Reimagining Marketing for Telecoms

innovateBy Aamir Altaf

Let’s face it; Mobile Network Operators are losing the race to win over the hearts and minds of customers. Allies of past are formidable competitors of today. The OTT players (Skype, WhatsApp, etc), the phone manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, etc), and the software makers (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc) are fast becoming the center of attention for customers and ecosystem players.

The biggest challenge today for MNOs is to regain relevance with customers. To achieve that, while it is logical for MNOs to keep investing in technology and innovation to keep pace, what is more important is to rethink and reimagine how marketing is being done. A good starting point is to revisit the basics. In this post I discuss 5 back-to-basics marketing concepts that should set in motion a full scale recovery for telecom mobile network operators.

1. Build a Brand

What all MNOs are offering is a generic product; voice, SMS, data etc. It is not sustainable to position on price alone! Markets where MNOs have positioned on price have seen erosion in profits and diminishing customer loyalty.

The first step in building a strong brand is to choose a unique and differentiated Brand Positioning that goes beyond pricing tactics. Given the ‘service’ nature of the offering, below are key positions a brand can assume.

  • Excellence in Customer Experience (CX)
  • Best Network Quality (QoS) – Urban vs. Rural
  • Wide Network Coverage (+ distribution)
  • Value for Money (not low pricing)

The second and third steps are to develop a unique Brand Personality and chose a clearly defined Communication Target Audience. It is important to realize that assuming generic brand personalities in attempt to engage with everyone (mass segment) runs counter to brand building.

While ‘brand positioning’ is about choosing from among the core elements of the MNO’s offering, ‘brand personality’ is about choosing an attribute that compliments the company’s strength. For example a MNO brand may choose to strategically position on ‘Customer Experience’, assume personality of an ‘Innovator’ based on company’s culture and strengths, and targets ‘Youth’ as communication bulls eye.

A strong brand makes it easier for customers to identify and associate with the service and makes it difficult for competitors to copy.

2. Embrace ‘Customer Centricity’

It is easier to raise the slogan of ‘Customer Centricity’ than to actually implement it. There are two key areas where it is most challenging to embrace and implement customer centricity.

  • The Executive Decision Making
  • The Product Development Process

I have written about the importance of a customer centric Product Development Process in my earlier blog post, here. In case of Executive Decision Making, embracing customer centricity is particularly hard because top management usually finds itself in dilemma to decide between course-of-actions, one that would lead to short-term achievement of KPIs such as revenue/profit and other that that would ensure good customer experience. In most cases the decision is in favor of short-term target achievement at expense of medium to long-term customer experience improvement.

A string of such decisions over a period of time eventually leads to under achievement of business KPIs as customers realize that they are not getting the desired experience and they churn.

Embracing customer centricity wholeheartedly and basing every decision on it, is the only right thing to do for achievement of results.

3. Keep it Simple and Transparent

Human beings by nature crave for simplicity. A good marketing campaign, a good consumer product is one that is differentiated yet simple enough for customers to understand, relate to, and buy with confidence. The MNOs today need to solve the challenges of ‘simplification’ and ‘transparency’ mentioned below to win with customers:

  • Develop products, services, and propositions that are simple to understand, use, and pay for
  • Be transparent about product features, pricing, and terms of use when developing branding campaigns and communication materials
  • Simplify every customer facing process to reduce customer effort, as much as possible


4. Value and Nurture Relationships

Numerous case studies prove that retaining an existing customer is more profitable than acquiring a new customer! Keeping a balance between acquisition and retention becomes even more important for profitability as markets mature and get saturated.

To first step in retaining a profitable customer is to know the customer as a user and more so as a person. Knowing the customer as a user means knowing how long the customer has been with the company and what is the profitability of the customer.

Knowing the customer as a person means knowing about the demographics and lifestyle preferences of the customer. The second step is to consciously develop a relationship with profitable customers through meaningful interactions and gestures of appreciation at various lifecycle stages of the customer.

The third and final step is to seal the relationship through some give-and-take whereby the customer locks into a more profitable plan with the company in return of a consistent effort that the company continues to put into understanding and delivering on the tangible and intangible preferences of the customer.

5. Align all Marketing Efforts

Nothing is more damaging than annoying the customer through too much of marketing communication. While the marketing/product managers are busy trying to market their products and services, they don’t realize that they are doing that at the same time through almost same marketing channels. In an organizational set-up like a MNO where different product/marketing managers are vying for the attention of the same set of customers by leveraging a single brand, it becomes extremely important to align the marketing efforts to avoid overlap.

There are three basic best practices to follow in this regard:

  • Communicate one message at a time to one set of audience
  • Use all communication channels (ATL and BTL) to communicate that message for consistency and impact
  • Give ample time for the message to sink-in

One key aspect for MNOs is to regulate utilization of low-cost marketing channels such as SMS, USSD, and social media. Instituting an overarching BTL contact policy goes a long way in ensuring alignment for BTL communication.

Now I look forward to hearing from you on how you believe MNOs can reimagine their marketing strategies in-order to become relevant again. Do you think there are other points that marketers should consider? Who are the key stakeholders in your company that can bring about the change?

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