The War for the Consumer

There is a war going on – a war for the consumer’s loyalty and mindshare. The communication and messaging industry is growing rapidly, with the increase in communication options, the deluge of data, and the expectation to be always on and always connected.

The industry today is increasingly more fragmented and is exploding with new players, from Over The Top (OTT) companies to cloud providers, who are competing with the traditional telecommunications and cable/MSO market. All of these companies are entering the war for the consumer, inventing new solutions, and finding new ways to attract the highly-valued customer. As the war expands, each player has something to lose and something to gain. While battles will be won and lost along the way, the ultimate winner of the war could – surprisingly – be none of the above.

Staying relevant 
The messaging arms race for the consumer is a fight to stay relevant in such a dynamic industry. Service providers need to find ways to better connect with their consumers and remain relevant. Faced with the consumers themselves going elsewhere for newer and more innovative solutions, they must seek to add greater value to their own core services and strive to make them sticky by seamlessly integrating them into their customers’ lives. Without these sticky services, service providers are at risk of becoming nothing more than a pipe with a client-billing relationship.

Service providers need ways to offer their core services, while augmenting their offerings with cooler, more relevant ones.  Meanwhile, new players vying for consumer mindshare and ultimately loyalty, such as the OTT and cloud companies, need to present innovative options to attract users to their solutions.

Without eyeballs on their system and no way to monetize their current offerings, OTT companies cannot reap the rewards of obtaining new messaging customers. And while cloud computing is the current hot new technology, cloud companies that cannot develop rich front-end communication solutions may wind up fighting to avoid becoming obsolete.

Cloud-data storage is a great service today, but could quickly become commoditized and lose relevance without the tight integration of communication to provide for the easy ability to share, communicate, and receive data.  Each player in this war is working on delivering innovative solutions that will help customers have a full communication experience and set them apart from the rest.
The world is more connected than ever before, and with so many possibilities for messaging and communications services, the companies that are able to marry those solutions with their existing services will have a significant advantage. The key to winning over consumer mindshare is about more than pioneering integration. It is about the company’s deeply embedded relationship with the customer, built up through trust, reliability, flexibility, and agility.

Trust, reliability and agility

One of the most important aspects of the consumer-vendor relationship is trust. With messaging solutions, consumers share their data, their documents, their contacts, and in many respects their personal lives, and must trust that all of it is safe and secure.

Some systems read customer email and store data about it internally; others are governed by different rules, regulations, and moral ethic drivers that give them free reign over the data that passes through their systems. Quality service providers, unlike other entrants who may be relative unknowns, are known entities that consumers can trust with their communications needs.

Think about that next, great, instant communication solution: where are their databases located? How secure are they? Who maintains the information? And what are they doing with the data? These are questions users should and do ask; established service providers, however, have earned trust through a long history with the consumer.

In addition, an often overlooked, but extremely important part of communication is reliability. When people communicate, the most basic need and requirement is that the communication succeeds.

To give a personal anecdote, I recently got myself into a large misunderstanding, and at least a little trouble, because the messages I was sending were not being received (although they showed as sent on my device). Needless to say, I had some explaining to do. When texts don’t go through, calls get dropped, or emails and messages vanish into the ether, communication fails, and the implicit pact between the provider and the consumer is called into question.

Given how critical communication is today and given how many people around the world lose time, money, and value if there is a delay or drop in transmission, the need for true dial-tone quality services has never been greater. Service providers have an edge here because of their history of reliability and dial-tone quality compared to other players that often never escape beta mode.

The final piece of the puzzle is agility. The messaging industry is constantly changing, with new trends and new players every day. Here, new players may have the upper hand, as they typically have an improved ability to make changes quickly, deliver new integrations, and engage their users with virally spread solutions. The “there’s an app for that” world has trained consumers to quickly apply published updates, which allows these companies to rapidly innovate and course-correct as required.

Agility in the solution, however, must also factor in the ability to continue to be relevant in the changing world. Companies that built hard-coded integrations to MySpace found themselves very surprised, and suddenly irrelevant, when the world shifted “on a dime” from MySpace to Facebook. With the barrier to entry incredibly low in today’s downloaded-app world, and the almost daily rise of new entrants, can anyone really predict what social systems will have the staying power to remain relevant over the next 10 years? If it happened that quickly to MySpace, what prevents it from happening to today’s high flyers? 

The secret is having agility and flexibility in the messaging and communication system itself, enabling easy and seamless integration with tomorrow’s new cool application, and allowing the system provider to offer future-proof services to maintain relevance in an ever-changing world.

So with all these players vying to win over customers with new, innovative, and value-add solutions at a rapid pace, who will and who should ultimately benefit from this war for the consumer mindshare? The answer is simple: the consumer.

The competition to have the most trustworthy, most reliable, and most innovative products is an arms race to stay relevant for the coveted consumer. Humans are inherently social, and will always need to communicate across a variety of channels.

The best messaging and communications services will be born out of the continual struggle for technology and service leadership. In the end, we will see consumers vote with their feet, as they make the switch to messaging and communication solutions that integrate best with their lives and provide the right levels and trade-offs across reliability, safety, convenience, completeness, and price.

Dave Ratner is president and CEO of Openwave Messaging

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