Speakers Corner: Handset vendors trim ranges

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Is it the end of niche marketing? Prior to the worldwide recession in the race to supply a handset for every possible type of consumer, the big four manufacturers were producing in excess of 200 handsets between them in the UK alone.

And that excludes trade, network and limited edition variants.
Add to those numbers the naming strategies, which may mean something to those in the know, but to the average person in the street are next to meaningless (prefixes E, N, W, C, S, and X, amongst others?).

When you factor in the relatively short lifespan of most handsets – on average two years from launch on contract to supermarket prepay – and the market was in danger of moving too fast for its customers.

All the while, a certain Californian company had one product available, with a simple name and a single form factor.

Say to someone you have an iPhone and they can immediately visualise it, say to someone you have a Nokia and it could be one of 100.

What this all means is that it has been extremely difficult for product marketers to achieve any meaningful cut-through, given the number of products (even within their own brand) they have been competing against.

The result has been that communicating clear messages to customers has been almost impossible. The net result is that by offering a handset to suit everyone, very few consumers actually got the message which one was for them.

Take cars, where the product lifecycle is six-to-eight years and average ownership is three-plus years; there is a bewildering choice to the extent where if you are in the market for a family hatchback, there are over 40 to choose from.

However, buying a car is the second biggest purchasing decision most families make and is typically conducted over a six month period. So your odds of picking the right one for you are at least on your side.
But when you consider most consumers only consider new phones when their contracts are up, and might give it two-to-four weeks’ thought, how could niche marketing ever be successful?

The average consumer will still assess looks, core features and then added features when purchasing a handset. Rather than be individual, they are looking for reassurance; for instance, “everyone has an iPhone so I’ll get one”; or, “I need email so I need a BlackBerry”.

Consumers like to hang their hats on strong brands with simple-to-understand values. The idea that everyone is trying to be individual is a fallacy. For instance, if punks and goths want to be different, why do they all dress the same?

Full article in Mobile News issue 459 (March 15, 2010).

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