Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: Why it is good to be Canadian (or Spanish) in 2008

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Spain is enjoying a great summer – winning the Euro Cup in late June, then Nadal’s Wimbledon victory in early July, plus Sastre’s Tour de France win at the end of July.

Meanwhile, over here in Canada, we’ve scored a string of victories as well – telecom victories. And the fans go wild over them.

For one, it looks like we’ll have several new mobile providers by as early as next fall. And generally, wherever and whenever competition flourishes, consumers benefit (until the industry reconsolidates again… but that’s another topic).

Secondly, all the rocking and rolling at incumbent BCE (branded as Bell Canada) promises Canadians some big changes. Privatization and plans for a “massive investment in broadband” as well as a “renewed focus on customer satisfaction and service” are cause for excitement.

Thirdly, (and this won’t seem like a big deal to those of you living in countries with “unlimited” data plans), after two weeks of customer complaints, incumbent Rogers Communications succumbed to criticism and dropped its data rate plans for the new Apple 3G iPhone.

What does this all add up to? A much more promising – and 21st century – media and communications landscape for Canadians.

A recent study found that Canadians expect to keep their current mobile phone for the next 3.5 years. The study claims “consumer inertia” as the cause, rather than contract impediments or a lack of better alternatives.

Likewise, most Canadians are only on their 3rd model of mobile phone while over in Hong Kong and the UK, consumers are already on their 6th model. Yet with each generation there is more innovation, more features and more creativity in the hardware, software, networks and usage.

“Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way” is a battle cry that Canadian mobile innovators should be shouting at the top of their lungs by now – especially since we have a noble and pioneering telecommunications legacy to uphold. Research in Motion (RIM), and the global success of the Blackberry, is but one feather in our nation’s telecom cap.

With Canada’s vastly dispersed population and various geographical challenges, telecom innovation quite literally connects this nation. We’re often culturally overshadowed in the mass media arena and our various hinterlands can be somewhat underserved. We rely on solid telecommunications to build and hold this country together. The sovereignty of our nation often dictates our rules and regulations on foreign ownership as well as those for distribution, licensing and royalty agreements.

Enter: User-Generated-Content (UGC).

The axiom of this article is that “Various handheld devices will inevitably operate as the primary portable connection to a media-rich Internet”.

The premise of this article is that “User-Generated-Content, and the accessibility of it, correlates directly with 21st century Customer Service and Satisfaction”.

Today, User-Generated-Content is king.

Accessing that content – anytime, anywhere – is the expectation.

Our text messages are UGC.

And we get very testy when people try to make us pay for our own
content. But while the EU Telecoms Commissioner is working on ways to
cap the roaming charges for international text messaging, Bell and
TELUS Mobility in Canada are facing a class-action lawsuit over
charging pre-paid customers 15 cents per incoming text. What’s not
working here?

Our photos are UGC. Video games that we’ve created are UGC.

A media-rich Internet allows us to share, swap and enjoy audio,
video and images like never before. But while the FCC in the US
considers imposing sanctions on cable company Comcast for its
peer-to-peer traffic throttling, the CRTC in Canada allows Bell to
continue the very same practice. What’s not working here?

Ramblings from various stream-of-consciousness blogs and pointless
emails are all UGC. Amazingly, social media networks find “Twitter” and
“Status” updates to be worthy of attention.

Not to be outdone, the open-source platforms (those that constitute
the operating systems of the future) can even be cause for a degree of
possessiveness… perhaps you debugged that nasty reloading glitch – now
you feel entitled to the end product.

So, as marketers, one wonders how to maintain any level of customer
engagement with not only marketing and communications messages, but
also with traditional mass-produced content. Those messages and that
content must now compete in and amongst this user-generated landscape.

But why do marketers still care about traditional content? Because
it is easy to understand the supporting business model – a business
model where passive consumers absorb messages from both content
creators (aka: artists, writers, entertainers, performers) and
marketers alike.

It is a model where content creators and marketers negotiate deals
with each other and only with each other – those types of media buys,
licensing agreements, royalty payout systems and distribution models
make sense. Right?

Maybe those were comfortable business models, but they do not make sense today.

Look at the reality shows, the various idol contests or any number
of the audience-engaging, interactive entertainment that is available
today.

All of it depends on User-Generated-Content for its success – it’s pervasive.

Today, marketing and advertising, regardless of the medium, must be either pervasive or engaging to survive.

By pervasive, I mean almost non-existent, yet everywhere, as
Google’s AdSense demonstrates. By engaging, I mean embedded,
interactive and often user-generated, as McDonald’s Big Mac “Chant Off”
demonstrates.

Twenty-first century consumers actively subvert ads to get to the content that they want.

So make your ads be the kind of content that they want
(user-generated) and include them in the creation process. It is
engaging to see yourself, or someone within your sphere of influence or
even someone you personally relate to, doing something.

Meanwhile, in terms of the carriers and network providers, these
companies are increasingly seen as gatekeepers to content – content
that the users have created themselves – heightening the friction that
is felt within the customer service areas.

In spite of all that, the innovation in handsets and networks
continues. The 4th generation (4G) of wireless technologies is based on
OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) and MIMO
(multiple-input and multiple-output). These broadband wireless systems
promise much higher data rates (over 100 Mbps) to users while reducing
the cost-per-bit for wireless service providers.

This is all very exciting to those who are eager to deploy and
engage in multimedia Internet content with seamless access anywhere,
anytime.

Can you hear me now?

Where once there were leaders, now there are followers; followers who teeter on the brink of being pushed out of the way.

But this new world is not as daunting as it may seem.

One simple example of working through the new business model is YouTube’s partners system where anyone can upload videos to earn payouts based on volume of viewers.

Not that different than when broadcast media buyers and sellers
negotiated over expected audience levels, and the corresponding fee for
the advertising to reach that audience.

And it’s a good time to be Canadian.

With the promise of as many as six mobile providers in most major markets, the opportunities for innovation are real.

Last time around (1995) when Clearnet and Microcell won competitive
PCS mobile licenses and launched various new offerings, the market
experienced a significant shift. As it re-consolidated over time (each
competitor was ultimately bought by incumbents), the positive effects
still remained.

That was a long time ago. Bring on the next wave!

This time around, when creating any kind of message or content that
needs to be shared… Remember: if it can’t be pervasive, just don’t be
invasive. And if it can’t be engaging, just don’t disable the content
that is.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Photo credit: "my cellphone" by vanessa

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