone delivery.
As always, technological advances find entirely new ways of being used that we can’t quite predict. Such as Twitter being developed as an ambulance dispatch tool; look how that turned out.
What interesting ways do you see 3D mapping being used in the near future?