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I’m not a “breaking news” kind of guy. With all the communication we have available to us now from cable news to Twitter to Facebook to newspapers and radio, it is amazing to me how the initial facts of a story so often are flat-out wrong.
Perhaps that’s a product of the competitive pressure that permeates newsrooms in a sea of media sources, bloggers, and other “news gatherers” and sharers on the Internet.
It’s why I respect public radio, an outlet that more often than not shies away from the immediate screaming headline, and instead provides thoughtful analyses and perspective. It may come a day later, but it is almost always spot on. That’s the downside of all this news – we still have to find a way to make sense of it.
So when the Steve Jobs news broke, I sensed that the immediate coverage and reactions might be wrong-headed or extreme. Wall Street, of course, overreacted. And some of the coverage missed the point about Jobs’ contribution to our world of technology and interpersonal communication.
From a radio perspective, the question has been floating around about whether Jobs hurt the industry by never building an FM tuner into iPhones (some iPods have them). And from the view of the music industry, what about the impact of iTunes on a business that has clearly lost its way over the last decade or so?
I think about it this way – Jobs has given us all an opportunity to make the most of our content and our brands. For labels and musicians, iTunes has revolutionized the way that music is evaluated, sold, and shared. As Kindle has done the same thing for books, iTunes has helped to bring the music business into this millennium. The economics are different, of course, but what industry hasn’t been impacted by changing technology?
And on the radio side, Jobs has provided all of us with an opportunity to place our stations – from Z100 and WMMR on the one hand to the smallest market radio station on the other – on the “desktop” of the hottest device of our lifetimes – the iPhone. The screenshot of my desktop says it all about this potential as radio brands that we all know sit alongside Facebook, Pandora, and Major League Baseball. Where else would radio have that chance to be able to participate in this digital revolution?
And radio not only can just stream, it can distribute content on mobile devices that can be enjoyed and shared on social media outlets, podcasts, video, ads, event promotion, and engagement – all of which were unthinkable three years ago. And the cost of getting that “shelf space?” Zero. Jobs has done radio a great favor – it’s up to the industry to recognize this and respond by creating great apps that provide an outstanding user experience.
Radio’s image – from a tech standpoint – is nostalgic, musty, and at best, retro. I Googled “radio listening” and here are the images that popped up – not exactly the modern, digital view that we’d all like to see.
That’s why the potential to see our brands on the face of iPhones via the App Store is a gift – a chance for our audience to enjoy our content whenever and wherever they like. And on the sales side, apps provide our customers with the opportunity to take advantage of the mobile marketing revolution with sponsorships and messaging.
There are other lessons that Jobs has taught us:
1. The brilliance of getting it right – Apple products come out of the box – literally – looking good and working great. I continue to talk to people who have finally gone the iPhone route and they are often stunned at how simple, intuitive, and classy these devices are. When you think about how well your first iPod, iPhone, or iPad worked, it is truly an amazing accomplishment. (When you think about how many radio debuts are lame, not ready for prime time, or simply wrong-headed, Apple’s history of Day One success is even more impressive.)
2. The value of owning . . . and creating. . . a category. It happened with iPod, Apple is trying hard with iPhone, and they are already on their way with tablets. Jobs isn’t just about producing a great product – his goal is dominance. Why would you buy an mp3 player that isn’t an Apple? And with iPads, HP has already dropped out of this race, BlackBerry isn’t far behind, and there will be others. I think about all the tablet competitors to iPad I saw at CES in January, and I believe that more of them will be finished, too.
3. Brand matters. You can put out a great product and it looks and feels elegant. But then there’s the amazing value of the brand. The “Mac PC” spots may have been the single move that forever positioned Microsoft as fat, lazy, and behind the times. There is incredible cache with Apple that goes well beyond the products themselves. Marketing matters. We all aspire to be cool, and are there any cooler gadgets than Apples?
4. A great retail experience has incredible power. At a time when brick and mortar businesses are dying on the vine, the Apple Stores are thriving. I was at the mall last weekend, and most stores were half crowded at best. The Apple Store is teeming with customers – and they’re happy. Service is excellent, Apple “geniuses” know what they’re doing, and the total experience is fun and interesting. Support for their products is critical. After all, where do you go when your HTC Evo craps out?
5. The importance of marketing great products. Apple doesn’t just make great stuff – they understand the value of continuing to tell the world about them. In a fast-paced environment, Apple continues to heavily market iPhone, Macs, iPad and other great gadgets. And why not? When you have something incredible, why not continue to reinforce current customers while growing the category and your share? (That’s why it is mystifying to me why radio just can’t “get” the value and economics of promoting its iconic stations? Instead, they are always the last stations in the cluster to get much marketing love and attention.)
This is not meant to be a eulogy for Jobs. He may not be able to function as Apple’s CEO any longer, but hopefully will be able to contribute to his brand’s incredible success. Everyone in the music industry and in radio should be thankful for his contributions.
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