Telephones have always been universal. In the early days of the technology, government regulators made sure everyone benefited by making those in urban areas pay a little more to help fund lines to less lucrative rural areas.
"This notion of universal service created a one-message-fits-all idea," says Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research Corp., a telecommunications market research firm located in Parsippany, NJ. "Over time, this has morphed into one marketing message fits all. It does not take into account the variegated new America.
"Telecom companies need to look at their messages and tune them to both women and minorities who are becoming a large percentage of business owners."
Telecommunications is a commodity -- there's no real distinction between what one company sells compared to another. All companies buy their equipment from a handful of manufacturers, and there's really not a lot of difference on how they function.
"It's all on how it's presented," says Rosenberg. "It's who the customer perceives as doing a better job. There is clearly a need to communicate in a language the consumer can understand, and there are vast differences in how different cultures communicate. The companies need to look at what is required to communicate with women.
"There are better ways to do it that are different from those used for the typical male audience."
Highlights from Insight's research include:
- The number of small businesses (fewer than 100 employees) is projected to grow from 23.9 million this year to 32.3 million by 2005.
- In 1992, women owned one-third of all businesses in the United States.
- In 1999, women-owned businesses represented almost 40 percent of all businesses and generated $3.6 trillion in annual sales.
- The number of women-owned businesses increased from 7.9 million in 1996 to 9.2 million in 1999, a 16.5 percent increase.
- Women-owned businesses outstrip overall business performance in revenue and employment growth, according to the Department of Commerce.
- In 2000, Insight estimates small businesses will spend $88 billion for telecom products, enhanced services and Internet access. That will increase to $122 billion by 2005, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6.8 percent.
According to Insight, communications companies serving the small business market must understand and appreciate its complexity. Even as the small business markets' importance increases relative to the general economy, its composition changes, reflecting our society's changing appearance.
The richness of diversity represented by the small business market will be a significant revenue opportunity for those companies that can meet its needs. How to reach: Insight Corp., www.insight-corp.com
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN's special reports editor.