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Mobile Operators Lack Niche Marketing Skills

According to ABI Research, employees in the service profession fields of consulting, law, information technology, and field engineering -- along with employees in companies of greater than 1,000 people -- demonstrated the greatest interest in purchasing cellular modems for broadband Internet access over mobile phone service provider networks.

The percentage of respondents in these fields who said that they would be "extremely interested" to "somewhat interested" in purchasing this capability was nearly 60 percent.

According to principal analyst Dan Shey, "The two characteristics that are common with these groups are mobility and income levels. Both enterprises operating at the global level, as well as work engagements for knowledge workers in law, consulting, IT, and field engineering, require access to large amounts of data at multiple locations. Additionally, these customer classifications command relatively higher salaries, improving their ability to pay for cellular broadband service."

ABI believes that although survey respondents were from the United States, the results can be applied to any developed market with 3G cellular networks. Over the forecast period, North America and Western Europe will command 66 percent of all cellular modem sales, according to ABI's recent assessment.

Beyond enterprises and certain knowledge-worker professions, primary factors that will govern adoption of cellular modems will be cellular broadband pricing, worker mobility or type, and total data access needed.

Shey adds, "Assuming access to 3G networks, cellular broadband pricing will have the most impact on uptake of cellular modems. For various reasons, operators are following a skimming strategy with higher prices and contract options, effectively excluding a large segment of the market. Once cellular broadband total cost of ownership drops, customer's business/entertainment needs will dictate uptake of cellular modems."

While I agree that the current high-price of mobile broadband services has proven be the best method to limit subscriber adoption, there remains other market development challenges that will not be exposed by this form of shallow market research. This routine analysis is unlikely to determine validated needs, nor will it help to predict associated demand.

I believe that the applications for cellular modem-based value-added services (VAS) are understood by very few people at the typical mobile service provider. Sales engineers who support enterprise customers can appreciate that a detailed assessment of user needs is the mandatory first step in the sales process.

That said, most mobile operator marketing teams tend to view the market opportunity by being armed with the depth of insight that's similar to the ABI market survey results -- it's an inch deep, and a mile wide. They mistakenly interpret a simple statement of "interest" to equate to a compelling need that will motivate a subscriber's purchase.

Therefore the illusion of a mass-market for cellular modem-based VAS is perpetuated throughout the carrier's organization, and repeated unfocused marketing campaigns fail to stimulate demand. Clearly, this approach has been proven to be a wasted effort. But, fortunately, it's a situation that can be rectified.

The core problem stems from the fact that the vast majority of mobile service providers lack the required niche marketing skills -- which are absolutely necessary to effectively uncover needs-based market requirements and then target these validated applications with highly segmented marketing campaigns.

This scenario is all too familiar in the world of "telco marketing" circles. Failure to perform the comprehensive front-end market assessment results in a severely handicapped market development game plan.

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