Thoughts on the Agency Business Development process…

tombstone_smallDespite my focus on mobile marketing for the last 7 years, I am at my core business development person. Selling was how I cut my teeth in the digital space in the mid-90s and how I evolved into my current role. It stands to reason that one’s ability to successfully sell professional services offerings will ultimately result in one becoming capable of delivering them. You sort of have to become the product. Which is what happened over a period of 10 years. It wasn’t really until the mid -2000s that I began to take on more of a SME role as my level of seniority developed. This has afforded me a unique perspective of the professional services industry in which we both dwell.


Marketing / Creative services are either tactical (we build/make stuff, we have some black box technology, we create rich media units, etc.), consultative (we get hired to think and solve complex problems), or a combination of the two (we solve strategic problems then have unique solutions for implementing those strategies).


It was really just dumb luck that at the beginning of my career that I fell in with some very smart people who took a consultative approach to selling creative services. I was very very fortunate to start out immersed in selling problem solving services (thinking and doing) as opposed to selling a new ad widget or video rendering technology. I mostly worked for small boutique firms who offered some sort of highly specialized solution within a focused discipline (gamification, multi-media, Pharma marketing, etc.). Most of these firms were still small enough that they did not have the benefit of an established marketplace reputation or an adequate level of brand awareness to drive inbound leads. So, we had to cold call: identify appropriate target brands, find the names of the key stakeholders who held the budgets, get their attention and force them to consider our expertise or solution. I did this for years – calling, emailing, networking, cajoling, and harassing brand managers and CMOs to take notice give me a shot. The nuances of this process seemed laborious at the time – we would literally spend weeks tweaking phrases and words on outbound prospecting emails, honing, fine tuning, optimizing until we hit the exact note needed to drive a response. Once we were able to distill the message down the to perfect pitch we would save these intros and use them across all of our sales channels: elevator pitch, phone calls, website copy, PR, etc. There was something about this process that became fun, game-like and rewarding once the message worked. This process enabled me to get the attention of some extremely hard-to-influence executives. I became quite effective – I once got legendary auto executive Bob Lutz to respond directly to one of my emails –which prompted a 3 year relationship with GM on a host of strategic programs to help usher Chevy, Pontiac and Cadillac into the branded gaming space.   Doing this for so long afforded me not only a valuable set of skills- but more importantly it provided me with a different perspective on selling – and specifically the process of selling in our industry and how to grow professional creative / marketing service businesses.


Large agencies conglomerates (WPP, Publicis, Omnicom, and their ilk) are NOT by nature sales-driven organizations. The nature of these organizations is built on sheer size, capacity and the resulting reputations that are fomented as a result. Most of them (I’d go out on a limb and say all of them) lack a sophisticated business development and sales process. I am sure that there are people within these organizations who will passionately disagree – and be pissed off at that notion. Please note: this is not a knock on the many great and extraordinarily competent folks who work in the BD departments at these monoliths. Not at all. They are not the issue. It’s the nature of the industry and the structure of the large agency business in which they work that is the issue. The sales process issues we face are not germane to one single agency – it’s an industry-wide affliction. BD in its true nature is just not part of the big agency culture. Mainly this is due to the place that large agencies hold in the market. Their size and reputations afford them a spot on the list of ‘go to’ options for large brands and corporations who are looking to spend big sums of money on marketing services.

When Amex or Pfizer or PG have a new marketing initiative, they all have the same short list of agencies that will automatically get the RFP. Hence, the business development culture of large agencies is by and large a reactive model – where entire teams are hired to respond to RFPs. An entire industry has been created around RFP creation and RFP response. This ecosystem includes a myriad distinct support services and organizations. A simple search for RFP support services on Google brings up a slew of offerings: rfp response templates, rfp consulting services, rfp response software, rfp contract negotiation platforms, rfp pricing software, rfp presentation solutions, rfp mediation services – and the list goes on.

We frequently work with a consulting firm whose entire business is a RFP development consultancy – who evaluates the client need, writes the RFP, identifies the target providers, and manages the entire agency vetting and assessment process for the brand. It’s their whole business. How did we get to this point? The culture of RFP response is now so ingrained into the fiber of the agency industry that it is nothing short of an addiction. But it makes sense: how can any agency not respond to a potential $100mm revenue RFP? It simply has to.

The reality is – and this is not a secret – the vast majority (90%) of RFPs are really nothing more than self-indulgent fishing expeditions on the part brands who KNOW of this culture and rely on this process to verify and uncover invaluable marketing expertise from agencies at no cost. For the agencies, it’s a huge resource drain that expends an incredible amount of human capital with minimal return. Imagine if you were sick – like deathly ill – and had the opportunity to have a world-renowned medical specialist come to your home (after having prepared hours upon hours of vast resources of expertise) to present you with critical information on the state of your health and include in this assessment free diagnosis and strategies to improve your health. Now, imagine if you could have 10 Doctors offer the same thing, each with a difference approach, a different set of research and a unique perspective. At the end of these 10 presentations you would know more about your own health than anyone in your entire age group. And it wouldn’t have cost you a dime. As a matter of fact, each of these Doctors would be clamoring to have the opportunity to share this information. Doctors who went through years and years of specialized training, paid top dollar to go to the most specialized schools and spent countless hours working in emergency rooms to hone these skills. And they give it away for nothing so they can win you as a patient. What brand wouldn’t participate in this process? They would be dumb not to. But we are the dumb ones. We are the doctors, the specialists, and the experts. And we give away our stuff for nothing. (Now, of course we don’t save lives or perform heart surgery, but brands pay top dollar for the important role we play in the lifeline of their respective businesses).


Harsh Reality: Most RFPs have been pre-awarded to the winner long before the actual evaluations and dog and pony shows have even started. It’s an obscene system. One of the many outcomes of this process (aside from the waste of human capital and lost hours from key executives) is a lack of sales skills and business development know-how.


Few people know really now how to sell. It’s just a reality. It’s a specialized skill – no different from someone who is an expert in something as specialized as Data Analytics or coding software. And despite its value to an organization, it is a skill that is not highly respected. People hate sales reps. Sales people have gotten a bad rap – in large part due to the ineptitude of most salespeople. Many (I’d say most) are just out for the sale, the revenue, the deal. They don’t offer any added value. It can be said with little argument that the entire idea of a “salesperson”, particularly in the service sector, is an antiquated role. Sales is an art and a science – a process – driven by a well-organized effort of a professional services firm that offers and delivers expertise to a specific marketplace. Of course the best sales people are the opposite of these things, but as there are very few good ones, the bad ones drive the perception of the sector.


I have an entire course in my head as to how to revamp the entire RFP process but in the short-term before anything radical can be proffered, I have some simple ideas that can make the whole process a bit more efficient and a lot less costly:


  • Throw back the bad fish. First and foremost, agencies need to create very clear criteria of the type of RFPs that they will respond to. This process in itself is really a re-evaluation of their entire business – and its worth its weight in gold. Who is our ideal client? What level of spend? What verticals are the best fit? What type of businesses do we service best? Size? Location? Once this is established, it becomes easier to evaluate incoming RFPs and know which “bad fish” to throw back. There is nothing more dignifying than calling a brand and saying “Thank you for the consideration, but this opportunity is not a fit for us. Best of luck.”
  • Push back. 98% (some would say 100% and would be right) of RFPs are garbage anyway. Most are poorly written, lack clarity and ask for things that the client doesn’t really understand. (Somewhat like walking into a Doctor’s office and saying, “Hi, I’m looking for heart surgeon. Can you please fill out these forms? It will help me determine if you are the right one – oh, and be prepared for a full presentation next Wednesday”). Brands self-diagnose and make things up and create false needs all of the time. Or they provide a prescription of what they think they need and then look for the agency that will best deliver on that assumption. We should be demanding clarity –and offer to re-write the RFP on occasion – in partnership. I know this may sound Pollyanna but it works – I’ve done these countless times successfully.
  • Specialization and not commoditization: Successful agencies should not be pursuing commoditized assignments – they should be targeting strategic relationships with clients. Commoditized service inquiries invariably turn out to be price-shopping expeditions. In these scenarios, your value propositions are secondary to the costs – and that is a bad way to start a professional services relationship. Define your area of specialization (digital media services for CPGs, or, Mobile Marketing for B2B, etc.). Deep and narrow roots have stronger footing.
  • Fewer people on the RFP response team. Adding more bodies looks/feels good (its “inclusive” and “democratic” and “diverse”), but makes the process painful. While I understand fully that most large RFPs are complex and require input from specialized units, the strategic direction of the response can usually be formulated by a small group of strategists who understand the digital ecosystem enough to weave the larger story.
  • Identify the real sales people in the company – and use them. Sales people tend to look at things a differently: A ‘Lets win the account’ context, as opposed to a ‘lets solve their problem’ context will drive a completely different approach and outcome. Sales is 95% a relationship thing – and 5% capability. People hire (and fire) people – not processes and technologies – those they buy or rent.


I recommend you read the book: Winning without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns – best book I’ve read on this – ever.

What are the limits of Technological Intrusion?

big brother2Since the early 1900s, Hollywood, TV and fiction have been chock-a-block with visions of a future rife with hyper-connected citizens, oppressive government overlords, wearable computers, self-driving hovercrafts and voice-activated central computer systems that know our every move, thought and location. I’m currently reading Dave Eggers’ “The Circle,” which foretells the emergence of a “Google”-like mega corporation that eerily oversteps its own technological ambitions under the guise of servitude and transparency. 

While this story contains most of the standard sci-fi elements, what is interesting about it is the fact that it takes place in the current time — seemingly only 3 or 4 years from now. Most of the techs featured in the story are really only a few simple updates of programs in use today. I’m no alarmist. New X-ray widget? Sign me up. Nonetheless, reading this creepy tome, it occurs to me that like the frog witlessly wading in the simmering pot of water, we too may soon ‘wake up’ in 2015 only to find ourselves surrounded by a network of all-knowing proximity monitors, connected environments, iBeacons, wearables and drivables — all under the auspices of easier, smarter and more personalized lives (and to make us more targetable to offers from Cinnamon Toast Crunch).

It’s worth pondering: will this new dawn of connectivity really ever take root the way we have imagined? Today we see daily examples of how “transparency” exposes the everyday citizen’s (and celebutard’s) goofs and gaffes: impulsive twitter rants, knuckleheaded photo posts on Facebook, publicly shared personal text messages, IRS email shenanigans, etc. One could argue that these outcomes are a good thing. Corruption is exposed, infidelities are unveiled, errors are debunked, morons are unmasked and all is set right in the world. But do people want everyone to know what they buy? Where they shop? What they drive? Who they meet? Why they like? How they think? I am not too sure. And the evidence seems to point toward a much tougher challenge ahead for those interested in a connected planet.

Point in case: I had the privilege of mediating a panel on Beacons at Media Post’s mCommerce summit in August, where real-world examples of proximity marketing technologies were shared and explained. It was a very provocative discussion and the panel members were a diverse selection of seasoned experts in varying facets of this emerging platform. They included:

Michael Foschetti, managing director, Havas Discovery; Phil Hendrix, director, IMMR; Henry Lawson, CEO, AutoGraph; Scott Varland, creative director, IPG Media Lab;and Jesse Wolfersberger, director, consumer insights, GroupM Next.

One of the prevailing agreements among the panel was the idea that in the end, personal choice is and always will be the final arbiter of any new tech, no matter how intrusive or invasive it may be. Henry Lawson provided a real-world glimpse into how a Beacon-ized installation may soon be like for consumers. He detailed an interesting ‘Minority Report’-like Beacon initiative on London’s Regent Street — called, appropriately, Regent Street. The app connects passersby via Beacons to participating retailers (there are now 120 at last count), which detects those consumers who are within proximity. The Beacons activate the app, which sends personalized promotional notifications with the hopes of luring the potential shopper into the store. The app is showing promise — but the question remains, do consumers want to be electronically nudged when walking down a busy retail area? Its not a pass/fail test. Some will, some won’t, and this is where the real barrier to hyper-connectivity lies.

Here’s the challenge, and it’s a biggie:  Many disparate factors need to be in place for these kinds of programs to work — and they all come down to personal choice. People must first download the app, which requires awareness and a compelling value proposition. The user must then activate the app; so again, sufficient value must be present to ensure that this entire process is completed. The user must then we willing to turn on and keep on their Bluetooth connection, which for some can be a battery drain, or simply a pain in the neck to do. The user then must agree to allow the app to send notifications — adding another interrupter into their already cacophonous mix of alerts, reminders, alarms and buzzes. And then of course, the promotional offers themselves not only need to be relevant and valuable but in addition the promise of the offer must be delivered or the user will abandon the new tech into the trash bin of history.

This is a very complex chain to construct, particularly with the overload of so many other competing apps and techs screaming for attention from the average phone. Not to mention the forthcoming slew of purported features due to enter into the marketplace this month will seemingly add an additional barrage of distractions — health monitors, distance meters, payment actions, watch nodes, etc. It sounds exhausting. When is too much too much? Every new tech is competing for our attention. And only a small handful can win.

There seem to be two distinct types of user technologies in the marketplace right now: Uberized platforms and Beaconized platforms. Uberized platforms are proactive — where the user is enabled to communicate a desired request and get immediate satisfaction. These apps rely on an existing network and infrastructure that is essentially dormant to the user until they have that specific need (a taxi, a pizza, an apartment cleaning, etc.), at which point that network is activated to provide the requested service. These platforms are non-intrusive, silent, stealth, low-impact and inherently “need” based. Beaconized platforms are essentially the opposite — and are reactive. The network and infrastructure is intrusive and immersive, and nudges the user to take actions or take notice or become more aware.

Beaconized platforms have far greater potential, but are harder to build, as the user’s participation, receptivity and “open door” is a requirement. Uber only knows stuff about me when I need it. Beacons know more about me than I do, within the context of my location and circumstance. The barriers with Beaconization are higher — and in the end, people can simply choose to shut out the noise if it gets too loud. The tipping point is upon us. Who will win the war for our minds? 

Originally published in Media Post’s Mobile Marketing Daily on September 9, 2014


Mobilized Health is coming to an iPhone near you. Is this the year of mHealth?

All sources indicate that Apple’s next frontier is the Health sector.

Tech prognosticators rely on endless public data, corporate espionage and outright rumormongering to predict Apple’s next innovations. Given that the impact of even a simple release of stomach gas from Tim Cook’s lips can wreak havoc on the stock market, its become an industry to guess what the Wizards of Cupertino are going to offer up next. It seems almost daily that prolific bloggers, tech tastemakers, financial sites, news organizations and mac addicts serve up daily doses of insight on Apple’s plans for domination. Because Apple’s new offerings impact so many different groups of people, its not surprising to find this level of obsessive focus. Despite Android’s vastly larger user base, and Samsung’s seemingly Big Brother-like presence over the last few years, Apple is still looked at as the driver of the mobilized marketplace. Consumers tend to adopt (or at least try) Apple’s innovations, and Apple’s connected ecosystem offers integration on all fronts: retail, home, workplace. A number of recent moves by Apple make it clear they are making a huge investment in health-related products and features in its next round of devices and software.


For many readers, this is old news. But for the average Apple /iOS/iPhone consumer, the details and implications of this will be far-reaching and can potentially coalesce a score of past efforts and techs that have been hammering on the mobile health door for the last 10 years. If adopted, Apple’s health, wellness and fitness innovations could open up a massive, long hoped for opportunity for consumers, doctors, health professionals, hospitals, insurance companies and the general “wellness” industry. This is no shock. Health Care on the whole represents a staggering 1.6 Trillion dollar industry. Despite their stated and likely genuine altruistic intentions, its not surprising that Apple wants to get a slice of that pie. These ambitions are clearly evident by a number of recent developments:


  • One recent move uncovered by Apple Insider, is an Apple Patent filing entitled “Wrist Pedometer Step Detection”.  This patent filing details a program where sensors placed inside of a fitness-tracking device (likely a watch or band – more on that later) would interpret motion and accurately record and represent the users activity. Device patents and info-leaks speak of Apple’s imminent “iWatch” (or whatever they plan to call it), which points to usage for medical, health and fitness related integrations (not to mention the usual fawning and drooling that comes with the prospect of Apple building ANY new gadget). Pundits report a planned wireless tether between the iPhone and the iWatch that will allow a host of intriguing possibilities for tracking, data gathering and interpretation.
  • Recently, Apple showed its hand by revealing Healthbook, a new app that will be part of the standard OS apps in the new operating system, OS 8, which will be a dedicated Health application. The details of this new app show an incredible level of sophistication and scope – allowing users to measure not only weight loss, sleep and fitness tracking, but blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, respiratory and oxygen saturation. Apple is clearly looking to provide consumers with a virtual/mobilized health center – and the implications of this are unlimited from a physician/patient data sharing and hospital visit perspective – not to mention health insurance data.
  • Another more auspicious development, the story broken by ManagagedMarketAccess, was a meeting in December by a group of Senior Apple executives and the United States Food and Drug Administration, apparently to discuss the development of mobile medical applications.  At the meeting from Apple’s side were top software development executives, operational executives and a member from their Government Affairs group. The F.D.A. folks included members from their Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and Bakul Patel, who authored F.D.A.’s mobile medical app guidance. Clearly, this meeting is indicative of serious developments inside Apple to work out the regulatory minefield that will no doubt have to be navigated as these plans come to fruition. That meeting indicates some challenges that Apple is already experiencing as they work out the deployment details of their mHealth ambitions. They are clearly covering their bases on the hardware, software and regulatory fronts.

mHealth is already a crowded space. According the BI Intelligence, there are already roughly 100,000 health applications available in major app stores, and the top 10 mobile health applications generate up to 4 million free and 300,000 paid daily downloads. These are pretty significant numbers. The lion’s share of these apps is not used very much (downloads are not indicative of long term adoption), have limited functionality, are highly specialized for the management of specific health conditions, or are fitness /wellness related apps (these are the most popular). Forty-two percent of apps rely on a paid business model, according to an in-depth study by research2guidance. Only 15% of apps target health care professionals, and the balance are aimed at consumers.

A terrific 2013 report by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics reported some solid info on the use of health apps in the iTunes store.  Every single app categorized as “Health and Wellness” or “Medical” was reviewed. The report itself is over 50 pages long and offers one of the more comprehensive reviews of the mobile health app space.

Here are some highlights:

  • Of the 43,000+ apps evaluated, only 23,682 were designated as having a legitimate health function
  • The Apps were further categorized by 7 capabilities:

–      Inform (10,840 apps)

–      Instruct (5,823 apps)

–      Record/Capture data (5,095 apps)

–      Display User entered data

–      Guide

–      Remind/Alert (1,357 apps)

–      Communicate

–      None of the 7 capabilities (1,622 apps)

  • 5 apps accounted for 15% of all downloads
  • 16,275 were called out as “patient facing”
  • 7,407 were deemed “provider facing”
  • Smartphone use for health apps is lowest (18%) in the 65+ demographic

The mHealth marketplace “seems” crowded- but still only has traction with a few niche consumer groups: Fitness enthusiasts who run, exercise or ride bikes as a main part of their lifestyle, Wellness-types who care a great deal about their food, calorie, sugar intake, weight loss consumers who use apps to track their progress, diet, calorie burning and weigh goals and a segment of patients who have adopted mobile health apps to support their ongoing disease management regimen – like Diabetes sufferers or Heart patients.  The average everyday consumer still does not show a strong desire for mHealth offerings – and until mainstream adoption occurs they likely wont participate or maintain a long-term usage of these tools.  Apps of this type require a great deal more than just a cool interface and gimmicky gadget pairing. Apps of this type are high-engagement apps, which demand commitment, dedication and time on the part of the consumer in order to gain optimal value.  Apple understands this. And it looks like its development group is going to try to bake in some of the tracking and measurement features so that they work in stealth mode, in the background, like dormant record keepers –and provide users with valuable insights and data that the average, busy consumer would not likely take the time to input.


Which is really what is so daunting:  The hope is that when Apple releases new features and software – pre-baked into their OS and accompanied by their sexy, shiny new line of gadgets and simple-to-use interfaces – consumers will adopt them, and push competitors out of the market.  The potential good news will be in the increased adoption of Health related behaviors by the consumer.  Or so Apple hopes. But lets be honest: Apple is not always successful at capturing adoption for their innovations: Apple’s Map platform was a mitigated disaster (and still is – it tried to send me to Cleveland from the NJ turnpike last week); Passbook is not revolutionizing the ticket industry (I use it – but still don’t really see the value) and Apple’s native apps like Calendar and even Safari have been trumped by better versions from third party developers. However, iMessage is now default (I hate when someone’s’ texts turn green), iTunes platform integration is pretty seamless, Siri is not perfect, but I use it daily as a dictation tool and scheduling program, and the iPhone is the most used camera on the market. Overall, iPhone users statistically do more with their phones than Android users do. Apple simply makes it easier for users to get into their offerings, use them and stay there.


So the question remains:  Will these factors result in a successful mHealth ecosystem? Will consumers adopt Apple’s mHealth innovations and devices?  Will Apple’s attempts to gain regulatory and industry acceptance drive the mobile health industry? We should have a good sense of things by Q1 of 2015. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.





Brands without a Strategy – Google’s Mobile Wasteland

Google is doing all it can to force brands over the mobile cliff.  It’s not working apparently. Nor is the obvious fact (glaringly obvious at this point) that the entire realm of online consumer media consumption is moving to mobile.  The charts included in this post are from a recent Business Insider article that speaks to how Top US brands still are not mobile-ready. In my experience from being on the other side of this syndrome,  the issue resides at the top of the food chain at the C level.  Most, if not all,  rank and file brand people are fully aware of this glaring omission.  Speaking to them and their exasperation is profound:   “I know. We are aware of this and we are on top of it.  Stay tuned” or “I know, I know. It’s a big missing right now, and from what I hear, Exec Mgmt. is working on a global mobile portfolio strategy” or some gobbled-y-gook like that.  More likely, the bureaucrats are still trying to figure it out, or are hiding under their desks waiting for IT to make sense of it or for some agency partner to tell them what to do.  The bottom line is that it’s not getting done.

For those who view the absence of mobile-specific web content as an indicator of no mobile strategy, many large top brands, like Snuggle, for instance, still have no mobile strategy.  Now in all fairness to Snuggle, they may be in the process of building mobile content while I write this post, but putting up a simple mobile-friendly landing page should take a week at most.  And at this stage, it’s a week too late.  You know that I have been beating the drum about this issue a lot on these pages, but it defies understanding when billion dollar brands can’t get out of their way fast enough to move in step with the times. This is the reason that smaller start-up brands are able to appear more innovative and gain more traction from mobile users.  Fewer executive layers, less committee, less pontificating, leaner IT cycles.  It’s not that smaller brands are any smarter, or better marketers even.  They are not.  P&G and their ilk are brilliant folks – they just have created monstrous battle ships that are hard (or impossible) to turn around.  And making a billion dollars a year globally makes it easier to rest back on their laurels and “work on a cohesive strategy that takes into account all of our key stakeholders while maintaining our commitment to excellence for our loyal consumers” blah blah.

The Business Insider study conducted by Pure Oxygen Labs, indicates that 44% of Fortune 100 brands have no mobile content strategy – and only 56% are currently serving mobile-optimized content.  Only 45% have built dedicated mobile sites, while only 11% deployed responsive websites.

Google’s new requirements support a Responsive Design strategy – and this makes sense – as the development of a true Responsive Strategy would require a great deal more thinking and organizational alignment than just creating a simple mobile-friendly approach.  Responsive Design is not a development plan. It’s a Strategic approach that impacts all online and off-line digital content.  Developing a Responsive strategy would in fact FORCE all executive marketing layers to align and orchestrate across the entire communications and IT spectrum.  And that’s what all of todays brands need to do.  Re-arrange the entire structure of their development, deployment, targeting, content management and analytical disciplines.  And this is what will happen.  Eventually. Just not today when it offers brands the most obvious opportunity for competitive advantage.  CMOs should be drooling over this ripe time in history when 1 month head start will gain them a 6 month lead in the race.


Read more:

Don’t wait for the money

It’s clear that the old school approach to media buying is behind the lack of commitment to mobile spending.  I am not a true believer in the idea that traditional media strategies (banners and rich media units) will ultimately work in mobile, but before the riddle is solved one thing is certain:  we need more data in the channel to figure it out.  Since no brands are offering free placements, there needs to be a much greater level of spending to definitively see what works and what doesn’t.  Until then, these drips and drabs of trickle-funds will not yield anything compelling enough to open the floodgates.   We are at a strange inflection point in mobile marketing, where virtually all brand marketers finally agree that mobile is real – hell, critical – but no one really knows the “formula” to unleash its power from a ROI perspective.  So, brands wait for the money to return and keep one toe in the water until it arrives.  What’s needed is something that won’t likely happen:  an industry consortium of brands across verticals who collectively agree to spend another 10-20% of their media and marketing dollars to mobile in 13 Q4 and 14Q2/2 to flood the channel with campaigns (as well planned and strategically sound as is possible of course) to generate some real data that can be evaluated by mid-year 2014.  Someone will make it through the glass ceiling.  This will never happen.  Brands will continue their Hamlet-like approach to mobile – pontificating, philosophizing, ruminating, doubting and waiting for their money to return.   

Welcome “Home” Facebook Phone: Updated

Ok, so here’s a more accurate and current update to my earlier post about the so-called “Facebook phone”.

Seems like what Zuck is doing is now allowing any Android phone user to essentially turn their device into a “Facebook phone” by simply downloading an app called “Home”.   This app places a new Facebook layer over the existing Android OS, which makes Facebook the primary interface for all basic phone functions.  I was accurate that there will be a new device from HTC called the HTC First – which will be the first phone to be sold with Home pre-loaded into the OS.  But, on April 12, any Android user can go to the Google Play store and download Home and turn their Android phone into a Facebook phone.

According to TechCrunch:  Anyone who has the most recent version of the current Facebook App as well as Messenger will be able to download Home. If so, you will apparently get some kind of banner alert to download Home from the Google Play store. When you launch it the first time, you can decide to “try once”, or choose “always” to swap in Home for you home screen from then on. Facebook will try to make Home available on tablets within a few months, and it’s supposed to be a great experience there. Every month, Facebook will release a Home update to add new features and make it accessible to new devices.   The Newsfeed feature will be called “Cover Feed” and will display what are called “Chat Heads”, or little bubbles with the face/head of your friends when you receive a chat or message from them. These Chat Heads will appear at the top of the screen within any app or feature that you use on the phone and can be ignored or responded to via some swiping options. 

Overall, the idea is to fully layer or integrate Facebook into the entire Android experience, which for all intents and purposes makes the Facebook experience a 24/7 always on environment for users.  This is could be a real boon for people who already rely heavily on Facebook for updates, chats, invites, groupings, etc. on Facebook – and weave these functions more ubiquitously into their daily use.  It could also drive people to WANT to integrate Facebook’s tools into their usage if they find that the new Home OS works well, and provides more speed and connectivity to their social network. 

This is an interesting and very clever strategy.  By creating a universally accessible app for any Android user, Facebook has created a very robust distribution strategy.  You have to think that a lot of Android users are at the least going to download it and try it (the Home app allows for a “try it once” option- smart) and play with it for a little while.  Some will stick, some will not.  But this strategy exponentially increases the pool of potential users. 

Amazingly, Google cooperated with this – which is shocking frankly, as Google’s entire Android strategy is going to get killed by this new app. 

Here’s why:  One of Google’s primary objectives for the development of Android was to force users to rely on Google’s proprietary tools: Gmail, Search, Google Maps, Google Chat, etc. and hence continue to feed the beast with the heaps of data that nourish its colossal search juggernaut.  With Home, Facebook bypasses all of these tools by letting users simply use Facebook for most of these functions.  Why Google would be ok with this is curious. Could be that Zuck is playing a very clever game of gotcha – in forcing Google to make a Sophie’s Choice about its commitment to Open Source Free Range integrations.   We shall see how it plays out.

The new Facebook phone. What’s the deal?

Facebook is announcing the launch of their first “Facebook Phone” today at 1pm.  Alot of buzz on this new gadget is filling the net.  I thought I’d weigh in.

What is it?

First its important for folks to understand that Facebook is not “building” its own phone.  They do not have the desire nor muscle to get into the device manufacturing business.  Apparently, this will be a new customized version of Android that will offer a fully immersive Facebook integration – its an Application Layer to the existing Android OS that essentially makes Facebook ( and all of its components) the interface for the user that uses the phone.  They are partnering with HTC to create this new version – apparently called the HTC First, and bring it market in a very opportunistic way.  They are looking to target the midlevel mobile phone users that do not currently own the higher end smartphones like iPhone 5 or Galaxy III –  these folks are more inclined to “upgrade” to a more affordable phone that gets them into the more sophisticated device market without hitting their wallets on the higher end phones that are out of reach.  This is a good strategy as this integration and device may be the impetus for these users to make that switch.   Plus these people tend to rely a lot on Facebook as a core social connection platform.  

Some background:

As we have seen over the last few years, Facebook has been building and acquiring a suite of Facebook components that all work as a part of the larger Facebook ecosystem:  Messenger, Instagram, Voice Calling, etc, and all of these sub-apps can be independently placed on both iPhones and Android phones today.   So, over time, Facebook has essentially been creating their own “replacement” apps for all of the core OS apps of iOS and Android – in an attempt to gain more user integration on an adhoc basis.   The issue for them in this scenario, is that due to their landlord/tenant status on iPhones and current Android phones they are subject to the laws inherent to being inside of a controlled environment.  What this new concept does is free them from those shackles and allows Facebook to be the main if only choice for users to perform their basic functions.  The thinking here is that a vast chunk of Facebook users are on the Facebook app for a majority of the time each day anyway – looking at their feeds, sharing updates, texting their friends and sharing and viewing pictures, etc.  This new device will make those functions the core of the experience.  The main screen will apparently look like a Facebook welcome screen and all of the user interactions will be done through Facebook’s platform.  

 So, why are they really doing this? 

  1. At the end of the day its data.  Data is Facebook’s mother’s milk.  The more user data that they can cull, the more targeted their ads can be and more revenue they can drive.  So, getting those other pesky interfaces out of the way allows Facebook to essentially be the entire data gateway for this device and hence will be allow them to capture ALL of the user data that is captured on the phone. 
  2. International and Emerging Market Penetration:  This new OS will also be used as a strategy to gain ground in emerging markets like India, Russia, China and Brazil, where feature phone usage is still the norm.  Putting a cheap device into those markets with a simple version of Facebook baked in will capture new Facebook users for the long term when computers and advanced devices are more prevalent.  These Facebook phone users will be hooked at this point and likely create online Facebook accounts once they have the means to in order to maintain the connections that they have established via mobile. Pretty slick. 
  3. Expose Apples weakness.  I don’t know if this is a defined strategy – but it makes sense.  Apple is know for its closed and controlled environment, hence this kind of partnership would not even be possible on an OS device.  Android is know for its open source customization.  Users may flock more to Android phones as this initiative exposes some folks to the limitations of Apples controlled platform.  Maybe. 
  4. Mobile is Facebook’s future-  and they know it.  Getting some kind of beach front in the mobile space was an inevitability and this approach makes the most business sense. 

Wil users care?  

Who knows?  I don’t – aside from my interest as a mobile professional, I don’t have enough of a reliance on Facebook to see this as a value prop.  But users who DO use Facebook as their primary tool set and are social citizens may buy in.  Assuming that there are enough people out there who have lower end phones and see this as their affordable upgrade opportunity (and it carriers and HTC can make it affordable enough for users to get in) they will likely bite.  Who knows?  Perhaps once this launch proves successful, Facebook has designs to bake this new OS into more advanced Smartphones ( like the HTC One Second? ) it may be a new offering in the smartphone display case.  

The event is at 1pm today.  I’ll see how right or wrong I am then.