Monday, May 23, 2011

LinkedIn and Tablets Increase Decisions for B2B Marketers

With consumers and small business on one side and ‘tortured” corporate customers on the other, how much longer will users put up with forced updates and interminable boot up time? Google and Apple reinvent computing and computer retailing. Has Mars/Venus gender battle moved to tablets?

Whether or not you think last week’s lofty IPO and post-offering “pop” for professional networking platform LinkedIn signaled a new “tech bubble about to burst,” the head of a large engineering and technology society told me Friday that he was encouraged by the amount of “let’s try and see how it goes” innovation he’s from emerging media, information and technology companies. This ability to innovate, react, evolves and correct early stumbles may be the key to success in the next decade and beyond. Meanwhile, the old guard seems to be drifting further and further back in the rear view mirror.

Hewlett-Packard Co. reduced its 2011 outlook and warned of weaker results in its current quarter in a hastily arranged earnings call last week, a day after an email from CEO, Leo Apotheker to his top brass, warning of tough times became public. News of the memo and the revised outlook sent H-P's shares down 9 percent in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange. HP’s pessimistic outlook is a result of changes the Palo Alto, Calif., company is making in its services business and poor demand for personal computers among consumers. Apotheker said weak PC sales to consumers is an industry-wide problem due in part to the rise of tablet devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPad. Dell, Acer and Sony among others have been whining a similar tune of late.

In response, HP will soon release its own tablet, dubbed the TouchPad, but it will not only have to contend with Apple’s passionately followed products (and social media army), but with Apple’s incredibly successful retail stores—and Google’s lightweight computing devices, which we’ll get to in a minute.

OUR TAKE: We’re not here to predict who’s going to win the table and smart phone wars, but it’s relevant for B2B marketers to know which types of screens, devices and security environment that your target consumers are spending their time when they receive your messages. And that not only includes tablets and smart phones, but LinkedIn-style social networking platforms for professionals and other busy grownups who don’t have hours of free time on their hands and only post when they something relevant to share (or answer).

Gender impact on tablet adoption

If you’re targeting consumers and small business, it’s increasingly likely you’ll to be reaching decision makers not on clunky PC’s, but on open access, easy to use devices –tablets, iPads, smart phones and “smart” notebooks that boot up quickly, and can easily handle rich media, video, apps, downloads and the like. According to a report in today’s New York Times, based on Forrester Research, the majority of tablet owners are male, while the majority of e-readers (such as Barnes’ and Nobles’ Nook Color) are female. Researchers say this has more to do with desire for simplicity (female) or tech power (men) than it does with color, design and actual reading experience although women supposedly want a more contemplative book-like reading experience and men allegedly want a more multimedia, action-oriented experience. Regardless of preference, consumers and business decision-makers are gravitating toward gadgets that are fast, fun, adaptable, easy to carry and easy to fix (often by you, the end user). And these tend to be the devices that don’t block advertising messages as effectively as most corporate spam filters and firewalls. In exchange for this freedom, recipients of your messaging will demand well-thought out creative that’s targeted, relevant and makes full use multimedia.

Meanwhile Google took another swipe at Microsoft last week when it introduced a new kind of computer called a Chromebook, which stores everything online. Google hopes that the devices, which it says will eliminate the need for software updates and hard drive backups and will boot up within eight seconds, will replace PCs running Microsoft’s Windows software in offices and homes around the world.

OUR TAKE: Users are losing patience with endless Windows updates, interminable bootup times and business applications (spreadsheets, presentations, word processing) that work fine, but get over-engineered every 12 months so users have to keep relearning how to use them. Corporate warriors don’t have much choice in the matter, except to covet their spouses, kids and friends’ devices. But, consumers and small business owners DO have a choice, and they’re overwhelmingly going for portability and simplicity over fortress-like security.

However, if your core decision-makers are still in large organizations, then no matter how many fun, easy to work with gadgets they have at home, they’ll still be at the mercy of command and control IT departments—and that means, slow connectivity, limited multimedia and downloading opportunities.

That affects your creative and your ability to get into targets’ sub-conscious. Here, the main objective is simply to get in the door, not to be eye-catching. Corporate spam filters will flag anything they don’t deem plain vanilla. In this environment, it’s best just to play it straight. Stick with bullet points, features and benefits—forget about storytelling and dazzling techno tricks.

Users tired of being tortured

“Whether it be Microsoft or other OS vendors, I think the complexity of managing your computers is really torturing users out there,” Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and director of special projects, said recently at the Google I/O developer conference “That’s a flawed model fundamentally. And I think Chromebooks are a new model that doesn’t put the burden of managing your computer on yourself.”

Experts say Google will not have an easy time challenging Microsoft, which dominates the workplace. We think that’s due more to inertia, fear and cozy VAR relationships than it is a result of better products. While Google has bested Microsoft in operating system software for mobile phones, it has taken on Microsoft in the workplace before and failed to budge it, most notably in word processing and spreadsheet software and collaboration tools.

Google says Chromebooks will attract corporate technology buyers because Google automatically updates the Chrome operating system over the Internet and there is no need to back up computers because if they are lost or ruined, all the data exists online. “We’re venturing into a really new model of computing that I don’t think was possible previously, even a few years ago,” Brin purportedly said at Google’s recent user conference, adding that it’s just a much easier way to compute.

Computing in a whole new way

The Chrome operating system, which Google introduced in 2009, does away with desktop software and storing data on a computer. Instead, it is not much more than a browser, and all of a computer user’s information, like documents, photos and e-mail messages, is stored on the Internet, or in “the cloud.” Instead of desktop software like Microsoft Word or iPhoto, people use Web-based software like Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365 or Picasa.

Corporate I.T. departments are not known for quickly adopting flashy new products. However, tablet computers with touch screens, like the iPad, are replacing laptops in some workplaces, so the Chromebook may be late to the game. Microsoft has also seen some softness in its sales for its operating system software. Google’s strategy is to go after businesses and schools first. If students get used to a Web-based operating system, they might request it in their offices later on, and if people use it at work, they might decide to buy one for their homes.

The tagline at the end of Google’s promotional video for Chromebooks? “Ready when you are.” So are we. And so should you, if you’re a smart B2B marketer.


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