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Poor Sprint.

I feel for Sprint, I really do.  They were the first and only top-tier national fiber optic voice and data network yet they never made it past #3. They started when analog telephone calls and digital data packets were coin of the realm.  Today, when speed is needed more than ever, when iPhone users are complaining about dropped calls while sitting in front of computers with sluggish load times, poor Sprint and its lightning fast fiber still aren’t getting any respect. Fiber is an idea consumers understand. Sadly, the story has never been correctly told.  

FIOS, a Verizon product built on Fiber, is gaining mindshare in NY as a faster means of digital transport. (Fiber into the house makes machines scream.)  Sprint, on the other hand, is airing a TV spot promoting the HTC EVO mobile phone running over its 4G network — the world’s first 4G network – using a strategy about “firsts.”  The TV spots borrows a visual idea from Honda and Google (so much for firsts) showing other technology innovations tipping over in dominoes fashion. A Model T, knocks over a bi-plane which knocks over a steam locomotive, etc. It’s so far removed from fiber, a medium that connotes speed and clarity, you might as well be watching a Fruit Loops commercial.  

Verizon, via Droid, is implying “futures” in its TV work. Sprint focuses its images on the past. Quick, close your eyes. Visualize which company gets credit for speed? No contest.

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Toyota got caught up in the American car debacle at the same time as it was doing some amazing things with the Prius. I was down in TX last year and promotion for the Toyota Tundra was everywhere. The gas-guzzling truck, positioned for the good ol’ boys, sucked lots of money out of the Toyota coffers and contributed to a worldwide loss of $4.4B (sounds very GM-like). Since its inception, the Prius, now in its third generation, has sold only 1.2 million vehicles. That number could have been multiplied by 10 had Toyota not gone all pick-up truck on us.

 

That said, the latest Prius has one thing that sets it apart form the new Honda Insight, a competing hybrid priced to move: solar cells on the roof.  This cool differentiating technology will help power an advanced new ventilation system that is pure marketing genius. Marketing and branding are all about “claim” and “proof.” And whether the solar thingies works or not – and I’m sure they will – it is yet more proof that Prius is a technological leader in fuel efficient cars.  Toyota needs to follow the example of Ichiro and keep its eye on the ball. Peace!

 

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Stuart Elliott, The New York Times advertising writer, did a nice piece today on the Honda Insight hybrid automobile. The Insight will be available in late March, starting at just under $20,000. For all the ad campaign talk about “democracy” and “a hybrid for everyone,” this advertising campaign is about price.  It’s a mistake and a missed opportunity. The campaign is from RPA in Los Angeles.   

 

The allure the hybrid is not the $1,000 above or below the $20,000 price point, it’s in saving fuel, creating less emissions, being forward thinking, and feeling good about it. Hybrid penetration isn’t about the initial car cost – though, if they cost $12,000 they’d be much more common – it’s about making the “late majority” of car buyers believe that driving a hybrid is a normal thing, not an advocacy thing. The late majority wonders if the cars will break down, if their friends will “out” them for being closet liberals, if the cars are peppy enough. These are the big market-moving issues, not price.

 

In a few years the combustion engine automobile will be the cultural equivalent of the turntable. Why would anyone today buy a non-hybrid car? The campaign should focus on the barriers. Peace!

 

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Come Back Baby.

One of the reasons U.S. Airways has had such a rocky time over the years is because of all its purchases and mergers.  In order to strengthen itself, U.S. Airways allied with various other carriers with different regional and national strengths, but those multiple mergers proved its downfall.  It was always hard to manage all of the different planes in the combined company.

 

When new airline carriers start from scratch they purchase one, maybe two types of plane. The parts work for all the planes, the maintenance for all planes is the same, engines come from one manufacturer, training for pilots is simplified, and there is less complexity in the day-to-day management. It is a very efficient way to run an airline.  U.S. Airways, on the other hand, was the maestro of a cacophony planes, maintenance operations, equipment, and people trained in the various aspects of this patched together airline.  Not efficient.

 

Ford Motor Company has made a decision to manufacture one of its car models — the Fiesta — the exact same way in every country around the world. That’s efficient.  For the most part this is how Toyota does it and Honda does it.  With efficiency as job one, I’m betting Ford and the Fiesta, in particular, will begin a comeback.

 

 

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