Automakers have battery anxiety, so they’re taking control of the supply

Battery joint ventures have become the hot must-have deal for automakers that have set ambitious targets to deliver millions of electric vehicles in the next few years.

It’s no longer just about securing a supply of cells. The string of partnerships and joint ventures show that automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

Automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

And the deals don’t appear to be slowing down. Just this week, Mercedes-Benz announced its $47 billion plan to become an electric-only automaker by 2030. Securing its battery supply chain by expanding existing partnerships or locking in new ones to jointly develop and produce battery cells and modules is a critical piece of its plan.

Mercedes, like other automakers, is also focused on developing and deploying advanced battery technology. In addition to setting up eight new battery plants to supply its future EVs, the German automaker said it was partnering with Sila Nano, the Silicon Valley battery chemistry startup that it has previously invested in, to increase energy density, which should in turn improve range and allow for shorter charging times.

“This follows a trend that we’ve seen of automakers realizing how critical the battery is and taking more control of the production of the cells in order to ensure their own supply,” Sila Nano CEO Gene Berdichevsky said in a recent interview. “Like if you’re VW, and you say, ‘We’re going to go 50% electric by whatever year,’ but then the batteries don’t show up, you’re bankrupt, you’re dead. Their scale is so big that even if their cell partners have promised them to deliver, automakers are scared that they won’t.”

Tesla, BMW and Volkswagen were early adopters of the battery joint-venture strategy. In 2014,Tesla and Panasonic signed an agreement to build a large battery manufacturing plant, or a gigafactory as everyone is now calling it, in the U.S. and have worked together since. BMW began working with Solid Power in 2017 to create solid-state batteries for high-performance EVs that could potentially lower costs by requiring less safety features than lithium-ion batteries.

In addition to its partnership with Northvolt, VW is also in talks with suppliers to secure more direct access to supplies like semiconductors and lithium so it can keep its existing plants running at full speed.

Now the rest of the industry is moving to work with battery companies, to share knowledge and resources and essentially become the manufacturer.

Apple Music brings its spatial audio and lossless streaming to Android

It takes a really specific consumer to buy an Android phone, yet use Apple Music. But the small overlap in that Venn diagram may be getting bigger. Last month at WWDC, Apple unveiled a free update for Apple Music subscribers that added lossless audio streaming and spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Now, Android users can access these features too.

Last year, Google shut down its Google Play Music app (RIP) with the intent for users to migrate to YouTube Music. Some longtime Android fans are still unpleased about that decision and don’t feel that YouTube Music is up to par — but for audiophiles, these Apple Music updates might be what it takes to get them to switch. However, not all Android devices support Atmos yet.

Apple Music isn’t the only streaming platform ramping up its audio quality. On the same day that Apple announced its upgraded audio features at WWDC, Amazon Music also announced that it would support lossless streaming and spatial audio with Atmos functionality. Like Apple, Amazon offers these enhancements at no extra cost for subscribers. Spotify plans to launch a lossless audio feature as well, called HiFi, but it will be a premium add-on, rather than a free upgrade like Apple Music or Amazon Music. YouTube Music doesn’t yet offer a comparable feature.

Currently, Spotify leads the streaming industry with 158 million paid subscribers. For comparison, Apple Music had 60 million subscribers in June 2019, and Amazon Music had 55 million in January 2020, but both companies haven’t shared updated numbers since then; YouTube Music has at least 20 million paid users. Even on consumer-grade headphones, you can hear the difference between a lossless FLAC file and a compressed mp3 — but if you’re such a keen audiophile that you need to listen to master-quality audio, just get Tidal.

In growth marketing, creative is the critical X factor

As we move toward a privacy-centric, less targeted future of growth marketing, the biggest lever will become creative on paid social channels such as the Facebooks of the world. The loss of attribution from our good friend iOS 14.5 has accelerated this trend, but channels have increasingly placed efforts toward automating their ad platforms.

Due to this, I believe that every growth marketing engine should have a proper creative testing framework in place — be it a seed-stage startup or a behemoth like Google.

After three years at Postmates, consulting for various startups, and most recently at Uber, I’ve seen the landscape of marketing change in a multitude of ways. However, what we’re seeing now is being orchestrated by factors out of our control, causing a dawn of shifts unlike anything I’ve seen. Creative has subsequently risen to become the most powerful lever in a paid social account.

The foundation

If you’re looking to leverage the power of creative and succeed with paid social marketing, you’re thinking right. What you need is a creative testing framework: A structured and consistent way to test new creative assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the pieces a creative testing framework needs to be successful:

  • A defined testing schedule.
  • A structured theme approach.
  • A channel-specific strategy.

Creative has become the most powerful lever in a paid social account.

Testing creative should be a constant and iterative process that follows a defined testing schedule. A goal and structure can be as simple as testing five new creative assets per week. Inversely, it can be as complex as testing 60 new assets consisting of multiple themes and copy variations.

For a lower spending account, the creative testing should be leaner due to limited event signal and vice versa with a higher spending account. The most important aspect is that the testing continues to move the needle as you search for your next “champion” asset.

creating a testing schedule for different creative themes

4 themes x 3 variants per theme x 5 copy variations = 60 assets. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

After setting a testing schedule, define the core themes of your business and vertical rather than testing a plethora of random ideas. This applies to the creative asset as well as the copy and what the key value props are to your product or service. As you start to analyze the creative data, you’ll find it easier to decide what to double down on or cut from testing with this structure. Think of this as a wireframe that you either expand or trim throughout testing sprints.

For a fitness app like MyFitnessPal, it can be structured as follows:

  • Themes (product screenshots, images of people using it, UGC testimonials, before/after images).
  • Messaging (segmented value props, promo, FUD).

It’s vital to make sure you have a channel-specific approach, as each one will differ in creative best practices along with testing capabilities. What works on Facebook may not work on Snapchat or the numerous other paid social channels. Don’t be discouraged if creative between channels perform differently, although I do recommend parity testing. If you already have the creative asset for one channel, it doesn’t hurt to resize and format for the remaining channels.

Determining wins

Equally important to the creative is proper event selection and a statistically significant threshold to abide by throughout all testing. When selecting an event to use for creative testing, it’s not always possible to use your north-star metric depending on how high your CACs are. For example, if you’re selling a high-ticket item and the CACs are in the hundreds, it would take an enormous amount of spend to reach stat-sig on each creative asset. Instead, pick an event that’s more upper funnel and a strong indicator of a user’s likelihood of converting.

Using a more upper funnel event leads to faster learnings (blue line).

Using a more upper-funnel event leads to faster learnings (blue line). Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

It’s important to select a percentage that stays consistent across all creative testing when deciding on which statistically significant percentage to use. As a rule of thumb, I like to use a certainty of 80%+, because it allows for enough confirmation along with the ability to make quicker decisions. A great (and free) online calculator is Neil Patel’s A/B Testing Significance Calculator.

Make or break

You’re scrolling through a social feed, a sleek gold pendant catches your eye, but all the messaging has is the brand name and product specifications. It hooked your attention, but what did it do to reel you in? Think about it: What are you doing to not only hook, but reel people in with “creative” — the make or break it factor in paid social growth marketing?

Circumventing iOS 14.5 data loss

Creative testing is only getting tougher for mobile campaigns as iOS 14.5 obfuscates user data, but that doesn’t equal impossible and simply means we need to get craftier. There are a variety of hacks that can be implemented to help gain clear insight on how creative is performing — some may not last forever and others may be timeless.

Amid all the privacy restrictions, we still have access to a huge population of users on Android that we should take advantage of. Instead of running all creative tests on iOS, Android can be used as a clear way to gather insights, as privacy restrictions haven’t rolled out on those devices yet. The data gathered from Android tests can then be taken directionally and applied to iOS campaigns. It’s only a matter of time until Android data is also at the mercy of data restrictions, so use this workaround to inform iOS campaigns now.

If running Android campaigns isn’t a viable option, another quick and easy solution is to throw up a website lead form to gauge the conversion rate from creative asset to a completed form. The user experience will certainly not be nearly as amazing as evergreen, but this can be used to gain insight for a short period of time (and small percentage of budget).

When crafting the lead form, think of questions that are both qualifying and would indicate someone completing your north-star event on the evergreen experience. After running people through the lead form, communications can be sent to convert them so ad dollars are being put to good use.

Placing efforts by account stage

The testing efforts for creative asset types should differ widely by account stage and can be broken down into three I’s: imitation, iteration, innovation.

The type of creative testing should vary over time.

The type of creative testing should vary over time. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

The earlier an account stage, the more your creative direction should rely on what’s proven to work by other advertisers. These other advertisers have spent thousands proving performance with their assets, and you can gain strong insight from them. As time passes, you can slightly slow derivation from other advertisers while focusing on iterating on the best performers. If I had to place a percentage, 80% of the effort should be on imitation early on. Iteration will naturally gain steam as winners are deemed, and innovation will be the final, heavy-lagging prong.

This isn’t to say that innovation can’t be attempted early on if there are great ideas, but generally, a more mature company can afford to spend heaps to validate their innovative ideas. Whether you have an in-house design team or are working with freelancers, it’ll also be much easier to spin up 50 variations than it will be to think of and design 50 different innovative assets. Imitating and iterating will make your early testing exponentially more efficient.

Leveraging competitor insights

Brainstorming and trying to imagine the most beautiful, eye-catching, hook-inducing creative doesn’t always happen within seconds, let alone minutes or hours. This is where utilizing competitor insights comes into play.

The most abundant resource is the Facebook Ads Library, because it contains all the creative assets every advertiser is using across the platform. It always surprises me how few actually know of this free and powerful tool.

When browsing through competitors or best-in-class advertisers in this library, a sign of a great performing creative is how long an advertiser has been running specific assets. How does one find that? The date of when an advertiser started running their creative is stamped conveniently on each asset — this is beyond powerful. I can spend hours scanning through creative assets, and each advertiser provides even more intel and inspiration.

Creative should be at the top of the list as you think of where to place efforts on your paid social growth marketing. We must have a hacky mindset as data becomes more obscure, but with that mindset comes separating the winners from the losers. The types of strategies put in motion will vary over time, but what won’t vary is the importance on strong creative, the make it or break it factor to success.

FTC puts hardware makers on warning for potential ‘unlawful repair restrictions’

As phones and other consumer devices have gained feature after feature, they have also declined in how easily they can be repaired, with Apple at the head of this ignoble pack. The FTC has taken note, admitting that the agency has been lax on this front but that going forward it will prioritize what could be illegal restrictions by companies as to how consumers can repair, repurpose and reuse their own property.

Devices are often built today with no concessions made toward easy repair or refurbishment, or even once-routine upgrades like adding RAM or swapping out an ailing battery. While companies like Apple do often support hardware for a long time in some respects, the trade-off seems to be that if you crack your screen, the maker is your only real option to fix it.

That’s a problem for many reasons, as right-to-repair activist and iFixit founder Kyle Wiens has argued indefatigably for years (the company posted proudly about the statement on its blog). The FTC sought comment on this topic back in 2019, issued a report on the state of things a few months ago, and now (perhaps emboldened by new chair Lina Khan’s green light to all things fearful to Big Tech companies) has issued a policy statement.

The gist of the unanimously approved statement is that they found that the practice of deliberately restricting repairs may have serious repercussions, especially among people who don’t have the cash to pay the Apple tax for what ought to be (and once was) a simple repair.

The Commission’s report on repair restrictions explores and discusses a number of these issues and describes the hardships repair restrictions create for families and businesses. The Commission is concerned that this burden is borne more heavily by underserved communities, including communities of color and lower-income Americans. The pandemic exacerbated these effects as consumers relied more heavily on technology than ever before.

While unlawful repair restrictions have generally not been an enforcement priority for the Commission for a number of years, the Commission has determined that it will devote more enforcement resources to combat these practices. Accordingly, the Commission will now prioritize investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes…

The statement then makes four basic points. First, it reiterates the need for consumers and other public organizations to report and characterize what they perceive as unfair or problematic repair restrictions. The FTC doesn’t go out and spontaneously investigate companies, it generally needs a complaint to set the wheels in motion, such as people alleging that Facebook is misusing their data.

Second is a surprising antitrust tie-in, where the FTC says it will look at said restrictions aiming to answer whether monopolistic practices like tying and exclusionary design are in play. This could be something like refusing to allow upgrades, then charging an order of magnitude higher than market price for something like a few extra gigs of storage or RAM, or designing products in such a way that it moots competition. Or perhaps arbitrary warranty violations for doing things like removing screws or taking the device to a third party for repairs. (Of course, these would depend on establishing monopoly status or market power for the company, something the FTC has had trouble doing.)

More in line with the FTC’s usual commercial regulations, it will assess whether the restrictions are “unfair acts or practices,” which is a much broader and easier to meet requirement. You don’t need a monopoly to make claims of an “open standard” to be misleading, or for a hidden setting to slow the operations of third-party apps or peripherals, for instance.

And lastly the agency mentions that it will be working with states in its push to establish new regulations and laws. This is perhaps a reference to the pioneering “right to repair” bills like the one passed by Massachusetts last year. Successes and failures along those lines will be taken into account and the feds and state policymakers will be comparing notes.

This isn’t the first movement in this direction by a long shot, but it is one of the plainest. Tech companies have seen the writing on the wall, and done things like expand independent repair programs — but it’s arguable that these actions were taken in anticipation of the FTC’s expected shift toward establishing hard lines on the topic.

The FTC isn’t showing its full hand here, but it’s certainly hinting that it’s ready to play if the companies involved want to push their luck. We’ll probably know more soon once it starts ingesting consumer complaints and builds a picture of the repair landscape.

Clubhouse is now out of beta and open to everyone

One year later, Clubhouse is finally out of beta. The company announced Wednesday that it would end its waitlist and invite system, opening up to everybody. Now, anybody can follow Clubhouse links, hop into a creator’s community or join any public event.

Clubhouse is also introducing a real logo that will look familiar — it’s basically a slightly altered version of the waving emoji the company already used. Clubhouse will still hold onto its app portraits, introducing a new featured icon from the Atlanta music scene to ring in the changes.

“The invite system has been an important part of our early history,” Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth wrote in a blog announcement. They note that adding users in waves and integrating new users into the app’s community through Town Halls and orientation sessions, helped Clubhouse grow at a healthy rate without breaking “but we’ve always wanted Clubhouse to be open.”

Clubhouse’s trajectory has been wild, even for a hot new social app. The then invite-only platform took off during the pandemic and inspired a wave of voice-based social networking that probably still isn’t anywhere near cresting. Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Discord and everybody else eventually followed suit, splicing voice chat rooms and voice events into their existing platforms.

Interest in Clubhouse reached a fever-pitch early this year, and the app’s rise is inextricable from the pandemic-imposed social isolation that saw people around the globe desperate for ways to feel connected as the months dragged on.

The world is slowly, unevenly opening up and Clubhouse is gradually changing along with it. After a long iOS-only stretch, the company introduced an Android app in May. Now, Clubhouse says they’ve reached 10 million Clubhouse downloads in the Android app’s first two months. And earlier this month, Clubhouse introduced a text-based chat feature called Backchannel that broadened the singularly voice-centric app’s focus for the first time.

According to new data SensorTower provided to TechCrunch, Clubhouse hit its high point in February at 9.6 million global downloads, up from 2.4 million the month prior. After that, things settled down a bit before perking back up in May when TikTok went live on Android through the Google Play Store. Since May, new Android users have accounted for the lion’s share of the app’s downloads. In June, Clubhouse was installed 7.7 million times across both iOS and Android — an impressive number that’s definitely in conflict with the perception that the app might not have staying power.

Clubhouse’s success is a double-edged sword. The app’s meteoric rise came as a surprise to the team, as meteoric rises often do. The social app is still a wild success by normal metrics in a landscape completely dominated by a handful of large, entrenched platforms, but it can be tricky to maintain healthy momentum after such high highs. Opening the app up to everybody should certainly help.