Aug/Sep 2010: Telepresence companies that employ ‘green positioning’ must do their market testing

By , December 27, 2010 11:16 pm

August/September 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

Some element of green positioning is ubiquitous for telepresence companies, and research shows that this is a real benefit for those business flyers who are very concerned about climate change. In the US, the 30% of business flyers who are Climate Citizens already tend to fly less, and tend to be more interested in telepresence.  Yet, telepresence companies also need to consider how to communicate with those less concerned about climate change, how to make their services meet specific business needs, and how to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The use of telepresence as an alternative to business flying is one of the most active emerging areas of the low-carbon economy. It is also extremely competitive with manufacturers such as Avaya, Cisco/Tandberg, Lifesize, HP, Polycom, and Teliris each aiming to shape the market in their favour. Along with ‘improved productivity’ and ‘cost-savings’, a common theme in these companies’ marketing efforts is how use of their products helps ‘reduce carbon emissions’.

And it does appear that reducing carbon emissions is a compelling benefit for business travellers concerned about climate change. This is particularly evident in America where, according to our Environmental Choices study, the use and appeal of telepresence is relatively well developed[1]. The 30% of American business flyers who are most concerned about climate change, who we call Climate Citizens, already tend to fly less than other business travellers, and tend to be more interested in switching their flights to telepresence.

In the UK, companies mVision[2] and Arkadin are now prominent in their support for the WWF-UK’s campaign for businesses to reduce ‘1 in 5’ flights[3]. Arkadin’s next ‘work without travel Climate Care Day’[4] is October 29, 2010.

So, what is not to like about a green positioning for telepresence products?

Here are 3 issues that telecommunications companies should consider when developing their strategies.

First, do you want to develop a niche based on people’s concern about climate change when society is so divided on this issue? A niche strategy can be very powerful, but does this one make sense when the whole topic of climate change is annoying to those Sceptic/Uninvolved about climate change? Much of the success of a product depends on word-of-mouth buzz, but how much are people going to recommend a particular telepresence system based on this socially-sensitive positioning? This is especially important for telecommunication services where there are ‘network externality benefits’ of greater coverage; in other words, the more people use a particular technology, the more useful it becomes to each individual user.

Telepresence companies that do employ ‘green positioning’ should ensure they undertake communications market testing, taking particular account of the views of those Sceptics/Uninvolved about climate change. Our Environmental Choices study suggests that communication materials based on a cleantech story could well get broad-based support, in a way that polar bears or Al Gore would not.

Secondly, relying too much on a green positioning does not address the practical and specific needs that businessmen face. For what types of use should businessmen apply telepresence? How can businesses apply telepresence to generate sales? These are very important issues as companies typically live or die by their ability to generate new business. The sales value of ‘face-to-face’ contact is promoted by both FlyBe[5] and ‘Deals are made over dinner, not emailBritish Airways[6]. Whilst the underlying point the airlines make looks valid, the idea that only in-person contact is ‘face-to-face’, with the FlyBe advert showing a faceless person, looks rather strange to people who have experienced telepresence – and will likely look quite old-fashioned to the iPhone 4 generation.

Thirdly, how does a green positioning differentiate your telepresence system from any of the many others available? Perhaps the category green benefits of telepresence would be better represented by a collaborative organisation like the Electrification Coalition, of which Cisco is a member[7], whilst individual telepresence companies work on building unique, powerful brand propositions.

Findings from a recent study from Hinge Marketing[8], about high-growth companies in the professional services sector, could usefully be applied to telecommunications companies. These companies should consider adapting their telecommunications systems to the specific needs of a niche target market, with a well-differentiated proposition, and set of tools, for this niche. They should target particular clients with highly relevant sales messages, and use regular research to ensure that they are immersed in the needs of their customers. They should think about how marketing partnerships can help them quickly achieve significant brand equity within their target niche.

As example potential niches for telecommunications providers, I’ll be interested in seeing which provider becomes dominant in getting doctors to collaborate internationally; and, which provider becomes dominant in enabling business people to sell their B2B services remotely; and, writing as a market researcher, which provider becomes dominant in getting qualitative researchers to stop travelling the world to conduct group discussions.

Acknowledgements

Whilst the responsibility for this article rests with me, I would like to acknowledge the helpful discussions I had on this subject with Don Bray and Anneke Hohl of AltaTerra Research whilst preparing a webinar about ‘Expanding the Use of Telepresence’, run in Q4 2009 – available at https://altaterra.site-ym.com/store/view_product.asp?id=405624


[1] ‘Survey finds that over 35% of ‘American business flights’ are threatened by telepresence’, Haddock Research, May 29, 2009,

[2] Mvision website, http://www.mvision.co.uk/go-green/

[3] WWF-UK ‘Join the 1 in 5 challenge’, http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/get_your_business_involved/one_in_five_challenge/

[4] Climate Care Day, a working day without travel, http://www.climatecareday.com/

[5] FlyBe, Why Conference Calls Don’t Work, http://www.flybe.com/business/

[6] British Airways, Be there face-to-face, http://businessconnect.ba.com/

[7] Electrification Coalition, Coalition Members, http://www.electrificationcoalition.org/coalition-members.php

[8] High Growth Strategies for Professional Services Firms, Hinge Marketing – report available for free download (no registration required) at http://www.hingemarketing.com/highgrowth/ & on-demand webinar available at http://www.hingemarketing.com/library/article/high_growth_strategies_for_professional_services_firms_video/



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