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My advice is simple: Don't "Market" joyn.
This blog was inspired by a lively discussion I had last week, for those not there, I thought putting pen to paper would help capture it.
Don't "Market" joyn. No flashy websites, commercials, celebrity spokespeople, or race-car endorsements. Simply no media blitz of any kind. You don't need it and you're wasting shareholders money.
While this may seem to be unconventional and controversial advice to a large telcom with a huge marketing budget, but this advice is based on practical lessons learned.
Competitors in the mobile messaging space all started as (and many continue to be) small companies -- WhatsApp, Pinger, Kik, Viber, Skype, Facebook.
These organizations started with a few tens of employees, no marketing budget (or team), no PR agency of record, and they all face(d) competitors in their target market who had endless resources.
As a start-up, these companies had unique value propositions, and were often seen as anti-establishment. They were empowered and unconstrained by corporate culture and rigidity. Their unconventional approach has had an impact on the markets in which they operate and these organizations are increasingly seen as threatening entrenched market players.
The start-ups that have upset the market place have done so without reliance on traditional marketing campaign strategies. An advertisement for Facebook did not entice me to sign-up for its service (in fact I still don’t know that I have ever seen an advertisement for Facebook). I didn’t receive a customer service call to join Skype, there haven’t been no sales agents leafleting about WhatsApp on every high-street in Europe, and I was invited by a friend to Gmail not by the company.
Each of these organizations told their users in the beginning that their product was in a beta test stage, it had bugs, and while it wasn’t a perfect solution, if you wanted to use it for free, you could. Users were encouraged to send feedback on the product, discuss features they wanted directly with the employees building the product. As a result three things happened: user expectations were low (it’s in beta test), there was no buyer’s remorse (it was free), and the companies had access to a free and continuously growing focus group.
These services got started through word of mouth ("viral" marketing campaigns) and smart product placement. They identified some key people to invite to their product, and encouraged them if they liked the product to invite others to try it too. Others incorporated their products or features into existing products in a careful thoughtful ways that encouraged usage.
This is the start-up marketing story. It’s been done over and over, like the instructions on a shampoo bottle "rinse, lather and repeat."
Sitting at the table last week with a host of multinational mobile operators, their faces were emotionless as I mentioned the thought of not establishing a ‘marketing’ campaign for a new product offering. My recommendations fly in the face of MBA courses. They defy establish practices and everything that a traditional marketing department does. Internal politics and corporate realities dictate that marketing plans and business cases must be created for new product launches.
We need to look back at telecom history and remember that SMS was rolled out the same way as RCS is going today, through a standards setting process led by engineers.
The engineers who allowed for a short 142 character message being sent from handset to handset likely never envisaged it would become the multibillion dollar industry it is today. They didn't wait for a business case or extensive marketing plans to validate their technical vision. These engineers just built it and did it in a way that users found useful.
Users used the service with all its initial warts and problems. There was lots of "guerilla" activity by users using SMS to avoid high mobile rates and "stick it to the telco", there was fraud and billing problems. It wasn't perfect. Yet technology evolved, and in doing so, whole new industries were created. Most importantly, however, large-scale monetization came after the technology was ubiquitous and its utility well recognized by its users.
So to the marketing teams out there: let the engineers build the product, give them feedback on how your customers can best discover the product, and then roll-out your marketing campaigns... in two years.