With the influx of mobile data services, new handsets and little to differentiate various players in the marketplace, we turn to brand as a key decision point in the mobile user experience process. David Pringle, a writer for the Wall Street Journal writes,
“At stake is control of an everyday device owned by more than a billion people. The winner will be in a position to shape the future of the cellphone business and cream off the profits that come from being a premium brand.” Wall Street Journal “After a Long Peace, Wireless Operator Stirs Up Industry”, November 2004
His comments are in response to Vodafone’s highly publicized brand play as the world’s largest carrier demanded their logo be placed on the front of every exclusively carried handset, including the new 3G devices released for the holidays last year.
This is the continuation of an exercise where carriers, now the suppliers of much sought after content and services, feel their brands surpass that of handset manufactors, namely Nokia and Sony Ericsson. It is interesting to note, at the beginning of the 3G market in Japan, NTT DoCoMo’s W-CDMA-based FOMA service rose early with high-speed 3G access, yet garnered only 300,000 subscribers by the end of 2003. During the same time period, KDDI launched it’s new Au service with lower data speeds (CDMA2000 1XRTT network was not considered 3G) but with wider perceived coverage and reliability, well marketed services and applications, and a targeted subscriber (young, hip early adopters.) KDDI hit 7 million subscribers by the end of 2003 – completely beating out it’s high speed network competitor [source: Trends of Mobile Communications in Asia by Yihong Zhang and Bo Feng].
KDDI wasn’t the fastest speed, but the perceived ‘brand’ and trust in the reliability of the service that won out. So, my question is: how important is brand in this marketplace, and how are (or will) today’s customers able to clearly differentiate between products, services and offerings? It is clearly becoming a petty brawl between carriers and handset manufactors, and upcoming exclusive brands for content and new services (mostly coming from Hollywood) as they fight for front and center placement – on devices and on screen.