The Power of Three: When Technology, Business, and Marketing Converge - Part I
By Douglas Rushkoff, Mon Feb 23 12:45:00 GMT 2004

The new generation of high-speed content delivery technologies marks a turning point for the mobile industry. It's finally time to abandon the notion that you are just cell phone companies or wireless access providers, and come to grips with the fact that you are selling, or at least supporting, an entirely new set of digital lifestyles.


No matter how established a presence you already are in the wireless phone industry, this is the moment to make some tough choices about just what kind of media services company you want to be, who you aim to serve, and how you propose to do it. And you simply must do all three of these things at the same time and with the same strategy in mind.

Congruence

Congruence is the keyword. Companies who succeed in the convergent media marketplace will be the ones who learn align their technology with their business plans with their marketing, and who do it from the get-go. For once the interactive wireless space ramps up, it will be nearly impossible to re-establish your company significantly differently than you've already positioned it.

As I see it, you'll have to choose between two main options, and then bet hard in whichever direction you choose. Like the internet did in the mid-nineties, the wireless space will likely bifurcate into two camps of users: people who see themselves as hackers and those who see themselves as consumers. Who will ultimately dominate the space?

Early Lessons

Hackers are generally early adopters, so it's easy to mistake them for the entire population to come; less technologically sophisticated consumers are sure to follow. The early internet's high barriers to entry, such as the line-command interface of FTP and USENET, kept its population limited to the kinds of people who wanted to program for themselves. Then, Steve Case came along with strategy dedicated to the person with little or no tech savvy. Conventional wisdom held that America Online was a silly idea, because "those kinds of people" aren't cut out for the internet, anyway.

And this wisdom proved quite wrong - at least for a time. AOL's subscription logs ballooned with new members anxious for easy access to the intimidating online universe. Of course, as even grandma became comfortable with the user-friendly World Wide Web, AOL lost ground, and is now fighting for its very survival.

Still, the Internet seems to be made up of both those who prefer a prepackaged system and set of services, like Windows and MSN, and those who prefer a more do-it-yourself experience, such as Linux or a Unix-based Mac and open standards. And these communities look like they'll be around for a long time to come.

The Wireless Divide

The wireless space is about to reveal the same sort of cultural divide, but it may play out a bit differently - and much more rapidly - than it did for AOL and its competitors.

The wireless equivalent of the hacker - let's call her the tinkerer - will think of her phone as if it were a tiny, programmable computer. She'll want to be able to use her favorite email program, whether or not it was provided by her cell phone company. She'll insist on open standards, and the ability to download software, ring tones, and content from the entire universe of data types that are compatible with her phone (and that better be most of them). She'll even sacrifice a certain amount of safety and service in order to maintain this level of control, nonconformity, and personalization.

The wireless 'do-it-for-me,' on the other hand, wants you to predict what he needs, and get it all onto his phone without him ever asking for it. Sure, he'll hit a button when he's told to in order to download the latest upgrade to his suite of media services, but he wants the whole package at once. If it's got to be configured, he'd rather do it on the Web, where he can see what's going on. And only one time - when he's still enthusiastic enough about his new phone to bother spending time and energy on it. Besides, he'll expect to be able to access services that already have his personalized information on record, such as his brokerage house or Yahoo date book. He feels he's already entered his information "out there" and that you should be able to find it for him - with his permission, of course.

Wireless companies are going to have to decide which of the two kinds of consumers they hope to go after, and then develop their technologies, business plans, and marketing accordingly.

I'll cover that in part two, tomorrow.