Guest Article: Anupama Wagh Koppar: Indian telecom on learning grounds

By Anupama Wagh Koppar , TATA Teleservices, Mumbai | In Marketing | May 13, 2011
The telecom industry can draw lessons from other sectors and across categories to break patterns and bring in fresh perspectives.

The telecom market in India is undergoing a rapid change. There are the operating systems (OS) and the handset makers. There are the newer services like mobile health, mobile commerce and mobile education, social media and web-based solutions. It is a picture that is still coming together. And, it's a chicken and egg situation. Which OS do you develop apps and solutions for? Which solutions are likely to be most used, and what impact can that have on which operating system? Many questions, with no easy answers.

But, that doesn't stop the industry from building scenarios, and using insights from other categories. When one draws a parallel from other industry categories, some interesting lessons emerge for Indian telcos:

Content before channel: Apps before OS and before service provider

The media industry in India went through a phase where people chose one channel over the other. But, as viewers have evolved, the choice of what to watch was increasingly made on the basis of content, rather than the channel. So, programme-led viewing is the order of the day. This has pushed channels to create genres, and to understand the market through a lens of genre viewership and engagement, and to develop content accordingly.

Even today, most viewers have high recall of the content they prefer in terms of a television serial, dance show or reality show, but, a lot of the time, they do not bond with the channel.

Similarly, as the telecom consumer evolves in usage and engagement with the medium, there is a high possibility that he/she will respond to apps more than to the provider or the operating system. A case in point is BlackBerry's messenger product. I do see users buying into a set of apps that helps them live their life fully, and they will expect the service provider to fall in line with that app. Telecom companies should definitely spend time and effort in this direction.

• Investing in developing apps, and identifying new needs and benefits to help design apps will ensure high degree of customer engagement

• Every now and then, have a 'Buzz app' which creates customers to sit up and take notice

• Make co-creation with users a discipline in the organisation

I know you, but at times you seem new: Balancing innovation and familiarity to sustain engagement
The second learning to borrow from other industries is the threat of becoming so woven into everyday life that the category itself becomes a 'staple', and levels of engagement and excitement drop. There is a danger of becoming generic and too close to be respected or attractive. The danger of becoming 'bread' is what the category needs to guard against.

An example is that of Glucose biscuits, Brand Parle G. It was always the affordable and familiar glucose biscuit. When it came to glucose biscuits, consumers were heard asking for 'Give me glucose biscuits', and not give me Parle G biscuits. As the market evolved, all other brands could innovate and differentiate themselves, but Parle G found it harder to do so.

It is a similar situation with telecom, because the tariff-based marketing is commoditising the industry and driving down value. At the same time, the pressure to innovate will be tremendous because that is what the marketers have encouraged users to expect -- newer versions of everything and constant upgrades at lowest common denominator prices. Of course, this is really a long-term consideration, because as of now, anything and everything is innovative for this category, including the way it is defined. The trick is to build staying power for innovations. This will happen only when innovation is focussed on consumer needs and solely focussed to provide solutions that matter to their life.

For every promotion message going out, there has to be a Brand message that delivers a proposition

• Keep tariff plans promotions below the line as far as possible or try and weave Brand promise in the plan

• You may be known by the company you keep, but how you behave is who you are: Personal biographies

Everyone who has worked in the FMCG sector knows the importance of shopping basket analysis and cross-brand usage to help profile consumers. The FMCG industry often describes its target audience purely based on user ship of brands and/or behavior towards categories. For example, they might describe a 'Dove user', or identify a woman who visits a beauty parlour at least once a month, or a woman who buys branded cosmetics, or a household that has a microwave and washing machine. This kind of analysis is often used to dimensionalise the target audience.

Most FMCG companies use household panel data, shopper insight data and overlay it on their internal sales figures to get an understanding of how insights from consumers can talk to internal data. Telecom companies can look at how this approach can be adapted. The usage and behavior data is an incomplete picture until an 'outside in' perspective is brought into the offer plans and propositions.

For the mobility industry, the information available across services and devices can be almost equivalent to being a personal biographer of the user. The information, when analysed over a period of time and across activities, can give a person insight into their own behaviour more than they would ever be able to figure out themselves. The power of this information to uncover need gaps, customise offerings and improve engagement is phenomenal. It would help to build correlations and profiling matrices to bring to life consumer profiling as an exercise.

Pen portrait the person behind the number
• Factor in user's interaction with other categories in the profiling exercise
• Look at a life context and not just a mobility context, insight based propositions will come from life and interaction with information, communication and entertainment and not just from usage and behavior

Slice and Dice: Let's cut it differently!

Different businesses have viewed their markets through different lenses from time to time -- the most obvious examples are the use of demographic and psychographic parameters. Increasingly, usership and behaviour are being used to identify newer segments and growth opportunities. An interesting case is Parachute hair oil, which realised that the growing penetration of better-quality shampoos in India had led to a decline in the oiling of hair as a ritual in consumers' lives. This happened partly because oiling is a time-consuming task, and partly because good shampoos reduce the need for oiling. The brand decided to look at 'shampoo users' as a separate segment and launched a special proposition of 'head massage just one hour' before shampoo.

Other examples of segmenting markets differently are snack bars for 'lifestyles on the move', or gentle-but-effective pain balm for children who are prone to wounds and injuries.

Finance companies and Insurance companies have also used different parameters to segment their customers, both existing and potential. For example, impulse buyers have a small ticket size, but high frequency, so a credit card company gives them 'frequency of using the card'-related benefits, whereas planned purchasers spend a large amount at a point in time, and the company offers them a 'point in time high ticket size'-based benefit.

Telcos will have many ways of slicing and dicing their customers. The current practices involve actual behavior and usage because we have the information with us. There is scope to look at this differently once we know what motivates people to behave the way they do. For example, SMS is a large contributor to revenues; innovation in SMS-like services could be pegged specifically to target audiences with a certain need set. Picture messaging could be used to encourage non-SMS-users who are partially literate. People who participate most in opinion polls could be given a different SMS product. Or, there could be SMS discount coupons for coffee shop patrons. Similarly, married women who call their maternal homes everyday could be given a special voice product.

Look beyond existing practices of segmenting customer database to design acquisition offers and usage and retention strategies.

• Complete the 'Segmentation picture'; use attitudes, needs and benefits sought and lifestyle, along with usage and behaviour.

The telecom industry has so much information available that there is a sense of knowledge even when you are inward-looking, but looking outside can break predictable patterns and bring in new perspectives.

(Dr Anupama Wagh Koppar is assistant vice-president --marketing, and head, customer segmentation, TATA Teleservices)