In years past, technology trade shows like CeBIT or its cousin in the US, CES, have been a place for the introduction of new devices. Whether it was Nokia introducing its comeback phone or Sony pushing 3D displays, computing technology and consumer electronics companies have used these shows to introduce the next big thing.
But what happens when the next big thing isn’t actually a thing but is, instead, the arrival of platforms that enable a more effective marketplace? That’s the shift that’s occurring in the world, thanks to digital disruption. Under digital disruption, companies innovate by using cheap (sometimes free) digital tools and exploiting digital platforms to change products as low-tech as the toothbrush or waterless hand soap. They also use those digital tools to alter the way they make and deliver their products and services, including things as analog as fingernail polish, something I heard about today and will blog more on in coming weeks. As a result, every company is now digital, no matter how physical their processes and outputs.
Digital disruption means that the technology companies that provide these digital tools and platforms have more opportunity than ever. Their devices and systems will be necessary in the lives of every consumer as well as every enterprise. Witness the amazing growth of Amazon Web Services as it enables businesses across the gamut with its cheap access to storage and delivery tools.
I know what you're thinking: CES is so last week already. But the lessons of CES will follow -- some would say haunt -- us all year long, so it's worth a sober summary of last week's events. To make this quick, I'll summarize this year's trade show in four sentences. I will then defeat the purpose of a four-sentence summary by explaining each sentence, but you are free to withdraw at any moment.
The Internet of Things is really an Internet of Sensors.
Your body is a wonderland.
Device makers should invest in better experiences, not better products.
After months of rumors and a good marketing orchestration, Samsung has just unveiled its new flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Samsung will first launch the HSPA+ device in Europe at the end of May to benefit from the current weaknesses of its competitors — in particular, Nokia. It will release in the US in an LTE version later this summer. The aim is clear: to take the lead from Apple’s iPhone in the high-end smartphone segment and do even better than the Galaxy S2, which sold more than 20 million units.
Samsung is positioning a wide range of products in all segments and in multiple consumer electronic categories, leveraging its scale and scope and its vertically integrated approach (screens, processors, storage components, etc.). Despite the growing dependence on the Android OS, Samsung does not have all its eggs in the same OS basket. However, it clearly needs to catch up in the software and services space. That’s the reason I continue to believe that, in the premium segment, Apple is still in the best position to offer a seamlessly integrated experience across devices. Samsung’s cloud component is still missing, and it will need to continue its efforts to close the gap with Apple.
On the contrary, Apple — still one of Samsung’s largest clients (chipsets and screens) — has few models and higher margins and is in a position to leverage a different ecosystem around its OS, apps, and iCloud models. Thanks to the phenomenal success of the iPad, the Apple brand is reinventing itself and expanding into hardware categories that represent new growth drivers from which Samsung is not yet able to benefit.
Beyond the Samsung/Apple high-end leadership war, the great news is that these new smartphones will increasingly enable consumer-facing brands to launch innovative new product experiences. Some of the new services introduced by the Galaxy S III highlight this phenomenon:
Mobile digital wallets are emerging and going beyond payment. New technologies, mixing QR codes, apps, personal financial management software, NFC, and many more, are combining to convert mobile handsets into digital wallets that combine not just payments but also receipts, vouchers, and loyalty. Beyond the convenience of using the phone for payment, consumers will benefit from post-transaction elements such as location-based coupons or enhanced product information at the point of sale (POS).
We’ve not seen a single day without a new product launch, start-up creation, or acquisition — or a new strategic alliance between banks, payment networks, Internet firms, or mobile operators.
So what’s new today? Telefonica 02 just announced the launch of O2 Wallet in the UK.
We believe that the O2 Wallet is, for now, the most comprehensive mobile payment solution in the UK – available to a majority of smartphone owners, whether they are O2 customers or not. The new product combines the following functions:
Money Message — This gives customers the ability to easily transfer money to any UK mobile phone number.
To gauge how far organizations have come with their mobile initiatives, Forrester conducted the Q4 2011 Global Mobile Maturity Online Survey among executives in charge of their companies’ mobile strategies.
Since 2010, fewer companies report not having a mobile strategy in place. Between Q3 2010 and Q4 2011, the percentage of companies we interviewed that have no mobile strategy or are at the early stage of defining one has significantly decreased, from 57% to 31%. C-level executives are increasingly in the driver’s seat, and mobile is moving away from a test-and-learn approach to fueling companies’ corporate goals. Mobile is primarily viewed as a way to improve customer engagement and satisfaction.
However, the majority of companies face organizational issues and struggle to allocate the right resources for mobile and to measure the success of their mobile consumer initiatives. The main obstacles they face are these:
■ Lack of measurable business goals clouds early success.
■ Limited investment, resources, and expertise slow progress.
■ Cross-functional and cross-geographical complexity cause inefficiency.
There are plenty of new disruptive platforms emerging from tablets, from game consoles to connected TVs, but mobile will be the primary platform for global product innovation. Only mobile phones can offer such a global reach.
To prepare for the accelerating pace of mobile disruption, product strategists should help other internal stakeholders rethink the life cycles of their mobile applications and services and drive innovation via smarter apps, richer data, and converging technologies.
Once again, I've just spent a couple of days in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC). Year after year, the show is opening up to non-telecom players and going beyond mobile. Think about the rise of personal cloud-based services delivering consumer experiences across devices, Sony's marketing efforts to promote seamless entertainment across different screens, or the emergence of the "phablets" acronym (devices in between a phone and a tablet, such as Asus Padfone or LG Vu).
While it is difficult to summarize all the news and announcements, here are some thoughts on MWC 2012:
Product strategists in various industries tend to dismiss telcos' role in service innovation, focusing instead on disruptors such as Google and Apple. It is true that new entrants and over-the-top (OTT) players have bypassed carriers, reducing their role to providing bit pipes.
Product strategists at telcos are suffering from what we are calling “bit pipe syndrome.” Didier Lombard, the former CEO of France Telecom, summed this up well when he declared back in 2007, "I am not building freeways for Californian cars."
Since then, many observers have claimed that telcos will die if they do not reinvent their business models, leveraging their networks as a service. This case is overstated: Reports of operators' deaths are exaggerated.
No doubt telcos are increasingly being commoditized to the point that they will become utilities, but there is no shame in monetizing networks — carriers' bread and butter for a few more years. Fundamental connectivity remains a valuable service — all the more if product strategists focus on gaining more pricing power and delivering more segmented offerings, either on their own or with new strategic partners.
When it comes to product innovation, operators still have key assets to leverage — particularly their billing capabilities — to become trusted partners for consumers and third parties. Some global carriers have a strong presence in emerging countries, and they will have more sway in shaping the types of content services that the world consumes.
Product strategists at operators have the assets to continue to differentiate their offerings and innovate in a disrupted telecom ecosystem. I am not saying this is not challenging and extremely difficult, but here are some approaches that could work:
As I write this blog post, somewhere in the hotel below me our Forum team is busily preparing for the opening day of our 2011 Consumer Forum. There I will take the stage as the opening keynote presenter and, although I'm going to be talking about the future, it makes me think about the past. Because in 1999 I stood on a similar stage and offered my first Forrester keynote address, entitled "Meet the Digital Consumers."
Back on that stage, with the help of Forrester's Consumer Technographics survey data, I explained how consumers -- once digitally enabled -- would forever alter the way companies serve them. It's now 12 years later, and everything I said then came true, plus some. I didn't know then about YouTube, Facebook, or Groupon. But I did know that digital consumers would want more benefits, more easily, than they received in an analog world.
Today I'll stand on the stage and introduce people to a new entity: digital disruptors. Because while disruption is not new (just as consumers have always been with us), digital disruption is more powerful than before. It allows more individuals to bring ideas to market more cheaply than ever before. Below is a sneak peek at a key slide from the presentation I'll deliver in an hour's time.
Product strategists at Mars, Incorporated are experimenting with mass customized offerings quite a bit. In addition to their build-to-order customized M&Ms offering, their subsidiary Wrigley has just rolled out MyExtra gum, which prints personalized wrappers on Extra gum packs.
Product strategists at Wrigley declined Forrester’s recent request for a research interview, but judging from the myextragum website and their press release, the offering is a really interesting example of a creatively mass customized product strategy. Why? Product strategists at Wrigley have:
Redefined the product using customization. Myextragum isn’t just gum with a customized wrapper. Instead, it’s a greeting card (Mother’s day, birthday, other holiday) or a business card (to be given to patrons) plus gum. Wrigley is moving into a non-adjacent, previously orthogonal product market in one fell swoop. That’s aggressive and creative.
Justified the higher price point. At $4.99 – though the price reduces with bulk orders – the product is pretty expensive for a pack of gum. But, again, it’s not a pack of gum – it’s a greeting card or business card that also has gum inside. This pricing makes sense when you think of the price of Hallmark cards or custom business cards.
Mass customization has been the “next big thing” in product strategy for a very long time. Theorists have been talking about it as the future of products since at least 1970, when Alvin Toffler presaged the concept. Important books from 1992 and 2000 further promoted the idea that mass customization was the future of products.
Yet for years, mass customization has disappointed. Some failures were due to execution: Levi Strauss, which sold customized jeans from 1993-2003, never offered consumers choice over a key product feature – color. In other cases, changing market conditions undermined the business model: Dell, once the most prominent practitioner of mass customization, failed spectacularly, reporting that the model had become “too complex and costly.”
Overall, the “next big thing” has remained an elusive strategy in the real world, keeping product strategists away in droves.