Previous month:
November 2005
Next month:
January 2006

Posts from December 2005

2006 What Will It Be Like

It's time for predictions.

1. Vonage--There will be some sort of exit, but not one that will be as loft as some might expect. Someone may buy them for their customer base and blend it into their own VoIP platform.

2. AOL Voice--AOL starts to make moves in the space. Already they have built a platform that is robust, with more under the hood than people realize. With a focused plan they could be on the acquisition trail for customers.

3. Skype--eBay begins to put more of its management style into Skype and the brand starts to take on a different personality. Video becomes a big driver and integration within the eBay platform a bigger effort than anticipated. They also have to fend off the "are they a phone company or not" from a testy FCC and other regulators around the world.

4. AT&T CallVantage--AT&TSBC works with Yahoo to make CallVantage a bigger part of the plan for DSL sales. With the new Yahoo Messenger as the SoftPhone CallVantage takes on a new life. Verizon does the same with Yahoo to get some traction with VoiceWing, but AT&T gets the lions share of the biz.

5. Conferences--More conferences about VoIP arrive on the scene promising everything that the others don't deliver. Unfortunately they end up siphoning money away from the better events.

6. Video becomes a big part of the VoIP universe before splitting into it's own universe. Companies like Counter Path, EyeBall, SightSpeed and the IM players-GYAMS all expand their Video offerings.

Child porn and more virtual molesting grow and the webcam industry works to figure out how to better manage and protect children.

7. The number blogs about VoIP increase and more consumer orientation comes to fruition.

8. The need for more robust audio gets driven by VoIP. Speakers and microphones, advanced handsets and headsets proliferate.

9. 2006 becomes the year of the Voice 2.0 applications really arriving.

10. Voice minute prices keep falling, but free voice lacks QoS so people start paying for better service, especially in the work environment.

Radio Shack: A Not So BrightPoint For Skype

I often tell clients that it's not about "selling in," it's about "selling through" that matters in retail product marketing. Too often we hear about the "big announcement" from a company in the technology products space that tells us all that they landed a "retail partnership" with so and so. That's why when I spotted Phil Wolff's post about Radio Shack and Skype I had to laugh, not at the post, but in full agreement. Phil is dead on with his assessment.

Here's why.

With Radio Shack you have the ultimate geek product retailer with thousands of locations around the world. Radio Shack is a chain that has been better at selling batteries, voltage detectors, plugs, switches and yes, cell phones than all others on the planet and they got married up with the fastest growing online service ever. Skype.

What could be better. I mean all those free users who want extra add-on accessories for early adoptive geeks. Heck, Radio Shack has been selling to that crowd for years. It's called the aftermarket and in many ways the products Radio Shack sells are either their own or name brands that people can trust to fuel that sector. Radio Shack also sells a lot of off beat, arcane items that has made them the geek and toy idiot type's favorite place to always look for what they know is out there, but was never easy to find. So one would think that given all that Radio Shack is, that they would be the ideal location for Skype add ons. Right? Except there's a problem and it isn't Radio Shack's fault. It's Skype. 

You see if you're going to come out big with announcements, drive retail placements and generate buzz around all these licensed products, then you better have real retail promotion programs in place to make it happen, not just rely on PR and the blogosphere to make people know the products are there.

And in fairness to Skype, they're not the only ones who suffer from this. Most technology product companies do, but when you move into licensing of your trademark, you better damn be sure that you've got the chops to back up what you're doing, and the best way to do that is to lead with the checkbook, and since it's the licensees money (OPM) that makes it work anyway the cost to doing things the right way can be a real win on the P/L. Factor in some start up costs, hire a few bodies to run the programs, one on the licensee side, another on the retail promotion side, a third to keep everything on track, execute a few things well, run a few new programs a year and watch things take off and grow...Just look at the NFL, the WWF, MLB, NaASCAR and so forth. They all started that way, and well, licensing fuels thaose businesses even more than the butts in the seats.

Back in my days of sports marketing, and the sports licensed products world, having come from the team side of the business one of my roles was to question the licensors motives and scruitinize what was really going on. While I questioned a lot, one thing I quickly learned that when the NBA, NFL or MLB worked a retail promotion for all their licensees, they really went out and worked it.

The NFL was the very best at that, and still are. The NBA may be slicker, but no one moved product like the NFL for their licensees. They did it the old fashion way. They sold in. Promoted big and made sure everyone in the store knew not only where the product was, but what was there too. They educated sales clerks. Gave them hats, golf shirts. They branded the idea of "official NFL" product sections and raided illegal counterfeit outposts, with the press and police in tow.

At retail the sports leagues all leveraged every inch of space they could get their products onto. 4 foot branded sections. End caps. In aisle display. Hang tags. Shelf talkers. Window posters. Those tactics all built awareness for the licensed products and drove revnue for both the leagues and the product companies. Oh and yes, they would also employ a field sales force that would go out and merchandise the sections to the planagram, making sure the products were cut in the way the layout showed, and more importantly were even in the stores and on the shelves not sitting in the back room somewhere for a stock person to sit on. The field force folks also made sure the dump bins were full, that the promotional offers, contest entry forms and other awareness building tools were up and visible. Oh yes. The leagues did something more. They advertised, buying four color ads in local newspapers and sometimes branded circulars in the Sunday supplements. And all that is what's lacking here at Radio Shack.

You see for some of these licensees, Skype is their run at the big time. But without sell through programs, the great sell in accomplishments ( nodoubt conceived and executed by some of the recently departed Skype executives, that the eBay team has now inherited) will  likely be more like Sell In, Sell None, Got Sold Out by Skype for many of these product companies who all are jumping on the Skype Hype.

Next week during CES I expect Skype to be out in force with a bevy of announcements in many different directions.

Hopefully the more sober eBay leadership will tone things down and let the company's efforts over the past year mature, so their actions and results speak louder than their words.

It's now time for eBay/Skype has to begin making what they already have in place better and to capitalize on their investment, not just let it spin like a top. If they do that, to quote a client of mine who has been in the past a top sales gun for DEC, COMPAQ and then his own ERP firm, "the Bigger Will Come."

But Is Free Really Free?

Free in my mind is a myth. Om thinks voice will be free. I learned a long time ago that there is no such thing as a free lunch, something Om as a real journalist knows all too well and has to make sure everytime he takes a trip or is out to dinner a PR type that he covers his own expenses. I know it too as I regularly get propositioned about doing this and someone will "owe" me one. That's kind of how I look at Voice in the future. While we may not pay in currency per se, we will pay with data, details, habits and behavior.

We live in the era of data mining. Where our surfing habits are tracked by cookies. So cookie the calls, know what we look up, when we look up and from where we look up in the electronic 411 called Google or and then click to call. Factor that into what we get offered in the way of ads, text messages and voice mail offers and Free won't be as Free as you think.

Still, Om's piece is right on the mark as usual and a must read as it picks up on what you've been reading Aswath, Martin, Alec and moi for the last few months and really cinches it.

Blogs Being Ripped Off

We're all being ripped off. Om. Me. Tom and a host of others. It's called plagiarism. Read Om's post first though, then read the comments.

While I can't go into Kinkos and copy a page in the newspaper about a friend's daughter (who is also an agency client of mine) someone can easily lift and rip off a blog's RSS feed and run it on their site without permission. That's a crime.

The former (Kinkos) is more than likely a case of misunderstanding regarding the right of "Fair Use Copyright" while this obvious rip off of Om and all the rest is a clear cut violation of the DMCA and can end up costing the author, their company and the ISP big dollars according to some sources.

Let's all do our part this Christmas Day to say Bah Humbug to all those in the food chain, including the ad supporting engine that's helping to fuel this plagiarism based industry.

Blue Box Podcast

VoIP Security will be a big issue in 2006 IMHO. Dan York and his sidekick Jonathan Zar, are taking a leadership position on the subject. If your not reading their blog or listening to their podcast, you're missing out on early warning signs about what is happening with Security and just what is or could be impacting VoIP and VoIP users.

Tom Keating Asks "What's Wrong With Vonage"

In an absolutely riviting and attack dog like post yesterday Tom Keating rips Vonage from end to end on all things related to PR, Product Management, Product Development, Partner Relations and more.

If he was alone then some might think he's wrong. But he's not. I've received the same reaction or inaction and it seems that the mainstream press, especially in the financial sector seems to be casting a blind eye to all of these continual faux pas.

On the plus side Vonage knows how to attract users by using the equivilant of Cisco style swarm marketing, but where Cisco does that with live bodies, Vonage does it with ever intrusive online and offline media assaults. As a result they are the largest non-cable company VoIP player in North America. They get huge props for that.

But they are without a doubt playing the PR game all wrong and it dates back to before the E911 issues. For as long as I can remember their approach has been "comment on the positive, but spin or avoid the negative."

Tom's post points to what is a huge and growing credibility issue since Vonage is neither good at spining bad news into good and ducking never gets any company into anything but in a heap of hurt eventually.