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Friday, December 17, 2010

Marketing Trumps Reality

Exactly one year, one month and one week after I received my Droid in the mail from Verizon Wireless -- on the day it first became available back in 2009 -- the battery died. After 57 weeks, more or less, of being always on, the wafer-thin power supply to my mobile life finally gave out. Not a bad run.
So, on a cold, rainy Sunday in December I made my way to my neighborhood Verizon store to get a new battery. As usual, the salespeople in Verizon were helpful, and even moved me to the front of the customer queue since all I needed was a new battery.
The kid who eventually helped me asked if I wanted the standard Droid battery, or for an additional $20 the extended life battery that could go up to two full days without needing a charge. I never turn off my Droid, so the thought of going an additional 24 hours without a charge appealed to me and I opted for the extended life battery.
As the saleskid was ringing up my purchase he asked me if I needed a wireless connection for my laptop since Verizon was now offering 4G LTE which provides "true 4G" for my computing needs. I had to stop him right there and explain that the device he was hawking might be good, and even faster than anything else on the market, but it was far from being "true 4G."
Oh no, my enthusiastic saleskid countered, what Verizon offers really is 4G, unlike competitors such as AT&T and Sprint.
It was then that I noticed the logo on his black shirt -- 4G LTE with the Verizon logo underneath. I then noticed the same graphic in hundreds of places around the store -- big posters, cutouts, window stencils, endcaps, brouchures, small placards on the counters, etc. The entire store was one giantic promotion for Verizon's 4G LTE.
Verizon's marketing department had certainly done its job making sure customers were bombarded with the 4G message. Likewise, Verizon's sales department had done its job making sure its salespeople in stores pushed the 4G messaging, no matter how "untrue" it might actually be.
You see, according to the International Telecommunications Union, which sets global standards for the telecommunications industry, "true 4G" provides a net bit rate capacity of up to 100Mbit/s in the downlink and up to 50 Mbit/s in the uplink.
I asked my saleskid what the downlink speeds were for Verizon's "true 4G" and he motioned toward a placard that in full color showed that Verizon's LTE offered download speeds up to 12Mbit/s! He was very proud.
I had to point out to him that was roughly 10x slower than what the ITU had defined for 4G speeds. He looked at me as if I had horns. I could see him processing my comment. He was struggling to remember his sales training and the marketing literature.
"What does ITU stand for again? I should know this one" "What's 12 Mbit/s times 10?" "Who is this guy and why doesn't he just take his battery and leave?"
My saleskid stood there for a moment staring at me before he finally said, "Verizon has true 4G, and we're the only company that does."
I had to hand it to the kid, he was staying on message.
I also had to hand it to Verizon. The company's marketing department has spent millions of dollars on TV, radio and online advertising to promote its 4G LTE technology. It's spent countless dollars and hours training its sales staff and providing them with in-store promotional items. And it was working.
I took my battery and left the store, without buying a 4G LTE wireless device. But I couldn't help but wonder how Verizon's marketing campaign might have swayed others into buying the 4G mythology.

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