Second Stage Boosters…Ready

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Let me state this as a hypothesis:

new product <> disruption

Or in words, having a new product is neither necessary nor sufficient to create market disruption.

I recently had an interesting exchange with Judi Sohn at Web Worker Daily (a new favorite of mine) about GrandCentral, which gives you a single number that can reach you anywhere you want. GrandCentral is getting quite a bit of attention and generating lots of buzz.

I had to ask: Why? Everything GrandCentral offers, I’ve had from VoicePulse (my VoIP provider) for years. Other than the obvious price (GrandCentral is free, VoicePulse is not), I can’t find anything that GrandCentral can do that VoicePulse can’t. So why is GrandCentral holding the position of “it’s YOUR number – it’s attached to you, not your phone/device/location” which in today’s highly mobile multi-device world is important?

Pretty simple, actually. When VoIP started (VoicePulse, Vonage, 8×8, etc.) the selling point (key message in marketing-speak) was “this works just like your phone”. You got a little box and connected it to your home network. It had a standard phone jack and you connected your phone to that just like plugging it into the wall. You picked up the phone a dialed just like a regular land-line POTS phone.

Sure, you could do all this other cool stuff that got me and my geeky friends all excited, but the mass-market sell was “it’s simple – it’s just like what you do today, only cheaper and cooler”

This is a classic way to sell new technology: First, make it fit the existing model; second, show how it changes the model. GrandCentral is making the move to the second stage of technology adoption.

GrandCentral has taken advantage of the general awareness of VoIP capabilities and the fact that people in the market (mostly early adopters) no longer need to make it work just like their old POTS phone, they want all the capabilities that a network-based service can offer. So GrandCentral has gone to market with the selling point that “you own your own number.” It’s a powerful message, and it appeals to the people who were eager to move to internet telephony and wanted the capabilities to move forward.

Their service isn’t really new or innovative (OK, their exact brand is, but I bought the same exact service 4 years ago), but GrandCentral has turned on the second stage ‘boosters’ and is now moving the market forward – I expect pretty far forward. While for now it’s only the early adopters who will sign up, someone will figure out how to move this to the broader market pretty quickly.

And it is changing that market. Completely.

My question is: will the traditional VoIP providers take advantage of the opportunity to re-take their lead? Or will they, as so many technology companies before them, stand there complaining “but we’ve had those features for years!” – and go nowhere fast while their market escapes them?

What would your company do?


The speed of buzz

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Earlier this week I watched Robert Scoble on his book tour talk about his ideas on how blogging from within a company changes the nature of the conversation with the customer. He should know – and I agree with most of his premise (I’d disagree that ‘buzz’ is unique to the blogosphere, but it’s certainly different).

The core of the message was that the blogosphere is both diverse and current, and therefore it’s possible to discover new and interesting things very quickly. That can apply to everything from news to products to gossip. Buzz travels faster in the blogosphere, and there are more (and presumably better) opinions and perspectives.

Then, he brought up Twitter. It’s pretty unlikely you’ve never heard of Twitter – the ‘buzz’ on Twitter as spread quickly, and interestingly often by using Twitter itself. But if you haven’t, it’s essentially a communication vehicle that allows you to be in a virtual conversation with all of your “friends” all of the time by web, IM or mobile phone. It’s fast, slightly addictive, and at least at first a bit overwhelming. (Add me to your Twitter friends if you want to try).

Here’s where it got interesting. We used to learn about new things in time units of days. Newspapers and daily news shows and the like brought us interesting and up-to-date information. Just two months ago, we were learning about new things in hours (sometimes minutes if you happened to be paying attention). Blogs, podcasts, even IM, chat and text messages took a short time to travel around, and we found out about (or our friends told us about) the cool new thing.

Now it’s seconds. I can watch the Twitter streams of people I know will have the latest information. I can spread information to my friends (or anyone who will listen) in a matter of seconds. They can do the same for me.

The marketing perspective? This changes the game. Remember those weeks (or for some of you, months) you spent planning your launch? beta-testing your site/service/product? Well, now, as soon as someone thinks it’s worth talking about (and that can be because it’s cool or because they hate it!), they can tell everyone they know in a matter of seconds. Are you prepared for the rush of attention?

And are you prepared to admit that you’ve now not only lost control over the message, but that old-hat “we’re not ready to make this widely known yet” – sorry, I’d have to say that if Scoble (or anyone who becomes widely followed) twitters about it, it’s widely known.

If you don’t believe it, look at the exposure Twitter got on blogs and in the news within just the first month or two after opening their site (search Technorati if you don’t believe me). And the most talked about topic on Twitter? Twitter! (maybe McLuhan was right…)

The point: The speed of buzz just got a lot faster. Maybe the speed of information did also.

This means you have to be prepared to be very public and, to use the current jargon, transparent, much faster and much more readily. Your audience will form opinions much sooner than you expect, and you won’t have much opportunity to influence them.

If what you’re offering is great – good for you – you have a good chance at a rapid success. If what you’re offering meets with disapproval, your audience will know it and move on just as quickly.

I don’t know if Twitter will be the ultimate way that the speed of buzz takes yet another leap, but it’s proof that the leap will happen. Get ready.