CeBIT 2004: Selling Solutions, not Specs
By Eric Lin, Mon Mar 22 10:30:00 GMT 2004

While computer manufacturers are still selling megahertz and megabytes, the mobile industry is starting a kindler, gentler approach. It's not just the phones that are becoming more consumer-friendly, it's the way they are selling the phones too.

I didn't realize what I was witnessing at first. I was at the Nokia booth, trying to learn more about the new 7610, but wasn't getting very far. I wanted technical specs, but all the signage and literature offered were consumer-friendly phrases. Instead of a list of acronyms, the phone was described by its capabilities (10-minute-long videos, PC synchronization including photos, messages and notes, etc.). It was hours before I even found out the handset didn't have EDGE (since most European operators are finally rolling out 3G instead).

Traveling from booth to booth and hall to hall, I picked up literature from various handset manufacturers and European carriers. Finally when I looked through it all, it hit me. Leafing through the Sony Ericsson catalog, I had my epiphany. Manufacturers are finally getting consumer-friendly about selling mobiles. Sony Ericsson barely mentions a single acronym. The text describing each phone may use a technical term, but only by describing how it enables the user to do something (i.e. Bluetooth lets you use a wireless headset to talk on your phone). In between the pages describing the different models in plain English, are longer "stories" about how different people (a young professional, a student, a parent) use their handsets to accomplish various tasks, but they do it with nary an acronym in sight.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson led the way, moving their product literature from the technical to the application of the technology. Most of the other manufacturers lag behind, selling their handsets the way superstores sell computers, with lists of stats and acronyms. During his press conference on Wednesday, the head of Siemens' mobile phone division, Rudi Lamprecht, said his company is pushing forward with a consumer focus. Silicon caught the exact words- "The consumer is not buying these acronyms, the consumer is buying solutions."

Carriers, too, are learning that selling what the service does is far more effective than trying to sell it based on the technical name. A Spanish colleague told us a story of two carriers last night. One carrier sells services by their official names (MMS, ringback, etc.), while another uses much longer names that describe what the services actually do. Guess which carrier sells more services, at least anecdotally? US carriers have been getting better about advertising the results and not the technology, explaining how the services work in situations instead of trying to explain the service itself.

Clearly in the mobile world, the shift from companies that sell technology to ones that sell solutions is still young, but it is coming along rather well. Manufacturers and carriers that have led the market in the past are leading the charge in this new realm as well.