Telecom 'Tea Leaves' Fill T-Shirt Drawer

Have you checked your underwear drawer lately? In there you will find the future success stories of the telecom industry.

We swear it ... just check.

A quick inventory of Danny's "wardrobe" indicates that telecom is all about these garments. Every year about this time, he cleans out his closet of all the excess T-shirts, caps, boxer shorts, golf shirts, etc., that bear logos from companies. The trick for vendors is to stay in the drawer through this "winter purge," as Danny's wife (who instigates it each year) fondly calls the task.

Let's see what we find in this year's collection:

Oldest shirt: A Teleos Calvin and Hobbes T-shirt that reads: "It's crazy around here." (Remember Teleos? The would-be competitor to Ascend swallowed by FORE?)Latest shirt: A Ramp Networks bright red T-shirt saying "DSL is Hot" (came complete with salsa, chips and red plastic cups). This one's the most significant because it is the only red garment Danny has and, therefore, served as his primary Christmas garb.

Most identical: Four of the same NetSpeed T-shirts. NetSpeed put most of its money into marketing, and almost everyone has its T-shirts. While Cisco bought it years ago, the company is still a reference point. Ever hear people talk about Amati, Performance Telecom or other former DSL flames? Nope. No T-shirts in the drawers, that's why.

Most obsolete: Two CommunicationsWeek T-shirts that still wear well but somehow are just not pertinent anymore.

Favorite shirt of spouse: A Copper Mountain denim shirt with howling wolf -- nice feel after many washes.

Most comfortable: A T-shirt from Jordan Telecom made of Egyptian cotton. Wow, what a feeling. All T-shirts should be made from Egyptian cotton.

Most noticeable: TimeSteps' Awesome Powers (get it? Austin Powers?), which always causes a double take as people try to read it. No good follow-up for non-telecom people, but they like the shirt.

Largest number of T-shirts from one vendor: Ascend shirts ... another fabulous marketer. It helps you understand why Ascend's marketing worked and why its stock went out of sight.

We hate to generalize, but the most successful companies tend to be those having the most consistent presence in the T-shirt drawer. It is the consistent presence over time that shows their continuous marketing and, if they remain year after year, it is reflective of their ability to stay in business.

Before you move on and say this is superficial as all get-out, think about it.

T-shirts mean consistent and frequent exposure over a period of time. Boxer shorts are (usually) hidden. Caps are not really worn all that frequently by non-employees. Golf shirts and other trade show-like shirts make you feel like you are endorsing the companies too much.

T-shirts are the right middle ground. The more you see them, the more you can be sure of a company's future success.

(Briere is president and Heckart is vice president of TeleChoice, a consultancy in Boston. They can be reached at dbriere@telechoice.com and checkart@telechoice.com.)

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