The Real Customer

I enjoyed reading Steve Johnson’s post on who the real customer is over on his Product Marketing blog. I’m not sure if Steve has a Telco background or not, but his comment regarding the person who uses your device being your customer, is spot on for this industry. The¬† manufacturers who maintain direct contact with their end users tend to be the most successful. There are some who attempt to make their living catering to operator (distributor) wishes like LG and ZTE, but none ever seem to really garner significant mindshare.

Let’s review those that do.

Apple

I think we all know this story already. They are the poster child for making operators look like “dumb pipes”. Having completely flanked operators with their retail stores, music and app business, and line of personal devices, they’ve been able over the years to develop strong ties with their consumers. Globally, they’ve never been market share leaders, but those they served were passionate users. Their message rarely has been distorted by middle-men. What is the result? Operators bending over backwards to access that user base, breaking their internal rules and giving up revenue streams.

RIM/Blackberry

For years has been the de-facto choice for business users, offering services that other manufacturers either avoided or refused to compete on. So while they are struggling now, they built their success around “Crackberry” addicts. Operators couldn’t help but stock their products for fear of user revolts at their enterprise accounts. Even in the midst of their current troubles, the press and consumers still follow them without fail.

Google/Android

Obviously this story has not finished, but they do seem to be gaining traction at a rapid pace. Whether they continue to do that is still up for debate, however, their recent success is built once again on having a dedicated user base dependent on services that were not developed on the operator level. A “semi-open”approach¬† versus the walled gardens that operators are famous for have served them well recently.

Nokia

I hesitate to put them here due to their recent issues with delivering a compelling smartphone. However, they still command close to 40% of the global market. And in markets with less operator control, Nokia is still the standard. Their broad portfolio, targeted to multiple income levels and consumer segments, still has them as a force to be recognized. While not obvious in the US, there are still Nokia fanatics in plenty of other countries.

Manufacturer success is never guaranteed, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that devotion to end-users will be any less successful in the future. It’s sad to think how many operators consider themselves the most important person in the value chain. Obviously they have their own roadmaps to manage, but more often than not, it appears as though they forget who they actually while frustrating their manufacturing partners in the process.

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