I Want It… and I Want it Now: “On Demand” Services and the “Millennials” Who Use Them

uber on demand services

by Liz Lauer

Let’s be real: We could all use more time in the day. Between work, significant others, the gym, friends, and more work, our days are increasingly packed with things we absolutely must do, but can’t. How exactly can we get everything done and get our beauty sleep? Enter a slew of “on demand” app-based services trying to ride the “Uber for anything” trend. And while there seems to be a new company entering this space every week, some of them actually are transforming the way many of us live. Here are four favorites that not only make my life a whole lot simpler, easier, and safer, but are also great examples of the “mobile first” direction in which the future is obviously headed.

(Disclaimer: I’m a Millennial living in San Francisco, if you are keeping up with the demographic hype. But while these services largely target us, these views may not reflect those of my peers.)

Lyft/Lyft Line: “A ride whenever you need one”

Friendlier than Uber—and lacking in corporate disfunction— the florescent pink mustaches light the way home with drivers offering riders water and candy. Even better, Lyft Line offers a rideshare opportunity for greatly discounted prices for riders heading in the same direction (see: $5 rides from “hotspots” located in over one hundred places in San Francisco). Lyft wins in my circle of friends for its sheer creativity, pleasant drivers, and casual atmosphere (or party atmosphere if you end up with the “Disco” or “Rave” Lyft as I have; complete with disco balls and glow in the dark bracelets). They especially stand out to me when compared with Uber, which after a string of media revelations (rape, digging up dirt on journalists, privacy issues), was uninstalled from mine and several of my friends’ phones.

Postmates: “On demand delivery”

Admit it: You’ve sat on your couch at home thinking “Damn, I wish my favorite taqueria/ice cream shop/etc. delivered.” Well, problem solved. With Postmates, EVERYTHING delivers. My friends and I have found that Postmates is not just great for grocery delivery, it’s cheaper than competitor Instacart, and will pick up perishables, unlike Google Express. Now, I happen to live within walking distance of several grocery stores, but most of my friends are not so lucky. Lugging groceries back home via Lyft or SFMuni is just not easy, so Postmates helps make those home cooked meals so much simpler -- and without straining shoulder muscles carrying bags up and down steep San Francisco hills.

Washio: “Dry cleaning and laundry delivered”

If you also live in San Francisco, but have a free washer and dryer in unit...we hate you. For the rest of us with quarter-eating machines of questionable cleanliness in creepy basements—may I introduce you to our savior. Registration is quick and easy, and you can set up text reminders for when drivers are in your ‘hood. Pick up is quick and painless, with color-coded bags for dry cleaning, and wash and fold. Drop-off is 24 hours later, with the nicest folded clothing you’ve seen since your mother used to do your laundry. Even though it’s nice not having to run to the bank for quarters, Washio, you still seem to be a bit expensive.

GetAround: “Peer to peer car share, and local car rental”

Living in a city without a car can be difficult, but this is life for almost all of my friends that live in San Francisco. We’ve come to depend on Muni and Lyft to take us short distances, but longer drives still require having full-time access to an auto. However, traditional car rental companies are typically prohibited to the under 25 set. GetAround solves both problems with its peer to peer lending system (another big trend within the millennial generation). Cars range in price (and make!) from cheaper Hondas, Fiats, and Smartcars to high-end Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes. Registration is pretty quick, validated through users’ driver’s licenses, and renting can be done on the go! There’s no membership fee like with Zipcar, and the app makes it simple to rent, unlock, and extend rental time right from your iPhone. Now, escape the city and go do some adventuring!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Saucey: On demand Alcohol Delivery
  • HotelTonight: Delivers just what the name suggests
  • Bloomthat: On demand flower delivery
  • Classpass: No sweat workout booking
  • Zeel: Massage on demand

Personally, I think many of these on demand app services will continue to thrive, but also expect the larger market to become quite flooded with unnecessary, frivolous ones that won’t. Most of them are definitely banking on the assumption that people will become too lazy to walk out their door to do something for themselves. But while we millennials are big consumers, I find myself quantifying extraneous spending—just how far a walk do I want to save myself, and do I really need to send out my laundry? There’s also the location factor to consider: Will these on demand apps only succeed in densely populated, high wealth cities?

It’s also likely the company that will benefit most from the “Uber for everything” trend will be Uber itself, with the company looking to buy or partner with the market’s best on demand services, then integrating them into its own app, effectively killing most of its competition. Because consumers who want it and want it now probably prefer getting everything they want from the same app.

The State of Digital Music Streaming - tMa’s Take

streaming muisc tma

by Joaquin Bartra

While the digital music landscape continues to shape-shift, a familiar pattern remains: Revenue from music needs to be divided amongst labels, artists, and distributors. However, it’s never been more complicated than now. Here’s a look at the current landscape (spoiler: artists still aren’t getting paid what they should be):

STREAMING CONTINUES TO RISE - BUT ARTISTS AREN’T BENEFITTING ENOUGH

Last year, music streaming boomed with a 54.5% increase over total streams in 2013, with a total of 78.6 billion audio streams as reported by Nielsen. Digital music sales however, were down 9.4%. "Music fans continue to consume music through on-demand streaming services at record levels, helping to offset some of the weakness that we see in sales,” says David Bakula, SVP Industry Insights for Nielsen. "The continued expansion of digital music consumption is encouraging.”

But we’ve all heard how little revenue artists see from streaming. A recent study shows major labels take nearly 45% of revenue, while their artists only take 7%. So while there’s an increase in revenue from streams overall, not enough of it is going to the artists who actually make the music.

MORE COMPETITION THAN EVER - WITH NO CLEAR WINNER IN SIGHT

The growth of digital streaming can be attributed to the rise in music companies. Most recently, Jay-Z’s “artist owned” TIDAL has owned headlines. Claiming to “forever change the course of music history”, the company launched with speculation and turmoil, changing CEOs within the first month, and experiencing strong public backlash. There’s still some time before we can truly label TIDAL a “flop”, and Jay-Z has asked for patience, tweeting “The iTunes Store wasn’t built in a day. It took Spotify nine years to be successful.” But needless to say, its much-hyped launch fell short of the massic blow needed to knock out the big players.

And of those major streaming players, Spotify currently reigns supreme. The company claims 86% of the on-demand music-streaming market in the U.S., with international numbers believed to be similar. Spotify reported over $1 billion in revenue last year and ended the year with 15 million paying subscribers, with an additional 45 million free users.

But there’s a company aiming its mark on Spotify’s top spot: None other than Apple. As we predicted last year, Apple is reportedly ready to announce its own streaming service next week at WWDC. In hopes of regaining revenue lost from the decrease in iTunes sales, Apple will promote iTunes Radio to its hundreds of millions of users, most of whom already have their credit card information registered with the service. Could Apple shift the music industry again like iTunes did previously?

Add them to the list of companies like Pandora, SoundCloud, Rdio, YouTube, Last.fm, etc., and there’s a lot of players on the same court.

WHY THE OLD RECORD LABELS MAY DOMINATE THIS NEW GAME

Oh yeah - and those “big record labels” you’d always hear about “back in the day”? They’re still around. While consumer attention has been mainly directed at streaming services, the three surviving major labels (Warner, Universal, and Sony) have quietly claimed stakes in many of the rising digital music startups. In exchange for rights to stream music they own, these labels have taken shares of companies like Spotify and Rdio, and even non-streaming digital entertainment companies like Shazam. And unsurprisingly, this ownership benefits artists in no way at all. The major labels even have the right to buy more shares at discounted prices down the line, putting a strangle on the growth of these companies. So no matter which service wins the streaming game, the labels may be the ultimate winners, claiming both music royalties and company shares. This dynamic will continue shaping the way we consume music.

Despite this continued influence of the major labels, many believe we’ll see new opportunities for musicians. As Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek argues, "There's going to be a multitude of business models that will try to address [issues], but if you do that, the entire music industry will be much bigger than it's ever been — even than in the past glory days. In that world, artists are of course going to make even more money." 

However, if things continue how they have, companies and labels will primarily focus on increasing their own revenues, not those of artists. And that doesn’t sound very good for anyone.

With Apple’s Purchase of Metaio, Nearly Every Major Tech Company Has a VR Play

Apple VR Metaio

by James Au

Apple just confirmed acquisition of German company Metaio, which as the Journal reports, has developed augmented reality technology that enables “people wearing Google Glass-like eyewear to make any real world surface into a virtual touch screen.” This purchase assures Apple’s entrance into the virtual/augmented reality industry, a space we’ve been following closely over the last few years. Now just about all the world’s largest high-tech/Internet companies are active in virtual reality:

And that’s just an abbreviated list of announcements from this year and last -- many more are sure to come. These companies still face many hurdles launching VR to the consumer market, many of which we wrote about last year: “Virtual Reality Can Only Go Mass Market With a Smart Communications Strategy.” VR failed to go mass market durings it first vogue in the 90s, and then failed again ten years later after the buzz around Second Life and other virtual worlds fizzled out. So we’re watching closely to see how well this new wave of VR tech fares over the next few years.

Why Virtual Reality Isn’t Ready to Be a Marketing Platform (Yet)

VR marketing

by James Au

The Oculus Rift is finally coming to the commercial market early next year, Oculus VR just announced on its blog, which is likely to increase interest in virtual reality as a marketing platform. AdWeek helped fuel that excitement with a January cover title predicting that Oculus Rift “is about to reshape marketing creativity”, and we’re already seeing a big push by big brands to hastily launch a branded virtual reality experience of their own. “Companies want to throw money at it without understanding user experience and behavior,” as tMa CEO Vanessa Camones told me, reflecting on her interactions at a recent game industry conference.

As someone who’s actually worked in virtual reality marketing, during the last VR hype wave of 2006-2008, when Second Life was being touted as the coming of the 3D Internet, I’m deeply skeptical that virtual reality’s time as a marketing platform has come. Here’s at least three reasons:

Relatively Niche Install Base for at Least the Next Decade

It’s still far too early to judge whether there’s actually any mass market consumer interest in VR hardware and content. Despite little precedent to go on, a well-known analyst firm predicts the install base for VR will reach 83 million by 2018. That’s not nothing, but even assuming that forecast is accurate, this would only make VR as popular as a leading videogame console. (83m is also the install base of the Xbox 360.) But 83 million is still dwarfed in comparison to Facebook’s 1.2 billion users, or iOS’s one billion iPhone/iPad owners.

In the next few years, at any rate, early adopters of VR are likely to be hardcore gamers, who are typically hostile or indifferent to external marketing campaigns, especially when they'd rather just play a fully immersive game. A fraction of VR owners will certainly try out some branded VR content (especially if it’s free) but that just takes us to the next problem with virtual reality marketing:

Little Evidence that Virtual Experiences Influence Real World Purchasing Habits

If you experience a VR version of driving a car (as Volvo is doing), does it make you any more likely to buy an actual model? That doesn’t follow at all, and compelling case studies are scant. I helped launch or wrote about dozens of virtual reality marketing campaigns in Second Life, some of them quite clever, and I can summarize the ROI for nearly all of them: Nada. Second Life users, exploring the virtual world to play games, build, socialize, or (of course) have virtual sex, would suddenly find a real world brand intruding on their fun like a kind of 3d billboard. They’d enjoy the best campaigns, like a virtual gossip game promoting the Gossip Girls TV show, but then just move on to consuming other Second Life content. All we really knew for sure is that creating virtual marketing experiences increased interest in… more virtual reality experiences.  

Which brings us to a related point:

Limited Sensory Inputs Likely Leads to Limited Marketing Success

Most products engage all the senses, while Oculus Rift and the leading VR platforms can only simulate sight (usually integrated with 3D audio). There are any number of VR systems that can simulate touch and body movement to a limited degree, but not anything that will enable you to, say, feel as if your hands are gripped around the steering wheel, let alone smell the car’s rich interior. (Yes, there’s virtual reality smell masks, which The Verge notably described as “instruments of torture”.) Creating a VR experience that can even come close to simulating its real life analog requires cobbling together assorted VR hardware devices, which requires further development to ensure that they work together in tandem -- all in the dubious hope that the virtual experience will drive interest in a real purchase.

So it’s likely that most or all VR marketing campaigns will yield limited results (if not outright ridicule), which leads us to a final problem:

VR Marketing Failure Could Hurt VR Industry’s Overall Growth

After numerous Second Life-based marketing campaigns met with extremely low levels of engagement, the entire platform was largely written off by most people in tech, not to mention all the major organizations who wasted their money on that outreach. This failure was largely not the fault of Second Life, as I explained at length at the time. However, when esteemed companies conspicuously squander tens of millions of dollars on a platform, people tend to dismiss the platform as a whole. A similar scenario is likely to happen with this new generation of VR campaigns. And virtual reality, as Second Life was before it, will be in danger of being dismissed.

None of this means all virtual marketing campaigns are a bad idea -- just that marketers should consider them to be very experimental and desirable only when done on a low budget, and for now, targeted at VR’s existing niche of hardcore gamers and 3D graphics technophiles. And whatever they do, marketers shouldn’t mistake mass market coverage of VR with actual consumer interest in VR -- let alone the real brand they’re promoting. Which in the end, is all that really matters.

Image via Innovation Playground

Evolve or Die: Reassessing Your Personal / Business Brand

by Vanessa Camones

shingy aol tma

Remember "Shingy"? For awhile last year, everyone in tech seemed to be talking about David Shing, AOL's self-proclaimed "digital prophet" -- but for all the wrong reasons. As The Washington Post's Matt O'Brien put it in an article aptly titled "AOL’s ‘digital prophet’ is everything wrong with Corporate America today":

AOL is desperately trying to divine a future where it's something more than obsolete. And that's why they have David Shing... [who has] big hair, glammed-out fingernails, and repeats the word "brands" like he's a verbally incontinent MBA.

To be fair, Shingy has done some interesting work for AOL, like this interview with Kevin Spacey. But overall, the backlash he garnered illustrates how a personal brand can hurt a company brand -- and how a company can hurt itself by not strategizing and managing its brand carefully.

In any case, it’s well-past time to change the way people and companies build their brands. With Twitter and Facebook around 10 years old, brands can no longer grow awareness simply with an active online presence. Now that everyone is constantly promoting themselves on the major social networks, a new approach is desperately needed -- one that puts as much emphasis on accessibility and unmediated authenticity, as hashtags. Here’s some starting points we typically recommend, enforced by insights from two close colleagues who’ve mastered the challenge of building their own personal brands:

Refresh Your Brand by Diversifying Your Expertise and Interests

To stay at the forefront of the market, it’s crucial to show yourself knowledgeable beyond your particular expertise. This helps you dodge the danger of pigeon-holing yourself, while also growing audience awareness beyond your existing base. In the pop music world, Taylor Swift is a very good role model: Not simply satisfied with promoting her music and her concert appearances, she also talks a lot about feminism and protecting artists. This kind of engagement not only helps her connect even more deeply with her most dedicated fans, but grows her audience while establishing herself as a thought leader. (Notice how Swift’s opinions on music streaming monetization were widely quoted last year, even by tech sites.)

Amber Case, a colleague who made a name for herself through an influential TED talk about cyborg anthropology, later expanded her focus to talk about ambient location at SXSW, and has expanded yet again to focus on "calm technology" and connected devices. It's important, as she puts it to me, "to step back a little and see where things are going. If you get too close to everything that goes on, you can lose sight of what really matters over time."

Diversification shouldn’t just be expressed by social media updates, of course; strive to connect with leaders and influencers adjacent or complementary to your industry and brand category, and make a point to attend conferences and social events outside your usual comfort zone. Which takes me to my next point:

Emphasize In-Person Accessibility Whenever Possible

Ironically, the success of social media has only increased the value of in-person contact.

We’ve long since learned that there’s a certain wall in front of social media, and that public figures and brands create a personae through social media. Consequently, interactions with them feel mediated and filtered. So now authenticity becomes even more about face-to-face accessibility, and fostering one-to-one relationships.

“Social media isn't enough because it alone can't demonstrate you're a person,” as Ben Parr, author of Captivology, puts it. “Even Beyoncé goes shopping at Walmart once in a while. Events and in-person appearances matter. Mostly it's just about caring about your audience and being a human being, not necessarily 1-on-1 interaction.”

Tech evangelist and social media god Robert Scoble is an excellent case study here: He’s very accessible, very open about how he can be reached, open to meeting new people and hearing everyone’s point of view. And notably, he’s recently added another way to engage his followers beyond Twitter and Facebook: Through direct e-mailed newsletters.

This tip might not seem as relevant to company brands, but that can’t be more wrong. “A company is not one entity,” as Amber notes, “it is a collection of different people. Show those people! The brands that know themselves well enough to have character are the ones that are memorable.”

Always Be Updating - Judiciously

Or as Ben calls it, “CCC”: Create Content Consistently. That content can come in many forms, including personal appearances (as discussed), or be as brief as a Tweeted photo, but the key is to do so on a regular, reliable basis. “When you break schedule your awareness shrinks,” says Ben. “You have to always be doing something new, unique or better than what you did before. Nothing is sadder than a stagnant brand.“

At the same time, there’s nothing more annoying that a robotic one.

“I see a lot of consumer/tech brands talk down to their audience or tweet out press releases,” Amber observes. “People don't read press releases anymore, bots do. Include pictures and interact with people, don't just post information.” Or an aggressive one: “Think about it like the people in your life. Do you want twenty messages a day from someone you barely know?”

And both those final points suggest a good way of summarizing all this advice:

Be as strategic about your personal brand as you would be about a product -- and be as genuine about your company brand as you are as a person.

But that’s just the start to avoiding Shingy/AOL-level branding disasters. More to come in upcoming posts.


Vanessa Camones is founder and CEO of theMIX Agency, a full-service marketing and communications boutique based in San Francisco and Los Angeles.