Amazon_aol_nokia_logosThe Signal P&G event brought together brands we see in the news almost daily — from Twitter and Facebook to Coca-Cola and more. But the brands on Procter & Gamble’s dais getting less media attention, or perhaps less positive media attention, were the most interesting that day. Presentations from Amazon, AOL and Nokia taught me to reconsider the power of unassuming brands.

These companies are obviously not startups or unknowns. But news coverage can suggest that new brands may “kill” the established brands. Stories with only one clear winner, atop a pile of competitors, make for shareable content. It’s Mashable pr0n — a syndrome of oversimplification I’ve ranted about before. But as these stories distract our attention, several unassuming brands have quietly become pervasive and have a much bigger story to tell. 

The Mighty Amazon
After Amazon launched in 1995, a then client suggested the site was a ponzi scheme. Not only was he wrong, he was one of the first of many Amazon naysayers. But for most of us, we’ve come to know Amazon as one of the only Internet mall concepts from the dot com era that came to fruition. Signal P&G reminded of some interesting Amazon facts and I’ve since seen more in the news.

  • 80% better Amazon app store monetization for developers compared to iOS (TechCrunch)
  • 54% of tablets run Amazon’s version of Android to Google’s 46% (All Things D)
  • 10% of Amazon’s 2011 sales were Kindle readers, Kindle books; Kindle book sales outnumber hardback book sales (All Things D/NYTimes)
  • 1% of ALL Internet traffic taps into Amazon’s Cloud (WIRED)

With more than 170 million active customers, keep in mind that’s users actually spending money, Amzaon has the scale and ability to personalize the shopping experience. The end result gets users to spend and brands to advertise. Amazon taps into more than its fair share of the daily deals phenomenon that’s estimated to generate $7 million every day. In addition to AmazonLocal, it owns LivingSocial. Amazon also leverages its personalization technology to create This “private sale” site and mobile app offers brand-specific promotions – tailored to each user.

Amazon Drives Offline Sales for Crest
It’s not surprising P&G has experienced great success selling its consumer packaged goods (CPG) through Amazon. CPG is Amazon’s fastest growing category – making up four percent of Amazon’s 2011 sales. A Crest White Strips campaign gave the brand a 26 percent lift in its Amazon sales and even had an impact on offline sales. P&G’s Amazon-based campaign increased offline sales an additional eight percent, or $1 million according to Lisa Utzschneider, Amazon’s Global VP of Ad Sales .

And if the above all seem like random facts, consider this quote from Forrester Research’s Sucharita Mulpuru ”Amazon is beating Walmart in price.” That six-word metric is reason enough why this brand should not be underestimated.

AOL’s Content Marketing Play
As the internet expands, consumers are actually using fewer brands, according to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. This gives brands a new significance as AOL builds out what it feels will be the premier information brand.

“It’s unlikely a consumer will make a purchase decision, large or small, that is not influenced somehow by content,” said Armstrong. “Consider the impact of always-on, mobile sites like Yelp. AOL’s ability to be a constant like Yelp gives it significant influence in helping consumers and brands through content.”

Several of its recent aquisitions have made for dramatic news  between Huffington Post, Techcrunch and Endgadget alone. But these acquisitions are helping them build out their offering and fuels their mission to help more brands publish.

AOL gets local and personal
Successful or not, Patch and are two other AOL projects that may be more telling of its future. Patch has been lambasted by old and new media. But Armstrong notes it is established in more than 850 towns nationwide. And each location costs about $150,ooo to run annually — a cost unheard of for traditional news outlets. This local play could prove successful in the long term.

About.Me is elegant in its simplicity. This free splash page serves up your most relevant content, with free analytics. It’s become a big people-watching site. And its new mobile app will allow you to be notified when your friends are nearby offline. This might sound like stalking. But the bigger point to be made is AOL’s wading into geo-location.

Armstrong is oft-mentioned in the media for all of the above AOL business moves. He is very focused, noting that AOL is focused on building things that help people live better lives. He warns others of the danger behind simply chasing the shiny new. “Cool is a disease. Utility is the antidote.”

This focus is one reason I think AOL’s story has yet to be written. As it completes its transition from access to content, there are a lot of interesting opportunities across paid, owned and earned media.

Nokia Life & Emerging Markets
While some are noting that “mobile is the most pervasive technology ever invented,” there are 3.2 billion people on Earth without a mobile phone. Nokia’s senior vp of mobile services, Dieter May, discussed how the brand is connecting and engaging “the next billion.”

You’d never confuse Nokia for TOMS Shoes, but as Nokia enters emerging markets in China, India and Indonesia, it’s partnering with Unicef to extend access to healthcare and other basic life needs through its $20-$100 handsets. Through Nokia Life the brand is bringing these customers a platform to address the gaps in critical, hyperlocal information.

Think Ecosystem
CNET’s Brian Cooley kicked the day off discussing “the next big thing.” When looking at various gadgets out there, CNET is always asked to predict the next big thing, but also who will win the race for gadget supremacy. CNET looks first for a product’s digital ecosystem to determine how successful it might be in the future.

A digital ecosystem includes the device, a service, apps, as well as an operating system. Google has one. Apple has one. Verizon and Samsung have them. Amazon and Nokia do too.

All of these companies can provide its consumer with media that is in sync no matter where they use it, when they use it or even which device they use to access it. A digital ecosystem can make or break a gadget’s success in the future. All that said, Cooley notes that even in a post-pc era, the PC will not go away. It simply won’t be the center of attention. Cooley points to the connected car as the next frontier for the next big thing as we look to our cars’ digital technology to communiicate, navigate, inform and entertain. 

“That’s no moon.”
Star Wars indirectly provides two examples of how we can make assumptions and by revisting these assumptions we can learn much more. When Yoda was first introduced, no one thought he could possibly be a Jedi warrior. As the story progresses, Yoda makes it clear that size doesn’t matter. Even earlier in the saga, what was first assumed to be a small moon was actually the Death Star.

Sci-Fi aside, we should always remember t0 “shake the disease” and look for the bigger story.


Yoda_animated  Deathstar_animated

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