7 Rules for Creating a Great Mobile Brand
By Tessa Graham and Michael Mattis, Mon Jul 09 00:00:00 GMT 2001

What it takes to build the most valuable asset your business will ever hope to own: a strong brand.


Building a strong brand involves getting to know your customers intimately and developing a valuable relationship with them based on their needs, wants, and desires. Great brands, such as Coca-Cola, Virgin, Charles Schwab, Jaguar, and Burton Snowboards live up to their core values and messages consistently and across all interactions with their customers. This doesn't mean that great brands don't change. They do change over time and in response to changing customer aspirations - the Coca-Cola of today is not the Coca-Cola of 1957.

Creating a strong mobile Internet brand is tricky. Mobile services are just that - services. Except for the device itself, mobile services tend to appear intangible, unlike a bottle of Coke. Yet they touch peoples' lives just as strongly as if they had physical weight. Mobile players - particularly those which have moved into the wireless space from traditional telecommunications - have attempted to brand their services with a combination of messages and promises.

Unfortunately, most haven't really lived up to because a brand is more than messaging, images, and promises - it's a relationship with customers. It's a relationship built upon an intangible emotional connection driven by the tangible value your service adds to peoples' lives. For customers, marketing messages are merely their first experience with a given brand. Far more important in the long run is how a brand's promises are delivered upon down through every interaction.

To create a great mobile brand, it's imperative to first create great mobile service. Mobile players should borrow a mantra from one of technology's truly great brands, Siebel Systems: "good service is good business."

Here are some tips for building your service into a great mobile brand.

1. Align Permission with Capability

Brand permission is what your customers believe you can do for them. It's what they give you permission to do - Nike has developed permission from its customers to make and sell sport shoes, clothing, and accessories, for example.

Brand capability is what you're actually capable of delivering - it's what you're really good at. Good brands routinely seek permission from users that stretch the limits of their actual capabilities. That may seem counter-intuitive. You would think it would be better to under-promise and over-deliver. But positioning your permission a little ahead of your capability will keep you on your toes - you'll always be striving to do yourself one better, to live up to your users' expectations.

The trick is to align current permission against your future capability. You may not have the capability right now to enable your users to communicate with one another through live streaming video, but you will have that capability in the future. Rather than making vague promises that live, person-to-person streaming video is right around the corner build your permission gently and over time, and ramp it up as your capability to fulfill the expectation comes closer to reality. You just better make darn sure you're able to deliver in the end on whatever it is you promise.

A great wireless example is WAP. While WAP is a technology, it has been developed into a kind of generic brand, kind of like aspirin or Xerox. As a brand promise, however, WAP fell flat on its face - over promised on the technology's current capability (e.g, "the Internet in your pocket"). As a result, WAP's permission is lower than ever. Remember to take it slow, and always deliver.

2. Brand Experience = Commodity + Product + Service

Airtime is a commodity. The price of a minute of airtime will only fall as mobile connectivity becomes ubiquitous and competition for a limited number of users becomes ever more fierce. To compete - to succeed and not merely survive - it's vital to develop your commodity into a complete experience in the minds of your users. Take coffee beans. Coffee beans are a commodity as subject to market fluctuations as pork bellies, sugar, and salt. Ground roast coffee, on the other hand, is a product. Grinding the beans ads a layer of value onto the commodity. To that, add a service - the coffee shop, where the ground beans are brewed up and made into a nice, hot, aromatic cup of java. The shop transforms a commodity into a total experience. The result? Starbucks Coffee.

If you are a carrier, your base commodity is airtime. Add value to your commodity by developing it into distinct, targeted, and useful product and service offering that meets user needs, wants, and desires. Know your users and make sure you do it in a way that speaks with your unique brand voice.

3. It Goes Both Ways

Helping people make ad-hoc plans is where mobile services really shine. Say, for example, a friend calls and suggests dinner in an hour. You're out-and-about, away from home or your office computer. Your mobile Web home portal page offers a What's New service for area restaurants. With just a few clicks, you book a reservation and get directions. You phone your friend back, and arrange to meet at the new spot. If the service were one-way, like other mass media (newspapers, TV, radio), allowing you only to view area restaurants without making the reservation, it would be much less compelling.

The point is that mobility enables not just communications between individuals, but between the individual and entities and applications that make things happen. Understanding what transactions are most important to your time-strapped users is vital to the brand experience you are trying to build. Remember: While the experience is the brand, transactions are the business.

4. Desirable vs. Doable

In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed Everest. In 1969 they put a man on the moon. In exploration, it's a wonderful thing to boldly go where no one has gone before - just because there's a there to be conquered. In business, however, just because we can do a thing doesn't mean we ought to. The so-called New Economy is littered with the corpses of dot-com companies and entrepreneurs whose hubris in this regard proved to be their undoing.

The mobile Internet space is no different. Just because it's possible to buy cars through mobile phones doesn't mean people will buy them. It's a case of the desirable vs. the merely doable. It takes careful study and research to build a brand that people will want enough to pay good money to have a relationship with.

An important step in creating a mobile brand is to discover what people are using their mobile devices for, and to find out where people feel their existing mobile solutions are falling short. Technology allows us to do much more than ever before, but unless people find it useable, useful, and desirable, you might as well be bringing coals to Newcastle.

5. Assume the Position(ing)

A brand is no longer a superficial layer that spreads like a thin veneer over a company, product, or service. It's not just your logo. It's something that creates the core foundation of who you are and what you do. And it must spread like a virus to inform everything that you do - product, services strategy, communications, partner and alliance strategy, and most importantly, your corporate culture, the most undiluted expression of your brand.

Every touch point must be true to this core foundation. Will Virgin Mobile build a brand by slapping its logo onto a phone? No. Virgin (one hopes), will build brand awareness throughout its value network. Virgin will build a brand by creating a deep and rich experience for all the brand stakeholders in its network - customers, investors, employees, partners, acquisitions, and so forth. As long as Virgin carries through into the mobile space the extraordinary brand promise it has fulfilled in airlines and records, it will do just fine. If not, Virgin might as well give it up and go home right now.

6. Rise Above the Clutter

Wireless devices are a brand battlefield. You can get The Wall Street Journal through your Nokia WAP phone using BT Cellnet, for example. In such a small space there are two implications: 1) your brand will get lost in the clutter and 2) the close proximity of all of these brands can either damage or enhance your brand. To not get lost in the clutter, "own" the relationship with the user by providing an integrated and customized package focused on what users want.

To address the close proximity of brands, make sure that the each brand reinforces all the others. Otherwise, your brand becomes dilute. In the development of Vodafone/Vivendi's Vizzavi brand, for example, there was no clear and distinct brand strategy. Vizzavi was about doing multiple deals with a lot of different service providers, rather than creating a core that held the brand together and provided something meaningful. This emerging brand could have claimed thought leadership in the mobility space by aligning with other brands that share common core values, messages, and positioning. Instead what we get is a Frankenstein's monster of cross-stitched choices.

7. Leverage Mobility

Lastly, always leverage your most valuable capability - mobility itself. Your users are mobile. That's why they signed up in the first place. Mobility companies should go out of their way to keep their users as mobile as possible. If they're traveling, make it easy for them to use their devices and your services wherever they are. Technologies and standards permitting of course, users shouldn't have to swap out devices or SIM cards when they go from, say, California to Australia. If that means you have to cut deals with the "competition" that seem costly in the short term, so be it. In the long run, your brand will be stronger for it.

Tessa Graham is Chief Marketing Officer at the interactive measurement technology and market research firm, RedSherriff

Michael Mattis is a mobile solutions specialist in the San Francisco offices of Razorfish, Inc.