Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cellular Carrier Marketing Strategy Memo

Android is something of a double-edged sword for cellular carriers. It is a hot, new platform that is driving some consumer interest. But it is in no way exclusive, nor for the most part, are the apps available for it. So there is some risk that Android could actually lead to increased commoditization for cellular carriers. T-Mobile did go down the path of trying to create differentiation, through a semi-exclusive app, Sherpa, but as far as I am concerned, that was pretty much a flop.

So here is my idea. Carriers need to work harder to leverage Android's flexibility and openness, to create differentiation and branding. Note however, this takes real work--it is not primarily about advertising, marketing or throwing some development funds at Android developers.

The big marketing campaigns from T-Mobile and Verizon have been somewhat successful in moving handsets, but have been very expensive, and have been rather hazy in regard to the overall benefits of the Android platform and the carrier of choice. Thus, they have done little to build a strong brand for the carrier--all they really say is "right now, we have a really cool handset you should buy".

I have a number of ideas, here is one multi-step strategy for enhancing carrier brand via Android.

Part 1: Solution for Teenage Texting-While-Driving

First, make a big splash by taking on the texting-while-driving problem. I imagine cellular carriers are a bit squeamish about facing that issue, but I think it is coming sooner or later, so why not be proactive and address it head-on.

Modern, GPS-based phones offer the opportunity to deploy technology to restrict texting while driving. The technology is already there, for any carrier to take advantage of. But nobody seems to be moving on it. Advertise yourself as the mobile carrier that puts parents in control. Then pre-install the software on your phones, and make it un-removable (short of admin access). If done right, a carrier would reap major, long-term brand enhancement from the trinity of: game-changing software; hardware value-add; strong identification of the benefits with the brand.

As I noted, I think the time is right, the meme is planted in regard to the dangers of texting, this would make a big splash. And would drive a lot of phone sales, sales that include profitable data plans. So that's the first step.

Part 2: Follow-Up with More

Follow up by executing the same tactics for two other very useful, high-value-add features:
  1. GPS
  2. Find-your-phone
Smartphones all have GPSs now. Google has just released a new version of mobile Maps that offers turn-by-turn directions. It's all there, it's all free, it's just crying out for a carrier to take it and run with it, from a marketing standpoint. Advertise yourself as the carrier that provides a GPS with every (smart)phone. A GPS that is always with you, and always up-to-date--unlike stand-alone GPS devices.

Note that none of this is remotely original thinking. There are already plenty of articles already predicting that Google's latest nav software will be highly disruptive to the GPS market. But that knowledge hasn't diffused to the average phone user. So there is still a window of time where a carrier, with good marketing, could make it seem like this capability was uniquely theirs. But no carrier seems to yet have woken up to this fact. So this opportunity won't last long. Again, advertising and marketing is necessary but not sufficient to build the brand. You have to offer some value-add differentiation. In this case, make sure to include a good very good phone mount, along with a car adapter USB power cord, free with every purchase.

Now the find-your-phone idea. Apple has this for the iPhone, but it is part of a $100/year subscription. Resist the temptation to charge for this feature--you want it in every product, so that it is built into your brand. This helps the value-add integration:
  1. Pre-installed find-me and lock-me software
  2. Not removable
  3. Your software can be better than anything in the market, because you will work with Google to make sure it has root access to turn on GPS--something that apps aren't normally allowed to do.
If a mobile carrier were to execute on this strategy, it would be like taking a page from Apple's book, but re-writing the page in a way that leverages the Android platform, and a non-exclusive environment. Over time, a series of successful campaigns such as this could go a long way to creating distinctive branding.

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