Q&A: Qualcomm CMO Says 5G’s Potential Is ‘Not Well Understood’

Next-generation wireless network will change almost every industry

Qualcomm CMO Penny Baldwin presentation on 5G
Penny Baldwin is already strategizing how to pitch 5G to companies with widely different levels of comfort with technology. IAA India Chapter

With the next generation of wireless network, 5G, set to open the door to a host of new connected device markets, Qualcomm has been remaking its marketing operations to accommodate a dramatic expansion of its customer base.

After years of catering to the same 300 or so mobile manufacturers, the telecom equipment giant is now in a position to serve business-to-business customers ranging from factory operators and automakers to speaker brands and performance venues. But the company is also finding that not all industry leaders are well-versed in what it sees as some of 5G’s more far-flung applications beyond mobile speeds—uses like coordinating assembly lines, remaking retail spaces or streaming media to connected cars.

Qualcomm CMO Penny Baldwin spoke to Adweek about how the company is marketing across these varying levels of technical familiarity, 5G’s potential to change marketing and how her department is eating its own 5G “dog food,” so to speak.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

With 5G expected to bring wireless service to an array of devices beyond handsets, how does that change the pool of customers to which Qualcomm is now marketing?

It will have a transformative impact on our marketing. Basically, we’ve been dealing with 300-plus handset manufacturers, like Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Vivo in China and others. So it’s a fairly limited customer footprint and all known suspects, so to speak, that can easily be reached through personal relationships. But as we begin to migrate into these adjacency markets—like industrial and internet of things, for example—you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of customers and a very different customer profile.

Connected cars bring in a customer footprint of all of the automotive companies around the world. That’s already well underway. We’re doing business with most of the world’s leading automotive brands, but that’s a relatively recent development. Then you’ve got connectivity options and voice and music, where we enable vastly improved audio quality. That means doing business with customers like Bose, for instance. As our customer footprint expands exponentially, the role and contribution of marketing will also change. There’ll be a lot more need for lead generation, lead nurturing and ecommerce capabilities that we don’t currently have.

How familiar do these new clients tend to be with 5G when you first approach them?

It’s uneven—that’s how I would characterize it. The one thing that is a constant is that everybody, including government officials around the world, really value and appreciate the importance of leading in 5G here in the United States. At the 30,000-foot level, there seems to be a common understanding and a common perception.

Beyond that, the level of understanding of what 5G will enable, the benefits it will bring, are not well-understood because it’s a technology in its infancy. While you’re starting to see 5G launches around the world have already happened in Europe and in China and here in the United States with handset manufacturers, the transformative elements of 5G beyond mobile are not well understood.

When you’re dealing with so many different industries with different applications, as well as complex concepts like edge computing and network slicing, how do you boil that down into a compelling marketing message?

Our marketing mix has many different dimensions and elements to it. For the in-the-know, very technically savvy audiences who are more on the cutting edge and want to harness this technology to bring their own products and services to market, we do a lot of very robust kind of thought leadership pieces, use-case scenarios and suggestions on the merits of the technology.

So there’s a deeply conversant technological marketing role, and then there are concentric circles beyond that, reaching all the way out to talking with senior business leaders and government officials about why 5G will have a really profound economic impact in the jobs it will create, the industries it’ll breed and the new business models that will be enabled. So there’s a whole spectrum of marketing activity that is required to reach different audiences with different levels of understanding.

How do you employ 5G in your own marketing efforts, and how do you see it eventually changing the field of marketing?

We very much have to eat our own dog food. So I’m pushing the team very hard to begin thinking about how we use 5G in our own marketing efforts by way of example. We are envisioning really harnessing the power of AR and VR experiences as part of our communication. We are looking at the possibility of merging digital and physical world orders together because of the profound improvements in being able to project three-dimensional images and using volumetric data to have a virtual experience—redecorating your living room, for instance. While some of that technology exists today, it’s fairly jaggy and rough and not a high-quality experience.

Then there’s the opportunity to transform experiences for consumers at major venues, sporting events and concert events … because of the vastly improved network capacity that comes with 5G.

I also think that 5G will enable hyper-personalization. If you think of classic customer journey mapping, where you’re trying to lay out what are all the steps that a B2B decision-maker or a consumer goes through in order to arrive at a buying decision, that journey will be captured in all of this data that all these smart connected devices will breed. And with the help of AI, you’ll be able to harness all of that data in a way that makes your marketing and your messaging far more tailored and customized to the individual customer.

@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.