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Summary:

Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein yesterday told employees that nearly 200 “brand ambassadors” are training Verizon Wireless staffers in an effort to boost sales. But Palm needs a new phone and a big-budget advertising campaign — not trainers — if it’s to get back in the game.

If Palm hopes to turn its business around, it needs better hardware and marketing, not the 200 “brand ambassadors” currently training Verizon Wireless employees mentioned in a please-don’t-panic memo by Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein to employees. Unschooled Verizon staffers are the least of the manufacturer’s problems.

The memo, which was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal, follows the company’s announcement yesterday that consumer uptake of its webOS handsets had been slower than expected, leading to weak orders from carriers. Rubinstein told employees Verizon had “recommitted” to help boost sales of the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, which the nation’s largest carrier launched last month. Rubinstein wrote:

“Dave Whalen and I just returned from a very successful meeting with Verizon Wireless, where they acknowledged that their execution of our launch was below expectations and recommitted to working with us to improve sales. To accelerate sales, we initiated Project JumpStart nearly three weeks ago. Since then, nearly two hundred Palm Brand Ambassadors, supplemented by Palm employees from Sunnyvale, have been training Verizon sales reps across the U.S. on our products.”

Rubinstein’s note also laughably cited “a growing number of Palm ads on billboards, bus shelters, buses, and subway stations.” That kind of marketing pales compared to Apple’s masterful TV commercials for its iPhone and the $100 million ad campaign for the Droid from Motorola and Verizon.

Such big-budget promotions are crucial in the superphone era, where a wide array of high-tech handsets can be had on the cheap. More importantly, though, it’s also becoming increasingly clear that consumers aren’t thrilled with either the Pre or the Pixi. So if Palm is going to get back in the game — a prospect that’s becoming less likely by the day — it will need to develop a gotta-have device and then back it with some serious marketing muscle.

Related content from GigOM Pro (sub req’d):

Marketing Handsets in the Superphone Era

Image courtesy of Flickr user usembassylondon.

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By Colin Gibbs

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  1. Exactly what I thought when I heard Palm was “deploying” brand ambassadors. Really? Both the Pixi and Pre are not horrible by any means, nor is WebOS. How about Palm slashes the prices to a position that undercuts even cheaper Android headsets? Lower prices = more people buying (which definitely means less revenue) but at to succeed Palm needs to gain a heaping amount of traction.

    I remember my old Palm 750p (it was my first smartphone) and I absolutely adored the little thing, but the old OS needed it’s retirement. IMHO Palm needs to build something sexy in the hardware department and keep their current OS.

  2. Perhaps what is lost here is simply that Apple, Google, and RIM have established services outside of their mobile products. The Google Super Bowl commercial was an excellent example of communicating what Google is, and extending that to mobile is a hop, skip and a jump. We may have entered a period where the cloud is already a purchasing decision. iTunes may already sell the iPhone. Google search and maps may sell Android. As email has sold BlackBerries.

    What is distinctive about Palm? These are questions that Nokia and Windows better begin to ask before launching new products.

  3. I absolutely love my Pre, after using a 1st-gen iPhone for a few years (which I loved). The webOS UI competes well, multiple app capability is a must-have, and so far all of the apps I need are available. Hardware is sub-optimal–not processor or display, per se, but the case/slider/plastic is horrible compared to the metal+glass iPhone.

    The lack of application partners at launch and slow maturity of webOS are the larger obstacles for Palm. The PDK and advanced apps/games came too late; if you come to market with a new device and OS without hardware acceleration and mature developers means a 2x adoption timeframe.

    We also need to see more devices w/webOS very soon in order for people to stay interested. The Pre is a good form factor, the Pixi is okay and fits a certain niche, but the next rev needs to be much more solid hardware a la Touch Pro 2.

  4. As an owner of a G1 for over a year now, and also an owner of a Pixi while my wife has had a Pre since launch. I have to say WebOS is the best mobile os I’ve ever used. The allure of Android only lasts so long then you realize that doing anything on there requires too many taps of that menu button and too many windows to navigate through to get things done. I don’t know if the number is actually higher than on my Pixi, but Android at least is more boring to do all that stuff with. Staring at black screens with white letters reminds me of the days of DOS. I’m not entertained with that anymore.

    My explanation for poor sales is a lack of marketing. You have to sell someone the product before they even get to the store. Palm hasn’t done that. The side issue is people are knocking it before they try it. I’ve owned both I’m pretty confidet I’ve tried it. Especially in comparison to those who handled it in the store and now chime in with their opinions. Not saying you guys are stupid, just saying my experience with the products are more clear. To bring it down to reality, I don’t use my G1 for anything but work phonecalls anymore. I bought it to use with work but the OS isn’t the most efficient, as well as how the G1 never got a pdf program lead me to getting a Pixi as my personal phone and now the G1 just sits there gathering dust.

    Oh well. I’m happy with webos, android is just too old school in it’s interface.. By that I mean simple gestures to get everything done insted of clicking menu then click click click. Have fun with your Android device, it was the best in my eyes till I came across webos, now it’s nothing. I hope you guys don’t make the mistake of looking around. It ruins how awesome android is.

  5. Lower prices do not mean more sales. In fact, it’s entirely possible that that would create the perception of cheapness, hurting Palm further.

    “More importantly, though, it’s also becoming increasingly clear that consumers aren’t thrilled with either the Pre or the Pixi.”

    I disagree with this. Pre/webOS has never gotten unfavorablereviews so saying people aren’t thrilled is misleading. People just don’t know what the hell the Pre is. The point you make right after is about marketing which Palm needs to focus big time on.

    This can be solved so simply, attack the iphone for it’s shortcomings! Go after it’s obtrusive notifications..go after it’s lack of multitasking..jesus Palm, style your commercials the same way Apple does for added effect.

    1. I may not be a “simple user” but I have many a friend who are and they have picked up both the Pixi and Pre and can automatically tell the difference (build quality) over HTC and Apple.

      I completely agree over the fact that the OS has never seen many negative reviews but with a dominant amount of not so great hardware…where is the selling point? You need to do one thing REALLY great (to succeed) and to attract consumers, hardware is the dominatrix in the mobile market right now.

      1. I agree that the Pre’s hardware is lacking but I think that software is what’s the driving force behind the mobile industry. It’s easier to upgrade than hardware and what sets handsets apart. Whereas eventually hardware will all be the same except for different form factors and such (I’m talking about the internals like cpu chipset, clock speed, compass, camera, etc)

  6. The Nexus One Needs More Hype – GigaOM Monday, March 15, 2010

    [...] can be directly traced to an almost utter lack of marketing for the phone. (That’s a lesson Palm has learned with its Pre. Twice.) Google’s promotion of its flagship device consisted largely of a placing a modest [...]

  7. Could a Better Carrier Have Saved Palm? Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    [...] now Palm is trying to stay in the game by engaging customers at the point-of-sale with brand ambassadors in Verizon and Sprint retail locations. Enabling sales staff to understand the benefits webOS [...]

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