Have you noticed how many brands engulf our everyday lives ? There is a brand for every walk of life, every aspiration, every type of physical good, every action and almost every notion. From Wagner to Madonna, from Habitat to Marks & Spensers, from El Greco to Picasso, from Casio to Tag Heuer, from Athlete’s Foot to Gucci, from Ryanair to Singapore Airlines, from Accessorize to Shiseido, from Skoda to Porsche, from EasyMobile to Vodafone, from BenQ to Vertu, from Manchester United to Tiger Woods, from the Simpsons to Sarah Jessica Parker, from Socrates to Harry Potter, from Cirrus to Visa, from JVC to Bang & Olufsen, from Seven Eleven to Waitrose, from the Sun to the Financial Times.
Brands convey a personality, a style, a predisposition, a mood. Brand marketing and positioning has become so sophisticated that there is literally hardly anything that we wear, do, think or dream that we cannot associate with a brand.
The reverse is also true.
The brand vector
Each one of us owns, loves, aspires or hates certain brands. One might conjecture that our possessions, actions, aspirations and counter-aspirations can be described sufficiently fully as a set of brands. For example I may like to fly Lufthansa, wear Boss, drive an Alpha Romeo, watch the Discovery Channel, shop from Sainsbury’s, read the Harvard Business Review, drink Tropicana and eat at TGI Fridays.
Taking this notion to the extreme, the personality of each citizen of the industrialised, globalised, marketed-to-death western world can be described as a set of brands. And given that each type of activity or aspiration in our lives is catered for by a spectrum of brands (see list of brand ranges above as an example), then each personality can be described as a brand vector.
This is a powerful notion both for marketers and for consumers.
As a marketer, being able to accurately measure the brand vector of consumers is the ticket to the nirvana of 1-1 marketing. For consumers, it’s a scary notion. I ‘m not a number, and even if I subscribe to Archimede’s school of thought (where everyone and everything in the universe is associated a unique number), then I don’t want anyone to know this number. That would utterly devalue my very own sense of uniqueness and privacy.
It is unfortunately an inescapable consequence of our over-marketed consumerist societies that brand vectors will be eventually used to measure, describe and sell to consumers.
So what does this have to do with mobile ?
The mobile handset: the new frontier of personalisation
Mobile handsets are as personal, indispensable and inseparable to us as our clothes and our wallet. Yet have you noticed how handsets are the least personalised items that we carry on us day by day?. How many endless combinations of clothes and accessories can one choose from ? Probably in the seven, eight, nine, or even ten digit number range. Yet how many handset models are there in circulation ? Roughly 3000. And they all look the same (ok, almost the same if you exclude the Razr, the SonyEricsson Walkmans and a few other bright exceptions). There are accessories and faceplates, especially popular in ultra-developed markets like Japan, but still, the handset branding or personalisation is often superficial, i.e. it does not permeate into the handset materials or user interface.
However this is changing. We are entering the new era of handset personalisation.
The handset as the expression of brand
Once upon a time there were the mobile operators who provided the voice and data network. And then there was rebranding, and Orange showed that the future’s bright. And then there were walled gardens. And then there were independent retailers and off-deck portals. And then there were brands who discovered that the mobile handset was the third screen. And then brands discovered that the operators could not attract consumers with their one-size-fits-all brand. And then brands conquered the mobile handset and the mobile services and reduced operators to voice and brand pipes.
This is probably how history books will describe the first 25 years of mobile history. The important point here is that we are now at the point in time where the evolution of brand ambitions and marketing plans is intersecting with the evolution of mobile services and mobile handsets. From Crazy Frog ringtones, and Madonna video clips, to complete new experiences such as the Firefly handset for 6-12 year old kids and the ESPN handset for sports enthusiasts.
Mobile is becoming the medium through which every brand can reach the consumer, here and now. Looking at the Vertu, Xelibri, Firefly and Vodafone Simply handsets, we are witnessing the emergence of the truly customised handset. Not just your ordinary, vanilla grey clamshell with a couple of downloaded ringtones, but a true and full expression of brand personality through tailored plastics, materials and user interface.
Think of the sleek shiny metal, elongated surface of a would-be Jaguar handset or the furry, huggable rounded surface of a Furby handset. Companies like e-SIM, Digital Airways and MSX are making possible completely branded user experiences for mass-market handsets. Companies like SkinIT are also moving aggressively to brand your handset cover with every different brand out there, from University clubs to Pop Stars, even design-your-own-cover-and-have-it-delivered-at-your-doorstep-in-ten-days handset cover. In 10 years every handset will be totally personalised, from the splash screen to the materials and the battery.
Back to the brand vector theory.
As the mobile handset becomes the receptacle of multiple brand expressions, and is always within the possession of the consumer, so it becomes the perfect tool to measure the brand vector of its user. Again a scary thought from a consumer perspective, but the aggregator or service provider who will be able to channel or measure the consumption of these brand expressions across users, handsets and regions will hold enviable value and power.
It’s all about the brand
In summary, the brand is slowly becoming the A to Z of the mobile user experience. From handset covers, to specialised materials, to a complete branded user interface. In parallel, the handset will eventually become the vehicle for measuring brand vectors, for understanding consumer behaviour, marketing and cross-marketing of every and any good.
History is being written.