Making VoIP a Household Name

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) can save consumers and small businesses a lot of money with flat-rate service plans and a less costly technology to place calls. In a Web context, it promises to bring click-to-call functionality, which in turn opens the door for cost-per-call models that will mirror the economies and effectiveness of pay-per-click models in online directional advertising.

But the problem is that no one knows about it. Well, most of the mainstream public doesn’t know about it. Twenty percent of U.S. adults believe VoIP is a European hybrid vehicle, and 10 percent think it’s a low-carb vodka, according to a September poll by Harris Interactive. Overall, 80 percent of respondents got the answer wrong.

Enter the latest industry consortium with lots of money earmarked to spread the message.

VoIP companies (or those with their hands in the VoIP pot in some way), including Skype, Earthlink, Level 3 and Google, announced earlier today the formation of a marketing campaign to bring VoIP to the masses.

A suggestion to this industry group: Try to convey the benefits and cost savings of VoIP but don’t mention VoIP. Mainstream consumers are naturally averse to technology acronyms, as shown by the Harris poll, and other technologies such as RSS. Eighty-three percent of RSS users are unaware that they are using it, according to an August study by Nielsen/NetRatings. We can mostly thank MyYahoo!, which has gained a leading (32 percent) share of the RSS readership market without mentioning the term RSS.

Look at VoIP provider Vonage (not involved in today’s announcement), which has assembled the largest individual VoIP subscriber base in the U.S., with a multi-platform advertising blitz that, you guessed it, never mentions VoIP. Vonage’s tagline is The Broadband Phone Company.

Google, Yahoo! and MSN have integrated VoIP into their IM products without using the term. IM is a logical point of entry for the technology to gain traction before it is integrated into Web search, where it can then be monetized using click-to-call for ads in search results.

With PPC, SEO and SEM for SMEs, the last thing directories need when selling mulit-platform advertising to small businesses is another acronym.

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