Time for a step change in Africa

Telcos, and particularly the GSM networks, have been the biggest marketing investors on this Continent for the last decade. Their investment in terms of cash cannot be denied.
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

Telcos, and particularly the GSM networks, have been the biggest marketing investors on this Continent for the last decade. Their investment in terms of cash cannot be denied.

Every tiny kiosk, every airport building, every bus shelter and stadium has been rebranded at least a dozen times. It was dangerous to stand still in an African street, lest you be daubed with pink, or orange or red or yellow or green paint.

But that danger has now passed. Telco budgets have been cut. And Telco Marketing Directors are waking up to the dread reality that they invested in advertising materials, but not in brand equity.

I’ve asked this question before in this column, and I’ll ask it again. Think of the Telcos in your market. Can you think of any words to describe their offering except for category generalisations? Bet you can’t. Bet the best you can come up with is ‘provide telephone service’ plus ‘national pride’ plus perhaps ‘cheaper’.

The cheap bit is a recent development, because for most of the past decade telecommunications has been outrageously expensive in Africa. Masked by strategies such as Pay per Second, which create the illusion of controllable call costs. But now, thanks to the Indian model – give it away to win subscribers – Telcos in Africa are bleeding revenue.

So as there must be many Telco marketers pulling their hair out now, I thought it would be helpful to see how more successful Telcos in other markets have developed their dialogue with consumers. And funnily enough, it’s that which separates us. They have developed a dialogue with consumers. In Africa, we haven’t.

I’m grateful to those clever people at Wunderman, the world’s leading Customer Relationship Marketing Agency for the following insights into contemporary Telco marketing:

In Argentina, Movistar targets Generation Y by exploiting their sociability. Movistar has created animated photo album apps which enable customers to send friends a slideshow of up to 20 pictures to friends via phone, Facebook or email.

In Czech Republic, O2 employ 4 social media gurus to help customers get the most out of social media. They use Twitter as their lead channel. Interestingly, customers have expanded this engagement to ask questions and raise issues about O2 products and services – thus significantly reducing the need for traditional call centre services.

In the Netherlands, Vodafone has created an amazing interactive overlay for the YoTube channel. This allows Vodafone subscribers to toggle the type of videos they want to watch and gives them easy access to special video content on phones, apps, entertainment, and Vodafone promotions.

In the United States, AT&T rewards customers who pay for their services using a special AT&T Visa Card. Customer get discounts and prizes, and are also able to refer-a –friend for greater rewards.

In Hong Kong, CSL has a 1010 Club for loyal and active post paid customers, based on their monthly statement. Rewards include airtime and handset rebates, accessories, conversion of points to airline miles and shopping discounts and vouchers. CSL also allows customers to pool their reward points  (ie share them with friends and family) to speed up redemption.

Now I don’t know about you, but all these marketing ideas make me, as a mobile customer in Africa, feel rather shortchanged. Let’s hope that the category matures from tariff and coverage advertising, to conversations that really build customer relationships. The future’s bright, as one brand used to say…

Chris Harrison is  Chairman Young & Rubicam Group Africa

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