Monday, August 30, 2010

Clearwire "Rover": Marketing is the Chief Innovation

Clearwire's new "Rover" prepaid mobile broadband service is ultimately about marketing success, rather than any innovation in the physical or network realm.

Perhaps the most-significant aspect of the plan is not so much the "prepaid" angle but the attempt to create a new "lifestyle" brand aimed at the 18-to-24 demographic.

"Rover" will be available anywhere Clearwire offers service, but the distinctiveness of the service does not lie in its use of mobile Wi-Fi hotspots (other carriers already sell them), or even speed, as Clearwire already sells mobile broadband on a postpaid basis.

Prepaid availability is the bigger story, as well as the range of options offered. The $5 a day and $20 a week plans will tend to stand out in a market that basically relies on two postpaid or prepaid buckets, differentiated mostly by the price and the bandwidth caps each uses.

Some might argue the "4G" network is what makes it different, and there is some truth to that position, though the distinctiveness will not last much longer, as Verizon Wireless plans to launch its own 4G network later in 2010, and AT&T likely will launch in 2011. Also, to the extent "speed" is seen as the differentiator, even T-Mobile USA's HSPA+ network is going to offer speeds so close to Clearwire's typical downlink speeds that "4G," in and off itself, might not offer as much differentiation as it once did.

In an effort to create the new brand, Clearwire is positioning the service using the site that will try and create a  "Life @ 4G" image.

Rover-sponsored athletes and music artists will be profiled, showing how Rover influences their careers and lives as they live "Life @ 4G." Sporting a Rover wingsuit, base jumper JT Holmes, who travels up to 150 mph during freefall proximity flying, lives life with the Rover Puck and no strings attached.

Rover also will introduce a badging system that rewards users for participating in Rover activities. For example, the "Trendsetter" badge recognizes early adopters of Rover in each market, and the "Friends with Benefits" badge acknowledges users who refer friends to the Rover service. Badges have become wildly popular on location-based apps and are expected to resonate with the youth consumer and motivate usage.

Rover is about marketing prowess, not some fundamental new network feature, pricing breakthrough, user interface or payment plans.

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