Tuesday, November 30, 2010

T3 Thoughts #6

This T3 is going to be a bit of a departure from my normal format.  As product news cools off the heels of Black Friday, I'm going to focus on the issue of creating and nurturing your tribes.  It is on the radio.  And in store windows, city centres and coffee cups.  That's right Christmas is just around the corner, or so they'd have you think.  So is this going to be a season of cheer for consumers and marketers alike?  Maybe, I certainly hope so.  But with high sales expected in the wireless market, some might have more to cheer about than others: Android might have the best season of all.

Does Apple and the iPhone team have something to worry about?  They managed to keep up (and arguably ahead in some aspects) with the likes of Nokia and Blackberry, but there is another threat that Apple needs to be keeping an eye on: Android.

Katherine Noyes in PC world thinks that Apple is feeling the heat now more than ever in her recent article.  According to the article, Apple is hurriedly trying to build their legal team to develop both the "offensive and defensive capabilities" fight the likes of Nokia, HTC and maybe deter Android.  In the third quarter of 2010, Noyes points out that Android powered phones accounted for just over 25% of smartphone sales, while Apples fell slightly based on the third quarter of 2009.  Clearly, Apple sees the threat of the now No. 2 smartphone OS platform and is doing all they can to keep them at bay (including even banning an Android-centric e-magazine from the App Store).

So what is the appeal of Android?  What makes it better or preferable to Apple's iPhone OS?  Noyes believes that the iPhone's "restrictions are too numerous, its approach too condescending, and its choices too few to have the broad appeal it needs to succeed on a grander scale".   And I think there is some merit here: that is an excellent and technical explanation for why consumers might choose Android over iPhone or Blackberry.  But lets explore why consumers might want Android on that branding level.

I think there is an element of "Anti-Apple" going on, and this type of sentiment is an almost cyclical phenomenon.  Brand is new and a bit alternative, then becomes the must-have product, then becomes the mainstream norm for products and soon becomes the big-guy overshadowing the little players who are a bit alternative.  You can't have the light without the dark, there will always be the alternative to the mainstream option.  But I think there is more going on here, and I think it has a lot to do with an idea from Seth Godin: tribes.

Android has created a tribe for their product.  Godin maintains that "what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies" and that tribes are based on permission.  As opposed to the traditional model of top-down brand management, Godin states that it's about seeking out services and products for your tribe: as a marketer you want "to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect ... [and] it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about".  I think Android understands this.  Apple forces you to choose you Apps from them and only them, meaning you have no control over what you have access too.  You cannot change the OS at all and Apple is okay with that.  Sure, Apple is cutting edge but they aren't building the same kind of tribe that Android is.  Android has an open-source element to help encourage development of the functionality, where as Apple must control every aspect of their operating system.  Android makes hundreds of thousands of applications available on a wide-variety of media, Apple does not.  Android can be run on a multitude of machines, Apple cannot.  In this day and age, where customers want choice and control, consumers want to spend more time personalizing and customizing their brand experiences than having it shoved down their throat.  Is it a problem that Apple doesn't give consumers as many options?  Not necessarily, but for some it's a big deal.  Apple has it's own tribe, but I am not sure that they aren't blurring the lines between consumers connecting with consumers, and consumers lining up to connect with Apple.  Remember, as Godin says, "the challenge is to work for the tribe and make it something even better".