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Mind Share
December 2004

Marc Robins

Pet Peeves


For better or for worse, I’ve decided to stop biting my tongue (something no self-respecting columnist should do). Two things have been irking me; pet peeves that seem to come up at every conference or gathering of industry folk, and it’s time for me to vent.

Pet Peeve #1: Waiting for the Next Killer App
Perhaps because many of us are simply too close to the technology, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Could be too many of us are just jaded by the daily “deep dive” into the lowest levels of the systems and services that are marketed and sold that we take for granted what we already have and can’t see what’s right in front of our faces.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say from a podium, a conference lunch table, or in passing things like “The industry will really start taking off once the next killer app is developed.” Or, “We don’t know what the next killer app is, but it’s sure to be something we can’t even dream of right now.”

My advice to anyone caught saying or even thinking such thoughts is to rediscover the cool factor that first attracted you to the technology — to find the “Wow” all over again. One way to do this is to venture out of the confines of whatever industry insider group you are part of and get out and talk to the “lay people” — actual users of or prospects for IP telephony products and services — and find out what gets them excited. You may find that a killer app is a lot closer than you think.
For example, take the bevy of new broadband telephony services on the market.

Most of these services provide features and functions that are difficult if not impossible to get on circuit-switched networks. For many of the people I talk to, the things that ring their bells are applications and features that make them smile from their sheer coolness.

Things like virtual second (and third, fourth, and fifth) phone numbers; Web access and control of features, like conference calling, find-me-follow-me, etc.; and “number portability,” the ability to take their phone numbers (and full complement of enhanced services) with them while they travel by plugging the VoIP adapters into broadband connections in hotel rooms, friend’s houses, etc. For these happy subscribers, each of these capabilities is a true killer app.

Pet Peeve #2: Competing on Price Instead of on Value
This brings me to my next pet peeve, which is in many ways related to the first. During the recent VON event, I was invited to a reception hosted by Level 3 (news - alert). At the reception, during a “fireside chat” between Level 3 CEO Jim Crowe and VON founder Jeff Pulver, the latter braved a question that should be on everyone’s mind: “Given the relentless price wars and pressure to undercut the competition, haven’t we created the ultimate ‘zero sum’ game?” I’ll take it a bit further: In the broadband telephony arena, with all marketing seemingly focused exclusively on price — and throwing everything possible into the flat fee service “bucket” — isn’t the industry just backing itself into a corner that will ultimately be impossible to move out from?

If there are indeed killer apps — features and functions that subscribers find of immense value in their daily lives — then why is the industry following such a dead-end strategy? Many marketers explain it away by saying: “We don’t know what people are willing to pay extra for right now.”

For those of you around long enough to remember the early days of the answering machine, you may recall how perversely negative the reactions were from early users. Initially, there was enormous resistance from people who categorically did not want a machine to answer their phone calls! How foolish that position seems today! In order to educate businesses about the advantages of voice mail, years of intense missionary selling was necessary to educate the market about the imperfections inherent with real-time telephone communications — and how the technology vastly improved phone-based communications. Today, I challenge you to find a business that doesn’t use a voice mail system.

Waiting for the market to tell you what it wants, and what it is willing to pay for, is a strategy that will ultimately fail. Only by continuously educating the marketplace and drilling into people’s minds the advantages of all the cool “killer” apps at our disposal will the industry succeed in getting its fair share.

Marc Robins has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a researcher and analyst, author and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 23 years. Marc served for five years as vice president of publications and trade shows and group editorial director at TMC. Robins Consulting Group offers an array of professional services to the IP telephony industry. Contact RCG at 718-548-7245 or [email protected].

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