One of the great features of the handset market 10 years ago was the ability for a newcomer to make a splash by doing something a little different. There was a diversity and choice that made things unpredictable. There were top tier manufacturers, second tier manufacturers, and a host of innovators and chancers trying to force their way in from the margins. One product with a bit of standout, whether based on design, or even just an unusual colour scheme, could put an unknown player onto the map.
Those were the days when handset buyers at the networks used to take a chance – days when they used to feel they had something to gain, not everything to lose, from going against the status quo.
Now, instead of 15 to 20 players there’s just a handful of serious manufacturers. And rather than half a dozen form factors, every smartphone is basically a touchscreen slab.
So when Kazam popped up promising to be a new breed of manufacturer, I was skeptical. How could a player without scale or a track record break into a market that was sewn up tighter than the proverbial kipper. The Phones 4u partnership throws some light on how this could be. Kazam is positioning itself as a challenger brand. For a handset maker, that has traditionally been a euphemism for price cutting. But Kazam is putting a marketing twist on this, picking up on what consumers are not getting from other manufacturers - and operators - and then putting it right to great fanfare.
Apple has won lots of fans for the way its stores swap out defective or damaged products with barely a quibble. It is just one way in which it tries to underwrite customer delight. Kazam has its own spin. Everyone hates it when their shiny new phone gets a scratched or cracked screen. So it is offering to replace their screens free of charge. This is a great marketing opportunity and a chance to make a noise - wh ich is what challenger brands are all about. In times when both handsets and handset makers are sadly lacking in character, it is a wonderful way to get attention and stand out from the crowd.
Operators used to do this sort of thing, and Virgin Mobile was the past master. From a standing start as a plucky little upstart brand, it eventually became the fastest growing ‘network’ in the market. Kazam will be doing brilliantly well if it can emulate - and sustain - such an approach. In which case it will make its founders, Michael Coombes and James Atkins, rich men indeed.