COMMENT: Thinking big for telecoms

How operators can release users' potential in the region
Mohammed Nosseir is senior marketing advisor with Simon- Kucher & Partners Middle East.
Mohammed Nosseir is senior marketing advisor with Simon- Kucher & Partners Middle East.


Arab consumers tend to pay great attention to the latest smartphone models that often impress them with their updated technology. However, where telecom operators are concerned, they place them all in a single basket, viewing them as dispassionate communication carriers. By only competing among each other through prices and package offers, operators make their industry a flat one with no comparative advantage. The superior positioning of mobile phone producers compared to operators may be attributed to the shortsightedness of operators who appear to be satisfied with providing network coverage at affordable prices, and less willing to explore other ideas and avenues for revenue.

The excitement of having acquired a new smartphone with its state-of-the-art technology often fades away after only a few weeks, when the new features have already become an ordinary part of the user’s daily life. Acquiring a smartphone is a single transaction that requires no further relationship between innovative mobile manufacturers and users.

Telecom operators, in contrast, maintain a permanent relationship with their millions of users through the devices that their users carry with them almost 24/7.

Why not profit more from this unique market position? Operators could easily generate higher revenue and increase customer loyalty if they were to fully comprehend their special communication relationship. Encouraging users to willingly share their personal data (preferences of products, services, etc.) would enable telecom operators to systematically draw up profiles of individual users’ habits, preferences and behavioral patterns. Operators could then use these profiles to better tailor their promotional activities to their customers’ actual needs and magnitude. For example, based on the users’ proximity to retail outlets they offer products or services matching their interests.

In practice, that means that consumers profiled as football fans, action movie enthusiasts or healthy food lovers would receive corresponding offers, and possibly special discounts when in the vicinity of outlets with these products. Operators could also provide retailers with statistics concerning the number of targeted consumers present in a given shopping mall on a given day. This information would add a new dimension to retailers’ statistics by putting the total number of potential customers in physical proximity to their outlets and the actual number of sales transactions completed in relation.

Once the relationship between operators and users is established, many more scenarios are possible. Telecom operators could capitalise on their relationship with users to carry out market research or to run polls and surveys targeting a particular segment of users on behalf of commercial enterprises. Covering thousands of users, such a survey could easily be concluded within a 24-hour span. This short time span advantage, along with the possibility of reaching carefully segmented users, is only available to telecom operators who would just need to compensate participating users by offering free calling minutes or additional data usage, both of which constitute minimal real costs to the operators.

The scope of the relationship between operators and users can be even further extended. For instance, users could be encouraged to complete medical history reports, providing data on people to contact in emergencies. Should the need arise, this information could then be easily accessed by dialing a special number. There are numerous additional services that could be offered: community group discussions, personalised traffic advice, information regarding the closest entertainment venue featuring a user’s favourite event etc.

Some may argue that the proposed relationship would enable telecom operators to access confidential data pertaining to large numbers of consumers. In my opinion, telecom operators already have this information but they do not use it to benefit users who are being bombarded with hundreds of irrelevant and ineffective advertising messages. Many Arab users, for example, already spend substantial amounts of their spare time playing mobile games. Wouldn’t it be much more efficient to be engaged in schemes that are based on their real needs and wishes and ultimately reap the rewards of this engagement?

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