Less than two weeks before its much-anticipated debut of the Palm Pre, Sprint appears to have adopted a two-pronged marketing strategy: limit the number of devices available at launch, and don’t bother putting much marketing muscle behind the gadget.
“We don’t intend to advertise it heavily early on because we think we are going to have shortages for a while,” CEO Dan Hesse said, according to Reuters. “We won’t be able to keep up with demand for the device in the early period of time.”
Sprint partner stores — which consumers usually assume are the carrier’s own retailers — won’t offer the gadget at launch, and even some Sprint outlets won’t carry the Pre. Best Buy and Radio Shack, which will also carry phones at launch, are rumored to be receiving less than a handful of phones each. Which might not actually be a problem, given the fact that non-techies won’t know about the Pre, thanks to a lack of general advertising.
Sprint seems to be trying to take its cues from Apple, which faced shortages with its initial iPhone and with subsequent versions. Pent-up demand fueled media coverage and excitement; Palm could be aiming to recreate that energy. But while the iPhone essentially created a new market — a high-end device for prosumers and casual users — the Pre will attempt to find an audience in what’s become a cutthroat space. Even more importantly, Apple backed its mobile with big-budget marketing campaigns that clearly demonstrated what the iPhone can do, ginning up demand.
The biggest problem with that tack is that Sprint has a relatively small window in which to gain traction with the Pre. Apple is expected to unveil its latest version of the iPhone within days of the Pre launch. T-Mobile USA has vowed to roll out new Android gadgets from at least three vendors later this year. And Verizon — which has demonstrated remarkable marketing savvy with its recent smartphones — is already accepting deposits for the LG EnV Touch, a feature-heavy device that will replace the popular LG Voyager, and will reportedly launch the BlackBerry Storm 2 later in June.
Analysts have been impressed with the Pre, and Palm has a long — if somewhat dated — track record with high-end handsets. But it’s difficult to overstate how important the Pre is to Sprint and Palm, both of which are in desperate need of a hit. It would be a shame if it failed to attract users simply because Sprint failed to support it with advertising dollars and well-stocked shelves.