A unique connection

In a market with so many choices, PR campaigns for mobile products have the task of not only differentiating, but also engaging new customers.

In a market with so many choices, PR campaigns for mobile products have the task of not only differentiating, but also engaging new customers.

It wasn't so long ago that mo-bile phones were seen as tech toys for extravagant yuppies and texting was regarded as the domain of gossipy teenagers. But now that everyone is a potential cell-phone consumer, PR professionals are tasked with the challenge of garnering attention in an already crowded mobile market.

Distinguishing brand phones is the purview of not only the product's manufacturer, but also the carrier and software company who jointly contribute to the strategy and PR execution of a particular phone.

Kim Titus, director of PR for Samsung Telecommunications America, says, “We start planning PR as soon as we start seeing the form factor and features being locked down between our sales team and carrier purchasing team.”

While the timeline for PR differs according to device, Titus says reaching out to media before launch can be an effective tactic. She notes that the team showed the Instinct, released in June, a few months early to the press with a non-disclosure agreement.

“[That] really whets the media's appetite and gives them a chance to think about the product,” says Titus.

With support from AOR MWW Group, Samsung also sought to sidestep comparisons with the iPhone by allowing the media to see early iterations of the product. The team also set up meetings between reporters and employees who designed functions, such as the phone's ergonomics.

“We wanted to help humanize the process,” adds Eric Villines, group VP for MWW, “and show the media the thought process behind a device that wasn't an iPhone scenario.”

Talking to consumers
While media outreach and trade shows are important vehicles to promote the product, Samsung wanted messaging to be more readily accessible to current consumers and those in the midst of a vetting process.

For this reason, part of MWW's strategy included having blogger Penny Kim, also a digital media specialist for the firm, aid in consumer outreach by monitoring blogs, forums, and social media networks.

According to Villines, Kim is the “face of Samsung US online,” and she converses with about 200 consumers per day about a variety of topics in different forums, from new product information to correcting factual errors.

Speaking with consumers in a voice they relate to is key when hitting target markets for mobile devices, says John Chier, director of corporate communications for Kyocera Wireless Corp.

One way the Japanese company created dialogue with potential consumers in California was to build promotions based on the recently promulgated state law that prohibits driving while speaking on a standard cell phone.

With the support of AOR LPI Communications, Kyocera created a family-friendly event, where thousands of its Bluetooth headsets were given away to consumers.

“In light of recent legislation, we could closely relate with how consumers were affected by the law,” says Chier. “We always look for areas of interest for consumers [about our product] and how we can fill them.”

Leasa Ireland, president of LPI, adds that one of Kyocera's main challenges is that it must compete with brands that have millions to spend on PR. As such, it needs to be more proactive to ensure coverage.

Ireland also says there are plans to bring this promotion to other states, when similar legislation is passed.

In another instance, Kyocera promoted the Wild Card phone to young consumers by partnering with carrier Virgin Mobile for the Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore in August. VIP access to the event was gained by using the phone.

A lifestyle choice
While consumers' social values play into how a phone is marketed, how it uniquely fits into a consumer's lifestyle is even more important.

Adrienne Stimpson, channel marketing manager at Pantech Wireless, says, “With the market being what it is, one primary concern is to develop a product with a key differentiator that enables you to position yourself in a unique way and use that message to target your consumer audience.”

With the assistance of AOR Fusion PR, Pantech built key messaging on unique claims, such as the C3's selling point as the world's smallest camera phone.

“We really got behind that messaging because no one wants to carry a bulky cell phone in their pocket or purse,” she says.

Another product for which Pantech used this promotion tactic was the Duo, a dual-sided phone with a keyboard and numbered keypad.

Asif Husain, VP at Fusion PR, adds that to properly market these phones, PR is dedicated to not only helping the client reach the targeted segment, but also hitting ancillary groups whose interests overlap.

For example, with the Duo, young professionals were the main target, but messaging was also directed toward older professionals and younger consumers by focusing on the capabilities that attract the targeted segment.

“Of course, knowing your audience is the first rule of PR,” says Kyocera's Chier. “If you went into a hundred different companies and asked how [they] segment, you'd have a hundred different answers.”

However, while the consumer net remains wide, mobile devices, like all consumer products, stand out in the marketplace by connecting with messaging consumers care about. Stimpson adds, “The main point is to define who your target consumer is... and know how [the product] benefits lifestyle.”

GO-TO GADGETS
Cell phones have come a long way from the bulky devices found in the '90s.
Here are three models that will keep the PR teams at their respective companies busy:

Samsung SCH-W510
The sustainable phone is made from corn. Building on the green movement, this bio-plastic phone might be a fad, but is a fun idea.

Kyocera's W64SA
Embedded LEDs allow this phone to light up whenever you open, close, or recharge it. You can even pick your favorite colored lights.

Pantech's Wavy Stream
This handset looks like a new wave Trapper Keeper. It's no wonder this model, projected to launch in 2010, was the result of a competition of design students.

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