I read an article yesterday in TheFeature about Vodafone's new service called "Live!" which explained a lot to me. I hadn't really understood what they were pushing because I've been listening for technical details. But the article explains quite clearly that Vodafone is stearing away from the technical specifics on purpose and that the strategy is working. Now I get it...
The rousing success of Vodafone's Vodafone Live! portal package proves Europeans like mobile data after all - but only when it's delivered Japanese-style.
Some three months after Vodafone broke on the scene with Vodafone live!, a package of consumer-focused mobile data services complete with picture messaging, arcade games and polyphonic ringtones, the mobile industry is suddenly upbeat about the prospects for mobile data.
Indeed, the numbers are encouraging. Vodafone, which launched the service in October in Germany, Italy, Ireland the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK, counts 380,000 users with Vodafone live! enables handsets as of December 31. The total includes over 150,000 in Germany, over 90,000 in the UK and over 60,000 in Italy. The company aims to have one million customers using its service by end-March 2003 - and plans to add Greece, New Zealand and Australia this year.
But the Vodafone success story is about more than statistics. It proves operators can lure consumers to use mobile data - if they use the right bait. Moreover, it blows holes in the argument that cultural differences between European and Japanese users account for the lukewarm customer response to mobile data services in Europe and the phenomenal success of i-mode in Japan.
Vodafone has been careful not to push technology. Sure, the basic technologies underpinning Vodafone live! include WAP, Java and MMS, but you won't hear a mention of them, or the four-letter word "GPRS," in the company's mega-million-dollar marketing campaign. (Vodafone won't divulge the budget, but observers speculate Vodafone is spending around $100 million.)
"Fun and entertainment are what customers should associate with Vodafone live!," says Mark Jensen, Vodafone senior product manager. The Vodafone live! target segment is the 15-34 age group. "Technology cannot be part of the message when you're talking to these consumers." How right he is.
It's a good article that continues and amazes me in several ways. First the reminder that mobile phones are a pure consumer product. Though under the hood it's all 3 and 4 letter acronyms for an amazing array of technologies, the products themselves are being sold to people who Just Don't Care. Vodafone and the Japanese before them are showing that the people who buy mobile phones are not techies. They want gadgets and services, but for the most part, it's not important to them how it all fits together. I'm a geek and so I may not have really grasped this before.
Secondly, the fact is that data access is a service that can be wrapped up in a tight package and be sold successfully. I ranted just a few days ago about how MMS is a joke and why would anyone use it when they can just use alternatives like email instead. But the reality is what Vodafone is doing. They've packaged up all these little services - games, MMS, ringtones, etc. and are pushing super-simple phones (not Nokia's) that will provide those services and people are buying. It's working for them.
Now the next thing I say may sound odd coming from me but it's not, it's just a lesson learned from this example: The Symbian phones may not be the next best thing for Joe Mobile. Not as they're being sold now. If you compare a Symbian phone to a Palm or PocketPC for example, they are shining examples of ease of use and functionality. But if you compare it to a phone that only does two things and does them well: take pictures and run Java games, then suddenly the Symbian phones look complex and overkill. This is probably why they didn't sell as well as they could have over the winter season.
I'm still wondering why Nokia decided to market the 7650 as a non-PDA phone. It does 95% of the things my Palm used to do in terms of a PIM and 1000% more in terms of connectivity. Maybe they were worried of promising too much and delivering too little. But the phone is too big and bulky to "just be an MMS camera phone" and obviously there's a shitload of functionality under the hood waiting to be taken advantage of. It looks like Nokia's going to market the 3650 the same way, but even more to Junior Mobile with snap-on faces, low price etc. I wonder how this is going to work. It's probably a good strategy. If you compare PDA sales to mobile phone sales, you'll see exactly why Nokia is following this path. But the phone may actually be TOO powerful for the target market.
Neat stuff. I like learning things. It's just sad how far behind the curve I am... I mean, how long ago did Vodafone think up this strategy, prepare the phones and the marketing and launch the campaign? What are they doing now for NEXT year?
Sometimes I fear I'm really just a lap dog yapping at the edges of something too big for me to understand... ;-)