Inside Emerging Media: Netbooks net opportunity for marketers

With little marketing push behind them to date, netbooks have become a darling of the consumer electronics arena by giving a lift to laptop sales. Thanks to new subsidized plans for netbooks from telecommunications providers, the segment could shape up to be one of the highlights of the upcoming back-to-school and holiday season.

Even though we are in a recession, consumers are still looking “to upgrade, replace or add a computing device,” said Jeff Orr, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research. With prices for netbooks running at almost half what a laptop costs, “netbooks become an attractive alternative,” Orr continued. Netbooks typically don’t offer the same functionality of a laptop. Instead, they are smaller and optimized for using the Internet on the go.

In the past month, AT&T and Verizon have each introduced national plans giving consumers the opportunity to purchase a netbook embedded with mobile broadband capability at a low price – anywhere from 99 cents to $199 – when they sign up for a two-year contract for mobile broadband service. The subsidized plans are similar to how mobile phones are marketed.

The offers are being promoted through circular and online at several retailers, including Best Buy and Radio Shack.

The low cost and convenience factor of these plans could attract those consumers looking for a new computing device to the netbook segment over the next few months, making this category potentially one of the strong points in the second half.

As the adoption rate of netbooks grows, it will be interesting to watch what unique ways marketers come up with to target users, such as they have for mobile phone users.

“There’s definitely an opportunity” for marketers to target users of these devices, said Paul Jackson, principal analyst at Forrester Research. For people who are all attending the same event, a marketer could set up a dedicated Twitter site for smartphone and netbook users, Jackson suggested. Netbooks are also easier than smartphones for conducting e-commerce because the screens are bigger. However, since they can’t be used with one hand like a mobile phone, it’s unlikely netbooks will find a big use for instant gratification purchases, said Jackson.

The netbook does provide some interesting hurdles for marketers, he continued. For example, if consumers start regularly making entries on social networking sites from three different devices – a laptop when they’re at home and a smartphone or netbook when they’re on the go – this can  make it difficult for marketers to track click-through rates.

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