Taming the Data Deluge

Marketers and consumers struggle with the volume of data the world now generates. David Benady asks how the two sides can jointly control the tide, including the advent of brand ‘data stores’.

Data is inundating the economy, overwhelming consumers and businesses with swathes of information that they struggle to comprehend. The overload is set to spiral as social media, mobile and geo-location technologies spew forth yet more reams of data.

With billions of web searches made every month, more than 20,000 new books published weekly and more texts sent daily than there are people on Earth, data is increasing exponentially. The number of exabytes (EB – equal to 1bn GB) of information created in 2011 hit 1750, double the 2009 figure, according to IDC estimates. There is twice as much data as storage capacity.

This torrent of data makes it hard for marketers to ensure their brand messages are heard above the noise. Consumers have become reluctant to open the floodgates to receiving more irrelevant information, and some are wary of providing personal details.

Research company TNS has analysed the way in which consumers ‘eat’ at this table of information and created five consumer segments based on their readiness to absorb data. It calls the data deluge ‘information obesity’, and looks at the way people create their own ‘eating plans’.

You are what you ‘eat’
‘Fast foodies’, it says, consume the easiest, lightest data they can find. ‘Supplementers’ devour as much information as they can. ‘Carnivores’ consume only meaty chunks – whole books and in-depth research. ‘Fussy eaters’ are loath to consume information from any source, while ‘balanced dieters’ never consume too much information; what they do take comes from a variety of sources.

TNS marketing sciences director Russell Bradshaw says these ‘eating plans’ are a good way for marketers to target resistant consumers. ‘By understanding the predominant “eating plans” that exist among their brand franchises, brand managers and chief marketing officers have a tool for maximising the reach, resonance and values of their campaigns,’ he says.

TNS analysis suggests that ‘carnivores’ are more likely to shop at Marks & Spencer, while ‘fussy eaters’ tend to stock up at Asda. This gives M&S leeway to bolster its communications, giving customers big, meaty chunks of information they can savour slowly. Asda, meanwhile, would do well to deliver information in bursts and offer online nuggets such as tweets to appeal to voucher-hungry customers.

Marketers acknowledge that segmenting consumers by their propensity to consume information can be useful, but many see it as an add-on to the already tough task of identifying relevant audiences.

David Torres, global manager of chemicals technology at Shell Research, says that Shell intends to embed the TNS eating plans into its work, adding that brands need to search the data they have for clear and relevant insights.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Maurel, head of retention at Sport England, says the ‘eating plans’ could be useful if blended with other tools. ‘The TNS data obesity segmentation makes a lot of sense and rings true anecdotally. It is a great idea to segment by the information consumers are prepared to receive, although perhaps this is an extra step to be added to current tools,’ she adds.

Maurel’s role at Sport England is to use data to help various sports’ governing bodies to increase participation and attendance, a challenge for smaller sports, such as hockey. One solution is to take data from grassroots sources, such as social media, and integrate it with i n fo r m at i o n from elite sports events.

While small sports may be unsophisticated when it comes to data collection, Maurel says some governing bodies are using real-time data to build their popularity.

British Cycling, for example, gets feedback from locally organised Sky Ride mass-cycling events and feeds it through to its board meetings. This, in turn, helps it shape the way in which Sky Rides are organised.

For many brands, the UK’s data-chain is dominated by retailers. They control the all-important information about sales, which they then sell back to brandowners. Nonetheless, retailers, too, are suffering from information overload, according to Chris Osborne, retail principal at software supplier SAP. A recent survey by SAP found that more than half of retailers believe they have more information than they can handle. ‘Structured’ data – such as till receipts showing items purchased, times of day, quantities and prices – has been around for decades. Osborne advocates combining this information with ‘unstructured’ data – such as the random chat of social media – as the next great challenge for brands and retailers.

The prize will be to build a total view of each customer’s likes, behaviour and loyalty, and target offers accordingly. A crucial step is ensuring both types of data are gathered and acted upon in real-time.

Osborne believes the development that will enable this is ‘in-memory’ data analytics, where the data is stored in the computer’s memory for quick retrieval, rather than on a conventional database where it is stored on a hard disk, making it harder to access and wasting capacity.

He envisages a two-track economy where success will depend on efficient use of data. ‘The retailers that win out will be the ones that are very careful about how they use data and don’t swamp consumers with irrelevant offers,’ adds Osborne. ‘Retailers that create competitive advantage are (also) careful about how often they communicate with consumers.’

Useful data vs ‘noise’
Given the retailers’ iron grip on data, some brands have turned to comparison website Mysupermarket.co.uk to gain access to information about their own performance through mini-shops on the site. Reckitt Benckiser, Kellogg, Danone and Nivea are among those to have created such stores.

James Foord, vice-president of business development at Mysupermarket.co.uk, says brands are only just beginning to grasp the distinction between ‘data noise’ and what is useful. The site allows brand-owners to create a direct relationship with consumers and thus control their data. Brands can analyse the battle between their products and stores’ own-label versions, for example – data retailers rarely release. ‘This is the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. Brand stores will open up a whole new level of insight that has real value,’ adds Foord.

The battle for data control is about more than simply capturing as much information as possible and keying it into a database. Finding ‘smart’ data can save time and money in research and bring significant benefits for brands. The challenge is to find the pieces of information that help a brand locate its best customers and give insights into their motivation for buying a product.

Mike Dodds, chief executive of integrated agency Proximity, recalls a cat-food brand’s CRM programme in which customers were questioned about their behaviour. The question that delivered the best data was: ‘Do you celebrate your cat’s birthday?’ The responses helped the brand discover the most involved and valuable customers.

A potential barrier to the development of data-driven marketing will be consumers’ attitudes to privacy and control of their personal details. The online giants, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, have built their businesses on getting users to give up their data in return for ‘free’ services. If the public refuse to play, this could put a spoke in the wheel of the data economy.

Chris Combemale, executive director at the Direct Marketing Association, says brands have to be upfront about privacy and make their policies simple and readable: ‘If you can’t put the policy on one page and make it clear, you have an issue.’ He also warns brands to avoid being ‘creepy’ online – by serving ads based on details consumers thought were private – which, he argues, can make digital marketing appear intrusive.

Modern marketing is essentially a battle for data. However, consumers themselves have the ultimate weapon: to switch off and stop sharing their information.

Technology was supposed to make life easier, but, in reality, it has made the world far more complex. The task of creating marketing campaigns that get heard above the din will only get harder still in a society deluged with data.

Marketing © Brand Republic

WalMart leads latest m-payments initiative

Store giant joins with two dozen US retailers to take leadership of NFC wave away from Google and Isis

Mobile payments’ progress has been held back by the sheer number of vested interests battling to take the upper hand in driving the platform. This is seen best in the US, where the main parties each have one or more initiatives – three of the top four cellcos in Isis; Google Wallet; schemes led by the credit card giants such as Visa; and separate programs by PayPal and others. Now the retailers, too, want a say, and about 25 stores, including Walmart and Target, have formed a consortium to develop their own m-payment system.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources with direct knowledge of the deal, the retailers are eager to limit the influence of either Google or the operators in this area. They would have various advantages in bringing store-based mobile payments, such as NFC-enabled systems, to market. They have an existing trusted brand for consumers, and would get round one of the major blocks in NFC’s path – merchant indifference or unwillingness to deploy terminals.

There are few details as yet, but Target said in a statement to the WSJ: “We are exploring potential solutions that would help us to deliver the fastest, most secure mobile-payment experience possible for our customers.”

However, Google claims 22 large US retail chains now support its Wallet initiative, even though that suffered recently from security issues, and is available only on the Sprint network and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset. Google is working with MasterCard and its PayPass network, while Isis is working with most of the major card processors, including Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and will start trials of its services this year.

Look customers in the eyes to lock them in the aisles.

Shopkeepers adopt the hard sell with some tailored software, writes Mark Russell.

IN THE film Minority Report set in 2054, a brewer’s advertising billboard identifies Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, through a retinal scanner. As he walks past, the billboard calls out: ”John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now.”

Far-fetched? Not according to retailers who believe this type of targeted advertising may well be the future of shopping.

New York company Immersive Labs is already using built-in cameras and facial recognition software in its outdoor billboards to determine the gender and age of passers-by so it can customise the advertisement on display to suit them and prompt sales.

So if a man strolls by on a cold morning, the display might change from an ad for women’s clothing to an advertisement suggesting a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe.

As Australian online shopping – expected to be worth $21.3 billion this financial year and $30.8 billion by 2015-16 – continues to threaten bricks-and-mortar businesses, retailers are using the latest technology, combined with social media, including more shopping apps, to lure customers back into their stores.

German shoemaker adidas is planning to install touch-sensitive display walls in stores from next year. The virtual footwear wall will allow customers to view the company’s entire range of 4000 pairs of shoes. If a customer likes a particular shoe the store will order it in.

Two cameras above the screen will watch shoppers’ reactions to determine which shoes are most popular. And like other companies, adidas is also gathering feedback by encouraging customers to use Facebook and Twitter to review its products.

Brisbane company Yeahpoint believes its MiMirror creation is the missing link between instore shopping and social media that will revolutionise fashion retail.

MiMirror is a touch-screen display with a camera that acts as a mirror and takes up to six photographs of customers in outfits they are considering buying. The shoppers then email the images to friends or post them on Facebook to get a second opinion.

No retailers have installed the technology yet, but the company is confident major stores will buy the device in coming months.

”The factors driving retailers’ decisions for the future are basically that the cost of business continues to increase and competitiveness in the retail environment is being challenged by the online market,” Yeahpoint’s John Anderson says.

”On the flip side, you have the time-poor consumer who wants to have a much more friendly, fun shopping experience.”

Sean Sands, of Monash University’s Australian Centre for Retail Studies, agrees, saying many consumers are bored with traditional retail and the only way to lure them back into stores is to offer the latest technology linked to social media.

A recent report released by the centre found that online shopping was creating tougher in-store customers because they were ”better informed due to the power of the internet”.

Half the population now research their purchases online before setting foot in a store.

Many are also armed with a wide range of shopping apps that can be downloaded on to iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads and other tablets and smartphones, that allow them to hunt for the best deals.

The RedLaser app, for example, allows instore shoppers to scan the barcode of an item to get the price and then checks online to see if it’s cheaper elsewhere.

Supermarket giant Coles’ ShopMate app, which notes specials and lets you cross off your shopping list as you go, has been downloaded 400,000 times.

Rival Woolworths does not have a shopping app but has one to locate missing trolleys.

Woolies’ app-lessness is not likely to last, however, as retailers respond to consumer demand.

Russell Zimmerman, of the Australian Retailers Association, says ”every retailer has to be in the online space in the foreseeable future” or they won’t survive.

According to PayPal, 8 million Australians buy goods using the internet, and one in 10 buy them with their mobile phones.

Google Australia’s head of retail, Ross McDonald, says this increasing use of mobile phones to search for stores and products has become a noticeable trend in the past six months.

Previously, 95 per cent of online traffic for shopping searches was from computers but 16-18 per cent of online inquiries were now from mobile phones. ”What we advise retailers is that it’s not so much about the app but making sure you are visible on a mobile device when someone searches for you,” he says.

Jo Lynch from Myer – which has an iPhone app that lets you peruse and buy goods with a tap of your finger – says the company expects its online business to generate sales of $5 million for 2010-11 and be worth up to six times that in the next few years.

David Jones’ Brett Riddington says the future of shopping is all about multi-channel retailing. ”Many customers will still want to go in-store to physically see the goods after checking them out online, but we need to make that a more entertaining and engaging experience,” he says.

Mobile payments at retail to explode.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is bullish on the growth of mobile payments in the coming year.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today, Schmidt said he believes one-third of all restaurants and retail outlets will allow for mobile payments within the next year, the Financial Times reports him as saying. He reportedly told those in attendance that that number should be enough for widespread adoption of mobile payments.

“I judge that based on how long I think it takes, because the terminals are available now, the software is available now or this summer,” the Financial Times reported Schmidt as saying. “How long does it take an infrastructure player to upgrade a significant percentage of their infrastructure–it’s on the order of a year, it’s not a week, it’s not a month but it’s also not five years. It’s an educated guess.”

Schmidt, who stepped down as Google CEO in April, has a vested interest in seeing more establishments allow for mobile payments. Late last month, his company unveiled Google Wallet, a service that uses near-field communication (NFC) to let users pay for purchases with their Android-based devices. Google said it will be partnering initially with Sprint, MasterCard, Citi, and FirstData on the service.

Google Wallet will be available on the Nexus S and will work with “a PayPass-eligible Citi MasterCard and a virtual Google Prepaid card.” The search giant was quick to point out that there are currently more than 124,000 PayPass-enabled merchants in the U.S. and more than 311,000 operating around the world.

Google said last month that all future Android smartphones will be NFC-compatible. Rumors suggest the next iPhone will also feature NFC technology.

But as Schmidt pointed out today, support for NFC in devices is just one piece of the mobile-payment puzzle; payment processors must also double down on the technology. However, Schmidt isn’t worried about that happening for one major reason: “fraud rates are so much lower” with the use of NFC, he said.

“Nobody knows how quickly this will occur,” Schmidt said of credit card companies updating payment terminals with mobile-payment support, “but it’s in their interests to convert as fast as they humanly can.”

 

Successful Brand Marketing

With an increase in trust deficit world over, here is what brand managers need to weed out of their environments to retain their brands’ trust

MARKETING’s greatest invention is the brand. In effect unheard of 100 years ago, brands and branding now march triumphant. Everything and everybody — places and destinations, political parties and social movements, people (first celebrities and politicians, now, it appears, all of us) — are brands.

Yet, aside from a few usual suspects such as Apple, in the branding heartlands, all is not well. Y&R executives John Gerzema and Ed Lebar highlighted the problem in 2008, when they reviewed longitudinal evidence from Y&R’s Brand Asset Valuator research programme. In their book The Brand Bubble, they charted a ‘precipitous’ decline in brand trust since 1993, along with sharp falls in consumer perceptions of quality, brand awareness and ‘brand esteem’.

In 1993, for example, consumers trusted 52% of the brands researchers asked them about. Fifteen years later, the figure had fallen to 25%. Gerzema and Lebar pointed out that stock markets may have been pushing up the value of brand-owning companies, but brands themselves were being ‘hollowed out’.
Then came recession. Halfway through, Promise chief executive Charles Trevail observed that “according to every survey and index on trust in institutions and organisations from around the world, trust is in terminal decline”. Even when the recession was supposed to be lifting, Alterian chief executive David Eldridge commented on his company’s latest research: “Consumer trust is at an all-time low.”

So what’s the problem? How can brands and branding be so successful, yet so sickly at the same time? The answer may lie with the occupational diseases of brand management — diseases that are generated by the daily working lives of brand managers.

MASKING THE PROBLEM
Brand management as ‘mask management’ is the most common of such diseases. Because brands are all about external communication, many brand managers find it hard to resist the temptation to paint ‘lipstick on the gorilla’ — telling customers what the brand manager knows they would like to hear, rather than keeping to the truth of what the organisation can, or actually intends to, deliver.

In reality, the most important part of the brand manager’s job is one of internalisation: bringing customer views and perceptions from outside the organisation inside, so that the organisation understands, responds and resonates to customers’ changing demands. Yet, activity-wise, the minute-by-minute focus of the day job is external communication. When changing the external message is easy (and fun) and changing the organisation inside is hard (and painful), the lures of lipstick-on-the-gorilla mask management can become irresistible. In fact, they can even be dressed up as a new theory. Remember when we were told that punters didn’t buy the beer, but its advertising? Remember George, the Hofmeister bear?

Next on the list is brand hubris. Not long ago, it was fashionable among brand consultants to show their clients a chart depicting the relative prices of different T-shirts. Some sold for a fiver or less, while branded ones were at least £50. “Which T-shirt do you want to be?” the consultants would ask. The difference between being able to charge £5 and £50 lies in “branding”, they would say. “We can help you become experts at ‘branding’.”

Well, they may have been experts at branding, but they were dunces at economics. If you sell 1000 T-shirts for £5 with a £1 margin, you make £1000 profit. If you sell 10 for £50 with a £48 margin, you make £480 profit. By implying that the supply/demand curve could be ‘branded’ away, these consultants were usually doing their clients a real disservice. While they were doing the rounds with their presentations on ‘branding’, full of impressive words such as ‘intangibles’, the brand that romped it on the high street was Primark.

That is not to say that discounting is always the best strategy. Rather, it is to challenge the widespread belief that it’s the ‘extra stuff on top’ — the stuff added by ‘branding’ — that is the source of brands’ margins and profits. The fact is that, apart from some special cases such as luxury goods, if you look at most successful brands — such as Amazon, Apple, Dell, easyJet, Facebook, Google, IKEA, Nike, Starbucks, Tesco, Toyota, Virgin and Wal-Mart — what marks them out is not superb ‘branding’ (sometimes it’s superb, but very often it’s not) but that they deliver outstanding customer value, often via breakthrough innovations, technology and/or underlying business models.
‘Branding’ alone hardly ever makes a business successful. It is businesses, including their culture and ethos, that make brands successful. And as soon as the business drops the ball on innovation, service, quality or price, or forgets its cultural roots, the brand quickly loses its lustre.

CLARITY OF PURPOSE
Brand narcissism is our third, closely related, occupational disease. Brand narcissism works on two levels. At the first, every brand manager desperately wants their target audience to recognise their brand, love it and be loyal to it by, for example, acting as an unpaid yet enthusiastic brand advocate.
There is nothing wrong with these dreams per se. They are natural. What is wrong is when we morph the wish into a ‘strategy’ of ‘success by being popular’ — where getting people to talk about and ‘love’ the brand becomes an end in itself, pretty much divorced from the value it’s supposed to be delivering.

The second level of this brand narcissism, which is even more dangerous, is where the brand manager forgets the underlying purpose of the brand and starts acting as if it’s the job of the customer to add value to the brand (by paying a price premium or being its advocate, for example), rather than the job of the brand to add value to the customer.

An obvious point, perhaps, but it can be difficult to remember in a world where your every passing thought, and key performance indicator, is about how well-remembered you are, how preferred you are, or how many people are talking about you.

Our final occupational disease is toolkit myopia. Brand managers are surrounded by a dizzying array of sophisticated tools and techniques for research, testing, data-gathering and evaluation. They are on an endless quest for the breakthrough insight and the sparkling creativity. It’s difficult to master all these things and the quest easily becomes obsessive. So much so, that it soon seems as if excellence at these diverse technicalities lies at the heart of successful branding — when it is not.

You can, for example, use exactly the same technical toolkit, excellence, to build a brand that perfectly communicates a brand’s unique value.
And to hide the fact that the brand is nothing more than a me-too mediocrity. You can use technical excellence to articulate specialness and hide sameness, but content-wise, they are opposites, having an opposite meaning to the customer.

The one thing that branding as mask management, brand hubris, brand narcissism and toolkit myopia have in common is that they destroy trust. They are potentially catastrophic mistakes, yet they are in the air brand managers breathe, growing naturally in their working environment. So they have to be combated on a daily basis.

How? What’s the antidote? To remember that a brand’s real job is to build trust, and that everything the brand does must be tested against this yardstick. It’s this simple human understanding that successful brand managers never let anyone forget.

Wireless Carriers: Your New PC Retailer?

Consumers on the prowl for new PCs may soon find themselves heading for the local wireless carrier instead of a big-box retailer. In a move that could dramatically change the way people shop and pay for computers, AT&T and other mobile-phone service providers are swooping in on the PC retailing business.

One of the earliest signs of this shift came Apr. 1, when AT&T began selling small laptop computers in Atlanta and Philadelphia for as little as $50 to people who also signed up to get at-home and mobile broadband services for two years. It was no April Fool’s joke. AT&T, the biggest U.S. phone company, is “very pleased with the early results” and is considering introducing the offer nationwide, says David Haight, vice-president of business development for emerging device organization at AT&T. He wouldn’t provide details on the results so far. Rival Verizon Wireless plans to offer small, inexpensive laptops called netbooks to customers this quarter. Other carriers are expected to follow suit.

With the market for cell-phone service saturated, the PC market represents a way for mobile-phone carriers to get more people to buy monthly wireless Internet-access service plans. Consumers who buy wireless Web access can save money on the up-front purchase price of a computer and, in some cases, the price of monthly access to high-speed Internetservices. But the shift in who sells PCs could also mean lower revenue for computer makers if it lures buyers toward lower-priced netbooks and away from big-ticket machines. It could also crimp demand for smartphones.

Bundling Netbooks with Service Plans

Wireless service providers are already emerging as big PC vendors in Western Europe, where companies like Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile International began selling netbooks last fall. Carriers already account for 20 percent to 25 percent of all small laptops sold there, estimates Richard Shim, a research manager at consultant IDC. The U.S. may not be far behind. PC maker Dell and retailer RadioShack began selling netbooks for use with AT&T’s wireless network several months ago.

Carriers are willing to absorb $200 or more of a netbook’s cost to get more people to sign up for related wireless data-service plans as well as other offerings. AT&T, for instance, offers discounted netbooks to people who also sign up for a $60-a-month bundle of its at-home Digital Subscriber Line Internet access and its on-the-go broadband service. In one of several deals, AT&T sells the Acer Aspire One netbook, which normally retails for $300, for $100 up front.

The emergence of carriers as computer distributors could spell changes, good and bad, for PC suppliers. On one hand, consumers who may not have bought a $500 PC may be tempted by a $50 one. “It’s about getting the next billion people online,” says Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at chipmaker Intel . “We see this as a definite opportunity for additional volumes,” especially in emerging markets, he says. Researcher IDC expects netbook sales to rise from 19 million units this year to 32.6 million units in 2012.

Mobile-phone service providers and their marketing muscle could also help their computer making partners grab market share quickly. T-Mobile, for instance, has sold 60,000 netbooks since making them available in September. “You could get quick market share, provided you work well with a telco provider,” says Shim. Such companies as Acer, Dell, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard , and LG — which have announced wins with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Vodafone — could end up climbing the market-share charts.

Downward Spiral of Prices and Margins

The deals with carriers could also make it easier later for PC makers to market other electronics, such as smartphones and mobile Internet devices [MIDs, which are slightly smaller than netbooks] through the carriers. Already, Acer and several other PC makers have announced smartphone models, and Dell is rumored to have developed one. “They’ll establish some brand presence and then slowly introduce a smartphone [in the following 12 to 18 months],” says wireless consultant Chetan Sharma. “This gives them expertise in the ecosystem.”

By the same token, faster sales of netbooks could mean diminished demand for more expensive computers. “The [PC] industry overall gets pulled into this downward spiral of [lower average selling prices] and margins,” says Roger Kay, founder of consultant Endpoint Technologies Associates.

And as netbooks take off, what happens to demand for smartphones made by such vendors as Nokia and Research In Motion? Some consumers may opt for a netbook — or its smaller cousin, the MID — instead of high-end smartphones that cost about as much. A netbook offers greater battery time of 10 to 16 hours, while a phone typically conks out after five. MID screens are larger and more conducive to watching video. The category could receive a boost if, as expected, iPhone maker Apple releases a MID-like device with video capabilities.

Why Not Multiple Mobile Devices?

Carriers also may wish to steer consumers away from smartphones and toward netbooks or MIDs. Today a smartphone brings more profit to carriers because it uses data as well as voice services; a netbook merely gobbles data. But this might change: Users of netbooks or MIDs may be willing to pay more for access to additional bandwidth so they can surf the Web and watch movies online. T-Mobile believes consumers may also pay for such extra services as a subscription to Microsoft Office and Norton AntiVirus software or to virtual storage services. Some users may buy display insurance and additional tech support from carriers.

Handset vendors such as HTC don’t foresee danger. “We see netbooks as being a new and emerging segment that’s expanding the pie,” says Steven Seto, executive director of marketing for HTC North America. After all, people buy multiple TVs for their homes. So they may buy multiple mobile devices. “It’s the inspiration for what one day might happen in our industry,” he says.

Carrier-sold netbooks are bad news for traditional electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart. “They are undercutting Best Buy by several hundred dollars [in up-front costs],” says John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “Companies like Best Buy and Wal-Mart are under some pressure because now they have a competitor.” Best Buy did not respond to a request for comment.

Cable companies such as Comcast, which did not return a request for comment, could suffer as well. Instead of hooking up to fixed broadband from a cable company, some consumers may opt for wireless or bundled wireless-home offerings from a telecom provider instead. What’s more, some 5 million to 10 million Americans already connect wireless notebooks to the TV and stream movies from Hulu.com and video from Google’s YouTube, says Phil Leigh, president of consultant Inside Digital Media. “The cable TV operators will discover their audience is using mobile video and will, over time, begin to cancel their cable subscriptions,” he says. “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s going to have big impact.”

Google launches Google Voice telecom service

Internet search giant Google is edging into the telecommunications sector by releasing a new application that will transform voicemail messages into text-based emails.

The service is currently available to United States users of a Google-owned telephone service called GrandCentral, which was acquired by the group in July 2007.

GrandCentral customers are provided with a single phone number to combine their landline and mobile numbers, as well as a voicemail account. The new service allows users to send transcribed voice messages to their email, make free domestic calls and take part in six-way conference calls.

“The new application improves the way you use your phone,” said the company in a blog post. “You can get transcripts of your voicemail and archive and search all the text messages you send and receive. You can also use the service to make low-priced international calls.

“When you receive a voicemail, Google Voice will automatically transcribe it into text so you can read what the voicemail is about,” the company says.

But Google warns that because the service is “fully automated [it] may include mistakes”.

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