How not to market a smartphone

The November 7 issue of BusinessWeek features this full-page ad for the LG VX9800 smart phone, which is currently available through Verizon.

The screen shows what looks like a video feed of a football game, and the “remote not included” headline implies that it’s a video product. But the presence of a keyboard implies e-mail, and look at the background of the photograph -- the phone is sitting on what looks like a polished granite table, and out the window you can see tall buildings, viewed from a height. It looks like we’re up in a corporate executive’s office.

So who’s this phone really for?

The text of the ad doesn’t help: “Now you can watch, listen, and enjoy all your favorite multimedia contents and exchange e-mails without missing a single call. With its sleek design, clarity of a mega-pixel camera, sounds of an audio player, easy-to-use QWERTY keypad, it’s the new mobile phone from LG!”

It’s just a feature list -- and, by the way, a feature list that reads like it was badly translated from Korean.

There’s no sense of who the product’s for, or what problems it’s supposed to solve in that customer’s life. Basically, this is a phone for geeks like me who enjoy playing with technology. And we all know what a big market that is -- we’re the people who made the Sony Clie a raging commercial success.

An added difficulty is that the features LG talks about don’t necessarily work the way you’d expect. The video service that comes with the phone shows only a small number of short clips, to get Outlook e-mail you have to run a redirector on your desktop computer, and the phone doesn’t even have a web browser. You can learn more in this PC Magazine review.

But I’m not all that concerned about customers being disappointed, because with this sort of feature-centric advertising, very few people are going to buy the phone anyway.

The ironic thing is that the people at LG are smarter than this. I’ve met with their smartphone folks. They’re bright, they learn fast, and LG definitely knows how to make cool hardware. But somewhere along the way they’re just not connecting with actual user needs.

Just like most of the other companies making smartphones today.

Epilog: Tonight (11/3) I saw that LG has created a television ad for the phone. We've now confirmed that the target user is a young guy with an untucked shirt and cool-looking girlfriend. Sounds like the geek aspirational market to me. Oh, and most of the commercial is...a feature list.


Mobilerill said...

Maybe even the power users like it. Check out this review:

Michael Mace said...

I wasn't questioning whether power users would like it. As I said, the thing's a geek's dream. I think the open question is whether anyone else is willing to pay $299 plus contract for a phone that has "a long laundry list of compelling features." In my experience, most people buy solutions to their problems, not laundry lists.

But the main point of my post wasn't to pick on the phone itself, it was to comment on LG's marketing.