Product Strategists At Telcos Shouldn't Obsess About "Bit Pipe Syndrome"

Thomas Husson

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:

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Join Our Global Mobile Survey And Get Free Aggregated Results

Thomas Husson

A year ago, Forrester fielded our Q3 2010 Global Mobile Maturity Online Survey. We interviewed more than 200 executives in charge of their companies’ mobile strategies around the globe (40% in the US, 40% in Europe, and 20% in the rest of the world). You can see the results from last year’s survey here.

To help consumer product strategists and executives benchmark and mature their mobile consumer strategies, we’re updating this survey.

Planning and organizing for the use of mobile technologies is a complex task. Some players are laggards and think they still need to get the basics of their online presence right, while others are clearly ahead of the curve. Yet two questions we consistently hear are: “Where is my organization compared with others in the use of mobile?” and “How can we mature our mobile consumer approach?”

Here’s how you can help:

If you’re in charge of your company's mobile consumer initiative or if you’re familiar with it, then please take this survey.

Click here to start the questionnaire. 

If you’re not familiar with your company’s mobile consumer approach, please forward this survey to the relevant colleagues who are in charge of defining or implementing your mobile consumer approach. 

  • The survey takes less than 20 minutes to complete.
  • The survey will be live until December 7.
  • Responses will be kept strictly confidential and published only in an aggregated and anonymous manner.
  • For your efforts, we will share a free copy of the survey results.
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Benchmark Your Interactive Marketing Maturity

Shar VanBoskirk


Live today is Forrester’s new free benchmarking tool that can help you compare your company’s interactive marketing budget and organization against your peers’. Simply answer a few questions and our tool will compare your answers with similarly sized companies against five metrics:

  1. The size of your interactive marketing budget
  2. The share of your advertising budget dedicated to interactive marketing
  3. The percent of your interactive budget earmarked for emerging media
  4. The size of your interactive team
  5. The number of agencies you work with for interactive support compared with other companies of your size
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It's Time To Start Thinking About Social Media Training

Melissa Parrish

Over the past several months, I’ve been hearing a lot of clients say they’re ready for the next step in social media. Many marketers —probably most of you reading this post — have already established your initial social footprints and are ready to move on to the next phase of social media maturity. But as my colleague Sean Corcoran’s social maturity curve shows, the further along you move, the more people you need to involve to keep your social trains running — and that introduces more risk.

One of the most important ways marketers are avoiding problems as more colleagues start participating in social programs is to spearhead training programs in their companies.  My latest research explores the spectrum of these training programs, which ranges from casual all the way through formal certification. 

You can see from this chart that training programs are developed across four dimensions: content, delivery, participants, and measurement. The programs don’t always fall firmly and neatly into one level of difficulty across all these segments. Rather, training evolves as the company’s commitment to social media evolves, moving through formats till formalization is achieved. Usually:

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Apple’s Product Strategists Maintain The Company’s Premium Positioning In The Mainstreaming Smartphone Battle

Thomas Husson

My colleague Charlie Golvin and I took the time to step back from the flow of news following Apple’s announcement today. Here below is our take from a consumer product strategy perspective.

Apple’s product strategists face an ongoing paradox: maintaining premium leadership with an annual product renewal while tapping the rapidly mainstreaming global smartphone market

Today, Apple’s product strategists revealed their newest premium smartphone: the iPhone 4S. Just like the 3GS at its introduction, the 4S relies on a leap in processing power and a new interaction paradigm but eschews technology upgrades upon which product strategists building Android-based devices rely today, such as LTE and behemoth screens.

Apple’s new iPhone lineup provides a complete portfolio of products, from the premium 4S in memory configurations up to 64 GB, to the 8 GB iPhone 4 which will allow all of Apple’s carrier customers (including new partners Sprint and KDDI in Japan) to offer a mid-tier iPhone. Apple’s product strategists have opted to add an entry-level option for its GSM-based carrier partners by maintaining the 8 GB iPhone 3GS.

With the iPhone 4S, have Apple’s product strategists designed a product that will maintain Apple’s leadership in the high-end smartphone battle? Forrester believes so — even though Apple chose not to include features that its competitors use to command a premium position, including:

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How Marketing Mix Modeling Is Adapting To New Technologies And A Heightened Demand For Marketing Accountability

Luca Paderni

Marketing mix modeling solutions have been around for quite some time, providing marketers in several key categories with complex statistical models that aim to find the correlation between past marketing activities and business outcomes, like sales or market share.

However this space has recently seen significant changes, due to a few specific dynamics:

  • The proliferation of digital and social media with increasing importance in the marketing mix.
  • Marketers' increased demand for tools that are not only able to deliver insights on past campaigns but also able to give forward-looking recommendations on how to improve marketing return on investment (ROI) in the future.
  • The rising role that sophisticated software plays in integrating the ever-growing number of data streams and in enabling complex analysis to be navigated and customized via powerful graphic user interfaces.

To help navigate this complex and highly relevant space for senior marketers, our research team has published the first Forrester Wave™ for vendors in the marketing mix modeling space. We screened more than 30 vendors, shortlisted six that we consider to be the key players in this very fragmented market, and ranked them according to more than 40 different criteria. The evaluation uncovered a market in which:

  • MarketShare, Marketing Management Analytics, and ThinkVine lead the pack.
  • SymphonyIRI is a Leader but lacks collaborative functionalitites.
  • Marketing Analytics and Ninah are competitive Strong Performers.
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The Global Mainstreaming Of Smartphones

Thomas Husson

Thanks to the phenomenal popularity of Apple’s iPhone and Android’s growing traction — more than 550,000 Android devices are activated each day — many product strategists tend to assume that smartphones are a mass-market phenomenon.

The reality is that in a global population with more than 5 billion subscriptions, smartphones are still niche. However, in the US and some European countries, smartphone penetration is racing past 25%; smartphones are going mainstream, albeit at a varying pace across the globe.

Consumer product strategists should anticipate the consequences of moving from a smartphone target audience of early adopters to one that is more mainstream.

When targeting the second wave of smartphone users, we believe strategists should: 

  • Design specific mobile products by better understanding new smartphone owners. New segments of smartphone owners will emerge, with a much more diverse profile than the first wave of smartphone early adopters. One way to obtain more detailed information about these consumers is to use the basic connectivity of the smartphone to establish the beginnings of a digital customer relationship. The promise of ongoing product upgrades is one incentive that may convince these new customers to share their information, but free content such as an application is more likely to win their confidence.
  • Carefully monitor new smartphone owners’ usage. There is always a huge gap between the features available on a smartphone and the actual use of these features. It is critical to constantly analyze how smartphone users are using their devices; this will allow strategists to optimize the road maps not only for new devices but also for those products and services to be delivered to the second wave of smartphone users. 
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CMO Best Practices For Hiring And Retaining Digital Talent

Shar VanBoskirk

I’m currently working on a report around how to hire and retain good digital talent. So the CMO panel featuring Brian Lauber of OneAmerica, Jared Blank of Tommy Hilfiger, and Chris Krohn of that addressed hiring and staffing was music to my ears.  A few takeaways on how to nurture your digital employees:

 *Create an emotional connection between employees and your brand. This helps to brand your company externally. OneAmerica CMO Brian Lauber finds that “Your employees are your best branding.  He tells every single employee that they are the brand. “I tell them to look like it, act like it, talk like it.” Every day. In everything they do.

 *Don’t rely on HR to do everything alone. Creating a strong digital organization isn’t just about having good recruiters. It’s about creating a culture that employees feel part of and proud of. And this lands on managers to create. Chris Krohn of says his role has two primary components: 1) Make sure the marketing strategy is clear; 2) Make sure we have the right people doing the right things. 

*Create benefits beyond financial compensation. Tommy Hilfiger employees get discounts off of clothes. And buyers of media and of clothes get 10% of their regular budgets to play with. “We want people who are passionate about clothes.  And about our clothes. So we give them a reason to buy our things for themselves.  And we make them accountable for 90% of their budget.  The other 10% they can spend on whatever they think is cool.”

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Best Buy CTO Shares How Marketing And IT Should Collaborate

Shar VanBoskirk

I’m co-presenting next week at Forrester’s first-ever CIO/CMO Forum with my colleague Craig Symons, a VP and Principal Analyst from Forrester’s IT client group.  We’re hosting a discussion around how to budget for marketing technology purchases. So it was perfect to hear Robert Stephens, the CTO of Best Buy, talk at the Exact Target Connections Conference about the role he plays in Best Buy’s marketing innovations. Stephens is the technology mastermind behind all of Best Buy’s industry-leading efforts like Twelpforce — its Twitter-based customer service organization.  Here are a few sound bites from Stephens’ presentation: 

“My job is to transform trends into reality for us.”  Stephens talked about his close relationship with Barry Judge, Best Buy’s CMO.  They meet regularly to swap ideas and co-support innovations. And Stephens doesn’t view any imbalance in the “power” either of them has over Best Buy decisions.  He’s actually come up with his own share of “marketing” ideas; for example, he came up with the Geek Squad in his lean college years. In his words, “When you don’t have any money, everything is marketing.”  I think this perspective makes sense even when firms *do* have money. What if every employee — including IT ones — thought about all of their moves as marketing ones?  That is ways to create a product, culture, and experience that promotes your firm above all others. 

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Making Connections Through Exact Target

Shar VanBoskirk

I just spent the first part of the week at the Exact Target Connections Event. What a top-notch conference. 

  • 3,000 attendees
  • Assiduous attention to detail
  • Inspiring and fun speakers including a presentation from Aron Ralston whose survival story was retold in the movie 127 Hours
  • And terrific industry content – I’ll post the lessons I learned at the event in my next few posts. 
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