Geico’s recent car insurance taste test commercials (a spoof on the Pepsi challenge) got me wondering about the amount of power that brands wield on telecom B2B buyers and influencers. Specifically, what’s a brand’s role in cloud-based unified communications? If Level 3 were to host a unified communications service using a particular session border controller, routed through our core network routers with the assistance of a systems integrator… what branding strategy would deliver the best results in the marketplace for such a product? Would the Level 3 brand’s differentiated service capabilities –with no mention of the underlying technologies used– be sufficient, or do enterprise customers want (or even care) to see the ingredients including which third party may be providing the various elements that ultimately make up the service?
The way I see it, there are several ways one might go:
- The Platform Brand
Technology platform providers are making an effort to leverage their brand in cloud-based offerings such as Microsoft Office 365 Lync, AvayaLive Connect and Siemens’ OpenScape Secure Cloud among others. These hosted UC services, which are primarily aimed at smaller businesses, relegate the network service provider’s brand to a secondary role. These technology providers are investing a fair amount of resources to create brand awareness and pull demand towards their specific platforms.
- The Network Brand
On the other hand, telecom providers have historically tended to use their own brand to deliver cloud-based services. Whether you’re talking internet services, Centrex, SIP Trunking or hosted IP-PBX, the emphasis has tended to be placed on the carrier’s brand, not the technological components used to build the solution. And with good reason, after all, we are in a unique position to combine the best aspects of multiple technologies, not to mention differentiated network capabilities such as nomadic 911 and SMS for fixed telephone numbers, into a single cohesive offer.
- Building Blocks (none of the above)
Let us not forget the reseller, partner, consultant and systems integrator communities. Companies that built their business model as the “glue” that brings disparate components together may have a leg-up – provided enterprises seek them out as part of their decision-making process.
- Intel Inside (all the above)
Then again, while we tend to portray these decisions in terms of black and white, there are actually many shades of gray in the middle. Take for example the “powered by” approach used by chip makers and computer manufacturers. Come to think about it, I’m writing this post using Microsoft Word which runs on Microsoft Windows on an HP computer which has an Intel processor. Either of the two options portrayed above could leverage the other as a secondary branding mechanism.
The “right” approach will obviously be dictated by enterprise buyers’ behavior and preferences. What sort of partner will customers seek when it comes time to buy? The presence of a graphical user interface via a computer or smart mobile device complicates matters for network providers – making it hard to obfuscate the technology platform. Lync and Flare have distinct UIs and so long as Microsoft and Avaya keep funding a “pull” strategy, buyers will to some extent care (throw enough money at any attribute and buyers will care about it). Does that mean we need to offer every flavor under the sun?
I have a hunch the answer involves paring down the selection to limit complexity, but where to draw the line? Perhaps we ought to administer a telecom services blind taste test? Call it the UC challenge.
So our question to you is…what’s your flavor?