Consumer Tech in Egypt
I just returned from a trip to Egypt and wanted to write down some observations about the ways in which consumer technology and telecom have been evolving there.
I lived in Cairo for two years in the mid-1990s. Part of that period I worked as an analyst for RITSEC, a joint venture between several NGOs and the Egyptian Government, whose mission is to promote the development of technology and the software industry throughout the Arab world. What struck me on this trip, was both how far things have come along in the intervening years and also the change in direction of this development.
Today technology is very much a mainstream product in the country. While the emergence of satellite television was the "killer app" of the 1990s, today broadband and wireless data technologies have moved well beyond mere luxury goods. Not surprisingly, the prime example is the prevalence of mobile phones. A country with per capita GDP of less than $5k, Egypt recently passed the 30 million subscriber mark, or about 35%. This is split between 3 carriers: Mobinil and Vodafone each have nearly half the market, and a considerably smaller stake is held by UAE's Etisalat, which has been in market for less than a year.
I've posted some pictures which give a good sampling of the main mobile operators' retail stores and advertising. Also thrown in are some shots of the Smart Village development on the Cairo-Alexandria road. Smart Village is a private industrial park catering to foreign and domestic IT and telecom companies. (Unfortunately the pictures don't do justice to the striking fact that those lush lawns and gleaming buildings are in the middle of the desert.)
The speed of change in "emerging markets" is accelerating as a result of technology and globalization. While these trend are well-documented elsewhere, I think that looking at it through the lens of marketing can be particularly informative. Over the next few days I plan to write about specific aspects of consumer tech marketing in Egypt.
In one of the more bone-headed things that a mobile carrier has done in some time, T-Mobile yesterday asked Engadget Mobile to stop using magenta in their logo. For those of you who don't read Engadget, it is one of the, if not the, most influential tech blogs out there.
Today Engadget (along with a half dozen other mobile blogs) have turned their site magenta in playful protest.
Motorola Press Coverage
Have had some nice media coverage of the Motorola brand situation.
Marketing Implications of an Open Verizon
Today's poorly reported USA Today article on AT&T "flinging open" its network (effective immediately) is a sign of the wireless times. The article/announcement/PR coup follows recent news from Verizon Wireless that it would both open its wireless network to "any app, any device" and that it would embrace Google's Android platform.
Google couldn't have hoped for more frenzied carrier responses to Android and the Open Handset Alliance.
Whatever the validity of AT&T's claims in USA Today, the Verizon announcement remains the more interesting and potentially transformative of the two. While the pundits are right to be cynical --predicting that this is either a ploy to conjure some goodwill before next month's 700 MHz auction, to gain an edge for the lonely CDMA standard or to simply dupe the market--Verizon's announcement is on record. They will have to do something to demonstrably change the way they do buisness and open the gates to their prized network.
From a marketer's perspective, there are 3 major implications and opportunities:
1. Verizon will need to become an endorser brand.
No more "Can you hear me now?" advertising, Verizon will need to extend its "network excellence" positioning as a driver market innovation. The challenge for Verizon will be to use its brand to endorse these innovations rather than trying to create them from scratch and own them outright.
VCAST's MTV/Rhapsody deal, while a little late, will be the shape of things to come. Like any good idea, timing is they major success factor. Verizon should bring back the MVNO model but with a stronger role for its brand in endorsing private label products and services. Some potential cost-savings here as Verizon can rely on partners to shoulder more of the marketing costs.
2. Fix (or kill) retail.
Verizon's retail experience is broken. Until now, this has not mattered because all the carriers have terrible retail experiences. However, if Verizon is going to send a clear signal to the market that they are offering something better nothing will be more important than retail. At the very least, they will need to devise a strategy for including a wider range of partners in their retail stores; effectively turning them into malls of products and services. If this is too much to pull off, Verizon should re-think its channel strategy entirely and enlist new channel partners who can do what is needed.
3. Let the market define itself.
Marketers all share a nervous tick: the need to constantly do enough research to draw an accurate picture of the market. If Verizon's marketers attempt to do this, they will drive themselves mad. Unlike the days of the 7 o'clock news, today's market is only what it says it is. Part of being open is being willing to give over control. This is as true for marketing as it is for anything else. Give people as much (or as little) choice as they want and let them create their own value props.
Additionally Verizon will need to address both its pricing model and its relationship with handset manufacturers. In the case pricing, things are going to have to become a lot simpler and more transparent (and cheaper too). In the second, Verizon will need to have its own line of private label (or semi-private label) devices based on innovative handsets. To do so it should look to build strong relationships with manufacturers a la AT&T's relationship with HTC. Seems like LG would make the most sense here.
FYI - my previous post, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Media, was picked up as commentary on Online Media Daily (Media Post Publication - free registration required).
Mutual of Omaha's Wild Media
In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the writers' strike would give corporations an opportunity to explore alternative advertising approaches. A friend of mine responded to my post wondering if we were going to see a return to "the days of 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom'?" Certainly looks that will be one of the models. This article from The Hollywood Reporter article mentions Johnson & Johnson funding an after-school type program for its Accuvue brand. I think you'll see a lot of brands funding entertainment content that is directly targeted to their core audience.
Ultimately, from an entertainment perspective, you can envision a world in which all content is available on-demand (you know, like it is on the Internet), supported by a brief advertisement like this (or something similar). I would hope this has all of the interested parties - the networks, movie studios, and cable providers, to name a few - shaking in their boots and looking for a way to participate in the obvious future, rather than impersonating an ostrich and sticking their head in the ground like the music moguls.
Isn't it inevitable that the television simply becomes akin to an all-you-can eat buffet, pulling content from a million sources, rather than a pre-set menu prepared by the mediocre chefs at NBC Universal, Viacom, and Disney and delivered to your table by those ill-tempered waiters at Time Warner, Cox and Comcast?
Suggests some interesting questions:
How long before cable companies become nothing more than ISPs?
If they can't charge exorbitant fees for access to their slate of channels and to use their inadequate set-top boxes, they become little more than an ISPs with a good set of pipes. Which brings up a corollary question: How long before those pipes become totally unnecessary?
Do the studios have any value beyond the intellectual property they already have?
If the control of content is wrested from the studios, what value do they provide? They've got some big studios they could rent out. And, presumably, a lot of cameras and lighting and what-not. But with production increasingly happening on location and the cost of technical production going down, that's not much value. What they do have is all the stuff they created in the past. In the case of Disney, they have power of their characters, their back catalog, their brands and their creative departments. They've basically got Mickey Mouse, The Little Mermaid, ESPN and Pixar. A lot, to be sure, but it certainly isn't the impenetrable wall they have today.
What happens when that wall comes down?
You can certainly see how some of those media properties become less valuable in the future. What happens when the NFL doesn't need to deal with the cable companies or distribute their product through Disney's ABC Sports and ESPN anymore and simply can instead offer their games (all of them) on a pay-per-view, on-demand basis? Could this be what the NFL is thinking with its much maligned NFL Network? Remember: the NFL didn't get to be the juggernaut it is by playing softball and being stupid. Don't you think the NFL (in this case, the content creator) would jettison these partners immediately if they could charge a small fee to customers to watch the games or keep all of the ad revenue for themselves (or both)?
Play that scenario out with any piece of content. Was that James Dolan that just fainted?
Granted the NFL is the NFL. But what happens when a venture capitalist and a small production group get together and create the next Heroes? Do you think they'll be running to sign a distribution deal with NBC or trusting that the inherently viral nature of the Internet will take care of that pesky issue for them?
Will all of this make search and social networking even more important in the future?
If the TV becomes an empty vessel for endless content, the viewer has to find what they want, right? Google made finding content easy. Apple made finding and acquiring music easy and legal. Facebook and myspace have made internet communications more personal and fun. Won't some combination of this become the new interface for that empty vessel formerly known as the television set?
So much for TV Guide.
UPDATE: Is TiVo making a move?
After a brief hiatus...
After only 3.5 years offline, we're re-launching the blog. Lots has changed in the past few years (as a quick read through the old posts shows). For one thing the blogworld has exploded...Technorati is tracking over 110 million blogs today as opposed to less that 5 million when we started up. That's a big conversation, and one that we are looking forward to rejoining.
Our business has also changed, as the lines separating product development and marketing have blurred. See Thomas Ordahl's recent profile in Adweek for more on how this trend is playing out.
Its good to be back!
Trying to Hear That
ATT's announcement today of a 5 year plan to sell wireless services over Sprint's network is just plain strange. From a branding perspective, its just another level of complexity on an already tangled tale.
Assuming that the ATT Wireless (no relation) / Cingular deal goes through, the ATT brand will disappear from the cellular market and then re-appear in a different guise. Needless to say phones that users had used on the ATT Wireless network will not work with services re-sold over Sprint's network.
All in all the move is bold, and as far as ATT is concerned, can't really fail. In fact, failure is built right into the equation. The outsider's best guess is that this project is simply a loss-leader...ATT wants to create a wireless brand because they need to have one. Now that ATT Wireless is getting absorbed, they have that opportunity again.
Bet you a dollar that 18 months after they start re-selling Sprint PCS, they buy it outright.