ADIS Marketing Communications Plan
ADIS Marketing Communications Plan
Varetis Communications finds itself in the unique position of being able to offer highly technically competitive products to a market in which the market leader has recently exited the business in North America. This is an unusual opportunity. Image management, brand management, and marketing communications are the mainstays of corporate success in North America; Varetis will be required to engage each of these disciplines in ways that may be unique to North America, and therefore somewhat unfamiliar to any European company with limited presence and experience in North American marketing. This paper is intended to outline specific steps for such an engagement, and to provide recommendations for methods and techniques to do so.
The Varetis product line is larger than the scope of this paper; this marketing communications plan will be limited to the ADIS product line. Products intended for the Directory Assistance marketplace in North America tend to be highly integrated and dependent upon one-another, however, and the Varetis product line is no exception to this rule. References to other Varetis products may be made, and indeed may be unavoidable, but it is assumed that the strategic and tactical aspects of entering the North American market for the entire Varetis product line are being considered elsewhere; this paper is intended to support, rather than supplant, those efforts.
Having said that, it is expected that a substantial percentage of the ideas and techniques offered in this paper will be applicable across the Varetis product line, with appropriate changes in emphasis as necessitated by the product in question.
Suggestions are offered for the preparation and timing of the vdf Americas Forum, but the specific content of that event is also beyond the scope of this paper.
This paper is intended as reference material for executive, marketing and marketing communications professionals within Varetis Communications, LLP. This material should be treated as confidential, and branded as such according to normal Varetis procedures for sensitive internal information.
2. Communications Strategy
2.1 Confidentiality in Information Dissemination
Varetis is not an unknown name in North America; it is however, relatively unfamiliar to the market in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, and overall capabilities. This is because of the simple fact that Varetis does not yet have a major North American client. The Directory Assistance market in North America is relatively large in terms of vendor revenue potential, but relatively small in terms of client numbers. It is, therefore, unusually cross-pollinating with regard to the exchange of information among and between peers and even competitors. As Varetis enters this market, it is important to recognize that very little that is disclosed to any given potential client is likely to remain confidential for very long. This is not necessarily a reflection on the clients themselves, nor even on the nature of business relationships in North America; it is simply the inevitable result of the small number of decision makers in this market, and their long-term familiarity with, and frequent reliance upon, one-another. Confidential information thus disclosed on an informal basis cannot, of course, be used in any formal way, but make no mistake that word gets around.
2.2 On the Defensibility of Public Discourse
The end result of this process is that service providers tend to discover rather quickly when vendors are unable to back up their public statements and private promises. The interdependent nature of telecommunications in general, and the exceptionally important requirement for the integration of diverse systems that the Directory Assistance industry invites, together guarantee that vendors who over-promise do not last long.
Volt Delta, for example, discovered this fact the hard way in the mid 1990’s with the win, and subsequent loss of Pac Bell to Nortel Networks; Nortel originally lost the business to Volt because of it’s candid inability to meet the timetables imposed by Pac Bell. The Nortel solution was generally regarded as technically superior, but could not be implemented quickly enough to meet Pac Bell’s expectations. Volt promised, and subsequently failed, to meet these timetables. In retrospect, no one was terribly surprised by this turn of events; Pac Bell and Volt both assumed substantial risks (for what were presumably good reasons) in attempting to do business, and in this case, the risks did not pay off. Volt essentially disintegrated as a result, and was forced to restructure their company almost completely in order to survive.
The important lesson here is to remain conservative with public pronouncements; marketing communications must be constrained, in decreasing order of value, to:
This is particularly important as Varetis is only beginning the process of developing a North American track record; like all vendors, Varetis will be viewed with skepticism until such time as they consistently demonstrate the substance behind their marketing communications.
2.3 The Importance of Differentiation
In service to a conservative approach to marketing, Varetis may be tempted to favor harmless platitudes over the public disclosure of defensible material. This may be safe, but it is a mistake. Varetis must be prepared to “hit the ground running,” as it were; doing so requires that it must differentiate itself from the competition in significant, accessible, and unique ways. It must leverage it’s own strengths, of course, but must position them in such a way as to address the industry’s needs in ways that Nortel did not. And make no mistake about it – Varetis’ primary competition in the marketing communications domain is not Volt, or ISx – it is the Nortel Networks legacy.
Much of the documentation produced thus far for the ADIS product contains information that will be regarded by prospective customers as familiar. Thus far, the style in which it has been offered is relatively commonplace; notions about cost savings, for example, extend back to the very beginning of Directory Assistance automation. The fact that ADIS will reduce operational expenses for service providers is true, certainly, but it is hardly unique. At this stage, this kind of message is part of the assumption set, and does not succeed in differentiating Varetis in any way. It is necessary, perhaps, but it is not sufficient. Varetis must focus on the aspects of its product offering that may be regarded as unique; those that are not unique must be backed by solid evidence from commercial, trial, and laboratory experience (in descending order of value). Those that cannot be offered with this type of substance should be avoided in marketing the product.
2.4 The Nortel Networks Legacy
Much can be said about the Nortel legacy, both good and bad, but one fact is indisputable – Nortel did an outstanding job of marketing itself in the Directory Assistance field. This capability was not one that Nortel developed itself; it rather inherited much of this capability from other companies, such as Computer Consoles, Inc., that it purchased in order to eventually dominate this market. Regardless of the history, the important fact is that Nortel was intimately familiar with its Directory Assistance customers, and maintained excellent (in terms of effectiveness) communications and relationships with them.
The primary tool used by Nortel, and since adopted by other companies such as Volt Delta, was the annual “forum” for Directory Assistance – a private gathering of customers, press, and certain invited guests, for several days of wining and dining under the pretense of product education. Varetis has already publicly stated an intention to adopt this approach as well, but has been forced to delay the event because of the terrorist bombings in New York on September 11.
In the final analysis, the fact that vdf Americas Forum has been delayed must be regarded as a positive decision; travel budgets are tight among service providers, traveling in general is currently regarded as risky by the general public, and - to be honest - Varetis has not given itself enough time to properly prepare an event of the size and scale that the North American Directory Assistance industry had become accustomed to from Nortel. Nortel devoted a staff of several full-time employees and nearly an entire year to planning the executing its annual customer forum. This was expensive, but it generated revenue vastly in excess of the costs – by orders of magnitude.
Whether or not this will ultimately prove to be the best method of marketing to its customers is unclear for Varetis at this point; what is clear, however, is that this is what the industry has come to expect, and it is extremely important that Varetis follow Nortel’s lead in this regard. This is more than simply common sense; Varetis is actively marketing its ability to integrate with Nortel products, and is courting Nortel for assistance in supporting Varetis in the customer service realm as of this writing. It is important that these developments extend into the marketing communications domain, both for consistency’s sake, and because this is precisely the sort of substance that Varetis can exploit in differentiating itself from its competitors. Under no circumstances, therefore, should Varetis cancel the vdf Americas Forum outright.
2.5 The Image of a Large Company
The discussion above is illustrative of a critical aspect of Varetis’ marketing communications strategy which must be set forth at this juncture. Varetis must strive in every way possible to appear bigger than it is. Why? There are several important reasons:
Varetis is well advised, therefore, to undertake a Marketing campaign that has been designed to give the appearance of size and success. Techniques for doing so are discussed below under the ADIS rubric.
3. The Market Introduction of ADIS
ADIS will benefit from a formal market introduction. This was presumably to be undertaken at the vdf Americas Forum, but since it has been bid to at least one major North America customer as of this writing, it seems clear that waiting to formally introduce the product until the rescheduled conference is unwise.
A formal market introduction will provide Varetis with the best opportunity to control the market messages associated with ADIS, and will help to minimize the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that will inevitably be introduced by competitors. The primary objective of this introduction should be limited to capturing and maintaining mind share among prospective customers. That is, ADIS as a product should be used to market Varetis as a company. Varetis has no dedicated sales channel in North America; therefore, in relation to its competitors, it does not yet have a great deal of traction into major North American accounts. The ADIS market introduction must be viewed as an opportunity to establish, and then leverage such traction.
A plan for introducing the ADIS product can be divided into three separate areas which will each play an important role in capturing mind share among prospective Varetis customers:
3.1 Message Content
It is assumed that the most important messages that ADIS wishes to deliver to the market have been developed and approved at this juncture; it is not the intent of this paper to redevelop or supplant those messages. The intent here, instead, is to present those messages in such a way as to differentiate, first, Varetis, and second, ADIS, from the competition.
3.1.1 Message Set 1 - Focus On The User Experience
ADIS has been optimized from the ground up to provide the best possible user experience in automated residential inquiry.
184.108.40.206 Residential Focus
The positioning of ADIS as a residential offering is important here, for at least two reasons:
User Experience Management is a term that is not entirely new to the telecommunications industry, but that is sufficiently new to the Directory Assistance market to retain some value as a foil around which to discuss Varetis’ core competencies. It is the extension of human factors design – both visual and auditory – into the interactive domain. This concept is familiar in the Internet space (or has become so recently) but it is relatively new in the telephony space. In telephony, this has been referred to as dialog management or dialog design – familiar terms that imply more about the machine than they do about the human. User Experience Management redirects the focus back to the user, and does so in a way that resonates with Internet marketing messages, which are currently perceived as technically hip and leading edge. In this market, the importance of this fact cannot be overemphasized. Traditional service providers no longer consider cost containment to be the prime consideration in Directory Assistance – customer acquisition and retention are the biggest problems they face. This is precisely why cost savings attributes, while important, will not be perceived as particularly interesting or valuable to prospective ADIS customers. They care about their users, and so must Varetis.
User Experience Management also neatly combines the previously separate message sets surrounding the consumer dialog and the operator dialog into one elegant package, because it includes both visual and auditory considerations, as well as the interaction between the two. In most large telcos, operator work forces are unionized, and union relationships govern business methods to a large extent. The experience of the operator, rather than simply the role of the operator, must therefore be respected in the Varetis message set.
3.1.2 Message Set 2 – Focus on Partnerships
Varetis specializes in establishing and working strong business partnerships that benefit both the customer and the consumer.
220.127.116.11 Brand Management Issues
Partnerships are necessary in the modern telecommunications industry regardless of a company’s individual size. No company can possibly cover all aspects of functionality in telecommunications and hope to do them all well. What is true for telecommunications writ large, further, is doubly true for the Directory Assistance industry, which is unusually complex in its requirement for smooth, seamless interaction between man and machine in real time. Larger companies such as Nortel have historically addressed this problem by purchasing and subsuming smaller companies, or by OEMing and rebranding technology from other partner companies. This was done in service to the concept of an end-to-end solution under a single corporate rubric, and there were good reasons to do so:
18.104.22.168 Marketing a Collective Mentality
Varetis must market ADIS into an existing infrastructure of competitive origin, and cannot, therefore, expect to brand comprehensive solutions under it’s own name. It must, however, press it’s own name as far up the food chain as possible in pursuit of marketing and selling its products. Again, this must be construed as an effort to “look big” by emphasizing brand management. In this case, it is necessary to do so in conjunction with other companies that presumably face similar challenges. The key message here is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Varetis’ challenge is to move this statement out of the domain of platitudes, and to give it meaning and strength in the real world. This need not be difficult, as described below.
22.214.171.124 The “Organic” Mindset
The key is to take an organic approach to this issue. That is, partnerships consist not so much of companies cooperating with one another, but of people within companies cooperating to solve problems. In the same way that Varetis will be personalizing business relationships with its clients, it must personalize the marketing of its partnerships. Humanizing the issue in this fashion will permit the partnership message set to resonate with, and reinforce, the user experience message set – it’s all about human beings.
126.96.36.199 Small Company Strengths
Regardless of Varetis’ marketing communications efforts to appear large, it remains a small company, and retains the positive characteristics of smallness, including the following:
188.8.131.52 The Nortel Partnership
Varetis’ single most important relationship from the customer’s perspective will be that with Nortel Networks itself, as any newly acquired infrastructure will need to peacefully coexist with Nortel equipment in most cases. Varetis has been aggressively pursuing a formal relationship with Nortel on at least two levels (technical interoperability and customer service) and it is critical to advertise that fact as strongly as possible once the relationship has been cemented. Doing so will serve two important purposes:
3.1.3 Message Set 3 – Focus on Technology
Varetis has developed and implemented world-leading technology in pursuit of improving the automation of Directory Assistance, and in creating a positive, effective user experience.
It is widely recognized that the pace of technical development is accelerating, and according to technology futurists, such as Raymond Kurzweil, the pace of acceleration itself is accelerating – a sort of double geometric curve. It is virtually impossible for anyone to keep current with all the relevant developments that must be understood for a comprehensive technical underpinning of practically any subject – let alone telecommunications. Yet, the industry continues to struggle to market itself in the technical domain, as it must. The result, inevitably, is that high-level technical marketing tends to get repetitive. Tried and true concepts that form the philosophical underpinning of modern technical development – inheritance, modularity, standardization, distributed processing – these are what non-technical persons are prepared to grasp, and they are used and reused in service to this fact. On the surface, this may appear to be a troubling state of affairs, but in fact, it need not be.
184.108.40.206 Aligning Technology Messages with Consumer Expectation
Customers have come to expect a “dumbing down” in the technical marketing domain. This is necessary simply to cope with the exponential progress of technology in our society. In cases of poorly designed marketing communications, this results in functional oversimplification. In cases of effective marketing communications, it gives rise to a shift away from how things work to a focus on value. For the marketing communications professional, the only really important questions for any particular technique, technology, or capability, are: Why should the customer care? What value does it bring? How does this help to solve the customer’s problems? All marketing communications efforts in the technical domain must be informed by these questions, or they will prove to have little value. Make no mistake; this is a tricky business. Most “insiders” tend to overestimate the a priori knowledge of a prospective customer about technical matters; most customers tend to inflate their knowledge of technical matters for personal reasons. The end result is lack of communication, or worse, misunderstanding. By focusing technical questions on value propositions, opportunities for misunderstanding can be minimized.
220.127.116.11 The “Drill Down” Approach
The answer to this conundrum is to design marketing communications at several levels of complexity, in order to allow broad coverage at the top, and more detailed coverage at the bottom. Customers can then “drill down” to the level of technical detail at which they feel most comfortable. This is a widely accepted and useful method for handling technical marketing communications. For high-level marketing collateral, the best rule of thumb is “less is more.” The objective of glossy collateral, for example, is to interest, not to educate. It is to encourage further contact of some kind; it is a carrot, not a meal. If the customer is hungry for more, they’ll follow up with a phone call or email.
Presentations, like the products they illustrate, should be prepared in modular fashion, so that the level of detail that is resonant with the audience can be conscripted and delivered in real time. This generally involves a relatively spare core set of slides, with a substantially larger set of backup detail slides.
The best example of drill down technology, of course, is hypertext. The World Wide Web is designed around this concept, and web sites lend themselves quite nicely to consumer-directed “drilling down” on a particular topic.
18.104.22.168 Human Factors
Varetis’ chief technology messages should center on human factors issues. This is the technical underpinning of User Experience Management, and has been the source of an enormous level of expenditure throughout the Directory Assistance industry since the inception of automation. Most of that effort has historically centered on the operator; more recently, that effort has migrated toward the end user, but nearly always with the intention of minimizing operational costs. Varetis’ challenge is to recast their human factors technology prowess as geared toward improving the user experience. The ultimate goal of this effort is to allow their customers capture and retain loyal customers. The methods and techniques for creating a positive user experience in the domain of automation are legion, and they should be whittled down to a manageable, carefully selected handful for marketing communications purposes. But remember that emphasizing how this is done is essentially meaningless if one does not also emphasize why.
Modularity in software design is nothing new. Modularity in hardware design is somewhat newer; modularity in network systems is comparatively young; but no technical industry anywhere is a stranger to the concept any longer. It has become a well-accepted underpinning of the technology sector; consumers regard it as a foregone conclusion. This tends to undermine its value as a selling point somewhat, except insofar as it is generally unnecessary to explain why modularity is valuable at a conceptual level. The challenge is to market the application of modularity to the problem at hand – in this case, the need for, and value of, a heterogeneous vendor environment in the Directory Assistance marketplace – and the problems that that application helps to solve.
Modularity implies the presence of well-defined modules, of course, but also the presence of well-defined communications protocols to connect them. Above and beyond their value to the consumer (which must be carefully articulated), the key to selling these puzzle pieces is to underscore their adherence to standards. The most brilliantly designed proprietary system in the world is increasingly uninteresting, and is, again, absolutely useless in an environment that is predicated on the use of heterogeneous technologies and suppliers. Systems must be based on widely accepted standards, and when they are, this point can and must be used in the marketing of these systems.
22.214.171.124.1 Voice XML
Varetis’ primary tool to do so will be Voice XML. While modular systems are increasingly commonplace, their use in the DA business is less so, and the use of a standard such as Voice XML to extend that modularity into the audio domain is relatively unique and unprecedented. This is precisely the differentiating factor that can transform a mundane concept such as modularity into useful selling tool for ADIS.
The other noteworthy aspect of Voice XML is that it is a semantic specification, which means that it is designed to convey meaning. This turns out to be an extremely useful characteristic in this case, as the concept of meaning resonates with the organic approach that this paper has been advocating. Meaning connotes understanding; understanding connotes the primacy of people, rather than machines – and we’re right back to user-centered design concepts.
The other important standard that must be heavily marketed is Varetis’ adherence to the OAP specification. This is not a unique chacteristic – Volt has been doing it for years – but in conjunction with the Nortel Networks relationship discussed above, it can be transformed from mere a technical capability into evidence that gives substance to Varetis’ claims about partnership. As such, it can be used to shore up the credibility argument that is so important for Varetis at this juncture.
Beyond that, the fact remains that OAP is a relatively complex specification; if Varetis has found ways to exploit this standard that are unique, these should be articulated and sold as well.
126.96.36.199 Integrated Scalability
The fact that Varetis’ systems will scale is only partly useful as a marketing message. The need for scalability is a foregone conclusion in this industry; the ability to do so only allows you to play; it does not guarantee that you’ll win. Of much more interest is the manner in which the systems will scale. The key here is to sell scalability as function of the integration of the system. Yes, the system is modular, yes the system is also highly integrated, but the really interesting fact is that the system will scale easily and cost effectively without impacting these other characteristics. Service providers know perfectly well that scaling a system often turns out to be much more difficult and expensive than originally anticipated. Varetis’ technological capabilities are interesting – even exciting – in and of themselves, but the ability to scale these systems in a predictable fashion (with, presumably, a sub-linear cost escalation) is so unusual as to be unique.
The emphasis here must extend beyond the mere capacity of the system. Integrated scalability must involve the provisioning of the systems as well. This is especially critical for the ADIS product, as the provisioning of speech recognition systems into the public switched telephone network have historically been expensive, time-consuming, and complex.
Finally Varetis must sell its ability to scale at variable rates, meaning that sufficient granularity is present to permit the customer to scale as quickly or as slowly as desired.
3.2 Techniques for Message Delivery
The specific techniques discussed here are offered with the primary purpose of capturing mindshare for Varetis, and with the secondary purpose of introducing the ADIS product to the North American marketplace. The overall objective is to look like a big company, while simultaneously behaving like a small company.
3.2.1 vdf Americas Forum
The value and importance of continuing with the planning and execution of this event is difficult to overemphasize, for reasons discussed above in the section entitled The Nortel Networks Legacy. In summary, a forum of this type, while expensive, is an opportunity to engage customers under completely controlled conditions. Varetis can ensure that the right people are present, that the appropriate message set is delivered, and that the information has actually been absorbed as presented. Further, it is an outstanding opportunity to network, to engage in effective public relations, and to capture the mindshare so critical to Varetis at this juncture.
A specific date for the rescheduling of this conference has yet to be set. The table in appendix A lists major telecommunications conferences from January-June of 2002. A target date of April suggests that the conference should be rescheduled for early April in order to minimize possible conflicts with other conferences.
3.2.2 The Traveling Road Show
The key to success in the Directory Assistance business is, and has always been, relationships. The industry is small; everyone one knows one-another, and word gets around, both good and bad. Companies such as Nortel have exploited these characteristics by deploying dedicated sales teams to individually manage major North American accounts – a luxury that Varetis has yet to engage in. Yet, these personal relationships must be developed and exercised in some fashion – personal contact must be the order of business.
The downside of the postponement of the vdf Americas conference is that the development of these personal relationships has also been postponed in a time when they cannot afford to be. For that reason, Varetis must make other plans. If the customers cannot be brought to the ADIS product introduction, the ADIS product introduction must be taken to the customers.
“Road shows” as they are colloquially named, are not uncommon in the Directory Assistance industry; they typically occur concurrent with major announcements of some kind, or when some particularly important piece of business is at stake. In general, the objective of a road show is to introduce (or reintroduce, or repackage) a product or solution set to existing and prospective customers on an individual basis. This is most frequently done in sequence – one customer after another in succession - as a way of minimizing travel expenses, maximizing valuable employee time, and refining the content and delivery of the message set through repetition and market experience.
In the absence of a near-term forum, and in the presence already of at least one major RFI response for ADIS, a road show is a sensible and efficient method of formally introducing the ADIS product to the North American marketplace. In this case, however, ADIS is really only an excuse to sell Varetis as a company – that is the most important short-term objective.
188.8.131.52 Road Show Preparations
The methods for obtaining permissions, attendance, and relevant dates and times for such an endeavor are no doubt well known to Varetis, and will not be recapitulated here. It is important to emphasize, however, that an effective road show requires at least as much preparation as a forum seminar – perhaps more, because one cannot control all the variables with the same degree of granularity. In general, Varetis should prepare the following:
The ADIS road show should be completed 4-6 weeks prior to the vdf Americas Forum. This will provide time for follow up actions to be completed, and will allow last-minute procedural modifications to the forum itself based upon the road show experience.
3.2.3 Varetis’ Broad-Based Market Presence
Capturing mindshare is an effort, perhaps, that begins with ADIS, but that never ends. Varetis must plan to engage the market on a consistent and widespread basis in order to serve and protect the image that it will be carefully cultivating. The ADIS road show will serve quite nicely as a forcing function to accelerate the preparation and development of the various materials and resources that will be required to do a credible job. Once completed, those materials will serve the vdf Americas Forum as well, and following that, Varetis’ overall marketing efforts into the North American Directory Assistance marketplace.
The key to a successful long-term engagement of the market is population, saturation and repetition. The road show will populate the market with Varetis’ chosen message set about itself and the ADIS product. The vdf Americas Forum will saturate those messages for key customers and prospects. And subsequent marketing communications activities will provide the repetition necessary to maintain the mindshare that the first to efforts will develop. Chief among those subsequent activities should be the following:
184.108.40.206 Trade Show Participation
Varetis has presumably developed a schedule for participation in trade shows throughout North America in 2002. Similarly, Varetis should develop a list of conferences that it will attend for the purpose of market research, company representation, and industry networking. Refer to Appendix B for a list of planned participation in these events for calendar year 2001. Varetis should probably err on the side of conference saturation in 2002. Repetition and reinforcement will help to cement the Varetis’ messages across the Directory Assistance marketplace.
220.127.116.11 Media Relations
Effective media engagement is critical for market success in North America. It is highly recommended that, if this has not been undertaken already, leading Directory Assistance media groups such as The Kelsey Group, The Pelorus Group, Whittaker Associates and the like be engaged on both a formal and informal level. This will involve subscriptions to their products and services, and should include invitations to all significant Varetis events, as well as attendance at media-sponsored events. Refer to Appendix C for a list of important media contacts covering the Directory Assistance marketplace.
Varetis should also develop articles and position papers for distribution to the mainstream press. This will reinforce the Varetis brand, and help to establish Varetis as a “thought leader” in the field of Directory Assistance automation.
3.2.4 Marketing Collateral
A comprehensive list of collateral pieces that must be developed for calendar 2002; this list appears in Appendix D. These include traditional print media as well as new media pieces. Collateral development will follow Varetis corporate style guidelines; if said guidelines have yet to be developed, the project should be undertaken in conjunction with a reputable design firm immediately.
Appendix A - Telecommunications Trade Show Events
Appendix B - Planned Trade Show and Conference participation
Appendix C- Media Contacts
Appendix D - Collateral Pieces
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