Mark Ritson on Branding: Skype's call is worth the disruption

It all began in the car park behind my college bar in 1992. Despite an overdraft even more impressive than my own, my best mate Simon had bought himself a mobile phone. Even more impressive, in return for a pint of beer (the common currency back then) he was prepared to let me make a call on it. By gingerly tapping in my parents' phone number and uttering the immortal words 'Mother, I am calling you from a car park', I made my first faltering steps into the world of mobile communications.

Exactly a decade later it was Simon who turned up at my London flat with unusual white earphone sockets attached to his head. With a flourish he whipped out a weird-looking white box and we spent the next two hours drinking beer (some things had not changed) and debating the mind-boggling concept of an iPod that was the size of a Walkman, but which could accommodate 200 times as many songs.

According to Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, Simon can be found slap-bang at the start of the adoption curve because he is an early adopter. He lives for innovations and spreads his discoveries down the curve to people like me in the 'early majority'.

This week, Simon was at it again. I have received a stream of obtuse emails from him that are all confusingly similar:



R U Online? Get Skype and call me. Dead easy.

For those of you even further down the adoption curve than me, Skype enables users to make voice calls over the internet. Users can call another email address, which is free, or a real phone number, which is charged at the traditional phone line connection rate of 1p a minute.

While this form of voice-over-internet service has been banging around for years, Skype is notable for three reasons. First, you don't need special hardware to set up the system. You simply download the software and use your existing PC microphone and speakers to make the calls. Second, it is growing. Fast. Almost 75m people are already registered to use the service and when that long list includes techno-muppets like me, a deluge of mass users cannot be far away. Third, Skype was purchased by eBay last month for $2.6bn (£1.5bn). Both the amount paid and the company paying it are instructive: this is about to get big.

Skype is a classic example of a disruptive technology. Disruptive technologies are the bane of all marketers, as they do not evolve gradually within the traditional para-meters of customer expectations and so are invisible to market research.

Previous examples, such as personal computers, digital cameras and automobiles, grew slowly, then suddenly disrupted an established category and its incumbent brands.

Skype looks particularly pernicious because the internet allows disruptive technologies to both evolve their services and acquire new users at quantum speeds. It is also threatening one of the slowest, least customer-focused businesses in the history of marketing: telecommunications. The idea of a lumbering BT taking on a nimble Skype brings new perspective to the David versus Goliath scenario.

Consider the four Ps of Skype and you begin to grasp its potential. Product: its integration into existing software packages and constant evolution means it is already superior to traditional fixed- and mobile phone lines.

Place: it is available globally via a download that takes less than two minutes. Price: it is free, regardless of where you are calling. Promotion: no doubt you'll be getting an email from your equivalent of Simon in the next week or so.


- Skype is a free software download that allows users to make voice calls over the internet. Calls to other Skype users are free.

- Most Skype users live in Europe or Asia; less than one-eighth live in the US and Canada.

- The software can be used on equip-ment running Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Pocket PC software, and calls are highly secure because of the system's end-to-end encryption.

- The system's SkypeOut facility allows users to call people on fixed-line or mobile phones. The charges for these calls are calculated on the basis of the recipient's location, not where they are being called from. The SkypeOut Global rate, which applies to the most popular call destinations, is equivalent to about 1p a minute.

- SkypeIn provides users with a regular number; Skype also has a voicemail facility and allows users to forward calls to traditional phones.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug