Verizon Wireless not that different

Verizon Wireless has launched a new campaign with Ricky Gervais called A Better Network.

I initially saw these ads a few weeks ago and remember thinking that television advertising can’t have fallen this far. So I wanted to mull them over a bit and see the two ads a couple more times. I was hoping my initial take was wrong or that it would confirm Verizon has completely lost its mind.

Sadly to say, it is the latter.

First off, I like Ricky Gervais as a comedian. But, in these terribly written ads, he comes off quite the opposite. There is no humor. So why hire him? Secondly, the ads criticize other provider’s claims (mainly Sprint) saying, “Some of them stretch the truth” when the ad itself does the same thing when discussing the services from Verizon Wireless. Rather than say fastest, it claims “consistently fast” across the US. What does that even mean?

Is Verizon the same speed in LA as it is in Spokane? Consistently fast is subjective and mirrors what the competition has said. I certainly like a brand calling out BS on a competitor. But not when its claims are the same.

The bottom line with Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless is talking out of both sides of its mouth, truly believing that it is somehow offering wireless customers a reason to choose that is different than the competition. Yet, it is saying the EXACT same thing that its competitors are. Maybe it is being shady to protect its market share.

Like many other industries, the brands in the wireless business are trying anything to differentiate themselves from one another. They truly do not get that, to be meaningful, they must be a reflection of their customers and those they wish to influence. From these ads, it just looks like Verizon Wireless is trying to be a reflection of itself and its competitors.

Apple botch with watch OS 2 looks bad

As I have made blatantly aware for years, I’m a freak for Apple. Part of my freakiness is that I wait the release of a new system update as eagerly as a child waiting for presents on Christmas morning.

OS9, which came out while I was away on a family trip to Ireland, did not elude my iPhone and iPad. I managed to stay up and install the program, even though it came late in the evening, with a few pints of Guinness in my system.

Like I said, I am a bit of a freak when it comes to this stuff and I hold no shame in admitting it.

The OS 2 update may be damaging.
The OS 2 update may be damaging.

That said, I am dissatisfied with Apple’s latest presentation of software. While I have yet to buy an Apple Watch, the delay in releasing the coveted Watch OS 2 interface due to a found bug in the system quite simply looks bad.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin said that, and he is right.

Thoughts like: “Didn’t Apple already have enough time to find a bug in the watch OS 2 software?” and “Maybe the interface is just being rushed out to the masses” linger prominently in the back of my mind.

When you are at the top, you don’t have the room to fail and look less than great in public. Your brand will quickly take a shellacking. Ask Tiger Woods about that, Paula Deen or Mel Gibson. The pundits are always ready to cast a cold eye.

OS 2 Delay speaks loudly

And so, while the Watch OS 2 interface delay was nominal error, it does present a sense of ill-preparedness by Apple. And those precepts can quickly tarnish a brand’s reputation if mistakes like this continue. And while the release finally came yesterday to the public, that was several days too long.

Sprint (and others) go the way of a pizza

Cell phone carriers are going the way of the pizza. OK, just follow me here.

As we’ve noted numerous times, the major pizza outlets have left brand behind to simply play on price. They have taught consumers that, when they call for a delivery, the first question to ask is: “What’s today’s deal?”

The same could be said for the cell phone carriers, who have dwindled their brands down to simply what kind of deal I can get today. It’s not a perfect analogy (they never are), but Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s dominate the pizza market, while AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are basically the only cell phone carriers left. (T-Mobile is still around but rumors persist that it will merge with Sprint soon.)

Just like shopping for a sausage pizza.
Just like shopping for a sausage pizza.

To lure in new customers, Sprint is now offering Verizon and AT&T users to cut their rate plans in half if they come over the Sprint side. It turns out the deal isn’t as great as it sounds (more on that later), but to the consumer it looks like it’s another daily deal. If it wasn’t for the contracts (although Sprint will pay up to $350 per line in your termination fees), consumers could just do what we do when ordering pizza does. Just call and ask, “What’s today’s deal?”

The problem with this approach (basically buying market share) is that it is so temporary and it doesn’t create preference. You just have a bunch of bargain shoppers who leave you just as quickly as they came to you in the first place.

Sprint isn’t the only one. AT&T is offering a $150 bill credit when you sign up. Verizon is doing exactly the same thing. Some smart app developer could just produce an app that tells you who has the best deal this month and you could change back & forth, saving money and even keeping the same phone number.

This is craziness, only made worse by the fact the deals aren’t all they are cracked up to be. In the Sprint deal, if you are part of a family plan, then the entire family has to sign up and you must still buy a new phone from Sprint.

There is a better way, of course. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint should focus on the emotional drivers for cell phone users that will enable them to keep customers (and attract new ones) without having to discount everything. (Think of what Apple has done with the iPhone.)

Pretty soon, we’re just gonna order up a new plan each weekend like ordering a pepperoni pizza.

Branding Telecom – Effective Ways To Grow Market share

How To Grow Market Share

By Tom Dougherty

Telecom as an example

Grow market share chartHow do we grow market share in telecommunications? The answer is interesting and telling in today’s competitive telecom advertising and marketing climate. It can be paralleled in research on learning disabilities and can provide a great barometer for making preliminary judgments about how effective one creative execution might be as opposed to another. Let’s start with the basics. All effective telecom advertising has as its root, a strong strategic message.

To be considered as great, and to have a chance at stealing share in the telecommunications segment, advertising must convey a sense of market positioning, reinforce the telecom brand, identify a target audience, and speak to them in terms of product or brand benefit.

In print executions (though the same basic principles hold true in broadcast) we need to have the correct message and we need to ensure that the message is read and read by the correct consumer. If every agency actually owns these abilities and telecom experience (and all do at some time or other), why choose one over another? If every agency can consistently deliver a great creative execution, why do some telecommunications campaigns fail to produce the desired share-stealing and increases in market share?

The Answer

The answer can be found in research on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the training of people suffering from the learning disorder, dyslexia. It is in the evaluation and understanding of how people “learn” that some light is finally shed.

Testing Recall

When a telecommunications company tests advertising for “day-after recall” they are looking to see how well a core telecom marketing message is remembered some time after viewing. They are asking for recall. Now, recall differs from “remembering” because it is not a cognitive process. Recall happens without thinking, a memory requires thinking. For example, if I ask, “What comes to mind when I say Coca-Cola?” your answer might be “soda,” “The Real Thing,” “Pepsi,” or value judgments like “like it” or “never drink it.”

Grow market share is about recall

For most researchers, these statements are marked down, recorded and tabulated. Later they are evaluated against the strategy to see if the advertising achieved what it was intended to achieve. This is all well and good. However, there is one problem. For the most part, telecommunications advertisers overlook just exactly what is recalled and focus on “what is remembered.”

No matter what you might remember about Coke, the first non-cognitive flash of memory was a visual picture of the product itself. Odds are it was a quick vision of the “familiar red can” or the trademark bottle. The other memories were then retrieved cognitively and added to that flash memory.

Great telecom advertising is advertising that is able to make the telecommunications brand association visual. In special education, the association learning method has been used successfully for years as teachers taught those with learning disabilities. In order to compensate, they are taught to use pictures as a means of organizing their thoughts, knowledge, and memories. As it turns out, this is exactly how we all learn. (Read a market study on the telecom industry here)

How We Learn

Human beings learn by associating. Anything they already know can be linked to a new thought, idea, or image. Traditional memory is always linear. If you can make an association with something you already know, you can use that “picture” to help you recall the new information. It turns out that what we actually recall is the association and not the memory itself.

How we learn and its effect on how you Grow market share
How do we learn?

We can use our recall to trigger a memory, but we need to tie the image it invokes to what it is we are recalling. Association turns out to be similar to a spreadsheet. It is not necessary to remember what is located in box A-1, but that you must look into box A-1 to find it.

Flash memory recall is your mind retrieving an image from a location, rather than remembering a particular meaning. It follows that all great (effective) telecom advertising is visual in nature. This does not mean that great print advertising cannot be all copy.

Rather it means that the copy must be designed to create a visual image in your head in the same way that great radio does. If it is designed to generate recall, then the image produced needs to be tied into an existing association so that the mind can “find” it again.

When branding telecommunications, evaluating or creating telecommunications advertising designed to steal share and work even if outspent, always ask yourself if the TOTALITY of the telecom ad (or commercial) elicits an emotional “photograph” in your head. If it does, and the message is right, the target audience identified, and the positioning and benefit compelling enough, you can be relatively sure that the telecommunications brand message will be recalled. If it’s recalled, it becomes part of the consumer’s identity and life. It is that simple.

BlackBerry Failed. Marketing lessons to be learned from BlackBerry.

BlackBerry Failed. What can we learn from their mistakes?

By Tom Dougherty

Blackberry changed how business phoned.
Blackberry changed how business phoned.

The world truly changed in 1999. We saw Europe introduce the Euro, the tragedy at Columbine, the world was dealing with Kosovo and SpongeBob SquarePants debuted. But the world also saw a revolution in communication – one that, for better or for worse, changed everything.

Research In Motion introduced the BlackBerry

The first BlackBerry was the 850 and it was little more than a two-way pager with email and some limited HTML functionality. However, it could not be used as a phone. It did, however, give users something they had never had before: an “always on” connection that allowed users to synch with Microsoft Outlook.

In the early days, the 850 was not even yet called a BlackBerry and it was only available to enterprises. Neither of those factors detracted from its desirability. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was a status symbol. The person using it felt like they had made it. The 850 was the epitome of a brand reflection.

I say that becuase brand is really the reflection customers see when they use your product or service. It is the emotional connection people have with things and RIM had a product that elicited such an emotional response that people became addicted to the device.

RIM owned some very valuable emotional territory. It owned innovation/technology. It owned status. It owned first. It owned prized emotional ground that should be held on to as vigorously as possible.

Blackberry failed to change. They overestimated the golden handcuffs
Business thrives on simplicity

And for nearly a decade, RIM appeared to do just that. RIM grew significantly. From 1999 to 2007, RIM/BlackBerry’s stock price went from about $1.50 to a little north of $230 at its peak, a 15,233% increase. It was the darling of Wall Street and the envy of businesses the world over.

The 850 turned into the 950 and the 950 turned into the 957, which stood for 15 years as the iconic BlackBerry design – large screen with the unique keyboard below. They were defining devices in mobile technology but there was still no BlackBerry that you could use as a phone. In order to make a phone call, you still had to have a different mobile phone with a separate agreement.

In 2002, BlackBerry gave us the ability to use data and voice on the same device. The BlackBerry 5810 was born, complete with an ear bud that you used if you wanted to make a call. The 6810 and 6820 came not long after that, the ear bud was removed and allowed the user to make normal calls. Keep in mind that BlackBerry is still really only for enterprise use at this point.

In the next few years, BlackBerry models showed up with color screens and RIM even created a new form factor geared towards the consumer market with a new keyboard system called SureType that combined two letters to a single key. Eventually, the Pearl, perhaps BlackBerry’s second most influential device after the 957, was loaded with a camera, color screen and even a trackball. This was the height of BlackBerry and also marked the beginning of its death spiral.

The Mobile Category

Mobile devices were in a rapid stage of evolution. Features were being added and removed on the whims of consumer taste and RIM found a set of features that really met the needs of the emerging consumer mobile phone market at time. Additionally RIM had strong brand equity in the BlackBerry name and people, both consumers and businesses, coveted its aspirational brand.

But here lies the problem. In a changing market, stasis often means death. Things are only aspirational as long as people see them that way. In BlackBerry’s case, there was a duty to protect that emotional high ground that it didn’t fulfill.

BlackBerry saw itself only as a producer of mobile phones and forgot to protect that high emotional ground with a brand that said why their mobile phones were important.

Its success was due only to being first to market with a highly innovative product. The 2006 launch of the Pearl, which allowed the brand to be enjoyed by everyone, was really the last innovation for BlackBerry in mobile devices.

From that point on, BlackBerry played defense. It rested too heavily on what it thought was its impenetrable enterprise business. BlackBerry thought it was untouchable. Even in 2003, as other device companies were entering a rapid stage of innovation, BlackBerry’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis quipped, “Camera phones will be rejected by corporate users.” It was not until 2006 that a camera was added to a BlackBerry.

Companies whittled away BlackBerry’s market share with brands like the Nokia and the Palm Treo, which brought us the first color displays (before the abovementioned Pearl) and firms like Motorola and LG began to change the mobile phone into a stylish accessory.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War, “If we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows… the defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows.”
Business is very much like warfare and, if an enemy continues to come after you, they will eventually wear you down.

At this point, BlackBerry’s responses were always just that. Blackberry simply responded to new features by competitors by simply aping them. It was at this point when BlackBerry lost its emotional high ground of innovation because it became known as a fast follower.

Then came the iPhone.

Overnight, the mantel of innovation was ripped away by the iPhone. More importantly, Apple had uncovered an emotional intensity that trumped them all, simplicity. Given the rather complex nature of smartphones at the time, simplicity was not only welcomed, it was embraced. So much so that people waited in lines for the iPhone.

Blackberry failed to match iPhone's Cool factor
iPhone Changed the game again

The brand promise of simplicity for the iPhone was further solidified by its stunning innovation. Jim Balsillie, the other co-CEO of BlackBerry, said of the iPhone in 2007, “in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.” All emotional intensities that made BlackBerry popular over the course of the past eight years (with the possible exception of the keyboard) were voided by a single product launch that did not take eight years to blossom.

Reeling from impact of the iPhone, BlackBerry again tried to “add that feature” in the form of the BlackBerry Storm. But instead of a volley across the bow to Apple, it was really a flag of surrender.

So what are the lessons here? What can we learn from BlackBerry?

First off, BlackBerry was and always will be the founding father of the modern mobile phone. Some may argue that the addition of an operating system and the full panel touch screen with the iPhone is the true ancestor, but RIM, now BlackBerry, started mobile device companies on their current course. But here lies the first lesson:

In innovative industries, staying the course is a dangerous proposition.
Consistency and stick-to-it-ness are great attributes of a brand. Often, these attributes make the difference between a brand that succeeds and a brand that fails.

But when your brand is based on innovation, you are always chasing the newest innovation and are doomed to fail. BlackBerry needed a brand promise that was emotional in nature and not dependent on features.

If you have the luxury of being first to a market, you must defend that position with all of the resources at your disposal.
This is related to the first point but not a restatement of it. Being innovative does not mean you have to be revolutionary at each step. As a market leader, you have brand equity that allows target audiences to believe you own innovation. (Read how being first in a market is not guarentee of success)

This is the crux, however: a company that does not possess expertise to continually innovate must either find it or buy it. The best news is that most people have no idea if an innovation is purchased or developed internally. BlackBerry had access to sufficient cash and resources to purchase forward-thinking talent and companies.

Again, however, a brand that was focused on an emotion would have allowed customers to remain loyal despite other innovations. When your brand is about innovation, you have taught customers to always seek out the newest innovation.

CEOs must have a pragmatic view of the business environment and articulate that view to the public, shareholders, and employees.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but Balsillie and Lazaridis, the co-CEOs, had substantial influence in the organization and made it seem, at least publicly, they did not believe they ever had a problem. Even ex-CEO Thorsten Heins believed that tablet computers would not last.

A company that claims to be innovative should have leadership that has vision. Good employees absorb vision and want to execute it. Part of it is cult of personality (see: Steve Jobs) but most of it is sweat. The power of any brand, BlackBerry included, gives the organization reason for being. If the leadership does not convey it at every step and in each interaction, it is really meaningless and fodder for any company in a position to take it.

Brand arrogance is one of the worst things that can happen to any brand.
All of the above mentioned lessons result from this one: all brands, no matter how big, iconic or influential, can fail. When a brand thinks it is above the fray, it will almost always land below it. BlackBerry thought it could simply copy features of other providers, keep its keyboard and everything would be fine. It thought its customers would still aspire to use the BlackBerry. Everyone wants a BlackBerry, right?

At this point it is doubtful that the BlackBerry device business lasts much longer. It stood for innovation, taught audiences to seek innovation and, when BlackBerry became a follower, it became emotionally irrelevant.

The company began to shift toward services such as the popular BlackBerry Messenger on all mobile operating systems, allowing users of its BlackBerry Enterprise Services to manage both BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices within an organization’s network. But they are too little too late.