It's a wireless world

Just what will separate the wireless winners from the losers?

Just what will separate the wireless winners from the losers?

European and US companies have only just dipped their toes in the water in exploring the potential of wireless devices or communicating channel with customers. The current investment climate for wireless remains extremely cautious. However, many companies are misguided in their beliefs about wireless and are pursuing the wrong goals. Wireless is worth a second look. Indeed, those who are now prepared to adopt a different perspective and reconsider the potential of wireless applications may secure a competitive advantage.

According to research from Viant conducted earlier this year many companies have considered using wireless, but their investment has been focused on business-to-employee applications. Only the most basic steps have been taken in business-to-consumer (B2C) development, usually the simple transposition of Web content onto a wireless device, or the 'reheating of old dishes'. Retail banks have created wireless offerings that are merely a subset of Web-based offerings - balance checking or bill payments, say. And few investment banks have gone beyond provision of derivatives of existing desktop functions to top clients.

Some companies have attempted a more innovative approach: several cruise lines and hotels are testing more unusual in-house or on-board applications (mobile payments, restaurant bookings and food ordering), but these are the exception not the rule. There are few wireless B2C applications out there that are of any real value.

Scepticism about the timing and capability of next-generation wireless technologies has underpinned the wait-and-see approach. But the biggest hurdle to companies understanding and realising their potential has been their uncertainty about the B2C wireless 'killer applications'. They remain unsure about the applications that will appeal to a broad consumer base and generate profit and have delayed development of such systems.

This will likely separate the wireless winners from the wireless losers. It is 'killer experiences' and not 'killer applications' that hold the key to success in the wireless arena. Companies should set aside their caution and instead use existing technologies to leverage the unique advantages of wireless in a multi-channel context. Thus a range of valuable opportunities could be realised. But what do we mean by 'killer experiences'?

A killer experience is designed around a customer point of view rather than designing solutions around the company's own organisation and value chain. This may require a radical departure - companies collaborating with partners outside their industry, for example - but bundling related services via a wireless offering is likely to have enormous perceived value for customers. An airline might link with other providers to offer local information, car hire and hotel reservation services or mobile payment facilities as well as its usual services via a wireless application. A business traveller would normally have to seek these services from a number of different sources.

A multi-channel context is also critical. A coherent customer experience depends on the use of available channels in the most effective way. In the wireless arena a combination of bricks, clicks and mobility is key to enabling customers to access the services they want anytime, anywhere, in the most appropriate way.

Although integration is important, a killer experience also relies on wireless being the most relevant channel. The users' goals must be time- and location-sensitive to make the offering valid via a wireless channel. Imagine the convenience of being able to buy a last-minute theatre ticket as you leave the office, or contact a breakdown service from the roadside and track the progress of the patrolman travelling to you.

Finally, applications must be customised for use over the wireless channel - success will not come from extending existing PC services. Wireless should either be used to enhance an existing product or service or to deliver a new, tailored one.

Every firm has a unique context and strategy, so there is no universally valid response to the B2C wireless opportunity - nor is the technology appropriate for all companies. However, our research indicates that for many businesses, the arena is worth revisiting and wise investment now may be a long-term source of competitive advantage. The wireless winners will be those who are mindful of some key checks and principles:

  • Re-assess whether waiting for new wireless technology really will be productive: Expectations of new technology may not be realised and factors such as lack of compelling content which are slowing adoption can be addressed immediately

  • Integrate wireless offerings into a multi-channel solution: How does wireless integrate into the overall customer experience? What does the customer want from you from each channel?

  • Explore the potential of relationship marketing: wireless technology offers a particular strength to create a one-to-one relationship with consumers and data on their behaviours. What role could wireless play for your marketing?

  • Create a unique customer experience: Is the customer viewpoint the focus? Is wireless the best medium for the initiative?

  • Customise wireless products and serv-ices: How does your application exploit wireless devices unique location- and time-specific properties? Will the experience feel personalised?

  • It will be interesting to see who is first to market with their 'killer experiences'.

    Adam Turinas is head of consumer practice, Viant

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