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

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.

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~ by illuxon on August 17, 2009.

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