Pakistani Telecom World (Part2):Brand Portfolio

•January 22, 2010 • 2 Comments

Pakistan’s 5 major telecom(GSM) brands have very unique branding structures. The main reason can be attributed to the unique evolution phases that the brands and the industry has gone through. From a player sitting on the ranks from 1994 to a new entrant in 2007, many players who are now competing for the same consumer have had dramatically different histories attached to them.

The Pakistan telecom branding has always been a bandwagon and there are phases in this evolution where every player is trying to ride the same bandwagon. So there was a time not many few years ago when launching new sub-brands was the order of the day. every new consumer segment had a brand of their own. One can judge how bad things had become that by end of 2007 Mobilink had already launched a total of 7 brands within its Jazz portfolio alone. Jazz which was already a subbrand within the mobilink portfolio had consumer segment brands like Octane and Ladies first as well as utility inspired brands like Jazz one, Jazz Easy etc. Ufone too tried to hop on to the same bandwagon but got a real scare with the launch of Public Demand. Launched under its prepaid portfolio, Ufone already had 4 other brands when the ill fated Public Demand saw the light of day. The hue and cry from all quarters of the society on its tvc brought them back to life.

The case for monolithic brand structure comes from the thought that consumers attention span is limited and the myriad of media opportunities means that it is ever more difficult to catch that limited attention. Hence in the name of efficiency, all money to be spent on media should be pushed through with a single brand message. There is already too much clutter in the consumer’s world and it would only confuse the consumer even more if each of your sub brands is trying individually to catch their attention.  The media efficiencies for monolithic brands is still more than the closer bond that segmented brands can create with their consumer. In the cut throat competition that the Pakistani telecom market sees, the media bucks can make or break the game. With all players having similar marketing budgets, it makes even more sense to put all your money behind the Big Brand than distribute it between smaller brands for reduced impact.

In 2000 Unilever decided to condense its brand portfolio from more than 1500 brands to 400 power brands. British American tobacco has had a similar history. They too have identified their global drive brands and consolidated/merged the smaller regional brands which required much more energy and resources to be globally feasible.

Since 2009, both Mobilink and Ufone have reverted back to their monolithic brand structures. Zong played it right from the very beginning and stuck to a single brand theory. Though it can be argued that the plethora of packages being launched has dampened the spirit of that master brand. Telenor is the only brand which has not reverted back to the monolithic brand structures of their competitors. They are still investing heavily on Persona, Djuice and Talkshawk.

The onus of marketing in a monolithic branding world lies less on the media planner and more on the brand manager. The responsibility is much more because the brand insights have to be so universally true that they touch the hearts of every consumer in the target market with a homogenous impact. In theory it might be easy to visualize insights which hit their mark their mark equally on all segments of the society but in reality coming up with such insights is a gargantuan task.


Transmedia – Global Examples (Part 2)

•January 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

In the world of branding, transmedia has still only played a relatively small part, though with huge potential. The foremost question that has to be put forward to brand managers is whether their brand has a story to tell. In current times though, however big the power of storytelling might be, brand managers are just not inclined to the idea of storytelling for their brands. Nor are they willing to take the risk of putting the baton in the hands of the consumer. They are more interested in selling their product rather than selling the concept of the product. Nevertheless, whenever a brand has a great story to tell, transmedia integration can really add value and radically change the ROI dynamics of the campaign

The best example of transmedia storytelling to date has been the art of the heist for the launch of the Audi A3. In 2006, Audi came up with a revolutionary ad campaign to promote its latest model in the A series. Call it alternate reality, call it transmedia storytelling but the Art of the Heist is termed as the biggest experiential marketing campaign in history. 45mn impressions and more than 500,000 consumers added their version of the story to make a gigantic plot for the original narrative.

A night before the biggest autoshow in America, where the Audi A3 was supposed to make its first appearance, the car gets stolen from the event. Security cameras showed the burglars break a window and drive the car away. This was the start of a 3 month campaign which led consumers to follow bits and pieces of the puzzle in various mediums, none of them totally giving it away. The story was littered with sub plots and random leakages of information led to an infinite combination of solutions that a consumer could reach depending on the mediums they had come in contact with. The events happened in real time so not only could the audience watch the myriad of information related to the heist flowing in, they could also influence it in the smallest possible way. The whole campaign felt like an online movie, where the audience could choose their level of involvement.

From a famous and wanted Art collector, to a renowned game developer to a master thief, the characters added depth to the campaign. The attention to detail was meticulous and hence people kept guessing whether this was a game or for real. Careful attention was given to the authenticity of the information being seeded into the campaign. The hard core audience who were running background checks or delving deeper to find more info to solve the mystery always met with information backed by authentic data. The companies being mentioned in blogs and discussed in communities actually existed. Those companies already existed in the yellow pages with complete legitimate addresses and phone numbers. Ads for those companies had already been posted in magazines and newspapers well before the start of the campaign to build realness for the campaign. Backdated emails, photos, documents, maps and plans of the heist, telephone conversations, text messages and video logs were being revealed at opportune times through the mediums most suitable for their delivery and as the campaign progressed, the complex web of information made sure that the audience had several if not infinite possibilities to choose from.

Even though movies, tv series and narratives have been using the services of transmedia to both broaden the horizon and make use of the long tail to extend the effectiveness, Art of the Heist was the first time a brand had taken leverage from this unique concept. More recently the TV series Heroes has taken the idea to a new level. The nbc microsite is the center point or the aggregator of all information related to Heroes. So its not the TV series which is in the middle of it all or leading the story, even though it is still the most powerful way to further the narrative, but it’s the microsite which amalgamates the various parallel stories. Several characters from the movie run live blogs about micro details in the story which don’t have enough place in the 1 hour episode on TV. Meanwhile, elements from the story have a parallel life of their own. For example, the TV series follows a comic book artist who can draw the future and one of the characters figures out his future through the comic book. On the microsite though, the comic book becomes bigger than what it is on TV. Back dated issues of the comic complete the puzzle as to what led to the current issue of the comic revealing the future of the hero. Audiences are pulled into the experience by getting involved and taking the story forward in the comic books. Alternate endings or connecting the thread in the comics to the story on TV are what helps build a community where the story keeps growing and becomes more intricate with every new user added to the mix. There are multiple other parallel plots and sub plots taking place in the form of webisodes which people can forward to their friends. Biographies, history and conspiracy theories related to the characters being revealed only in special radio episodes. Often new characters are added to the mix which never find their way into TV but twist the story in all kinds of tangents on parallel mediums.

in part 3 of this article i will be talking about the Pakistani perspective on transmedia and some pitfalls which need to be avoided if transmedia storytelling has to work for brands

Transmedia – Branded Storytelling (part 1)

•January 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Storytelling has always been the best marketing tool that man has ever discovered. For thousands of years, stories have mesmerized awestricken humans and sold all sorts of theories, concepts and beliefs through their magic. Stories hence are a fundamental part of who we are and how we communicate. But stories would be of no value if there did not exist a way to spread those thoughts and beliefs to the world around us. So in order for the stories to be passed along and communicated from generation to generation and also to other cultures and societies, these stories require suitable vehicles for transportation. The invention of paper was the start of a great journey for stories which could then be saved for all of eternity. Moving forward to the 1900s to a time of mass media and broadcast tv/radio, the communication spectrum exploded. When radio came along, there was no competing medium for the next 20 years. In this time marketing campaigns either unconnected mediums with little or no integration of the message between mediums mainly due to lack of resources. After the advent of broadcast tv, and a myriad of new mass mediums like mass scale outdoor and country wide circulation of some newspapers, it was time for integrated marketing communication. With only a few channels to choose from, one could often see an adaptation of the TVC to the radio script and the same visual being used in print and outdoor advertising. Soon enough, multiple channels began to spread off and all kinds of consumer niches began to see dedicated content portals delivering to their needs. This was the time of 360 communication where a single minded proposition of the advertiser was portrayed on multiple channels, each medium running content most suitable for that medium. The major difference between IMC and 360 was that the message was tailored according to the medium so one could see a totally different story on print versus what was shown on TV ofcourse keeping with the same campaign theme. The internet had already been invented for more than 30 years when the 360 communication concept got another major addon. Web 2.0 or the power of social media made sure that the era broadcast advertising was coming to an end. Broadcasting, as the word says for itself is content sprayed on to the population. It is a one way road. But the new technologies put the power back into the hands of the people. The broadcaster can choose to spray but the consumer will chose what he wants to see. Also the consumer now has total control to manipulate the content in the way he sees fit. Welcome to the world of transmedia integration. Here each medium gets its own version of the story with little overlap between mediums. This is great a departure from the media neutral thinking that most communication strategists are taught to master. For transmedia integration to work, the central concept of the story is conjured by a grand storyteller who marries the brand idea to an interesting and captivating story. The central story is then handed over to sub level storytellers who are expert storytellers of their mediums. These experts do not have to care about maintaining the integrity of the plots on their own medium of choice. For these experts the story on their medium of expertise has to be extraordinary as a standalone on their individual medium. The layered structure of trandmedia storytelling cannot ensure where the consumer will pick the thread of the story from. That is why each medium needs to have standalone appeal.

Transmedia Integration is relatively new to the world of branding but as a communication science it has existed for a while now. The most formal version of it was first seen on cinema’s in the form of The Matrix trilogy and soon afterwards it was theorized and given a formal name. In the words of Henry Jenkins, the most acclaimed author of the book Convergence Culture, in transmedia storytelling “each part of the story is unique and plays to the strengths of the medium. The result is a new kind of narrative where story flows across each platform forming a rich narrative tapestry that manifests in an array of products and multiple revenue streams. The audience is both validated and celebrated for participating in the story world through the medium of their choice”

This brings me to the end of part 1. Part 2 would talk about a global example of transmedia storytelling in the world of brands.

context is everything

•November 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One size does not fit all. Branding theories that really stick are ones based on universal truths, anything else, and it all becomes “subject to the context”. Often students of marketing ask me questions about a particular theory that they learnt at school and ask me to apply it to a real world situation.

People who have read marketing the way it is usually taught, then I must say that they are in for a great surprise when they enter the real world. I love the quote “in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is !”

Our current teaching methodology is based on cases. Anecdotes which help explain the concepts that we read in a book. If one goes through popular books on brand management  for undergrads, they will find a similar theme to all of them. A marketing concept explained in theory followed up by a small case showing the application of the concept in the real world. The problem with that kind of approach is that it misses out on the context. The case shows the direct impact of the concept but misses out on a more holistic impact of the concept on other areas of the brand

I was recently attending a talk by one of the popular brand consultants of our time and during the course of his talk he gave an example of a fence company which named itself pink and painted all their fences pink. The sales shot up 20 times. Now, in isolation, this anecdote was good enough to arouse the interest of the crowd but without the context the story is pretty much useless. We still don’t know whether it had any long term positive impact for the brand, whether there was any positive perception built by the campaign or was it just a tactical sales campaign which did more harm than good.

Our advertising and marketing world is fascinated by indian advertising. We all remember seeing countless indian ads and having that aha feeling “man that’s so creative, why cant paki’s think of these things”… but the problem is that we have missed the context once again. Marketing is as much about creativity as it is about selling/making a long term positive impact for the brand. But our first reactions are usually based on how good or creative the story of the ad was. Our fallacy lies in the fact that we judge the ad as if it were a short film. Unfortunately most brands are not in the business of telling great stories. How often have we gone back and read case studies about the impact of the advertising that we like. Does it fulfill the objective which it set out to achieve or does it end up achieving some random, unknown objective which brand managers tend to take the credit for unknowingly. For me though, the end never justifies the means.

At other times, we dismiss ads as lame, uninteresting or vague. But we never ask questions about those ads… what was the target market, in what circumstances (internal/external) did the brand take out this communication. Maybe an ad we dismiss as a loser ends up exceeding the objectives set out by the marketing team.

the pakistani planner

•November 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Pakistan needs a different breed of planners than what the world is producing at the moment. All the discussions on planning forums these days is about the cutting edge;  more specifically technology. I agree that technology has a role to play in our lives but somehow we are getting a bit carried away. No longer are our discussions about how people live their lives or about better understanding the underlying human truths. Pakistan still has a long way to go before we can start adopting the technologies that make life better in the west. From water pumps that can be turned on and off through sms to cattle being traded online during Eid-ul-Adha there are far more important planning topics to be discussed than how technology can make the life of a poor farmer living in Chichawatni better. Rather than looking at the outside world for inspiration and forcing it on our society we need an indigenously developed think tank which operates inside-out. Our problems are unique to us and our society unlike any other. I feel that however much the world creeps towards becoming a global village, the niches, the differences would never cease to exist. However much our future converges towards a single race, we can never take away the differences of our past, our unique history which still identifies our DNA, something embedded deep within our soul never to be taken away from us.

As planners, if we look back, we have very little to work with in terms of things that we can call our very own. There is very little research to go around and not enough studies done to understand our consumer, his/her motivations, likes and dislikes. Whatever little that there is available is mostly true for the urban customer reflecting more often than not, the personal experiences of the planner himself. Nevertheless, all is not lost, there are still brands out there who invest in figuring out the changing needs and lifestyles of their customers. From pearl dust mapping out the regional sindhi customer to PTC, nailing the consumer profile for gold flake, it is these people who can bring about a planning revolution in Pakistan. If only, they can be inspired to gather on a single forum and present their customer to the planning community in the most vivid picture possible.


The Pakistani Telecom World(Part 1) : Branding Theory Explained

•August 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It hasn’t been a long time since I entered the telecom world. 9 months to be exact, which is more like taking your first breadth in this big bad world. But my association with the telecom world isn’t anything new. During my stay at contact plus about 3 years ago I was working behind the scenes on the brand plans for Ufone. Then at RED communications, the pitch to Warid and Afghan wireless gave me an ample insight into the world of telecom branding (or so I thought). But having spent a good part of an year in the industry itself, I have realized that it is not possible to get to grips with how branding actually works in the industry.

Having recently read through the quarterly presentation of the Brand Health Tracking report (and mind you, I’m not giving anything away here, because the whole industry subscribes to the same BHT report and the research is conducted by the same research organization so the insights revealed in the study are not much of a surprise to anyone out there) I have been told that the industry still works on the basis of awareness and consideration. In layman’s terms the emotional angle of the brand accounts for less than 30% of the influence on which the consumer makes his/her purchase decision. No wonder you see the consumer’s world totally flooded with telecom advertising because top of mind is what sells the most. How the advertising builds trust, creates a relationship with the consumer or shows how the brand brings a difference in the consumer’s life, hence, has no place in the discussions of a marketing team.

In most telecom organizations, the direction is set by the product team. In an industry where the product team leads the direction of the brand, can one can see an obvious flaw. No doubt, the industry is moving forward on the basis of technological advancements but in my opinion there is a lot of room for bringing sanity to the product portfolio. A short term dip in sales is most often than not followed up by the introduction of a new package. A certain tactical move by a competitor is followed up again, by the same strategy, maybe a lower priced version of it. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy to keep following what your competitor is doing without giving a great thought to what you can achieve in this world. It seems that even the branding strategy of the leader is made in the quarters of the competitors.

The level of differentiation in the industry is at a bare minimum. One can expect just that from an industry where almost everything is sourced out from vendors. From equipment to software, to applications only the marketing strategies of how to combine these products creatively and communicate them creatively is left at the hands of the marketing team. A case in point is the Blackberry. 4 of the 5 players in the industry provide the blackberry service and if one were to compare the product communications for all four of them, it would be difficult to find many differences. The reason being that RIM which provides the blackberry solution to all these telecom players has a stringent set of guidelines in the way blackberry is portrayed in the advertising. This is an extreme case where a vendor provides the same product to all the players and even dictates its terms in the communications as well, leaving little room for any differentiation that a telecom player would like to create.

Looking at the product innovations in the industry, there is not much to choose from. The first mover never has a long time before others jump on to the bandwagon and remove any hopes that the innovator ever had of creating a differentiated image. SMS bundles are a concept which did not take too long to catch on. Within a period of a few months almost all the players had SMS bundles. And now we are all on our way to seeing the same thing happening for Voice Bundles.

I will talk about creating differentiation in telecom world in a later article but before I end of this article, a friend working at an FMCG in Karachi, after hearing the state of branding in the telecom world, once told me that having worked in the Telecom world for an year, I should forget about ever finding my place back in the FMCG marketing world. And I think I agree with him, I have caught on to too many bad habits and started believing in way too many branding myths only seem to work(or do they?) in the telecom world 🙂

Note: This article would be part of a series of articles on brand thinking in the telecom world.

belief led branding

•February 25, 2008 • 2 Comments

It has been a great three months for me at RED. I have been involved in some of the biggest pitches of my career during these last three months. The reason can clearly be attributed to the fact that agency on record pitches are inherently bigger than activation pitches which are mostly campaign specific. One of the biggest reasons why they have gone so well is because of the kind of confidence that the management has put into me in particular and the strategic planning function in particular.

My confidence got quite a boost when I got the go ahead of hiring two new people into my team. So I’m looking forward to some great things in the very near future. Already, I’m on my way to Kabul to pitch to a huge Afghan brand. If things materialize, this would be a huge win for RED as we would prove out metal for the first time in the international domain. And with the addition of Nestle Pure life in the RED portfolio, things are looking very promising.

Over the past 3 months, the learnings that I have been able to gain from the advertising domain have made an exponential leap on my personal growth and the feel-good factor is almost contagious in the organization.

There could not be a moment better than this, than to talk about a topic I have been wanting to write about quite some time. Backed by 3 pitches which have increased belief in the theory, I believe that it is now, that I can do better justice to the topic at hand.

Believing in something is the greatest endowment that man can have. It has been the single biggest factor in the history of mankind leading to change and bringing stability to life. Backed by belief, man has been able to overcome the greatest of obstacles and do the most extra ordinary of feats. Belief has led to war, harbored love and hatred, manifested peace and made and shattered dynasties.

From a branding point to view, the society has a huge part to play in shaping them and as we evolve, brands have to follow suit. But mega brands, are brands which in-turn shape society in this interconnected world. In a world of global brands, brands have to stand for some core human value than just fulfill the needs of the direct consumer. No longer can they be based on a shallow reason for existence. Only brands which can harness the power of belief would be able to survive in the long run. With religion playing a smaller and smaller part in our lives by the day and losing relevance in all quarters of the society, it would be up to brands to harbor the community effect ad bring mankind on a single platform. Now brands have to show how they create a win-win for the society rather than fulfill a shallow, instantly gratifying need of the consumer. In times of extreme transparency, brands cannot afford to exploit its stakeholders and blindly support their stockholders. The values that the brand stands for need to be meticulously communicated and inculcated into every person in the value chain. The brand needs to walk the talk now more than ever before and incorporate that core human value that it stands for into every action communicated through the brand. The consumers of today are too educated and informed to buy in to the hollow claims made by the brands of yesteryear. Buy-in from every stake holder is important as just about any one from the value chain, from a disgruntled employee to an unhappy supplier can play havoc with the brand imagery by being a spokesperson on the media and give the PR agencies are run for their money.

The best thing about belief led branding and basing your brand on a core human value is that it makes everything very simple. The BP beyond petroleum tagline simply communicates a powerful message across all stakeholders and unites them under one umbrella. From portfolio thinking to internal and external communication to PR, everything falls into place without losing consistency. And if the brand is based on a core human value then it can never lose relevance with the consumer. Those core human values will always remain true, only their manifestations would change with the changing consumer.

Belief led branding is a concept of the future and brands which can begin to invest in the concept from now will certainly make huge in-roads in building a community of very loyal consumers, something which would be difficult to break by brands of the future.