The simple life

Technology is meant to make consumers' lives easier, and tech companies' PR plans are increasingly emphasizing how their products do just that.

Technology is meant to make consumers' lives easier, and tech companies' PR plans are increasingly emphasizing how their products do just that.

By its very nature, technology is supposed to help people simplify their lives, not make them more complicated. Philips Electronics recognized that concept when, after studying consumers in markets from the US to Hong Kong, it and PR firm Manning, Selvage & Lee created the "Sense and Simplicity" global branding campaign.

"Two years ago, our focus was product introductions," explains Andre Manning, Philips corporate communications director. "Now, we are taking a more holistic approach. This is a corporate branding effort to evangelize the new-business portfolio."

When Philips announced its new platform in 2004, CEO Gerard Kleisterlee said it wasn't the only tech company to grasp the need for simplicity. "But I believe we're the first to... declare our intent to take action," he noted. "Others may aspire to be more fashionable, more cool. Our route to innovation isn't about extra complexity - it's about simplicity, which we believe will be the new cool."

That philosophy has carried over to online efforts. As part of "Sense and Simplicity," Philips relaunched its Web site, streamlining information from dozens of sites into a centralized location.

It also created "Simplicity Showcase," a section of the site that profiles several current products and previews future ones. In the "Today" area is the Cineos flat-screen TV with Ambilight, energy-efficient lighting, the Sonicare electric toothbrush, and the Philips Juicer.

In "Tomorrow," it previews the Air Tree, an air purifier shaped like a tree; the Momento, a glass ball that stores and plays movie clips; and the Mood Mix, a wireless hand-held device that changes the color and lighting of a room.

Tech's new lifestyle

As more and more formerly cutting-edge, high-end tech products make their way into people's homes and become commonplace, tech companies are switching to lifestyle-focused marketing, instead of product-specific work.

The media plan isn't about just pitching tech writers at major papers and men's magazines; tech products are now just as likely to be seen in US Weekly and Elle. PR pros say their task has changed from explaining gigabytes and battery life to illustrating how the products will make life easier.

One such example is Mio, a Taiwanese company that markets navigation systems and PDAs. To position its offerings as lifestyle products, Craig Troskosky, account manager at Text 100, Mio's PR agency, says the team is telling the story of how the products get into consumers' lives, affecting how they travel or even function.

He illustrates this point by telling reporters how he used a Mio device on a business trip: Right off the plane, he got directions to his hotel, found a parking garage near his meeting, and then chose a restaurant based on what food he was in the mood for, not by what was merely in his line of sight.

"Tech products can be a boring story," Troskosky adds. What you need to do is explain to people how they can use it in their life. More and more tech products are becoming consumer products."

Bennett Kleinberg, VP of Goodman Media, says he's used lifestyle positioning to market Sony Electronics' Reader, a hand-held electronic book device that can store up to 80 e-books at one time.

With the Reader, Sony wanted to move beyond the tech media audience and focus on a lifestyle approach, with book lovers and publishing writers in mind. The account team targeted major mainstream outlets - like USA Today and O, The Oprah Magazine - to reach out to non-techie audiences, especially women. And it took off.

"The tech folks tore the device apart as a toy, one of 100 toys in a pile of gadgets," Kleinberg notes. "They looked at how it fits in your hand, how the screen looks, all the things you would see in a review for a car or computer. When we put it in front of readers, they looked at, 'How will this improve the book-reading experience?'"

Calling out to consumers

Cell phones are another area where lifestyle marketing has taken hold. LG has jumped into the fray with its line of Chocolate music phones, among others.

Amy Jones, account executive at OgilvyOne PR, which works with LG phones, says over the past two years, the PR strategy has changed from focusing on tech and men's publications to reaching out to lifestyle and entertainment media.

To appeal to those outlets, LG Mobile Phones has become heavily involved in celebrity events and has given away phones to key industry influencers, Jones notes.

LG phones were the center of the LG Grammy Party hosted by Mariah Carey and Jermaine Dupri, and the LG Chocolate Party featuring Rihanna - its first US celebrity brand ambassador - after the 2006 Billboard Music Awards.

Kurt Genden, SVP at MWW Group, which works with Nikon and Samsung, says there was a time when PR experts would go straight to just a few journalists with their products, because there were fewer influencers.

But now, consumers are doing their own research on everything from flat-panel TVs to digital cameras and are going online with their reviews and feedback.

"The changing consumer landscape, with the rise in new media, means every consumer has more of a voice now," he says. "[Consumers] are more vocal than ever."

"I think it's the wave of the future," Kleinberg adds. "It is very key to reach tech influencers, but the days when they were the be-all, end-all are over."

Tech goes mainstream

2001 - Apple revolutionizes the MP3 player category with the iPod, which becomes
a fashion statement, as well as a tech gadget

2003 - HDTV sales jump by 50%, according to research firm NPD Group, as demand increases and prices drop

2004 - Motorola introduces the RAZR cell phone, a slim, metal-clad flip phone with good looks that proves a major success

2005 - Skype sells to eBay for $2.6 billion, making the Internet calling service a household name

2006 - Sales of digital cameras spike, as Canon and Kodak vie for top market share and tout their products' hassle-free operation

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