The Facebook/WhatsApp Deal Is Bad News For Telcos

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp shows that the market for messaging is far from dead. But it’s just gotten worse for the telcos. We’ve already discussed the underlying reasons in a report — but the fact that Facebook put $19 billion on the table, of which $4 billion is in cash, for a global messaging service with 55 staff should scare telcos, with their millions of employees and high-cost structures. Over-the-top communications tools like WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat, and Viber (which itself was bought a few days ago by Rakuten) have pushed telcos further and further away from any meaningful customer engagement.

To be sure, WhatsApp is about much more than instant messaging; it’s about content sharing — which is an emotional activity. Such emotional activities are critical to closer customer engagement. As the online giants use ever more granular user analytics to cement their position as marketing powerhouses, telcos’ hopes of developing new revenue streams from analyzing user behavior are slipping away faster and faster. This is what makes the deal so dangerous.

Of course, it’s tough to justify the deal simply on the basis of WhatsApp’s revenue model of $1 annual subscriptions. In my view, the deal is really about:

  • Bringing a major competitor into your family. Otherwise, someone else could have lured WhatsApp into theirs. The deal, which accounts for about 10% of Facebook’s market capitalization, could be seen therefore as an insurance cover.
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1990s Digital Brands Outrank Social Media Brands In Forrester's TRUE Brand Rankings

Despite a recent lackluster earnings call, there’s a bright spot on the horizon for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Forrester’s latest TRUE brand compass research shows a reservoir of consumer goodwill for the struggling brand. 

In August 2013, Forrester conducted Consumer Technographics® research with 4,551 US online adults to uncover the drivers of a successful 21st-century media brand. This research is part of Forrester’s TRUE brand compass framework, designed to identify which brands are winning the battle for consumer mindshare and to help marketers build a brand that is trusted, remarkable, unmistakable, and essential (TRUE). This framework has two core components: 1) An overall TRUE brand compass ranking gives a snapshot of a brand’s resonance — the emotional connection a customer has with a brand, and 2) the TRUE brand compass scorecard reveals a brand’s progress along each of the four TRUE dimensions.  

The results showed a tale of two digital media eras and the importance of brand building in the digital world:

  • 1990s digital media brands reap the rewards of brand building investment. Established digital media brands from the late 1990s recognized the importance of building their brands with consumers. Yahoo was a TV ad mainstay for many years — “Do you Yahoo!” anyone? This early investment continues to pay off as, despite corporate turmoil, the Yahoo brand retains a reservoir of brand resonance with consumers. And the mighty Google, which was the only media brand surveyed to achieve trailblazer status, continues to invest in TV brand building ads.  
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