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It’s Not Too Late for TomTom to Raise the White Label

by Roger Lanctot | 11月 01, 2011

It’s important for one to know one’s place in the world. This is especially difficult given the fact that one’s place may change. When this happens there may be telltale signs, like emails or polite taps on the shoulder or a whisper in the ear. TomTom should consider this commentary a “heads up” – the kind of alert a friend gives another friend when a sharp or heavy object is flying toward someone’s head.

The heads up is that it is time for TomTom to take a one-two punch to its current strategy.

Punch One: Launch a white label fleet telematics program to enable faster growth of the business services group and capitalize on the fleet industry’s current movement toward consolidation.  Servicing the fleet industry is a critical global market differentiator for TomTom and it is not too late to take advantage.

Punch Two: Shift to Android as a more potent platform for enabling in-vehicle app distribution.  (More on Punch Two at a later date.)

One has to love this company which has parlayed some of the cleverest marketing and product innovation into traffic and portable navigation market leadership.  The problem for TomTom, sadly, is that the market has moved on.  This has never been clearer than in the latest earnings report.

It’s true the company was able to report growth in its automotive segment (43% to €59 million), content and services (19% to €107 million), licensing (27% to €36 million) and business solutions (33% to €17 million), but the largest business, consumer, plunged (23% to €225 million).  The decline in the consumer business of €68 million, more than offset the aggregate gains in the other segments of €30 million. 

What was unclear from the company’s financial release was whether – after “impairments” and restructuring charges the company was actually profitable.  Earnings per share for the most recent quarter were positive though the year-to-date-earnings remain negative.

Core business is down

TomTom acknowledges that much has changed in its core business of selling mobile navigation devices.  While the company still claims portable navigation market leadership in Europe and some market share gains in the U.S., this leadership is over a dwindling market.

TomTom reported a decline in the total European portable navigation market during the quarter to 3M units from 3.4M in the year-ago quarter, with the U.S. falling even more severely to 2.1M units from 2.9M.  The company further noted that the speed of the market decline may be contributing to an inventory hangover, something that has plagued the segment for more than a year. 

If you have any doubts regarding the state of the portable navigation industry, a visit to your local electronics retailer will reveal a category suffering arteriosclerosis.  Without sufficient demand, existing products are not selling through quickly enough to maintain innovation momentum.  The new stuff is backed up because the old stuff is not selling through.  And, as a result, the portable navigation department is usually a mess.

The speed of the decline is spurring a restructuring at TomTom intended to reduce expenses by €50 million and likely to include significant personnel reductions.  Similar reductions have been experienced elsewhere in the industry including Navteq’s layoffs in its Traffic.com group.

To its credit, TomTom has moved to pursue business services and fleet opportunities under the WebFleet and WorkSmart brands. Yet despite claiming to be the fastest growing fleet telematics service provider in Europe and posting €17 million in revenue in the current quarter, TomTom is not keeping pace with more focused competitors in the fleet space.

The messaging on TomTom’s Work Website is out of step with more focused fleet operators, all of whom are enhancing their existing solutions with traffic and routing capabilities competitive with TomTom’s.  As the new kid on the block, TomTom may be able to successfully fight the good fight and convince operators it has a more robust solution for tracking drivers and delivering competitive traffic and routing information.  Or maybe it makes more sense to be a white label provider to all players in the fleet market.

White label enables scalability

The importance of the fleet business to TomTom’s prospects cannot be overstated.  With sales of portable navigation devices evaporating and inventory backing up, it is critical for TomTom to find new sources of revenue.  While the portable business is not entirely disappearing, the company has long depended on robust sales of these devices to support the content and services business which includes traffic data.

TomTom pioneered the use of probes in mobile devices to create traffic data which helps the company to deliver not only state-of-the-art traffic solutions but also for refining its industry leading routing engine.  So the success of content and services, best known for its traffic and routing offering, depends on the consumer mobile navigation business.

TomTom simply cannot afford to stand idly by while its portable navigation business shrinks taking its content and services business with it.  The fleet side of TomTom, however, holds the key to survival.  Fleets fitted with TomTom hardware or software are capable of taking up the slack from lost navigation device sales.

But TomTom needs to replace lost portable navigation nodes at a faster pace.  While the company noted an increased take rate for Live Services (which includes traffic data) for its mobile devices, the volume decline negated the increase in the take rate. 

By shifting to a white label service position in the fleet market TomTom can emphasize the fact that it has been a cloud service delivery player in the market since before the cloud was called the cloud.  TomTom was the first supplier to create an in dash app delivery platform for companies such as Toyota and Renault.  And the company’s routing, traffic and navigation tools are rock solid and ideally suited to the needs of the fleet industry.

Still, for some reason, TomTom clings to its brand position.  And while it clings, incumbent players in the fleet industry are adopting or partnering or creating their own traffic and routing solutions.  TomTom need look no further than ALK Technologies to find a company with a laser like focus on the needs of the trucking industry and a flexible business model to enable it to support customers branded or otherwise.  ALK’s flexibility has been rewarded with deals with Qualcomm and Xata among many others.

The point of a white lable initiative is to accelerate growth and rapidly scale.  Thirty-three percent growth, though impressive, won’t rescue our friends in Amsterdam.

Implications

The fleet market holds the key to TomTom’s revival and a white label strategy is the engine.  But let’s not stop there.  To keep driving its automotive business, where competition is keen and margins thin, TomTom ought to heave its brand ambitions overboard and slip into something unbranded to lubricate its Tier One relationships.

Automotive Tier Ones are looking for navigation partners with content and app delivery platforms.  TomTom still, to this day, offers the only effective in-dash app deliver platform, most recently adding TripAdvisor, Twitter and Expedia to the range of apps enabled for its mobile devices.

While auto makers and their suppliers are struggling with Bluetooth and USB connections, iPod Outs and MirrorLinks, TomTom has the slickest solution in the industry for delivering applications and content safely and securely into the dashboard.  C’mon TomTom, you don’t have to turn on the red light.  It’s time for the white label. 

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