Archive for December, 2010

Missed Opportunity- Acura

December 10th, 2010 No comments

I have owned Acura cars for twenty-some years now. The first, a first generation Integra, the second, a third gen Integra and now a TSX. There are some concrete tangible reasons I’ve chosen them and some admittedly silly ‘branding victim’ reasons.

The concrete reasons:

  • They are reliable resale-value-holding japanese cars. Say what you like but, bottom line, Japanese cars are simply more reliable on average. Remember, not saying only Japanese built, most japanese cars for sale in the US are made in the US by American union workers just japanese as opposed to American, Korean, German or Swedish cars. I can’t afford Italian ones and if I could, reliability wouldn’t be my first concern. (As it happens, quirks of Honda’s business have meant all of my Acuras have been built in Japan but the point is, it’s not the labor that has made Japanese cars more reliable in general over the last twenty-some years than the comparable alternatives.)
  • They are comparatively safe cars.
  • They offered real, as in has a clutch, manual transmissions.
  • They have high revving four bangers. They’ve all had, to a declining extent as they’ve been revised, peaks in the power curve toward the higher end of the rev range make them fun to drive for me. What others have seen as a flaw, that you have to wind them all the way out before you shift, is my idea of a grand old time. The little buggers feel fast even when I’m behaving myself and are fast when, long ago before the statute of limitations ran out, I wasn’t.
  • They’ve been smallish. Not tiny but at the small end for my needs. I like a smaller car. As I’ve grown older, my desire for comfort has moved me toward larger and and now to a four door sedan, but I still prefer to be on the smaller end.
  • The models I have chosen have been toward the higher fuel efficiency and low emissions end of the spectrum. No, they aren’t the best you can get, but all things in life include compromise.
  • The Honda equivalents of the models I’ve chosen don’t exist in the US or I’d have just as happily saved the money and given up the branding.

Then there’s the brand victim stuff.

  • I like the marketing personality of the Acura brand. I won’t deny it. I like the logo, the type face and the “luxury car for the smart cheap bastard” placement in the automotive branding food chain.
  • I like, mostly, the aesthetics of the cars. Excess grill and excess chrome and too many damned curves is a blight on the current models but, relative to the brutalization of classic lines recent BMW’s embody, I prefer the Acuras. (the 318 is kinda the exception in the range of remotely affordable bimmers but even that has suffered some aesthetically in the recent changes to the BMW look.)
  • My dealer, Acura of Boston, has never screwed me or jerked me around.
  • They do a minimum of things that piss me off. They don’t have a ‘track me everywhere’ OnStar system. They don’t make it hard for me to change my own oil or do other basic maintenance myself. (Yes, I do occasionally do these things and I like knowing I could.)
  • They don’t have so many byzantine over complicated choices to make that your Subaru $25,500 WRX cost $41.500 by the time it’s an STi Limited with the same basic features as the TSX I bought for much less. (yes, I know, different class and type of car but still, go play on the web sites and remember, the WRX was on the short list of other cars I considered when I bought my TSX. It was a missed win for Subaru.).
  • They, Hondas and Acuras in general, have good user interfaces. Switches, knobs and buttons are usually where they belong and behave as they should.

Now, all of these aren’t accidental choices. Honda decided they want guys like me for a customer and they’ve made some good choices to pry my money out of my wallet. I have been successfully manipulated err.. marketed to by Honda.

So that’s plenty of ‘setup’. What’s the missed opportunity? They, after more than 20 years of me owning their products in a context that they know I own them, they should have figured out how to make incremental money off me.

They have never failed to accurately remind me to go in for a service or mention my current car when they try to sell me a new one. They just don’t know how to wring out every dollar from me they could.

Hell, they haven’t even figured out that they could have sold me my wife’s last two cars too. Those have been Honda that could have been bought used from an affiliated dealer.

Now, consider that I have helped them sell, as in walked in with a customer to the dealer, two other Acuras and, via “go look at this car” one more.  This is the dealer and the manufacturer. Both should know me as a customer. Both should find a way to reward me for my evangelism.

The dealer doesn’t get all my service work. I do about 50% of my services at Hondaa King over the life of a car because Hondaa King is often more affordable and always reliable for me. Now, I really like the Hondaa King guys, and I’d still throw business their way no matter what but, if I didn’t have them? Acura Of Boston, who I also like, would still not get all my work. They just don’t deliver the “your sorted” feeling their prices and luxury should. Nikon has done a great job of making me feel that “you’re sorted, we gotcha” sensation when I’ve had them service my gear. Why can’t my car company?

They just don’t seem to make an effort to know me. They don’t say, as Hondaa King has “Jon, don’t be an idiot, don’t spend the money on this fix now. Live with it for 3 months, it will be cheaper when you do it at the next service.” That my quirky personality means I actually like somebody I trust telling me, in those words, ‘don’t be an idiot’ is part of the point. Hondaa King knows me. The Acura service guys don’t and they don’t try to. They do, however, retain staff for years so that’s not the problem.

Then they don’t sell me ‘stuff’. A car is, for me anyway, a typically ten year purchase. Want to make more money? Sell me things over the life the car that will keep me spending money on your product and aware of your brand. That means, after 2 years, sell me the big wheels and summer tieres at a reasonable price, a TireRack price. Don’t make it utterly stupid not to look to my awesome body shop guy for a deal. (no real URL for them) for a MUCH better deal. Sell me actually meaningful feature upgrades for my Nav system not just new map disks. Sell me killer detailing services that make the car feel new again. (yes they do detailing work but hardly the quality they could). They don’t sell me. market to me silly little wear parts like floor mats, lamp upgrades or other dumb little affordable things that could make me feel good about a purchase and earn them money during the whole life of the product.

What do they do instead? They have, a year later, started trying to sell me a new car. If they kept selling me my old one, they could be damned sure I’d buy a new one when I was ready.

How does this apply, this way of looking at the world apply to other products like, oh, say, the iOS and Mac app stores?

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Categories: Inspiration, Marketing Tags: ,

Press Embargoes

December 2nd, 2010 No comments

Start here, read this, then come on back:

Ok? Back? Good.. here we go.

So, I’m not a journalist. I did take some journalism classes nearly three decades ago in college. Damned if I remember what I learned in class and what I learned since. Such is the nature of life experience. I’ve even been paid as a journalist and, more specifically as a tech writer. Never been my profession but, guess what, I have an opinion anyway. Shocking ain’t it?

Embargoes are a deliberate collusion between the subject of the story and the person whose job it is to tell the story. Now, as the link above explains, it can be a useful collusion. I submit, not useful enough to justify. It’s not just science journalism, by a long shot, where these embargoes occur. Embargoes also happen, a lot, in the tech journalism business.  A reporter will be given to product information prior to release on condition they don’t publish before a certain time or event.

In the case of tech journalism, so goes the theory, the story about the new Fronzilator 5000 will be deeper and more informative to the potential customer base if the press has had a chance to preview the “next big thing” and can get a story with meat on its bones out quickly and not just regurgitate the press release or be wrong in the facts. A  Fronzilator 5000 reported as having only 16GB of Flash Memory when, in fact it has 16 Yottabytes would make the $199 price point less of a breakthrough. Widgetcorp can’t have that so they give out advanced info and embargo it until they’re ready to announce the product.

Here’s the real deal though, the notion of a press embargo is inherently flawed because of the collusion and the costs outweigh the benefits. The press is supposed to be in an at least somewhat adversarial relationship with the subjects of their stories.  It’s a journalist’s job to uncover and disseminate the truth as best they can.

A MacMouser Magazine writer is put at a competitive disadvantage if she doesn’t get embargoed information that a reporter from The New Paltz Times does. Boom, conflict of interest. The guy with early access won’t risk losing it by breaching the embargo. If he discovers the Fronzilator 5000’s 16 yottabytes of Flash is only accessible during months ending in Y, he won’t break that story before the embargo and he probably won’t make it the lead of his first published story after the announcement. He won’t, he can’t risk losing his early access,. Besides, at two hundred bucks for 16 Yottabytes, that little problem isn’t that big a deal really. Is it?

What about when he learns the manufacturing breakthrough that allowed the costs to be that low involved kitten livers?

What happens when Doodadtech, the startup, has a new product and they’d kill for any press coverage they can get. The same journalist who worried about their access to the stuff from the much more powerful Widgetcorp has no similar fears of harming the marketability of the Doodadtech Garbonzotron and will, as she should, point out that the Garbonzotron isn’t a mature product. They will, being able writers, try to tell the fullest story they can because doing so is all good for them professionally.  Despite the fact that the Widgetcorp Garbonzotron is a wireless mouse that needs no batteries is made entirely of recycled newsprint and costs 27 cents retail, ir misses sending every 9th mouse click on Tuesdays. The good journalist has to tell the whole story. The emphasis will surely be on the thing only a trained tech journalist will notice because that’s their job. Help inform their audience.

Doodadtech’s environmentally friendly wireless mouse dies in the market from bad press and Doodadtech folds. Widgetcorp makes even more money and, 3 years later, 9 months after the Fronzilator 5000’s actual ship date, they fix the bug to great praise in the press. The kitten liver issue is, of course, forgotten.

All mythical and disturbing examples aside, the concern is that there is a force that inherently aligns the interests of the journalist with his (or her) subjects: access. This alignment of interests denies you, the readers, unbiased coverage. This isn’t even malicious or ‘agenda’ driven bias. It’s pernicious.

So, as you read the coverage of any issue, do a little digging, think a bit about why it seems the guy on CNN softballs the questions, who appears on which shows, who takes whose calls.

All that’s obvious of course. You knew all that, so, why did I write this? WikiLeaks.

Are there serious issues with the whos, whats, whys and hows? Oh yeah. Are there all sorts of moral complexities involved? You betcha!

In the end though, do we have enough of an adversarial press willing and able to bring out Truth? In the absence of a trained, careful, professional press willing and able to really dig into their subjects are things like WikiLeaks inevitable and, unfortunately, necessary?

We need to demand better from the press we pay for . We do, all of us, pay for the journalism we get. Shall we try to get more for our money?

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Categories: Civil Rights, Media Tags: , ,