If you still have a landline, you probably are familiar with the dial tone, and what it is there for. It is the audible notification that the service you have paid for is still active, and that the phone company is doing the job that you have paid them for, even when you aren’t making a call, receiving a call or (as archeologists used to call it) “faxing.” The cell phone, did away with the need for a dial tone. That comforting reminder has been relegated, with a preference for more visual cues, like “bars” or that little “4G” or “3G” (if you couldn’t afford the extra “G”).
In fact, the whole concept of the “phone” has changed. The notion of “phone” was all about “phone service”, the company that pumped the calls into the fairly innocuous “listening tubes” at your end, and passed them to others from those same tubes, when you made a call yourself. This happened reliably, and with out much variation in quality, even as “Ma Bell” splintered into “Baby Bells”, and then into individual carriers. We, the consumers, had expectations. We had beliefs about service quality.
But now, “phone” is largely vestigial in the name of a “smart phone.” This device does quite literally everything. It is an embarrassment of utility. I remember the 1980’s when mobile phones weighed 8 pounds, and could be used as a murder weapon, in a pinch. Today’s phones are small enough to lose in the papers that you sacrifice into the recycling bin during your weekly desk purge! Many of these phones have the technological capability to have been used in the launch of the first space shuttle, and the communicative capability of 3-5 much larger, and more difficult to use devices of just 10 years ago. What I am saying is that these handheld, stylish pieces of equipment would have made “80’s me” bow to their holder as if they were “Prometheus bringing light”. Louis C.K. does a great bit on the advance of technology, and our failure to be amazed at what we have done, the advances we have made.
So why do I bring all this up? Because I am a marketer, and I see a problem with how the various phone companies are marketing themselves. I think they have forgotten the importance of “phone service,” as he basic promise of the phone company brands. They know we love gadgets, and the “newest “ toys” that will allow us to (as an example) “teleport to the mall”, right from the palm of our hand. So they sell us that stuff. You know what they sell when it comes to their service? “Fewest dropped calls.”
You know what they sell us? “Broadest coverage area.” The Internet is a game changer, and technological progress moves like the arrow of time, in one direction. If the phone company cannot do better than promising us that their network will drop a lot a of calls, but it will be fewer than our competitors, then they will soon be replaced by the folks at Google, or Facebook, or maybe even the venerable Microsoft.
Brands are only as good as their core ability to offer the product or service at the level of the consumer’s expectations. We should be able to expect more from the “phone company” than the ability to upgrade to the I-Phone 5…
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