Heathen footwear from Berlin

AtheistBerlin is a small outfit making some really nice shoes. I just received my pair, and I’d recommend them for anyone with a sense of humor, style and rational thinking. In addition to looking great and giving you a chance to signal your non-belief in style, they also smell great. And I mean really great. Oh, and they’re also insanely comfortable, which is important.

I snapped a few close-ups with my camera for your enjoyment:

You can order your own pair here.

Facebook will outlive LinkedIn. Here’s why

Geoffrey James wrote last year in his Sales Source column on Inc.com, that he believes that Linkedin will outlive Facebook, essentially because Facebook has lost its cool, while LinkedIn doesn’t care about being cool, and never has.

“More importantly, nobody seems to love Facebook any more.  People seem mostly tolerate it, because it’s convenient. And that’s why Facebook remains vulnerable

Consumer-oriented social networking sites [like facebook] are like television networks: People will switch when there’s something better on another channel.”

He thinks that because Facebook has lost its cool, its users will eventually move on to the next big thing in social networking sites. LinkedIn however, has from the start been all about business and peoples resumes, and that makes LinkedIn dull but functionall – like email and the telephone, according to Geoffrey James.

He goes on to conclude that this is a perfect example of one company trying to be everything to everyone, while another focuses on a niche, and therefore wins out in the long run, due to a more loyal customer base.

Facebook is a perfect example of a company trying to be all things to all people, while LinkedIn is a perfect example of a company that focused on a niche.

I completely agree that businesses should focus their efforts, and that trying to be everything to everyone usually results being nothing to anyone. But I also completely reject one central premise in James’ argument; that Facebook it vunerable, because it’s no longer cool.

Actually I think that James has gotten things reversed when he states that LinkedIn is like email, and the telephone, and Facebook is like a television channel. While he may be right about Facebook not being cool anymore, that’s not really relevant when it comes to why people use Facebook. It be have been true in the early days, but it’s not any more. The reason people still use Facebook, and will continue to do so, for a long time, is because not only is it a convenient way to keep tabs on your friends and family, it’s a convenient way to communicate with ALL your friends and family. Because the thing about Facebooks success, is that it means that everyone is on Facebook, and while that may not be cool, it certainly is convenient for communicating with the people in your life, just like email and the telephone.

And I don’t believe that Facebook should try to be everything for everyone, I believe that it’s already there, doing that. At least the “for everyone part”. Whether or not facebook is also trying to be everything is debatable in my opinion. I use Facebook to communicate with all the groups of people in my (personal) life; my closest relatives and friends, my not-so-close-friends and even people I otherwise might only see once every 5 years or longer. If I were to stop using Facebook completely, in order to move on to something cooler, it would require that not only my cool friends sign up, but also my mum, my older sisters and my technophobic friend from long ago, and clearly that’s not going to happen.

Google+ is a perfect example of why Facebook will endure, whether we like it or not. While Google may have made some wrong moves in handling the launch of G+, at the time it was arguably “cooler” than Facebook, but while only an amputated handfull of my facebook friends remain active on G+ today, everyone I know still uses Facebook. The sheer number of people on Facebook, making it as ubiquitous as e-mail, makes it insanely hard to launch a successful competitor. Maybe if it’s done right, some day, someone will succeed in launching something that could replace Facebook, but it will be a steep uphill journey.

In order for a competitor to beat Facebook, taking its place in all our lives, it has to attract not only the first movers, the early adopters and the techies among us, but also their mothers, cousins and technophobic friends. Of course Facebook itself could help this process along, by screwing things up for itself, but looking at how people react, in real life, to the many privacy issues that have spun negative stories about Facebook in the media, and how little those stories have affected usernumbers, I really don’t see what major leauge disaster would drive any significant number of users away. So my conclusion is, that Facebook is here to stay, at least for a long long time, whether we like it or not.

Which leads me to LinkedIn. Comparing Facebook and LinkedIn, is in my book like comparing the old apples and oranges. Yes, they can both be labelled ‘social networks’, but isn’t that too broad a label to justify a direct comparison? I think so.

Facebook functions, for most people, as a communications platform, but if we look past that we can also view Facebook as a place to build and maintain our personal brands. LinkedIn is all about building and maintaining ones personal brand, so in that regard, they’re similar, but for one crucial difference. The target groups for each service are very different.

Most people just Facebook to communicate with friends and family, and so, in a personal branding sense, they’re building an image of themselves for the people in their personal life. This is what we do, consciously or  subconsciously, when we’re carefully selecting which images to post, and what clever things to write in our status updates. Sure, some people may publish everything to the public, but given the personal nature of most of the content on Facebook, that is a bad idea.

We also do this on LinkedIn, but here, the target audience is much more limited, and the average user is more consciously aware that what he/she is doing, is branding him/herself to potential employers.

So, while I agree with James that LinkedIn is a company that focuses on a niche,  I don’t believe that it naturally follows that LinkedIn is less vunerable as a result. In fact, because of the limited, or focused, nature (in terms of both use and number of users) of LinkedIn, I believe that it is actually more vunerable to the next cool thing. When it comes down to it, the users will use the service with the most, and most relevant, userbase.

And after all, replacing  your pager (for which you use to communicate with work) is much easier than replacing your telephone (for which you use to communicate with everyone else). Not a perfect metaphor I know, but you see my point.

Follow up: Why Porsche is diluting their brand

After posting my first blog on the iPad Mini, I got into a lot of discussions that seemed to miss my overall point. I found myself debating very specific points that when taken out of context seem to disprove my point. But what I found even more annoying, was that those who disagreed with me, seemed to not have read my original post very thoroughly, since I very clearly stated that I believe that the iPad Mini will sell very very well indeed. I also stressed that, on paper, with regards to the numbers, it all makes perfect sense. My original point, which seemed to be missed by many, was thus that while the iPad Mini will earn Apple lots of money right now, the shift in strategy that the iPad Mini potentially signals, will eventually, and I’m talking way down the line here, hurt the ground breaking level of brand loyalty Apple currently enjoys and benefits enormously from. 

To clarify what I mean, allow me to build a little further upon my Porsche analogy. It’s not a perfect analogy by any stretch, since there are clearly significant differences between the two industries, but the end result, in terms of brand loyalty is the same in my opinion, so it serves my purpose just fine.

Porsche is arguably one of the strongest brands in the world. When you think Porsche, things like prestige, speed & german engineering come to mind. The Porsche brand is a singular embodiment of everything you dream of in a sports car; great performance, beautiful design, everyday reliability & the envy of your neighbors. It symbolizes a lifestyle that’s not available to everyone, yet more attainable than many other competing brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini. This, together with Porsche’s focus on sports cars, has historically put Porsche in a market segment below Ferrari and Lamborghini (thought overlapping a bit) and above BMW, Audi and Mercedes.

But all that changed when Porsche launched the Cayenne in the early naughties. Suddenly Porsche wasn’t solely a sports car manufacturer, and while the Cayenne was and still is a huge success for Porsche, it was also a sign of things to come. In 2009 at the 13th Auto Shanghai International Automobile Show Porsche unveiled the Panamera. A four-door saloon.

The introduction of the Panamera to the model line up, begs the question; what’s next? Will Porsche in another 7-9 years introduce a compact car? Or maybe a station car? However unlikely these two additions may seem, please remember how unlikely a four-door Porsche seemed only a few years ago. To be honest, I still haven’t gotten used to the idea of a family Porsche.

But I’m pretty sure that, as time goes by, I will eventually get used to it, as will everybody else. And what happens when we all have gotten used to thinking about Porsche as the manufacturer of not only small cool sports cars, but also big 4×4′s and four-door family cars, and whatever else they might conjure in the near future? What will happen is that Porsche as a brand will be diluted and therefore gradually loose it’s power. There may still be a quite few model types missing from the line-up before Porsche has a leg in every segment of the car market, but with their current rate of releasing new models, it’s only a matter of time, albeit a long time. But just like with Apple, I’m talking about the long run here. Because if we look a few generations down the line, it’s easy to imagine a world where Porsche as a brand, is directly competing, model by model, with the likes of BMW and Audi. In other words, if Porsche decides to extend their line-up to have a model in every segment, the brand will loose it’s status and Porsche will become just another mainstream (luxury) car maker. Yes, in such a future Porsche will be at the top end of the luxury market, but without what truly differentiates them from other mainstream car makers. The focus on (a) specific type(s) of car(s).

It’s all about focus. Focus on doing the thing your brand is best at doing, what it became famous for doing. Adding more things to what your brand stands for, only dilutes it’s strength, which will eventually lead to lower brand loyalty.

As for Apple, only time will tell if the launch of the Mini also means a strategy more oriented towards capturing existing market share than creating blue oceans for themselves, but if so, I would’t be surprised if Apple was leapfrogged by a competitor in some new, yet unknown, exciting market.

Why the iPad Mini is a really bad idea for Apple. In the long run.

Yesterday Apple announced what everyone even remotely interested in tech has known about for a long time. The iPad Mini. But is it a good idea?

I’m sure it will sell like crazy, but I’m also pretty sure that those sales will primarily come from people who either can’t afford the “real” iPad, or who somehow prefer the Mini. Because no one needs both, as well as an iPhone.

Why the iPad Mini is a Bad Idea for Apple in the long run

And this is really the source of my doubt in the iPad Mini. The gap between an iPhone and an iPad is really not that big. Apple, which in this case means Jony Ive, has always stressed the effort put into finding the perfect size for their devices. And if you already have an iPhone and an iPad, then you don’t need an iPad Mini. And if you don’t have either of those, then chances are that you’re into something else entirely, like Android, in which case you’re not going to convert solely to get your hands on a shrinked down iPad with last generation hardware.

So who’s going to buy what is basically an iPad 2, after a weight loss? The answers is, of course, lots and lots of people. Apple is (still) so far ahead of the competition, that it’s customers will buy everything they put their logo on. But with the iPad Mini, I fear, that the company is heading down a road on which there is only trouble ahead. The Mini feels in many ways like the Porsche Cayman. I remember vividly an episode of Top Gear, where the great Jeremy Clarkson compared the, then, new Cayman to the 911 and the Boxster. In every way, from price to horsepower, the Cayman fit neatly in between the two. Mr. Clarkson felt that the Cayman could have been much better, but wasn’t allowed to, because then it would eclipse the flagship 911′s. So the Cayman was born out of a wish to fill a gap in the market, not a desire to create a great car. I think that the same is true for the iPad Mini.

It makes sense, at least from an accounting and marketing perspective. More products = more sales. More price points = more customers can afford your products. And there is probably lots of money to be saved by extending the life of your parts, by putting last gen chips in a cheaper product. It sure seems like a good idea, doesn’t it?

No. The problem with this thinking is, that while it makes perfect rational sense, it doesn’t take into account that we as a species aren’t rational beings, most of the time, anyways. Especially when it comes to the brands we buy and love. Ever see one of those Apple Store crowds on a product launch day? That’s not rational behaviour. People wait in queue for days for an Apple product because they love the brand. And they love the brand because Apple (or was it only Jobs?) has always thought differently, even when it only made sense to a select few (or was it only to Jobs?).

By constantly innovating, and not focusing on filling every possible gap in the market, Apple has created perhaps the strongest brand ever, with a religious following by it’s customers. Those who don’t buy Apple products, either can’t afford it, although people go to insane lengths to scrape the necessary cash together, or do so because they actively avoid it, like most Android users.

So if the iPad Mini won’t convert anyone, and there really is no need to have an iPhone, an iPad and an iPad Mini, then that leaves only one target group. Those who would otherwise buy a full size iPad.

I won’t deny the possibility that there are people out there who would prefer the smaller form factor, but I’m also pretty sure that they will be annoyed with the outdated hardware in the Mini. And I’m even more sure that the Mini will cannibalize Big iPad sales, just like I believe the Cayman is cannibalizing 911 sales.

And while Porsche is seemingly doing great (still), they are pretty far down the road to destroy everything their brand once stood for, by adding more and more models and more specifically, types of cars to their lineup. I may very well be wrong about Porsche, after all the Cayenne has proved a huge success, but a four door Porsche still just doesn’t feel right to me.

And the problem is even bigger with Apple, because of the strong vision that Jobs always had for his company. I fear that if Apple starts to travel towards a more rational, numbers-led approach to developing their products, innovation will ultimately suffer. And that’s bad news, not just for Apple fans, but for every gadget head out there.