Countdown to Phone Launch: Three Ways for Marketers to Win

By: Scott Falzone, Managing Director, Telecom

As summer wanes and back-to-school season begins, the countdown to launch has begun. While pundits predict this year’s product roll-out, we know one thing is certain: the end of the year is primetime for smartphone launches. In 2018, seven major device launches happened in the span of 7 weeks between September and October¹

With 60% of US phone sales happening through carriers’ outlets², launch season is a critical moment for telecom wireless carriers, especially as the first 5G smartphones hit the market. This year, it is projected that 5G-enabled devices will reach 2.1 million units sold and generate $1.9B in revenue³

To capture growing demand, Telecom and consumer electronic retailers must engage with consumers now, in order to win them later, when they are ready to buy.

Here are three ways that marketers can win:

When they show intent, you show up.

Launch season is the peak of the mountain, but the climb up is equally, if not more, important. In fact, 45% of annual smartphone searches on in the UStook place from the iPhone launch through the end of the year, and 27% of sales took place in the last quarter (2018)5. This leaves plenty of opportunity for brands to capture consumer attention in the first half of the year. 

As we look ahead to 2019, it is crucial to have the right KPIs. At launch, prioritize pre-orders and active researchers. Brands that build an audience of active researchers during the pre-order period see an average of an 3-8x better click through rate and 30-50% cheaper CPCs than during the period when the iPhone is announced, but before people are able to purchase.4

By prioritizing high-value traffic, marketers are able to build first-party data on audiences that have strong intent to buy. 

Tactics like remarketing, based on advertiser-prioritized audience lists, have the power to drive more and more efficient sales and can be activated all year long. 

Go beyond the latest and greatest. 

With 91% of U.S. households owning a smartphone, and multiple options available across price points6, replacement cycles are longer than ever—at nearly three years vs 2.6 years three years ago.7

Consumer incentive for purchase is changing too. Today’s phone purchases are primarily need-based, with the majority of consumers (64%) saying that they purchased a new phone because they could not continue using their previous one vs. 4 years ago, when the top reason for purchase was “Old one was fine, wanted a new one with different features”.8

All this means that launch season brings renewed interest in older phone models:

On the heels of Apple’s 2018 phone announcement, queries for previous model devices  (e.g. iPhone 7) grew 180% WoW in 20189, and older models of Apple (iPhone 8 or older) represented  34% of carrier sales.10

When marketers plan for phone launches, media budgets must also account for renewed interest in older versions, yet another high-intent opportunity to capture sales.

Use digital as your sales assistant.

While the majority (70%) of smartphone sales still happen offline11, online is the number one source of research before making purchase decisions.12

  • 59% say they prefer to go online to get helpful recommendations or suggestions on what to buy, compared to 28% for offline
  • 59% say they prefer to shop online to get the best deal possible—the number one thing that people say they enjoy about shopping 

“Consumers are looking for online experiences to help them learn more about a product,” says Sprint Chief Digital Officer, Rob Roy. “Having a strong digital presence drives sales across all channels and has been crucial to our success during iconic phone launches.”

Whether a customer prefers to buy online or in store, Google Shopping Ads provide marketers with a rare opportunity to dominate the search results page, especially on mobile. The ads generate 89% of non-brand paid search clicks for product-specific searches and often appear above all other search results.14

For marketers looking to provide a seamless online to offline customer experience, Local Inventory Ads can help. Appearing on the search page, they allow consumers to see if the product they want is available at a local retailer for purchase or pick-up.

By offering assistive, online experiences to shoppers – visual results of the product, directions to your store location, information about product features – tech marketers create more opportunities for brand engagement and more options for consumers to learn more. 

The road to launch is longer, wider and has more switchbacks than ever before. By being present in moments of intent leading up to the launch, establishing the right KPIs, investing in older phone models and keeping online front and center, marketers can best position themselves for the biggest launch season of the year.

Android Authority, October 2018

Traqline, Q4 2018

Consumer Tech Association, SmartBrief

Google internal search data, Telecom

Mscience, Q4 2018

Consumer Tech Association, Smartbrief

The Wall Street Journal, “Upgrade? No Thanks. Americans Are Sticking With Their Old Phones”, October 2018

Traqline, Q4 2018

9Google internal search data, Telecom 

10 Mscience, Q4 2018

11 Traqline, Q4 2018

12 US Smartphone Shopper Study March 2018

13 Google/Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Base: Total sample (n=1,019) U.S. online 18+ who shopped in the last week, Feb. 2019

14 Merkle