What’s up with personal assistant apps?

Apple Siri loses a chunk of users, but it still possesses the biggest share of the AI-powered personal assistant apps market.

With the entry of new personal assistant apps, it’s only logical that there would be a shift in market share between the established players and the upstarts.

That trend is underscored in statistics recently published by Verto Analytics which are based on behavioral data gleaned from ~20,000 U.S. consumers via passive metering of their digital devices.

According to Verto, the current share of usage among the seven top personal assistant apps breaks down as follows:

  • Apple Siri: 41MM monthly U.S. users (~44%)
  • Samsung S Voice: 23MM (~25%)
  • Google Text-To-Search: 20MM (~21%)
  • Google Home: 5MM (~5%)
  • Amazon Alexa: 3MM (~3%)
  • Google Allo: 1MM (~1%)
  • Microsoft Cortana: 1MM (~1%)

These stats show the degree to which the top three apps continue to dominate the U.S. market. However, they don’t tell the entire story.  A more interesting trend is what’s happening with the number of monthly users by app. In the case of Siri, its monthly user figure has dropped a full 15% in the past year – or about 7 million monthly users lower than in 2016.

Samsung, #2 on the list, also experienced a decline in monthly users – in its case a drop of 8%, or about 2 million fewer users compared to 2016.

Google Home also experienced a slide in subscribers, although #3 ranged Google Text-To-Search did grow.

The biggest growth trends in personal assistant apps were experienced by Alexa (up ~325%) and Cortana (up ~350%). Both apps were starting from a very low baseline, however, and today they still number only around 3 million and 1 million monthly users respectively.

Another interesting dynamic is the level of engagement each of these personal assistant apps generates. As it turns out, there is a direct correlation between overall user growth and levels of engagement, so it’s pretty clear where most of the “go-go” action is at the moment:  Alexa and Cortana.

Perhaps most significantly, the Verto report suggests that personal assistant apps are of more utility to users than search apps such as Google or Yelp. Approximately 45% of smartphones owned by U.S. adults contained a personal assistant app that was used at least once during the month of May 2017.  Compare that to the percent of smartphones that had a search app installed over the same period:  just 34%.

It goes to show that among personal assistant apps broadly, the market is quite robust even if it’s fragmenting rather than consolidating.

In case you’re wondering … consumers don’t really care about brands all that much.

branding“I don’t want a ‘relationship’ with my brands.  I want the best products at the best price.” — Jane Q. Public

In the era of interactive marketing and social media, there’s often a good deal of talk about how certain brands are successfully engaging their customers and creating an environment of “brand love” — or at least “brand stickiness.”

It’s not only consumer brands like Chipotle and Under Armour, but also B-to-B and hybrid brands like Intel, Apple and Uber.

As a person who’s been involved in marketing and advertising for well over a quarter-century, I tend to treat these pronouncements with a little less open-mouthed awe than others.

I get how when a brand is particularly admired, it becomes the “go-to” one when people are in the market for those particular products and services.

But the idea that there’s real “brand love” going on — in a sense similar to people forging close relationships with the people in their lives — to me that’s more far-fetched.

The marketing research I’ve encountered appears to refute the notion as well.

Case in point: In an annual index of “meaningful brands” published by the Havas MarComm agency, the research finds that very few consumers cite brands they “can’t live without.”

The 2015 edition of the Havas Meaningful Brands Index has now been released … and the results are true to form. Among U.S. consumers, only about 5% of the 1,000 brands evaluated by Havas across a dozen industries would be truly missed if they were no longer available.

It’s a big survey, too:  Havas queried ~300,000 people across 34 countries in order to build the 2015 index. Broadly speaking, the strength of brands is higher in countries outside the United States, reflecting the fact that trust levels for leading brands in general are higher elsewhere — very likely because lesser known brands or “generics” have a greater tendency to be subpar in their performance.

But even considering the brand scores globally, three out of four consumers wouldn’t miss any brands if they suddenly disappeared from the market.

What are the exceptions? Looking at the brands that scored highest gives us clues as to what it takes to be a brand that people truly care about in their lives.

Samsung is ranked the #1 brand globally. To me, it makes perfect sense that the manufacturer of the most widely sold mobile device on the planet would generate a strong semblance of “brand love.”

Even in the remotest corners of the world, Samsung has made the lives of countless people easier and better by placing a powerful computer in their pocket. It’s only logical that Samsung is a brand many people would sorely miss if it disappeared tomorrow.

The second strongest brand in the Havis index is Google. No surprise there as well, because Google enables people to research and find answers on pretty much anything that ever crosses their minds. Again, it’s a brand that most people wouldn’t want to do without.

But beyond these, it’s plain to see that nearly all brands just aren’t that consequential to people’s lives.

With this in mind, are companies and brands spending too much energy and resources attempting to get customers to “care” about them more than simply to have a buying preference when the time comes to purchase products and services?

Brand-LoyaltyRelated to that, is adding more “meaning” to a brand the answer to getting more people to express brand love? Or does it have far more to do with having products that meet a need … work better than competitors’ offerings … and are priced within the means of more people to purchase?

Havas — and common sense — suggests it’s the latter.

Do that stuff right, and a company will earn brand loyalty.

All the rest is just froth on the beer … icing on the cake … good for the psychological bennies.

 

 

World brands: Who’s up … Who’s down?

brand finance logoEach year, the brand valuation consulting firm Brand Finance produces a report on the strength of the world’s Top 500 brands.

It’s an interesting study in that Brand Finance calculates the values of brands using the so-called “royalty relief” approach – calculating a royalty rate that would be charged for the use of the brand name if it weren’t already owned by the company.

In the 2015 report, just issued, Apple remains the world’s most valuable brand based on this criterion.  The Top 10 listing of world brands is as follows:

brand finance global 500 2015#1  Apple

#2  Samsung

#3  Google

#4  Microsoft

#5  Verizon

#6  AT&T

#7  Amazon

#8  GE

#9  China Mobile

#10 Walmart

Of these, all but China Mobile were in the Top 10 listing in Brand Finance’s 2014 rankings.  Of the others, all maintained their rank except for AT&T and Amazon, which rose, and GE and Walmart, which fell.

The most valuable brands differ by region, however.  In fact, Apple is tops only in North America:

Most valuable brand in North America:  Apple

… in Europe:  BMW

… in Asia/Pacific:  Samsung

… in the Middle East:  Emirates Air

… in Africa:  MTN (M-Cell)

… in South America:  Banco Bradesco

As for which brand’s value is growing the fastest, top honors goes to … Twitter?

That is correct:  According to Brand Finance, Twitter’s value has mushroomed from $1.5 billion in early 2014 to nearly $4.5 billion now.

Other social platform firms that have experienced big growth are Facebook (up nearly 150%) and the Chinese-based Baidu (up over 160%).

What about in non-tech or social media sectors?  There, Chipotle racked up the biggest growth in brand value:  nearly 125%.  At the other end of the scale, the McDonald’s brand has lost about $4 billion in value over the past year.

Most Powerful Brands 

In addition to its brand value analysis, Brand Finance also publishes a ranking of most powerful brands based on its “brand strength index” (BSI).  This index focuses on factors more easily influenced by marketing and brand management activities — namely, marketing investment and brand equity/goodwill.

In this analysis, Brand Finance comes up with a very different set of “top brands” – led by Lego:

Lego logo#1  Lego:  BSI = 93.4

#2  PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers):  91.8

#3  Red Bull:  91.1

#4 (tie)  McKinsey:  90.1

#4 (tie)  Unilever:  90.1

#6 (tie)  Burberry:  89.7

#6 (tie)  L’Oréal:  89.7

#6 (tie)  Rolex:  89.7

#9 (tie)  Coca-Cola:  89.6

#9 (tie)  Ferrari:  89.6

#9 (tie)  Nike:  89.6

#12 (tie) Walt Disney:  89.5

According to Brand Finance, Lego’s brand power stems from it being a “creative, hands-on toy that encourages creativity in kids and nostalgia in their parents, resulting in a strong cross-generational appeal.”  Lego also has a big consumer marketing presence, thanks to its brand activities in film, TV and comics.

Last year’s top brand was Ferrari, which has now slipped in the rankings.  Brand Finance cited the brand’s 1990s-era “sheen of glory” as wearing a bit thin 20 years on.

For more details on these brands and other aspects of the 2015 evaluation, you can review Brand Finance’s 2015 report here.

Do any of the results come as a surprise to you?  Please share your observations with other readers as to why certain specific brands are coming on strong while others may be fading.

Samsung gets its marketing knuckles wrapped – twice.

Samsung logoTech manufacturing giant Samsung’s “questionable” marketing activities have been in the news this past week – again.

This time, it’s reported that the company has been fined a $340,000 penalty for paying people to post trash-talk comments about competitor HTC’s products in customer online forums in Taiwan.

Back in April, the Fair Trade Commission in Taiwan opened an investigation into allegations that Samsung had recruited certain employees along with freelance writers from the outside to flack the shortcomings of its competitors’ products.

In addition to the company being held culpable, two of Samsung’s outside marketing firms were fined for their part in the marketing shenanigans masquerading as natural content.

This is pretty big news in the world of smartphones.  HTC and Samsung are major competitors in this highly competitive marketplace, and both companies offer products that operate on the Android platform.

But Samsung’s fortunes have risen dramatically over the past year as its global smartphone market share jumped from ~19% to ~30%.

By contrast, HTC’s share declined from ~9% to slightly less than ~5% over the same period.

Evidently, Samsung couldn’t resist the temptation to kick a competitor when it was already on the ropes.

Chalk it up to the “take no prisoners” atmosphere in the cutthroat competitive world of mobile technology – the “New York Garment District mentality” writ large.

“Astro-turfing” isn’t new, of course.  But the practice is usually the province of smaller companies with fewer scruples … or marketing people who are simply unaware of proper marketing etiquette (and often backed by legal opinion).

Amateur hour
“Amateur hour” at Samsung’s marketing department makes the company look just … silly.

For a company as large and as sophisticated at Samsung, it does seem a little … odd.  And certainly not in good form.

But as it turns out, this isn’t the first time Samsung’s gotten caught with its marketing pants down.

Just a few months ago, the company was discovered bribing various people to “talk up” its development activities – and “talk down” their competitors – during the Samsung Smart App Challenge competition.

Android developer Delyan Kratunov went public with ongoing correspondence in which a viral marketing company working for Samsung offered him $500 to cite positive mentions on the Stack Overflow online community.

The instructions were specific:  Mr. Kratunov would need to ask a series of “casual and organic” questions about Samsung’s app challenge over a month-long period.

Later, the marketing company attempted to distance itself from the egregious behavior — but not before the incident had been exposed.

My response to Samsung is this:  You’re already winning.  There’s no need to engage in “adolescent business behavior” of this kind.

It’s in very bad form … and sooner or later it’ll come back to bite you.

Stuff like this always does eventually.

BlackBerry in 2013 … like Studebaker in 1965?

1965 Studebaker Commander station wagon
The end of the road: The 1965 Studebaker Commander station wagon.

BlackBerry has announced that it will finally introduce its new Z10 touchscreen smartphone model in the United States next week, in conjunction with its AT&T program.

That’s about a month after sales of the Z10 began in the United Kingdom, Canada and several other countries.

Does this signify a comeback of sorts for BlackBerry?

If it does, it will be a dramatic reversal of fortune, as the company has been on a steady downward trajectory ever since the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007.

But speaking as the owner of a BlackBerry device, I have to admit that the company has seemed to be hopefully behind the curve for quite a few years now. And this latest, last-ditch effort is coming up against stiff competition, such as Samsung’s new Galaxy smartphone which is debuting at the very same time.

BlackBerry’s recently installed CEO, Thorsten Heins, has stated publicly that the company has to regain some of its market share in the U.S. in order to be successful.

But the news on this front doesn’t look promising at all, as corporate accounts — long the company’s bread-and-butter busines– appear to be falling away.

In February, The Home Depot reported that it was replacing all of its company-issued BlackBerry devices with iPhones.

And just last week, Yahoo announced that it will be phasing out its app for BlackBerry devices as of April 1st (yep, you got that right: April Fool’s Day).

Also, as of last September Yahoo no longer offers BlackBerry smartphone options to its own employees – just as with The Home Depot.

Rather than endorsements, these seem more like ringing indictments.

For those of us who love our BlackBerry keyboards, the company is promising that a keyboard version of the new smartphone (the Q10) will be available in the United States by this summer.

The question is, will it be too late by then?

We’ll know that answer soon.

The Movie Rental Business: Blockbuster … or Blockbusted?

Blockbuster logoWhat’s going on with Blockbuster? For several years now, business analysts have wondered whether the company’s movie rental stores could withstand the competitive pressures from alternative delivery systems such as Netflix’s monthly subscription program, or the growing popularity of movie downloads direct to the customer’s own computer.

The latest announcement by Blockbuster’s management seems to suggest that we may be entering into an endgame phase for the company. Blockbuster reported that it will be closing as many as 40% of its stores over the next two years. This figure – nearly 1,600 of its ~3,750 total store population, is significantly higher than had been signaled by the firm earlier in the summer.

Blockbuster seems to be caught in a situation where its business model is no longer attractive – or even relevant – to a large and growing chunk of movie consumers. The company has nicely appointed, well-stocked stores scattered all across the United States. But these outlets are an expensive way to rent movies when compared to Netflix’s “movies by mail” program or Coinstar/Redbox’s $1 movie vending machine kiosks. The Blockbuster stores are losing money – and customers.

Come to think of it, Blockbuster has been playing catch-up ball in the movie rental game for quite some time. When Netflix introduced the idea of “no late fees – ever,” Blockbuster resisted following suit for a time … until it became clear that charging late fees was becoming a deal-breaker for many consumers. And with the end of late fees, a major source of revenue and profits dried up.

Blockbuster has also tried to compete with Redbox, but the latter is expected to have nearly ten times more kiosks than Blockbuster (~20,000 versus ~2,500) installed by the end of this year.

Blockbuster has even tried to compete with Netflix by introducing its own monthly mail-order subscription program. But that program, which had grown to ~3 million customers, sank back to ~1.6 million once its aggressive promotional program for the service had run its course.

And then there’s the direct download business – the proverbial “elephant in the room” that is a threat not only to the Blockbuster model, but also to aspects of Netflix and Redbox’s business as well. Blockbuster is taking a stab at this segment of the business by working out a phone-download program with Motorola plus a TV-download program with Samsung, but it’s not clear at all that these efforts will help preserve Blockbuster’s market dominance.

Looking at the current volume of business done by Blockbuster compared to its competitors, the casual observer might think that the company has nothing at all to worry about. After all, its customer base numbers more than 50 million compared to just shy of 11 million for Netflix. But these point-in-time figures belie the fundamental problems facing the company. Blockbuster – the lumbering ocean liner – is losing upwards of $40 million each quarter, while its rivals – the swiftly maneuvering speedboats – are making profits.

Wonder how much longer that can go on?