Spreading the Word
By Harriet S. Meyers
One of the key challenges manufacturers and operators face is to sell CDMA as the technology of choice. The message must be that it is all about making life simpler and more productive. What marketing approaches are they creating to convince their target audiences?
The acronym CDMA triggers a wide variety of reactions. Service providers may think of quality, capacity or deployment costs. To operators in developing countries, wireless local loop (WLL) may come to mind. Members of the financial community might consider growth potential. And consumers may just grab 40 winks instead.
The one thing these groups have in common is that theyre each being targeted with messages about CDMA that ultimately have the same goal to increase the deployment of CDMA in communications systems throughout the world.
At least some, if not all, of these messages must be having the desired effect: the CDMA Development Group (CDG) reports that only 18 months after the first commercial launch of a CDMA network in the United States, carriers have signed up some 7.8 million subscribers worldwide, 1.5 million of whom are located in North America.
The marketing of CDMA officially began when 17 companies involved in developing the products and services necessary to bring the technology to market formed the CDG. While initiating liaisons with other industry organizations, the CDG emphasized the importance of defining a consistent set of technical requirements and developing a set of open standards.
"As we travelled around the world, we saw confusion as to what CDMA was all about. We realized that we needed a common designator," explains Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDG.
"We also wanted a common name which would make it clear that you could roam from one system to another if these systems utilized cdmaOne. That is especially important in areas like Europe, where people frequently travel from one country to another."
Another factor in the decision to create a brand name was the roll-out of WLL applications. "We want to be sure these applications are based on the same standard," says LaForge.
"In addition, as we address advanced systems issues we need to make sure there is no confusing cdmaOne with other proprietary approaches."
"Initially, the brand is most useful to the manufacturers," he adds. "A common brand name also helps explain our technology in the press. Ultimately, I think the brand is powerful enough to be used by the operators with the end user."
"Branding CDMA was a conscious decision to create a sense of community around the technology," says Crispin Vicars, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. "It creates a sense of purpose and shows that the technology can fulfill multiple operator needs. The CDG has done a pretty good job of focusing on the overall technology and on its development in the future." Branding, according to LaForge, is just one small piece of the CDGs plan to penetrate the marketplace. "We want to make sure we help the market evolve in developing areas such as Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, and we want to be at the forefront of the WLL explosion."
In order to meet these objectives, the CDG will host
delegations from other countries and have operators who have successfully
deployed CDMA share their experience. They will conduct trials and give
other operators hands-on experience, provide answers to questions and
concerns, sponsor additional formal conferences, and plan to open a CDG
office in Asia later this year.
Lucent Technologies, in a release about its plans to build a digital wireless network using CDMA technology in Mexico declares, "CDMA offers increased call capacity, as compared to analog cellular, and maximizes network efficiency."
Motorola, on announcing its contract to supply WLL service in Kuwait, said that CDMA is "easily integrated into the landline network and deployed within weeks of equipment delivery, far more quickly than traditional landline installations".
In a December 1997 press release, Qualcomm also offered the "worlds smallest CDMA base stations". And in its announcement on an agreement with the Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority, the company talked about the advantage that CDMA technology "will reliably keep communications open during monsoon season".
"I think the branding is very important for the
investment community," says the Yankee Groups Vicars. "It
shows them that the technology is a viable player globally and that there
is a cohesive community supporting it."
"One of GTEs goals for customer care is to
be an easy company to do business with," explains Susan Asher, manager
of media relations for GTE Wireless. "This doesnt mean we should
throw acronyms at our customers. Yes, we want to explain the technology
on an application basis. Were explaining to customers what digital
means to them. But customers dont necessarily want the burden of
knowing what the acronym means.
Tom Murphy at Sprint PCS says: "Were definitely not trying to familiarize consumers with the CDMA-specific name. Were communicating the attributes of the technology simplicity, clarity and voice quality but we want these attributes to be associated with our own brand name."
Bell Atlantic Mobile has chosen to advertise its digital service under the brand name DigitalChoice. "We may use CDMA when we announce new service in the trade press," says Nancy Stark, spokesperson for Bell Atlantic Mobile. "With consumers, we focus on our brand name and the features such as our footprint, clarity, battery life and the handset."
As time goes on and more consumers use wireless services,
will interest in the technology increase and marketing messages change?
"When we decided to brand CDMA, we had no illusions that operators would necessarily publicize the brand name to their customer base," says LaForge. "I do maintain, however, that as competition heats up between operators we will see them crystallize the roundabout terms they use today and talk more about the specific technology and its advantages."
"While its true that good marketing is simply finding what customers want and giving it to them, we still need to give it to them in terms they understand."