It’s been six months at my current role at a leading telecom company responsible for managing and building the brand. Coming from a marketing communications background my biggest challenge had always been to unlock breakthrough creativity. How? Uncover fresh insights. Bring strategic (read as clear) thinking to the table. From a telecom business perspective, there are so many other things that take precedence over creativity in communication, although that continues to be one of the priorities. In sum, if I were to compare the two worlds, at a communication level the goal is to bring the brand promise to life through creativity, in business however the goal is to bring the brand promise to life at every touch point the brand owns and this takes the challenge to a whole new level.
Based on my observations of the telecom industry as a whole and my first hand experience of managing a brand for one of them I have captured some of the key challenges, with regards to realizing a brand promise.
I guess the biggest challenge is at the core of the business. 80% of what a mobile network operator does is delivered through a SIM. At the core of which is a simple proposition – a voice or a data service. Easier said but a tremendous task to deliver on. For one, if this SIM is to work as promised it has to connect to a network everywhere I go, at least within the national boundary of where the SIM came from. There can’t be a place where life exists but the network doesn’t. If that happens I feel the brand has failed me. That’s me the consumer talking. From a business perspective the case for installing a tower at that location may not be justified owing to the density of the population there. Do I, as a customer, care? What’s worse? The network fails in the middle of a congested part of a major city leading to everything from dropped calls to a snail slow internet. I am promised 4G (LTE) but even 3G works like 2G (EDGE). I can’t even connect to “What’s App” to send a message. What do I do? How do I deliver on a brand promise when basic connectivity has failed me?
Ok so I don’t’ have a perfect network. But I aspire to ensure last mile connectivity. To do so I need to re-invest my profits, even though the ROI on the last mile is pretty much a lost cause. Competition is tough. The network that is 10 years ahead of me, who was a monopoly at the time and was charging premium prices unknown to the industry today, managed to get to the last mile (although it too fails at times on a given day at certain locations when there is too much congestion). To reinvest profits I need to make a profit first. But when competition is tough, the need to acquire is crucial for survival. The market is perpetually driven by a price war especially if a third player, who was the last to enter, has the smallest base and therefore has nothing to lose. To win customers, everyone fights aggressively by cutting prices. Not only is my profitability being undermined. It is limiting my ability to grow my network. How do I earn the right to charge a premium on a commodity? How do I remain profitable? Network is not the only thing I need to invest in.
I need to ensure the best customer experience. Perhaps that could be my brand’s differentiation. For that to happen not only do I need to invest and continuously work on all critical customer touch points like digital, retail etc. but I also need the best people interfacing with customers. Can I afford to get the best people, train them, retain them and still be profitable? As a brand my priority is customers, but as a business I have shareholders to appease as well. In the name of profitability I am forced to compromise. I make do with what I have. So here I am as a brand with a not-so-perfect network, with stiff competition squeezing my profitability and the customer experience that is sub-par at best. I need to fix and enhance so much. How do I stay in reinvest mode and compromise on shareholder interests? How do I deliver profitability when the market is saturated with new players on the horizon? Clearly the brand has a formidable challenge ahead to say the least. Growth requires major rethinking, a blue ocean strategy perhaps. How do I steer an organization to new territories? What is a brand to do when this is the organizational reality facing it! A brand promise in such a scenario would be nothing but a hollow claim. Can a brand be built just on communication? Can a brand win the hearts of its customers and lose the share of their pockets while things are being fixed. Is it an endeavor worth pursuing?
As an outside the answer is clearly no! This is certainly a recipe for failure. Doom is inevitable. But as an insider you do what you can, action the elements you control or walk away if you dare! If you have any better ideas please do share in the comments section below!Feature image by Pixabay used under Creative Commons Deed CC0