Mobile operators are depending on new data services to dig them out of debt and build positive expectation around 3G, but you’d never know that from their marketing approach. Matt Hooper, VP Marketing & Alliances, of UK mobile data software specialist elata, says there’s never been a better opportunity to address a critical marketing imbalance, which could spell disaster to many operators if their marketing strategies are not adapted to the very different market of mobile data..
The recent slick television campaigns of the 3G licence winners have been an education of a sort – but potential subscribers may feel that, for them, it hasn’t been education enough. Above the line advertising can only achieve so much. The real issue is developing marketing strategies focused on the user experience at device level and the marketing support infrastructure that supports the point of sale.
Operators’ marketing plans are certainly heading in the right direction – they appear to have learned from the market confusion caused by the mis-marketing of WAP, for example, but in the process seem to have become vague about quite what they’re offering. One example of this was an advert screaming ‘get your GPRS here’ that I noticed in the window of an incumbent operator’s retail outlet whilst in Europe recently. The term GPRS is predominantly meaningless to the average consumer and therefore this type of technology led marketing is destined to fail.
While a TV branding approach might appeal to a specific ‘lifestyle’ segment and stimulate brand recognition and association, this segment is simply too broad to have specific meaning to individual subscribers. There’s now a groundswell of opinion that operators must begin marketing to narrower, more specific subscriber segments or risk confusing their audience yet again.
The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), which represents the leading suppliers of mobile network equipment, said in a recent survey that the European market is becoming increasingly dominated by a few large names. These include Vodafone, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile who, it claims, are “clearly brand-building, renaming local subsidiaries and re-branding mobile portals accordingly.”
However, the GSA’s members have already voiced concern that operators need to apply improved segmentation to make marketing programs more effective. elata believes this type of approach is vital to the future success of operators’ fledgling mobile data services as they make the transition from being simple airtime and bandwidth retailers to well-rounded service providers, who are trying to capture the subscribers imagination.
Therefore, operators still need to master the two necessary components: improved organisational resources and a complementary service delivery platform.
Firstly, technical and marketing teams must begin working more closely together. Operators need to avoid marketing led by technology in order to keep subscriber propositions understandable and attractive to the consumer.
Historically, the marketing department has been brought in too late in the service proposition. For example, WAP’s reception has been muted, and yet SMS has triumphed despite being a service originally destined for internal engineering use. This shows that without focused marketing based on communicating the benefits of a service to a customer community rather than the technology behind it, results can be unpredictable.
Secondly, operators should integrate a service delivery platform that can be used to create subscription propositions based on target markets and can provide new services to a wide range of devices coupled with comprehensive real-time subscriber management. Subscribers can then purchase new services and begin using them without specialist technical knowledge, and service providers can accurately target customers with further propositions they know are likely to be successful and most importantly charge for them.
So, although the service delivery platform is an integral technical means to an end, it is more importantly the means for creating service propositions. A growing number of operators are trialling service delivery platforms that can replicate their subscriber segmentation model and effectively bridge the gap between the marketing department and their target subscribers.
Operators must further use these platforms to create revenue models to avoid the situation of having to give services away for free. This was seen with ringtones and bitmaps, where operators lost out to small specialist players and, if they are not careful, the same will happen with applications such as wireless Java. In the rush to get to market, some operators are perhaps forgeting about billing integration and launching free download services, which will make little revenue and drive the potential value of the market down.
elata’s approach, through its elata senses service delivery platform, is to help operators’ marketing approaches become more affinity lead. elata senses allows subscribers to discover, through mobile browsers and Web portals, only the services they will find attractive, thereby reducing the likelihood of churn and increasing revenue potential. It provides metrics on service usage and device popularity that can be used to create strong new propositions and then segment subscribers based on knowledge of the services they have already enjoyed and paid for.
This process helps operators enormously when it comes to finding out what their subscribers want, which segment they belong in, and what new user groups are developing in the market. 3, Hutchison’s UK 3G service provider, has built a comprehensive segmentation model and utilises the elata senses platform. This approach is important to 3, as its portfolio is likely to be based around lifestyle services such as Java-based gaming and multimedia messaging services (MMS).
With the increased focus on these affinity services, operators have admittedly become slightly better at marketing. The GSA noted in its survey that there was an “increasing picture of maturity matched by more targeted marketing initiatives,” such as event-specific content launched during this year’s World Cup. With elata senses, operators can not only deliver these services effectively, but also market new ones direct to the user.
Operators such as Orange have developed their own proposition marketing groups to build services for particular technologies and segments. elata has evolved as a company dedicated to developing the technology to support this type of marketing group as operators create new propositions to differentiate their organisations from others that rely on blanket branding campaigns.
It’s also the goal of elata to help them recognise the communities that will spring up through the use of services like MMS and to help them capitalise effectively on this opportunity without confusing the market. But unless the marketing is there to support this drive, operators may once again be facing disillusioned subscribers.
The message for operators is that mass market, above the line advertising must no longer be the focus for driving subscriber uptake. Subscribers need to be treated like ‘customers’ and receive targeted education and service support to ensure their path to data services is a simple and painless one.
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