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Stupid Marketing Tricks: App Store Envy at Mobile World Congress

The announcement: “Leading Operators Unite to Unleash Global Apps Potential

Gizmodo’s headline: “Two Dozen Telecoms Unite to Form Apple App Store Rival

The likely response: Snore.

How is it that a computer company once presumed-dead now dictates the actions of the telecom industry?

A few years ago, Apple attacked the question “why do mobile phones suck so much?” As with MP3 players some years before, they saw an opportunity to create something people loved. By most accounts, they hadn’t planned the App Store. Serendipitously, pressure to open the iPhone as a platform built rapidly. As they had done with podcasting, Apple swiftly dropped an initial resistance and applied a similar strategy. They found a way to make apps conform to the iTunes delivery model, used it to extend economic incentives to developers, and supported the program with the right tools for devs, and marketed apps to end users.

Yes, I know that I oversimplify this story, but the point is: Apple innovated to create and command a new market.

I am not an Apple fan-boy. I am an Apple skeptic, and generally agree with much of Jonathan Zittrain’s analysis regarding how phenomena like the App Store are swinging the Internet pendulum precariously away from the side of truly open, generative innovation. (Nevertheless, I do use an iPhone, and as you can see from other posts, I love it.) But from a marketing-is-war viewpoint, I find the disruption of the iPhone-iTunes-App Store a simply brilliant application of Apple’s age old tactics.

I cringe at the “Wholesale Application Community” (yes, it’s”WAC”) announcement from Mobile World Congress (linked above). It takes me right back to the seven months of abandon-all-hope-they-just-don’t-get-it purgatory I spent working at Alcatel-Lucent. The telcos and handset manufacturers–these stumbling, dim-witted giants–will chase anything that seems to work. They try to replicate, arrive late, and altogether fail at delivering something anyone actually wants. But the biggest issue is that they never bother to figure out the underlying formula that makes each of these shiny new objects successful.

Instead of applying the “innovate to create a market” pattern, these two dozen telcos and handset manufacturers scramble to respond to Apple. By taking a reactive stance, they allow Apple to define the game. By playing the exact same game in which Apple has such a massive lead, they concede that Apple controls the conversation. Apple is using the tactics taught in Debate 101. They’re applying the marketing equivalent of Lakoff’s thesis on the importance of framing to control the public conversation. Apple is running circles around the old guard in an industry in which real innovation is completely moribund.

What do you think? Will this WAC unseat the App Store? Is it innovative and disruptive? Is it’s goal to delight customers with something new? Or does the Demotivator poster about meetings–“None of us is as dumb as all of us–apply to reactive industry consortiums, too?


One Response

  1. I find all this somewhat interesting, however I find the approach (and technology) of Chumby worthy of keeping an eye on. I was an early adopter of the Chumby and, for me, they delivered the few killer apps on their store from nearly day one (Pandora, duh). Given their Linux and Flash roots, it will be interesting to see if they become an alternative platform/store choice.

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