Sprint stays on track with its brand name

In an industry characterized by stifling indifference to branding, Sprint arrived on the telecom scene as bright as a new pin.

It was 1987. The telecommunications industry, dominated by engineers and defined by its regulated past, had thrown up Bell Atlantic Bellsouth, Southwestern Bell, USWest, Ameritech Pacific Telesis, Nynex, and thousands of names that ended in cell, com or tel.

My former Landor Colleague and mentor, John Diefenbach, delighted in telling the drollery about Telesis sounding like something you caught, and Nynex being what you rubbed on to get rid of it.

Sprint was freshly different. In a word of one syllable the name conveyed energy, speed, agility, life and the right element of out-of-category surprise that marked it out as a pioneer.

But for all its breakthrough bravado the origins of the name are much more mundane. They go all the way back to the railroads.

The Southern Pacific Railroad of San Francisco maintained an extensive microwave communications system along its rights-of-way that it used for internal communications.

In 1972, Southern Pacific Communications, a unit set up by the railroad to manage the communications business, began selling surplus system capacity to corporations, circumventing AT&T’s then-monopoly on public telephony. As regulation loosened SPC began providing long-distance telephone service in 1978.

SPC decided it needed a new name for the switched voice service and ran an internal contest. Sprint was the winning entry.  The name is derived, it is said, from the initial letters of Southern Pacific Railroad Intercontinental Network of Telecommunications.

The Southern Pacific line

While the ‘SPR’ part of the name is logical enough, an ‘Intercontinental Network of Telecommunications’ feels more than a little forced. What we have here is a backronym, I suspect, not an acronym.

Anyway, the Sprint service was born and went on to survive several corporate mergers involving GTE, Telenet, United Telecom, US Telecom, Uninet, and ISACOMM.

By 1992 Sprint had achieved national recognition, thanks in large part to Candice Bergen’s “Dime Lady” ad campaign. Its then parent, United Telecommunications, sensibly adopted the name of its long distance unit to become Sprint Corporation.

In a 2005 ‘merger-of-equals’ Sprint merged with Nextel to become Sprint Nextel. The Nextel brand withered and has all but died. It is scheduled for retirement in 2013. The Sprint brand lives on.

Last Monday, Softbank, a Japanese company, announced a $20.1 billion deal to buy about 70 percent of the company, giving the Sprint the new life it needs to fight at least a few more rounds in the telecom wars.

How the power of the Apple brand is reshaping entire industries

2011 will surely go down as the year Apple changed the face of the communications industry.

Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2011

In the space of just a few weeks, industry giants Nokia and T-Mobile have both crumpled under the Apple tsunami. Now Acer, the world’s No. 2 PC maker by shipments, is the latest to feel the pain.

Yesterday it was reported that Gianfranco Lanci, Acer’s CEO, resigned as part of the company’s efforts to reorganize its operations to tackle the rising challenge from Apple’s iPad.

The management change comes after Acer revised its first-quarter earnings forecast downward last week amid increasing concerns about sluggish demand for notebook PCs globally. The iPad is beginning to eat into the notebook and netbook markets, in which Acer has strong positions.

Three weeks ago AT&T announced its plan to acquire T-Mobile, the 4th largest wireless carrier in the United States. Most of the news focus was on AT&T and it’s need for spectrum and network quality to stem the dropped calls for which it has become notorious.

What had made T-Mobile so amenable to the merger was the advent of the iPhone.

The Game Changer

Customers weren’t having any problems with the T-Mobile network. The problem they had was that they wanted the iPhone and T-Mobile couldn’t offer it to them. So they left in droves.

T-Mobile’s reported a net loss of 318,000 customers in the last three months of 2010, which is more than twice as bad as the 117,000 customers lost during the same time period in 2009. It followed the 60,000 customers lost in Q3 2010.

T-Mobile failed to convince subscribers that it had a phone worthy of consideration over the iPhone and paid dearly for it. When Verizon started carrying the iPhone on February 11 the game was evidently over.

Coincidentally, on that same day, the CEO of cell phone giant Nokia announced a deal with Microsoft to use its Windows 7 software in an attempt to get back into a game it once dominated.

In a now famous “burning platform” memo to employees CEO Stephen Elop identified the cause of Nokia’s problem: Apple.

“The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.”

Nokia’s share price has fallen by two-thirds since then as it tried, unsuccessfully, to produce an iPhone killer. In the meantime, low-cost Chinese manufacturers, using Google’s Android software, have eaten into Nokia’s sales of basic handsets in emerging markets and are moving up the value chain quickly, commoditizing the entire industry in the process.

Where Nokia and Acer (and Motorola) see devices, Apple sees creative connections.

Apple has blurred the distinction between phones and computers, integrating them both into a mobile computing platform which is wrapped and delivered in the Apple brand experience.

The iPhone is a full-blown computer with touchscreen technology that turns the mobile Internet into a user-friendly experience. The apps that began appearing in 2008 enabled people to customize their iPhones to suit their lives.

It was the precursor of the iPad, which in itself has moved the game forward (as Acer would affirm). Both are natural expressions of the Apple brand ecosystem – form and function are seamlessly linked and forged into objects of desire. Expect to see news about Apple TV soon.

The power of the Apple brand is in its ability to create desire, to generate demand and to open new markets. Others can only follow, chasing market share with me-too products sold through low grade, third-party retail experiences.

Apple has already revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes store. One year ago the store served its 10 billionth song download; a milestone was reached in just under seven years of being online, making Apple the largest music retailer in the world.

This communications revolution is just beginning.

This video of Steve Jobs is always worth a view, if only as a reminder of the foundational philosophy behind the Apple brand.

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