It kicked off a multimillion-dollar marketing effort in September backing its SkyTel 2-Way narrowband paging system, figuring it has a year jump on competitors to build its brand.
SkyTel will spend more than $10 million on the launch, said Leslie Boehler, director-advertising and marketing communications. "We basically are betting a lot on it."
The system allows customers to respond-using their pager-to pages they receive, using a menu of pre-set answers offered by the sender. Or a user can plug the device into a PC or palmtop keyboard and compose longer messages.
The $300 million satellite network made by Motorola serves the top 50 metropolitan areas and will expand to 300 by yearend. It can serve up to 5 million users.
SkyTel 2-Way service costs $24.95 a month for regional service, $74.95 nationwide. Pagers cost $399 or lease for $15 a month.
The company, a subsidiary of Mobile Telecommunications Technologies Corp., took advantage of a Pioneer's Preference Award from the Federal Communications Commission to get what SkyTel figures is a 12-month jump on competitors to establish its brand. The award gives the company an exclusive license to develop the technology.
"We want to do what Federal Express did-to make SkyTel the top-of-mind company," said Bruce Miller, president of the company's agency, Suissa Miller, Santa Monica, Calif. "We want to make the name so synonymous with paging that people will automatically call SkyTel."
The campaign uses a "Can your pager do that?" theme, and is running on network TV, plus newspaper and magazine ads in publications including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. Cable TV spots and trade ads will follow.
The TV campaign focuses on guaranteed delivery, which confirms to the sender that a page was received, and the ability to respond right from the pager.
In one spot, a nervous executive repeats to his secretary, "Did he get the page? Page him again."
For now, the strategy focuses on "the center of the target"-about 30 million people with pagers.
"We don't have time to educate non-paging users," Ms. Boehler said. SkyTel now has about 800,000 users, she said. "We're going to get more of other people's customers than we are of our own."
A dozen other companies, including AT&T, BellSouth Corp.'s Mobilecomm and Paging Network's PageNet, are rushing to enter the market.
AT&T Wireless Services plans to roll out a two-way paging system in major markets in the second half of 1996. The AT&T system uses "a very open protocol" that may eventually support voice messaging and other services, said Theresa Roberts, marketing director for messaging products.
BellSouth will test its voice pager this fall in cities where it provides cellular service.
PageNet also will test a two-way voice pager this fall, with national rollout planned for 1996.
Analysts say two-way wireless technology will breathe life into the pager market.
"I think there are a lot of computer and other hand-held device manufacturers out there just waiting for a nationwide system to hang their products on," said John Ledahl of Dataquest, San Jose, Calif.
Eric Zimits, an analyst for Volpe, Welty & Co., San Francisco, predicted that 20% to 30% of pager users will switch to two-way service.