Cell phone evolution

Whether it’s the newest smartphone, a text-friendly handset; or simply the latest super-cool style, there’s no doubt that consumers love their cell phones. But, with new models and capabilities emerging almost daily, consumers are bombarded with choices in the mobile phone market, which “is incredibly crowded and competitive,” says Stacy Schwartz, VP of digital marketing, media and advocacy for Virgin Mobile.

Complicating matters is the very close inter­play between mobile phone manufacturers and plan providers, who must work together to sell consumers on the combined concept of using a certain plan on a certain phone.

To drive sales of their particular brands, mobile phone marketers have had to evolve quickly. Mass ads still play a large role in manufacturers’ market­ing plans, but many newer campaigns play on the cutting edge of marketing — mixing search engine optimization, social networking, experiential mar­keting and specialized microsites to communicate with their tech-happy customers.

“We do our best to be as integrated as pos­sible,” Schwartz explains. “We take TV elements and repurpose them to the Web to try to gen­erate traffic on the site. Then, we end up retar­geting those people with direct response offers and banners and e-mails, and we have a constant search presence.”

For Daniel Neal, founder and CEO of Kajeet, a company that provides phones and service con­tracts to families with kids, the best customer “is a Generation X woman who researches everything online and is comfortable on the Web.” Kajeet’s strategy is to give those people opportunities to encounter the company through channels they use for research, especially online — so it does a great deal of search engine marketing.

As more consumers do research online before making a purchase, the Web is an obvious place for marketers to get proactive with buyers. With the rise of search, manufacturers’ Web sites play a larger role in the sales process, and these sites have become responsible for educating consumers on what a particular phone has to offer.

“In the marketing of the phones, we’re not edu­cating people about the utility of all the features they can use,” says Neale Martin, a marketer and author who worked with Sprint on the framework for its Instinct phone. “This is where manufacturers could come in and help explain the value [of these features] by using them, sending e-mails and texts with embedded links directly to consumers. This [shows] that they get the technology and that they are marketing directly to the end user.”

Josh Hilliard, senior digital business strategist for Draftfcb, which has worked with Motorola, notes that the cell phone market moves quickly and the technology is constantly being updated.

“Not all consumers are up to speed on what they should even be looking for,” he explains. “The challenge for us is how we talk to them about the devices and innovations, because they may not understand the technology or the expe­riential benefits.”

Those experiential benefits — how the phones can become a lifestyle tool — have become the new selling point for many phones, which is a change from the days when manufacturers crowed about how many pixels a camera phone could handle. Phone marketers now must teach consumers how the devices fit into — and improve — their lives.

“We’re positioning phones as gateways to the rest of your digital life,” Hilliard points out.

Erick Soderstrom, VP of global brand marketing for Motorola Mobile Devices, agrees. The focus on cell phone experience has been a big shift over the past decade., he adds: “The convergence of technol­ogy and lifestyle and the increased focus that people put on social connectivity means that phones are becoming a fulcrum point in people’s lives.”

However, to move from the realm of “accessory” to “lifestyle tool,” a phone needs to advertise its importance in a user’s everyday life. With people getting new phones every year —or more frequently — and with monthly and pre-pay plans gaining ground on the traditional long-term contracts, it’s essential for phone manufacturers to encour­age long-term emotional attachments with their brands. One of the best ways to do this is through social networking.

“As social networks and social connectivity con­tinue to grow in importance, the ability to put your brand and your message in those communities — taking what you have to offer and integrating it into their space — is huge,” Soderstrom says.

Social connectivity, in part, means that brands must cede some control to consumers. Placing a brand within a consumer’s social network indicates that the brand is willing to act as peer, listening to them and integrating their feedback into new projects, rather than just foisting the latest message on them. If a brand succeeds, though, it also means that consumers feel a greater sense of ownership for the brand and a better social connection, mak­ing them more likely to spread the word.

“It’s about really using that natural behavior because, if you think about it, the phone, which has your contacts and photos saved in it, is the center of your social network,” says Schwartz. “One thing that has stood out is word of mouth, and that happens naturally, so now we have to think about how to bottle up and use viral and social networking to help people tell strangers as well as friends.”

Virgin Mobile, for example, depends heavily on word of mouth, which it encourages through social networking and events marketing.

“We’ve evolved from traditional megaphone marketing into one-to-one direct marketing in both the bricks and mortar space and digital with eCRM, and now to what I think of as tribal or community relationship marketing,” concludes Soderstrom. “That is where we’re integrating our­selves into social communications, leveraging what consumers already do, to serve up our content and relationship and brand and giving them more control over how they interact with us.”


Virgin Mobile launched a formal referral market­ing program called “Kickbacks” in September 2008, E-mails about “Kickbacks” were sent to existing customers and the Virgin Mobile site also featured the program. Users were given individual promo codes — which they could post on social network­ing sites and blogs — and when new users signed up with that code, both the code giver and the user received free airtime. The program has driven more than 50,000 registrations so far.

Kajeet depends
on Internet-savvy moms as its main customers, so most of its marketing efforts are in the online space. This landing page from one of the company’s recent pay-per-click efforts is an example of how consumers are driven to mobile phone sites through banners and search. Once there, the differentiating factor — the price and the fact that the phone fits this lifestyles of kids and their parents — is clearly printed. It also gives consumers the opportunity to “learn more” directly from the seller.

Motorola turned
to Draftfcb to help launch the Krave in October 2008, with a second phase rolling out the following month. A major feature of the effort was the Krave interactive microsite. “That launch in particular is a great example of the shift away from speed and feeds [marketing driven by the phone’s features] to experiential marketing,” Hilliard said. The site has videos of six different phone users, all with very different hobbies and lifestyles, who talk about how the phone fits into their lives.

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