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In VoIP, Dumbing Down is Good


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In VoIP, Dumbing Down is Good

July 21,2003

By Anthony Crupi

Otto von Bismarck once observed that people with an appetite for law or for sausage should not watch either one being made.

MSOs looking to market Voip would do well to heed those words. Apocryphal or not, there's a germ of truth in them that relates to the key challenge operators are up against when trying to introduce this potentially esoteric product.


The secret to successfully marketing Voip is in keeping the signal-to-noise ratio relatively high, says Louis Holder, EVP of product development for Vonage.

"When we first began to introduce our service, we tried to get technical," he explains, "but that only seemed to confuse our early customers."

Once Vonage came to the realization that the average consumer would only become discombobulated by the nitty-gritty behind VoIP, the company quickly shifted gears. "We refocused to make it look similar to traditional phone service," Holder says. "Then, over time, you migrate it over to what other cool things the product can do."

While Vonage began its initial campaign online, it was a single radio spot that helped push the company to the next level. "Howard Stern pitched our product as if he actually used it," Holder says. "We saw a huge rush after that."

The start-up is looking to launch a new TV spot sometime in the next few weeks, Holder says. The cost of the service - $39.99 for unlimited long distance and local calling plus all the standard features - remains the key selling point.

In promoting its primary line Voip service, Time Warner Cable has come to some similar conclusions, says Brian Schmidt, director of marketing and sales for the company's Portland, Me., division. "Phone is phone," he says, sounding as though he were issuing a Zen koan. "From the marketing side, we're focusing on simplicity. We don't want to intimidate our customers with a technical approach."

As Portland is the first division to roll out VoIP, Schmidt has taken a cautious approach. "Because we're first to launch, we really wanted to have total control over our rollout," he explains. TWC's initial strategy has been to slowly evolve from targeting potential customers with direct marketing and e-mail pitches, and on through a door-to-door approach.

Once the service began to gain traction, the MSO hired Atlanta's Bigelow & Eigel agency to handle its creative spots. "We had to be sure to differentiate ourselves, to stay away from the look and feel of what we've seen out there," Schmidt says.

As is the case with its HSD product, Cablevision espouses a strategy that adheres to a set of simple guidelines. "We have a very straightforward approach to marketing Optimum Voice," says Tanya Van Court, VP of product management for the Voip service. "While there is a lot of buzz around voice over IP and the technology that makes the service possible, we want to make the value and advantages of our new service clear to potential customers."

Overall, it appears that those involved in the early stages of Voip are following the same basic script, although Cox Communications' experience in circuit-switched telephony gives it a leg up on its fellow MSOs. As it continues to bull forward with Voip - the company launched a marketing trial in Roanoke, Va., in April to complement the Oklahoma City trial from last year - Cox may be the first cable operator to let its customers have a peek at the sausage.



 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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