This post has been languishing in my drafts folder for about a decade. It has recently become relevant again.
When I was at Vodafone, selling ringtones was our top priority. They cost almost nothing to produce, supply, and market. Yet people would pay through the nose for them. I say people. I mean kids.
We saw a huge spike in purchases just as schools finished for the day. While we didn’t exactly market directly to kids, we knew that they were buying.
Way back then, marketing high-price, low-friction goods to under 18s was seen as perfectly acceptable. Ringtones weren’t an addictive drug. They weren’t as pointless and dangerous as loot-boxes. While some people got scammed into subscriptions, most people seemed to genuinely like having a different 25-second-long clip of a popular song every day.
One of the marketing gurus we had on staff came to talk to us about promotion.
“Who is our biggest competitor?” she asked.
We listed off the other mobile operators, the third party ringtone providers, the nascent app stores.
“No.” She said. “We are in direct competition with Mars, Nestle, and Coca-Cola! Every time a kid has 25p to spare, they have a choice. They can choose to buy a chocolate bar, or they can choose to buy a ringtone. Our job is to encourage them to buy digital goods, rather than sugary treats.”
The way she made it sound – it was almost like we were doing these kids a favour by saving them from a life of tooth-decay and diabetes!
Nowadays, most adverts for subscription services have a line about how their product “costs less than a posh coffee!” That’s their competitor – your disposable income.
It’s the same for most services. You’re not competing against the other players in your industry. You’re fighting for attention with Minecraft and Mario. There are only 24 hours in the day – who does the customer choose to spend it with?
But, perhaps more than that, your biggest competitor is the desire by your users to preserve their last bar of battery life.