How Verizon Wireless Is Alienating The High-Income, Tech-Savvy Consumer It Worked So Hard to Attract

Mixed Messages to Early Adopters Could Hurt Verizon's Brand

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What happens when a major consumer brand successfully claims the title of 'category leader,' appealing to the biggest spenders in the market, only to then do the very things that anger their highly coveted demographic? Verizon Wireless may be about to find out.

Verizon has spent the last few years positioning itself as the premier mobile carrier, touting top tier coverage while offering the hottest devices and pricing them accordingly, like the Droid Razr, HTC Rezound, and upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus – which allow for those lofty $300 price tags (with contract). These devices – and price points - appeal to the more affluent shoppers, early adopters, and gadget lovers.

But for a company that 's put a lot of resources into attracting the high-income, tech-savvy crowd, Verizon is also responsible for a string of decisions destined to alienate that group, starting with the useless 'bloatware' preinstalled on Verizon smartphones (why would anyone use VZNavigator when Google Maps is free and infinitely better?), to the carrier's shift away from unlimited data plans. But technophiles have accepted those decisions because, well, Verizon still had the hottest Android phones and best network.

That was all before Verizon decided to block one of the best new capabilities of the latest, greatest phone not named iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

For the uninitiated, the Nexus series of phones is a joint collaboration between Google and now Samsung (initially it was HTC) and are designed to feature the core Android experience, without the bloatware, custom skins or UI elements typically added by handset manufacturers. It's also meant to usher in the next generation of Androidy goodness – and the first to sport Ice Cream Sandwich, Google's latest iteration of the Android Operating System.

Consequently, tech junkies and other would-be purchasers (like myself), have been drooling over the Galaxy Nexus for what seems like years. The first launch date was rumored to be in October, then early November, then late November, then later November, then December 4th, 8th, 11th, and now maybe the 9th.

The handset is already available in the UK, but Verizon has remained strangely silent on the device, even as it stirs the collective yearnings of die-hard fans. Why? Two theories:

  • To allow as much time as possibly for the retail stores to offload the previously-awesome-yet-soon-to-be outdated devices, like the Motorola Droid Bionic, Samsung Droid Charge, and HTC Thunderbolt, the appeal of which – and consequently, the price they can demand, drop significantly with each newer and better option to hit the shelves.
  • To avoid cannibalizing holiday season sales of the aforementioned Razr and Rezound, the other two top-tier devices that would appeal to the high end consumer, yet can't compete with the flagship Galaxy Nexus.

Regardless of the rationale behind the decision, this tactic comes across as smarmy at best, preying on the uninformed who didn't know that the Rezound was around the corner when paying top dollar for an HTC Thunderbolt. Or worse, withholding the Galaxy Nexus indefinitely - until a sales quota is met on competing devices.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Amir Efrati reported Tuesday that Verizon Wireless will be blocking the Google Wallet application on the new phone, banning Google's mobile payment solution that makes use of Near Field Technology (NFC) – a functionality first coming to Verizon on the Galaxy Nexus.

Verizon claims that Google Wallet may eventually be allowed on the device when certain "security" and "user experience" standards are met.

"Google Wallet does not simply access the operating system and basic hardware of our phones like thousands of other applications," the company told Wired in a statement. "Instead, in order to work as architected by Google, Google Wallet needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones."

But the general sentiment among the tech community is that the move was made to protect Verizon's investment in Isis, a competing mobile payments option and joint collaboration between Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile which has yet to get off the ground.

So, in addition to forcing tech-savvy consumers to wait for this phone, Verizon is also cutting out its coolest feature, at least for the foreseeable future.

This seems to be a problem of one hand not knowing what the other is up to, except in this case, you've got at least three hands. The folks invested in the success of Isis (1) and those concerned with selling as many devices as possible (2) are actively negating the progress made by Verizon's marketing arm (3) responsible for the premier carrier branding and consequent destination of choice for the early adopting tech crowd, by pushing decisions that , for lack of a better term, piss off early adopting community.

Perhaps Verizon Wireless VP-Marketing John Harrobin will shed some light on the situation when he keynotes Advertising Age's Digital Conference April 17-18 in NYC. Or, perhaps it will all be sorted out by then. As a huge Verizon/Android user and fan, you know what I'm hoping for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Teicher is Ad Age 's social media and event content manager. Follow him on Twitter @Aerocles.
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