How Do You Sell Cell?

Not with more buttons, it turns out.

A meaty 19,000-respondent research report released last month by J.D. Power & Associates—the rating authority on everything, it seems, but marriage (which may be in the pipeline)—revealed that users aren’t buying cellphones because of this shiny new feature or that whiz-bang application. At least not on purpose.

If anything, in fact, it’s the same thing that sells those marriages: money and looks.

Price is—and, on a macro scale, will foreseeably remain—the lead purchase driver for cellphones: with nearly three in 10 buyers picking their model because it wasn’t going to cost them anything. Except, of course, for locking into a two-year service agreement, typically starting at no less than $50 a month. But other than that, totally free, yo.

Up second is design. Almost 40 percent of respondents said that how the phone looks is a major buying factor. Which shouldn’t come as any surprise to the 750,000 of us who shelled out $300 for the sexy Motorola Razr in its first three months out on the market. Or to the 50 million others who’ve since followed suit… Posers.

As that goes, Motorola is betting on looks again: Late last month, the company pulled back the curtain on several new handsets, including the Krzr and the Rizr, which are skinnier yet than its flagship model. Said Motorola CEO Ed Zander at the phone launch event in a Chicago suburb, “We think this is big.” Regrettably, nobody in the journalistic community seemed to appreciate the irony of the comment.

With hopes that the 54-millimeter-wide Razr doesn’t develop an Olsen twins-esque disorder, its 12-millimeter-skinnier cousin, the Krzr, looks to be a very photogenic addition to the lineup—featuring a complexion of polished chrome, hardened glass, and a reflective finish. Its stated target is “Asian customers and ladies,” according to a Motorola handset exec.

Back to the features convo, J.D. Power found that use of cellphones’ advanced capabilities are nonetheless gaining momentum. The speakerphone option—regardless of whom else is standing in line, apparently—is the most widely used, at about 22 percent. Better than one in five users are also regularly text messaging (SMS-ing, technically), with about 6 percent capitalizing on the MMS option, or sending audio and video content.

Moral of the story for manufacturers: The world is still round, and the same things that drive most other categories and verticals will also drive mobile. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that you don’t doll-up your new releases with all the latest technology; people will get it with enough time and practice. Until then, keep selling the sizzle…and keep your handsets on a diet.