Post Palm Pre Hype

6.8.09 :: I know what you’re thinking– we so very desperately needed another smartphone. The iPhone has the market cornered with excellent usability and the most 3G users, Google’s G1 is popular among the open source community and Blackberry’s got a handle on enterprise level solutions. So, if you’re the late entry, the only thing you can do is to claim you can do it all, better.

Not surprisingly, this is what is implied in Palm Pre’s new spot , “Flow” from agency Modernista!

Rarely, can a product or brand survive on this ‘we are everything to everyone’ strategy. In fact, Bob Garfield, an ad critic from Ad Age, agreed and called the Pre’s launch spot non- revolutionary and an iPhone “copycat”.

As for me, I remain positive. I had a small chance to play with the new phone this weekend, and while it’s by no means revolutionary, it has some features that are forward thinking and might catch on  (i.e. Visual application dashboard, compact design, a nice user experience and great software [gmail and pandora]).  My prediction is that the best practices of this phone will end up in the next generations of the G1 and iPhone, but as with the survival of all technology, it will be left in the people’s hands.

Friend or friend icon?

We have recently seen a dramatic shift in the definition and responsibilities of friendship. According to Time Out Chicago, we are more likely to call people our friends without really defining them as real friends. Some sites like Facebook and Twitter have made friendship equivalent to replying to a status update.  And even Dentyne is telling us to how to treat our friends:

But, in an era where online social networking is the norm, how do we find the set of people who’s opinions we trust the most? And how does this effect what we buy?

Well, there is a fair amount of research on the subject of online word of mouth referrals amongst friends and it all centers around two things: 1.) A referral by a past customer is one of the most trusted pieces of online communication and 2.) The Dunbar Number. According to this concept, a human being can sustain relationships and communicate with about 150 people. Ironically, this is the average number of friends users have on Facebook. These 150 people make up a person’s referral circle, the people we receive information from (commercial or otherwise). Yet only 26% of these 150 will actually be called ‘real friends’ according to the aforementioned article in Time Out.

So, do we only trust these 39 people who we call our ‘real friends’? Well, a local artist/teacher, Maria Scapelli, might be able to shed some light on that with a project  called Peoplescape 365. Essentially, Scapelli set out on a mission to make one new friend a day for a year either online or offline. Her topline conclusions: 1.) she only kept about 10% as ‘real friends’ 2.) almost all of these people she met in person. So, based on these loose numbers, we might be able to say a person is only able to maintain about 30-40 real friendships and that these relationships are mainly forged by face-to-face contact.

Does that mean we don’t trust the remaining 110 people in our social circle when they say a Samsung TV is a great purchase or buy a book recommend by Legend457 online? No, of course not. But when it comes to making a brand something we love to a point of passionate irrationality (see Lovemarks), one might assume we have to talk to these 30-40 people (among other things). If we don’t, we are simply just providing purchasing descisions not life long loves.

Extra Brand Perception

2.4.09 :: When was the last time a brand engaged all 5 of your senses (short of buying the product)? Probably not recently. Up until now, brands have been very adept at engaging people with interactive social media (Facebook) and entertainment (HBO’s voyeur project). These utilize sight and, sometimes, sound. However, some brands have added touch and smell to the experience. In 2006, Levi’s created an Intellifit computer that evaluates a customer’s body to find their perfect pair of jeans while also recommending additional clothing items– almost like an expert jeans tailor.

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And, just this past holiday season, Stove Top Stuffing installed heat lamps into Chicago bus stops with ads to remind you of the warmth it brings during the holidays. The California Milk Board (read: got milk?) even went so far as to pipe in the smell of milk and cookies into bus stops. All of these examples use technology to create a memorable, physical and, I would argue, more active brand experience.

This can even be done without a marketing budget equal to the GDP of Monaco. In the below example, a design firm has physically engaged their audience using a business card that they simply put some thought into. While this does not engage more than 2 senses, the experience is definitely more physical and interactive. What’s even better is that it pays off their concept: get stretchy.

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This is similar to a project we completed for a local printer. Using a direct mail, we asked print buyers to show their offices how important they were by sending them an unique office door hanger.

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So, will we ever use more than 3 senses to communicate our messages? Well, as technology develops and allows people and brands to engage each other on a more personal level, I think touch and smell will meld with sight and hearing to tell us the full brand story. Just imagine a computer that can simulate the smell of an online recipe or honest to goodness electronic paper that feels like the shirt you are going to buy. I leave you with a preview of Apple’s touch screen MacBook that demonstrates how our physical senses might be combined with our more cerebral ones.