Trent Reznor Gets It!

April 8, 2009

Today, WIRED released a really nice piece on Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor, who has probably been one of the most forward-thinking “brand managers” of the last year or so–and I don’t mean music-specific branding either.  The report was sparked by news of Reznor’s upcoming release of a NIN iPhone App.

The free Nine Inch Nails app, scheduled for release as soon as it gets final approval from Apple, is a mobile window on all things NIN: music, photos, videos, message boards, even — thanks to a GPS-enabled feature called Nearby — the fans themselves.

Nearby is “kind of like Twitter within the Nine Inch Nails network,” says Rob Sheridan, Reznor’s long-time collaborator. “You can post a message or a photo by location, and if you’re at a show you can see conversations between other people who are right there.”

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the power of branded iPhone apps and asked why more brands (STILL!) have not created their own. So, it’s always nice to hear these kinds of announcements–industry leaders, like Reznor, truly grasping the opportunity and capitalizing on the value these “brand-extending tools” can add to the overall experience you create for your customers (fans).

As WIRED notes,

[This] is the culmination, at least for now, of a process that began a year-and-a-half ago, when Nine Inch Nails succeeded in extracting itself from its contract with Universal Music Group’s Interscope label…Since then, Reznor has pioneered a new, fan-centered business model that radically breaks with the practices of the struggling music industry. His embrace of “freemium” pricing, torrent distribution, fan remixes and social media seem to be paying off financially even as they have helped him forge deeper connections with the Nine Inch Nails faithful.

I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of NIN’s music, but their apititude for brand building–especially in today’s so called “unknown” environment–gives them huge props in my book.

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I was down in Florida for a few days recently and was reminded of how painfully obvious the absence of “sun-protection” is when down there. The sun is so intensely bright and relentless that without the proper precautions, your skin and eyes can get absolutely smoked. My brother, who is still in high school, came to that realization within the first hour.

As we made the short drive from the Ft. Myers airport toward the causeway and over to Sanibel Island, John was squinting so hard his eyes were watering and he had a headache from the strain. Having had the same experience before, I felt his pain and knew what needed to be done…we were on a mission to find John a pair of “keeper” sunglasses.

FYI: I think it’s important for me to make note of my philosophy on making purchases such as these: Go into every purchase with the idea that you are investing in something you will live with for the rest of your life (even if you know that’s not possible)…this means–within reason–you should buy something you like and think you will like for years and years to come, and you should buy something that has the quality (and style!) to last that long.

So, my cousin and I drove my brother out to the mall, which actually had two sunglass shops, virtually right next to one another. We made our way into Solstice first, which had a sort of Sunglass Hut-experience: a fairly small rectangular space with open racks of sunglasses, organized by brand, lining every inch of the walls and a friendly saleswoman making every effort to help get you in a new pair (pictured above). At first, this was nothing special–a very typical sunglass-store experience. That was until, after a good 15-20 minutes of experimentation at Solstice, we walked over to the second store, Tote’s Sunglass Shop–just to make sure we weren’t missing anything…

Unfortunately, Tote’s was such a mess we weren’t even able to make the judgment.  Not only was there far too much variety, in terms of product offerings (especially for a store with the word “sunglass” in the name), but every pair of sunglasses was locked inside a glass case!  To make it worse, even as the three of us began curiously peering into the cases, the salesman remained tethered to his post behind the register, making no effort to help or see if we wanted to “demo” some of the choices. Honestly, even if he had opened the case and let us fish around, the environment was so non-conducive to experimentation–with small, awkwardly placed mirrors pressed up against racks of clothes–that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. The whole place was truly baffling.

Aren’t retailers actually more successful the longer they get customers to hang around, experiment and go through the mental process of picturing their lives with the product in question? Shouldn’t you do everything you can to facilitate that experience? Have Apple stores still not been around long enough for everyone to realize this? What seemed like a no-brainer for the creation of a successful retail experience was completely lost by a clear lack of focus and direction at Tote’s. The experience we had seconds before at Solstice only highlighted this failure.

Needless to say, we spent about 1 minute in the cluster-fuck of an “in-store experience” before returning to Solstice where we spent an additional 10 minutes experimenting before my brother settled on a pair he was happy with; a pair that would protect him from the mean Florida sun and, hopefully, a pair he would continue wear for many years to come.

Originally posted on 3.04.2009

The iPhone’s impact–the way it has completely revolutionized how the world thinks about mobile–can no longer be challenged. If you are still trying to debate this, you’re an idiot. Period. So, with that in mind, this story in the WSJ struck me as a bit nutty…

Basically, a few small interest groups and mobile providers are bummed they weren’t invited to the “Mobile 2.0-Party” and feel like they might never be able to hang out with the cool kids and the movement they’ve created as a result. In order to “promote competition” these smaller companies and interest groups want Apple to lift its exclusive agreement with AT&T so they can have the option of offering the device too. Although the primary target is Apple, the case for banning exclusivity would extend to other major providers who have done the same, such as: Verizon with Blackberry’s “Storm,” T-Mobile with Google’sG1,” and Sprint with Palm’s upcoming “Pre.” Business Week says,

“The Consumers Union, the New America Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as software provider Mozilla and small wireless carriers MetroPCS (PCS) and Leap Wireless International (LEAP), are lining up in opposition not only to the Apple-AT&T partnership, but to all manner of arrangements whereby mobile phones are tethered exclusively to a single wireless service provider.”

Now, I completely understand how not being one of the “pioneers” shaping Mobile 2.0 would leave you feeling pretty helpless, but, to me, fighting technological exclusivity is contradictory to the shift that the mobile market (phone manufacturers, service providers and consumers) is currently undergoing. The way I see it, AT&T’s brand and the iPhone are synonymous. If you bought-in to the iPhone and Apple’s AppStore platform, you’ve bought-in to the AT&T brand, too. If you’re a Blackberry guy or girl, and have started to sync up to their marketplace, you’ve bought-in to Verizon. G1 users? You’ve bought-in to the Google brand, but you’ve become a T-Mobile follower as well. These unique phones and their corresponding web-based platforms have become an essential element of the service provider’s brand.

More and more, individuals are choosing their mobile device based on the phone’s interface and the “marketplace” or platform it is tethered to. Every “platform” has its own unique features and functions (the technical pluses and minus), but they also have their own unique personality that the consumer associates with. This is a good thing and will eventually be the basis for competition.

If you are one of the smaller service providers that “wants in,” why don’t you start by creating your own? Don’t fight it, embrace it. Carve out your own niche in the already established, increasingly solidified, Mobile 2.0 market. Tech companies all over the world are developing their own “iPhone” or “G1” and are finding ways of tethering them to proprietary, web-based platforms. Find one of ’em! Choose a device and platform you want to represent your brand and start competing.

AT&T, who is obviously in the most fortunate position of the bunch, says…

“Exclusive arrangements are an important form of competition…The popularity of the iPhone and its innovative features and applications have provoked a strong competitive response, accelerating not only handset innovation but also the pace of wireless broadband investment and applications development.”

I couldn’t agree more. Get on board. Stop whining about not being invited to their party, create your own and invite your own friends.