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Third time’s the charm: Google is trying to be a phone company, again

Today, Google officially announced something that the tech world has known for months: it’s launching a pair of high-end Pixel-branded smartphones, killing the Nexus program, and competing more explicitly with Apple and every other company that’s making and selling Android phones.

Google is definitely pushing itself as a hardware company like it never has before. But this is hardly the company’s first effort to get into the smartphone hardware business. The first was the Nexus One, which drew iPhone comparisons when it was launched. But low sales almost killed the brand—Eric Schmidt said in 2010 that the Nexus One “was so successful [in helping Android along], we didn’t have to do a second one”—before it was resurrected and pointed at the developer-and-enthusiast niche.

The second and more serious effort began in 2011, when Google bought Motorola for $12.5 billion. After clearing out the old Motorola’s product pipeline, in 2013 and 2014 the company introduced a series of high-end and midrange Moto phones that were critical darlings for their price tags, their focus on fundamentals, and their fast Android updates. These were three non-broken things that Lenovo promptly “fixed” after it bought Motorola from Google for just $2.9 billion three years later.

Google made no mention of its Motorola experiment onstage today, even though the same guy who ran Motorola is now running Google’s hardware efforts. But the sense that all of this has happened before is just one of the contradictions of Google’s new mobile strategy. More importantly, the company’s actions and stated goals contradict one another, to the extent that I wonder just how committed Google is to its hardware plans and, on a related note, just how good its chances of success are.

Google’s sales pitch for its new phones is distinctly Apple-esque: Pixels are the first phones designed from the ground up by Google, which gives Google the opportunity to tailor the hardware to better suit its software and vice versa. This is a departure from Google’s Nexus strategy, in which Google slapped Nexus branding on existing or near-complete products that one of its partners was already working on.

Except, well, the Pixel phones are pretty Nexus-y. FCC filings show that they were clearly built by HTC, and as our own Ron Amadeo pointed out they appear to share components with HTC designs like the One A9.

“Designed by Google” and “built by HTC” don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I don’t doubt that Google blessed each component and design choice individually or that it became involved in the design process much earlier than it normally would for a Nexus phone. And even if the Pixels are HTC phones with Google logos on them, that’s becoming an increasingly common move. HTC can make phones, but the mass market doesn’t care about its brand. Google has a mass-market brand but maybe didn’t want to start from zero to design a new phone. Fine.

The trouble is, Google has actually designed some quality hardware all by itself. The Pixel Chromebooks were both lovely, though they were priced out of reach of anyone but ChromeOS die-hards. And even though the Pixel C tablet’s software has been rough, its hardware has the benefit of at least looking and feeling good. Chromecast is a Google effort, too, as are Daydream View and Google Home.

Google can design its own hardware, and it says that it does. But the Pixel phones aren’t as Google-y as some of Google’s other devices, and they definitely don’t have the signature design touches of the other Pixel products (including the lightbar and the boxy-yet-still-appealing curves). This may be a springboard, the first step in a transition from the Nexus era to a new Pixel era. Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh says that he’s already seen photos from next year’s Pixel camera, so at a bare minimum Google has a roadmap that it’s in control of. But the way Google is hitting the “#MadeByGoogle” drum so hard is odd, given the Pixel’s obvious lineage.
Exclusive features don’t mesh with Google’s business model

Google’s hardware contradictions are puzzling but easily explained. The software contradictions are more troubling.

One of the reasons Apple can get away with keeping iPhone prices the same every year even as Android phones get cheaper is that the company really is in full control of its hardware, software, and ecosystem. The iPhone is the only place to get iOS, it’s the only phone that offers tight integration with the Mac and other Apple products, and it’s the only place where you can get iOS apps.

Few players in the Android market, Samsung aside, can do the same thing, since the primary differentiator is often price rather than any particular gimmick or spec. Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer believes there’s room for another player in the high-end, high-margin phone market. That may be true, but when asked what Google intends to provide that other Android phone makers won’t or can’t (beyond intangibles like brand value), his answers were vague.

Clearly, the Pixel is going to get a lot of things first: Android 7.1 will come to the Pixel before it’s even available as a developer preview for older Nexus and Pixel devices, to say nothing of OEMs who haven’t even started shipping Android 7.0 updates. The Google Assistant and Google’s new Pixel Launcher are both Pixel exclusives, at least for now.

But Android’s success is built in part on how widespread it is, and Google’s business is built on casting wide nets that can collect lots of data. It might make sense to keep the Pixel Launcher exclusive to the Pixel phones to give Google’s phones their own unique look and feel and tighter integration with all of Google’s services. But the Assistant will almost certainly be available for other Android devices eventually, just as Google Now and Google Now On Tap (two services that have plenty of overlap with the Assistant anyway) already are. The Daydream VR platform is already open to other phone makers as long as they’re using Android 7.1.

Google’s stuck in a place where it needs to give its own Android phones unique features to differentiate them from the crowd, which is doubly true since they’re being sold at iPhone and Galaxy prices instead of Nexus prices. But it makes most of its money by building out large userbases and making its products and services as available to as many people as is realistically possible. In that tug of war, Google will ultimately be pushed to do whatever is best for its bottom line, something that may damage its nascent phone business.

Which kind of Google experiment will the Pixel phones be?

Are we missing a part of Google’s strategy? The so-called “Andromeda” project, that long-rumored collision of Android and ChromeOS, could be part of it. But this whole hardware shift could just as easily be one more experiment from a company that loves to try new things without always committing to them.

Gmail, Android, Chrome, Chromebooks, the Chromecast, and of course the search engine that forms the core of the company are all solid successes that Google is obviously committed to. Motorola, the Nexus Q, the Android Update Alliance, the Google Play Edition program, Google Hangouts, the OnHub, Google Buzz, Google Wave, Google+, Project Ara, Google Glass, Google TV, Google Reader, and any number of other initiatives swept under the rug during a “spring cleaning” phase were all eventually canceled or dramatically scaled back as the company’s strategy and personnel have changed.

Source: ars Technica , article by Andrew Cunningham (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/10/googles-phone-strategy-is-a-study-in-contradictions/)

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Why Have B2B Brands Fallen Behind on Social Media?

Take a look at 2016’s most influential brands on Facebook, according to Mavrck: Starbucks, Coca-Cola, MTV and Samsung Mobile top the charts, followed by brands like KFC, Nike and Target. What do these companies have in common? They’re all business-to-consumer.

These days, it’s rare to find a business not trying to make a social media splash. But why is it that B2C companies consistently outpace their business-to-business peers? According to Webbiquity, 88 percent of the B2B crowd uses Facebook—just 8 percent less than their B2C counterparts—so it’s not for lack of trying.

The problem is one of strategy. Because B2C companies like Verizon Communications and Sony Pictures were the early adopters, B2B companies patterned their approaches after their B2C peers.

But while B2C marketers don’t need such a targeted approach to draw new business—anyone can enjoy a Coke or crave KFC—B2B marketers can’t take the same top-of-the-funnel strategy. For niche business services, taking a generalized checklist approach to social media simply doesn’t work.
Why resist the checklist?

With a checklist mindset, social media management becomes a series of tasks: posting daily, responding to customers, adding friends and following clients. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these practices, unless you’re using social as a channel to find target prospects, you’re missing out on revenue.

B2B businesses that don’t use social to target specific leads or gather buying behavior insights are wasting their time. Intel, for instance, is proof that B2B brands can make social work for them: It has more than 25 million Facebook likes, and it regularly engages other brands with user-generated content to build relationships.

But most B2B companies aren’t like Intel. Rarely do B2B marketers even bother to measure the return on investment from their social investments.

According to Simply Measured’s 2016 State of Social Marketing Report, 61 percent of marketers indicate that measuring ROI is a challenge. Additionally, more than 33 percent say that tying social to business goals is a hurdle they must overcome. Only 9 percent of marketers can quantify the revenue driven by social media.
A better B2B social strategy

The first step to a better social strategy is abandoning the checklist mindset. It’s about choosing platforms strategically, being outward-looking and contacting top-scoring leads before they slip away.

Social media is a lot more than the sum of its separate platforms. Brands using a checklist approach often assume they need a presence on every site, but the truth is that your audience probably uses a couple of platforms and ignores others. If you’re a wheelchair manufacturer, for instance, your clients are hospitals and assisted living facilities, which likely aren’t on Snapchat or Instagram.

Don’t spread yourself thin by trying to be everywhere at once. Use customer segmentation data to predict which platforms they use or, better yet, survey your clients. Learn their pain points, company histories and partners. Spend your social budget efficiently by using these details to speak to their needs on their favored platforms.

By discovering your audience’s social habits, your strategy will naturally become more generous and outward-looking. Social success is all about listening and interacting. Blasting your own message on repeat is like talking about yourself at a cocktail party. The best friends (and clients) are found through give-and-take relationships. Mix up your content with links to clients’ blogs, helpful hints and questions to engage followers. With this approach, you’ll build your brand while answering questions and solving problems.

This is akin to when cocktail partygoers have settled down, taken off their dance shoes and started interacting in small groups. To forge connections with choice clients, use social media signals like hashtags, keywords, brand mentions and influencer mentions to identify target prospects.

Your goal is to offer personalized, resonant content that builds trust. Use Twitter’s direct-message feature to turn public tweeting into friendship. Let’s say, for example, your company provides marketing technology that helps with lead generation. If a marketer shares an article about #leadgen, you might send him your latest e-book about generating leads.

Once you’ve contacted target prospects through social, it’s time to capture their contact information in your marketing automation system for easy follow-ups. Connect your social media activities to your marketing automation or customer-relationship-management system to track socially engaged leads. To see ROI from your efforts, you need to see how many leads have been generated through social media, how many have closed and the revenue influenced by social media.

Social media activity is a great signal of buyer intent and should be a factor in your lead scoring model. Let’s say a lead just tweeted at your CEO. That person has shown interest in your brand, so you can increase his lead score. You could also draft an automated email and send the lead an article written by your own CEO on a similar topic. At Socedo, we’ve found that socially engaged leads have much higher email open and click-through rates than leads from other sources.

Social activity can also indicate when leads are further down the funnel. If a lead just posted about wanting a replacement for a competitor’s product, that’s a hot lead. Alert the appropriate sales representative to follow up and close the sale.

Social media is about human interaction, not a robotic, tick-the-boxes checklist. So ditch the list and craft a strategy around the clients you want to sign, and then get personal with them by starting conversations, sending content and nurturing those leads. You’ll see the difference in ROI almost immediately—and you’ll feel pretty popular, too.

Source: Social Times, article by Aseem Badshahhttp://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/why-have-b2b-brands-fallen-behind-on-social-media/644509)

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Why Small Businesses Need Online Marketing

Small businesses with limited marketing budgets are competing with national brands when it comes to advertising. Due to the online nature of commerce in this era, local businesses have no other option but to compete with corporations that have marketing budgets much larger than merely a couple of years of revenue. The online attribute required of companies demands that small businesses compete on a larger scale, but how do entities do remain competitive?

Small businesses can best stay relevant through online marketing. Thanks to the rapid growth of the internet, small businesses are better positioned than ever to compete alongside big companies through the utilization of an online marketing strategy. However, many small business owners believe that online marketing is ineffective and useless. Many owners will say things like “My customers aren’t online,” or “Online marketing is a fad.” Some go as far to say that, “Online marketing doesn’t work for me.”

The truth is, a company will never gain new online customers— and even in-person consumers— if the business does not have a strong online presence. There are close to five billion Google searches a day and over one billion active Facebook users. It’s hard to argue that at least some of those users won’t be interested in searching for a local products or services. With online advertising alone, small businesses can target specific demographics and geographic regions; reaching hundreds of potential customers online.

The rapid growth of online marketing can be most evidently seen in the retail sector. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, online retailers were found to be the overall drivers for retail sales for more than a year, while traditional department store sales declined.

Online marketing is, in fact, a necessity. Here’s why:

1. Consumer expectations have changed
When most consumers hear of a new business, they immediately look up the website and social media accounts to learn more. To find you, they plug your address into their smartphone and use Google maps to get there. People expect you to have a website. If you cannot be verified digitally, individuals searching out information doubt your existence and legitimacy. Also, more consumers are increasingly searching for products and services on the web and these trends are expected increase exponentially.

2. Your competitors are online
You might not have launched an online marketing campaign yet, but your competitors mostly likely have. Michael Priyev, manager of new york web design agency, Toggle Web Media, explains that, “The reason why online advertising doesn’t work for so many small businesses is that their websites do not engage or connect with potential customers online. It’s not a question of how pretty the website is designed, but rather, how effective it is in converting online visitors into customers.” Priyev adds, “Providing a unique brand value proposition, user experience (UX) design, and click-to-action (CTA’s) buttons on a site are key to a successful digital marketing strategy.”

Online marketing is essential for small businesses today and is a cost-effective way to increase revenue, customers, and brand presence. Consumers are now online, and online marketing is only growing more important.

Source: The Huffington Post, article by Kara Mulder (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kara-mulder/why-small-businesses-need_b_11869800.html)

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5 Clever Retail Offers That Won’t Eat Your Profits

Discounts and deals. These words bring up different reactions depending on who you ask. If you’re a consumer, these terms will likely generate excitement. You’ll perk up, and you’ll want to check out what the store has to offer.

But if you’re a retailer, you probably won’t get too excited. Sure, putting products on sale could generate traffic and customers, but it also lowers profit margins. And running sales too often may diminish your brand and attract shoppers who never want to pay full price for anything.

To avoid this, retailers must be smart about their discount strategies. Contrary to what some might think, it’s possible to run sales while maintaining a healthy profit margin and brand image. Take a look at the ideas below, and see if you can apply them to your business.

1. Reward profitable customers instead of deal-hunters.

Rather than sending offers to deal-hunters, determine who your best customers are — like your top spenders and frequent shoppers — and send them targeted offers. Doing so not only maximizes profitability but also helps increase loyalty among the shoppers who matter most.

If you’re planning to run a sale, go through your customer database first, and offer discounts to those who are likely to spend more. It’s also a good idea to analyze the types of customers who come through different marketing channels. From there, you could determine what offers to craft and how to promote them.

“Understanding customer lifetime value per marketing vehicle helps retailers craft the right offers while ensuring that they’re catering to customers who will keep purchasing and hopefully spend incremental dollars, says Antonella Pisani, founder of OfficialCouponCode.com

“In other words, it’s best for merchants to offer deals using marketing channels that attract customers who come back through free or cheap channels such as organic search, email, or brand keywords.”

2. Don’t put your flagship products on sale.

Avoid discounting your flagship or most desired products. Being selective with the items you put on sale protects margins for your best merchandise. It also elevates your top products so shoppers won’t see you as a deal-centric brand.

Thom O’Leary, President at Fixer Group Consulting, says that keeping specific items at full price enables retailers to continue driving revenue through sales without diminishing brand value. “Some online stores will run tons of sales, but never on their flagship items. They’ll even make it clear that those items are never on sale, or only on sale once per year. This is typically done on their most desirable or best-known items.”

He continues, “My client, SCOTTeVEST, does this. Their flagship vests almost never go on sale, and the strategy has worked out well for them.”

3. Avoid falling into a discount pattern.

Being predictable with when and how you run sales trains customers to wait for deals. One retailer that learned this the hard way is Bed Bath & Beyond. The home furnishings retailer got a little aggressive with their coupon strategy, mailing out tons of “20% off” coupons on a regular basis.

And while the effort did drive sales, it also lowered profits for the retailer. Last year, Bed Bath & Beyond made retail news when it announced on its Q3 earnings call that despite revenues increasing 1.7 percent, profits were down 10 percent, mostly due to its coupon-happy strategy.

Don’t let your company suffer the same fate. If you’re going to run sales, keep shoppers guessing via sporadic and short-term promotions. Or better yet, be more targeted with the promotions you’re putting out there. Segment your top customers then send them an unexpected offer such as exclusive access to a flash sale or a generous coupon. You’ll reap the rewards of an uptick in sales without training shoppers to wait around for a deal.

4. Offer conditional free shipping.

Have you considered offering free shipping? You should. A ComScore study found that 58 percent of shoppers purchased more items to qualify for free shipping, and 83 percent don’t mind waiting for a couple of days for delivery if shipping is free.

Clearly, free shipping can drive ecommerce purchases. Shipping incentives can increase average order value and — if implemented correctly — could protect your margins at the same time. That said, you have to be smart with how you structure the offer. Rather than offering the deal to everyone who buys from you, implement specific conditions for deal redemption.

For example, you could set a minimum order value before shoppers could redeem the deal. Another approach would be to offer free shipping for qualifying items. Some retailers offer free shipping for just a limited time. The right free shipping approach depends on your business. If you’re selling small items that are easy to pack, then you can probably offer free shipping at a lower spending threshold than a retailer that sells heavier products.

Be sure to study your shipping costs when crafting your deal. Remember, the key is to create an enticing offer without killing your profit margins.

5. Implement promotions that add value.

Deals aren’t only about discounts. Consider running promotions in which you add value to the sale instead of slashing product prices. For instance, you could offer a free product with every purchase. This is an excellent way to move inventory that you’re unable to sell. You could also add value through personalization. If you’re selling jewelry, for instance, why not throw in a free inscription?

Think about why your customers are buying a particular product. What do they want to do with it? Is there anything you could offer that would complement the item or would help customers get the most out of it? Find the answers to these questions, and use them to craft your value-added offer.

Your brand image and profit margins don’t have to take a hit every time you run a sale. By offering data-backed and well-thought out deals, you can effectively attract customers, drive sales and maintain decent profits at the same time.

Source: Entrepreneur. Article by Francisca Nicasio (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/278404)

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