Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Nokia To Do An Apple to The Phone Industry?

After its launch in December(, Nokia's N97 mobile phone appears to be really generating some interest within mainstream press.

If it lives up to billing and expectation, there seems to be a groundswell of opinion that this handset could do for the mobile phone industry what the I-Pod did for digital music.

For the technophobes it might seem like yet another gadget packed mobile phone, but its big point of difference is that it will allow users to make free calls over the Internet which is great news if you're a punter but probably not so hot if you're one of the mobile networks.

And this is where the issue gets really interesting and poses some fundamental questions. For years handset manufacturers have utilised the networks, service providers and retailers as their route to market and it has been a relationship that suited both parties. Handset manufacturer drives large scale distribution of its product. Network makes the call revenue having put that handset in the hands of the consumer.

And just for good measure to ensure the consumer actually wants to upgrade to the latest gadget laden handset, the networks, providers and retailers have subsidised the cost of the handset to the consumer which is why you always see incredible deals on new technology (often in return for a longish term contract).

But Nokia's decision to embed technology that gives free voice calls over the Internet potentially breaks that cosy relationship between handset manufacturer and network.

Granted it is responding to consumer research/demand but if the handset takes off, it will has the potential to drive down revenues for the networks. In simple terms if your N97 is within range of a WiFi cloud you'll be able to make free phone calls over the Internet, which sounds really attractive if you're calling from abroad and want to avoid roaming charges.

It sounds too good to be true and it probably is because that functionality only works if you've got Internet access which you either get from a WiFI cloud or if you have a 3G/GPRS connection via your mobile phone. It seems somewhat unlikely that the networks will allow you to connect to the Internet via their 3G service to then make free calls over the web, but who knows they may have to bow to consumer pressure on this one, especially if one of the networks breaks ranks in a bid to capture market share.

If this handset takes off in the way that Nokia hopes, it potentially changes the balance of the relationship between handset manufacturers and networks. At best the relationship will become pretty tense (put yourself in the network's position) and at worst (from the network perspective) it has the potential to drive down call revenues and maybe even start a revolution in how we use and pay for mobile phone calls. Could this be another I-Pod in the making? Maybe, just maybe, but the consumer will be the ultimate arbiter

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Who Let The Chavs Out?

Just occasionally, very occasionally these days you come across an organisation that is prepared to thumb conventions of political correctness and stick its neck out. And when an organisation does this, the consequences seem to make for fabulous media exposure for them as commentators and pundits feel obliged to get themselves into a lather to demonstrate their PC credentials.

But it only works if you've got an engaging and eloquent spokesperson to front up the campaign, which is what appears to have happened with one holiday company.

The organisation that has caught my attention in this department is Activities Abroad ( which has launched an email marketing campaign to 24,000 users promising "chav free activity holidays." Having had a mooch round their web site it appears that the sort of thing they're offering is likely to be of fairly limited appeal to that segment of society, but hey I'm in danger of letting my pre-conceptions get in the way of things.

That said, at face value this seems like a pretty ballsy claim and one that will get the PC brigade a bit hot around the shellsuit collar.

But it appears, somewhat amusingly, the company has backed up this claim with some pretty significant research.

Interviewed on the BBC this morning someone from the company said they'd researched the most common "chavvy names" and then run them against their database and found they did not have a single Chardonnay or Chantel amongst them, so they argued they were merely stating a fact.

The company reckons they've only had a handful of complaints - sounds like it might be a small price to pay for the level of exposure they've had. I've just done a quick trawl on google news this morning and spotted a fair few mentions of their initiative and most of them are couched in terms of faux outrage. (

Personally I think the handful of complaints they've had represent a fair trade especially since the chap from the company effectively admitted their core target audience are white polite middle class folk with names like Charles and Charlotte rather than Wayne and Shane.

Be interesting to see whether the directors of Activities Abroad are confronted by hoards of shellsuit wearing protesters when they arrive at their office this morning. Burberry hat and a fight in a whitewater raft over a crate of cheap lager anyone?

Monday, 26 January 2009

Recession. Have We All Overcooked it?

They say there's no news like bad news and unless you've just returned from a sabbatical in deep space you can't have failed to have noticed that this adage has pretty much set the news agenda for the past eight months if not longer.

Credit crunch, failing banks, government bailouts and job losses lead the headlines on a daily basis.

While I recognise there is always a danger of being a sample size of one, are the media and politicians waking up to the fact that their continual outpourings of doom and gloom are talking us into an even bigger black hole than we're already in? What am I basing this hypothesis on?

Well three things actually. Firstly, over the past few weeks I've met quite a few industry peers and have listened to their comments on the overall outlook and how business is faring.

While it is generally accepted that people working in marketing communications have a tendency to sell the positive, especially when it comes to the performance of their own company, it appears the world has not ended for any of them, with the vast majority saying they're still incredibly busy. And they seem to be busy on profitable business as opposed to busy fools even after you've factored in the exaggeration factor that tends to prevail in such a gathering.

They do however admit to more than a passing frisson of nervousness based on what they're hearing and reading on a daily basis. You can make what you will of that, but if it is generally accepted that cut backs in marketing spend are an inevitable consequence of a recession you have to wonder what all these agencies are up to (unless of course they're lying through their teeth) if they are as busy as they claim.

The second indicator was an interview on FiveLive yesterday morning - caught it halfway through and didn't catch the guest's name but they were obviously a media grand fromage and were being pretty stiffly questioned by a BBC presenter about, wait for it, "have the media overcooked this?" The interviewee did say things were pretty grim (speaking personally having wandered down the street of our nearest town recently there's an awful lot of empty retailers) but did admit that bad news sells.

While not an outright admission of overcooking, it was couched in such a way to suggest that life is still going on out there, albeit it's very tough.

The third trigger for asking this question was the story this morning ( that Gordon Brown is warning us against pessimism - a bit rich I know given that he's not exactly the jolliest of folk even when things are looking good. But nonetheless it does make you wonder if people are starting to realise that if we talk about doom and gloom for long enough we might just run the risk of making it even worse.

I appreciate that the media can only report the news as it is and if a company has made thousands of people redundant then it has to report it as such. That said, it does seem there might just be the start of a trend where people are starting to question whether the endless diet of misery is talking the whole thing down even further

I am not pretending for one minute that business life is a bowl of cherries at the moment but would be interested to hear your views on whether in your view the media's reporting of the crisis has ben reflective of your own experiences.