Brands becoming more important than specs in mobile

MWC: Mobile companies are looking to forge more partnerships with brands to help make their marketing messages about technology more consumer-centric in the hope of boosting revenue as handsets and phone contracts become increasingly commoditised.


Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year hosted several non-traditional mobile companies, such as Ford, Unilever, InterContinental Hotels Group and the BBC, who were present at the event among the countless handset makers and operators exhibiting and speaking.

Several lucrative partnerships were announced at the show – Nokia with 3D printing company MakerBot and Ford and Spotify partnered to launch in-car music app, for example, as the mobile industry shifts its business model from being calls and messaging centric to focus on the mobile internet. A report from PwC and the GSMA, which organises the event, said mobile operator data revenues will overtake voice globally by 2013.

It is not just the headlines that are changing, but also the conversations the mobile industry is having with brands. There is a realisation they are “not the big boys any more” because of the availability of handsets and mobile access at low price points, according to the Mobile Marketing Association’s CMO Paul Berney.

Berney adds: “Brands are dictating the conversations because consumers are [increasing their use of] mobile and we’re beginning to see the mobile industry talk the language of marketers, although there is still that element of Brits abroad from some who don’t bother to learn the language.”

BlackBerry is one of the companies attempting to move away from communicating about product specifications and instead majoring on what its technologies achieve for consumers and partner brands, evident in the campaign for the recently launched BB10 operating system.

Rory O’Neill, BlackBerry vice president of product and channel marketing, said: “People get blinded by technology. For us it’s about what that does for you. [Gimmicks in technology communications] are bordering on the irrelevant.”

Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, said on the conference stage that from a brand point of view, partnerships with mobile companies gives more time for its brands to focus on the consumer and together they can “unlock the magic” of their brands.

Weed said: “I’m only interested in good value for our dollars and to build brands. Unless I can get ROI I’m not at all interested. The important thing is to set up the expectations up front and make it clear with whoever you work with that you need to measure the expectations from the start… it’s the big data behind mobile that makes it exciting… and you have to design the measurement for the task.”

A selection of the mobile/brand tie-ups announced at the show

  • Ford and Spotify partner to launch in-car music app, which syncs with users’ smartphones.
  • Visa and Samsung forge global NFC alliance for contactless payments
  • Mozilla launches smartphone OS with support from four handset makers and 18 operators
  • Nokia partners 3D printing company MakerBot
  • MasterCard introduces MasterPass mobile payments with launch partners such as Argos, Boots and American Airlines


Lara O'Reilly

With the vast amount of companies who would consider themselves mobile brands in some form, it is a wonder whether it is even worth splitting out “mobile” into a separate vertical at all. It’s within almost everything and some brands – such as Burberry and Coca-Cola – have even got one step further by declaring themselves “mobile first”.

More than 6 billion people across the world walk around with a phone in their pocket every day and the balance of mobile power is shifting, not just away from the handset manufacturers and operators but to the consumers themselves who are using their handsets in ways their designers and networks never imagined.

And those consumers don’t think of their mobiles as a summation of a 2GHz processor, seven inch screen and four mega pixel camera – they see them as the beepy swipey things that let them call their mum on Sundays and bring up a map when they’re lost trying to buy her a belated birthday present.

Marketing to those consumers is already shifting to become more solution centric so it follows that the mobile industry’s conversations with brands should also move away from boasting about having the best specs to what problems their technology solves if they are to secure much-needed partnerships and investment.

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