Living Skype the Brand

September 12, 2003

in Accelerating Innovation, Brand Futures, Skype Journal

While Skype founders are probably scrambling with what should be an overnight success, they are running some branding risks and have made some crucial target audience assumptions. Unfortunately, “beta” isn’t an excuse. The consumers targeted with this product will ignore the “beta” label. I’m just going to put a few piece into play that suggests Skype must quickly become a marketing-centric organization.

Skype’s consumer base is morphing by the hour. Each registration – will impact on the community that uses Skype. Living the Brand “Skype” requires more than the initial wow fun – it works. I will try and illustrate this. I’ll be brutal. The founders of Kazaa, (an egocentric pitch if I ever heard one) bring you… That’s a techno-centric pitch. Lets face it Kazaa created both the platform for this step and dangers particularly perceptions. Techies will take notice.. while my mother is not interested. Trading music – has a real economic incentive for young people. Kids do it. They can’t afford CD’s or would in fact rather put their money on other entertainment items. I think however the target for Skype is much broader. It’s not 12 year old that are trying it out. Telephone calls have no cost for them. This big bold link to Kazaa is unnecessary. Get rid of it. There’s a much bigger idea under it all and the founders must build real sympathy for it.

It begins with “living this brand” There’s no marketer on the company list! There are already a number of branding problems. First we have (as too often with tech products) no consumer stories. The closest we get to smiling faces on the main screen are these two mug shots in the company section. Hey great they look like rock stars…. Well no. These photos in the company section are almost scary. They may want to change the world. However, that will require color and a smile. They must appear “pleasant” and “approachable”. Some simply manufactured warmth would help. Change these photos quick!. They may work on Hot or Not; they aren’t appropriate here.

It’s true there is a lot of good word of mouth out there. I’ve been tracking it. People really seem to get it. So why start kicking at the founders? Simply because the best emerging online community I know for having a “personal” face is Adrian Scott’s Ryze. From day one he cared about his friends. This is in stark contrast to the mistakes being made at Friendster. For Skype to be really successful it must be more than technology or “disrupting” the old phone system. It’s about welcoming in tomorrow. We are in the age of P2P telephony. How people share in these riches will define the potency of the solution.

So what scares me about this initial beta techno incarnation is I (the consumer/customer) have no way of knowing if these guys care about anything more than the tech or the likely money they are going to make in the future. At the moment it could go either way. I’m talking about how names are filled in! I’m ranting about instructions on filling profiles. Profiles are central to this emerging community. I’m suggesting that the founders make it clear. I have have checked. THE FOUNDERS (full name) ARE UNLISTED! I can’t call them. What sort of communications society are they suggesting we support? Are they scared to take calls? For this to really work… everyone has to want to be always on… like the phone system.

Now to be more fair… They won’t be able to take millions of calls. Still an old computer with an away message would work. Or even have a PA answer some! Still there are many CEO’s that can still list their home number. It’s called the phone book. Here we have two founders that may well be able to create a P2P directory of everybody on earth. With some smarter technology it will enable progressive levels of disclosure. The path is fairly clear. So this… PERSONAL DISCLOSURE thing is important. They are not making it easy enough to decide…. what’s my name and how do I share details about myself. The assumption is people know how to fill in the form. Actually they don’t. Every community has it’s approach. Just look at Ryze vs.. Tribe. ort Yahooprofile pages. Unfortunately the only Skype example on the home page lists Skype_lover and Skype_rocks as well as Catherine etc.. It’s not funny and may suggest the wrong connotations. Just simply a risk a smart marketer wouldn’t take in packaging a product for mass popular consumption. Clean it up quick! Share more thinking about the “design” of the profile. From my perspective some of it seems a little premature. My phone numbers??? Talk to me personally. Tell me how to be “smart”, with-it and techno savvy.

This also reflects an issue of understanding who the target audience is. It’s not those that change their IM name everyday on AIM. It is not your average Kazaa user. For a phone system to work we need some naming consistency. This is going to be a real interesting emergent phenomena. It is no wonder the Eula says… we can’t handle emergency calls. By the way “Operator” is taken and is not listed. In some fun and jest I called up the top Brands
and started trying to register them as my number. Coca-Cola, Microsoft, down to number 7 Disney… which registered for me. So looks like we are going to have a pretty interesting phone book. Should I auction “Disney” on eBay? Ebay users will adopt this too! This won’t be so problematic if we realized and accepted that 1-800 calls are made all the time. If you are a company… why not let your operators use this system. (ah a new backend business for someone) . However I was thinking target audience. Who’s likely to move first? Who will be the initial users?

Bloggers are a pretty good bet. I liked John Robb’s comment suggestion today. I just don’t know how to do it. Internationally connected by words… often too expensive to talk. Ryze is another community where “phone costs” limit exchanges. So it is not only communicate P2P Telephony… which seems like maybe just a new thing… go global with the thought. International calls are free! It’s more where this is placed on the home page and the story around it. In America long distance state to state is increasingly just a fixed fee of $15 or thereabouts every month. It’s not a motivator. International calls still add up. Then there is the college student on a mobile. Wants to protect some minutes. Skype will be all though the college dorms. The College students will get their parents on it. Something they could never do with Kazaa (with rare exceptions). “Hey Mom! Here’s a telephone for your PC!” The aged can then push youth back to some sense of talking….

Now these older users are more concerned. P2P is bad. It says so in the news and with the RIAA. (Get the Kazaa references off the home page!). The second part of the culture equation is the culture of abundance and how all of us collectively can create a better communication system. Setting the stage for this is the personal guarantee from the founders that they’ve designed the system so I don’t have to fear leaving it on all the time. It won’t slow down my computer and gee… you know Seti at home we will work it so we only use latent capacity. Hey Seti is good right! They could do even more if they started commiting to a long-term “world communications” behavior charter.

Which brings me to the color choice. Purple — a mixture of red and blue. Strongly associated with relationships and identity. Purple is the colour of magic and deep emotions. This seems like an interesting color direction to go down. So let’s use it to talk the magical relationships. The elimination of cost barriers to good conversation. It’s first iteration… fairly naked by comparison to other IM clients. Now the downside…Too much purple is probably immature or too erotic. It’s a great color for school girls – it’s not in this rendition that the color for the worlds next phone company. And that is where the branding can get really interesting. It’s P2P telephony… and Skype is really after magic seamless connections, and for that it’s perfect. At least I can see ways to grow it.

Then there is the name. How is it pronounced? It may not be clear to everyone. Let us know… in the story on the site where it came from, what it should inspire.

Then tell me the story of why it will overturn IM. Why ringing is more natural? Why this solution is both less intrusive and more efficient! Jeez I’m not going to write that for you too. What you need is a marketer who realizes that this is the next eBay. You need someone focussing on the message, holding the business true to a set of core values that rest round people, relationships and innovative communications. It was easy for people to go from Napster to Kazaa. It will be easy to get people to go from IM to Skype. Thankfully IM is never mentioned on the home page. At the core… Skype is not beholden to the big company, but the emerging community.

Now my final little freebee!. The receiver on the phone the hang-up/pickup should always on top. As Skype is not IM the little headset icons shold be at the top. Plus the name… area to put one in and dial.. just under that. The file etc. and tabs all at the bottom! Afterall it is about turning the world upside down. Why should I scan to the bottom of an IM looking box to see that it’s phone centric! Come on! Plus… on the useability stakes.. it is either minimised or in the bottom right of the screen.

I could go on… I must stop.

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