With brand strategy focused on the youth, Arif Ali , Head, Brand & Communications, Loop Mobile, says value added services are more relevant than 3G for young subscribers.
What is your position post Mobile Number Portability (MNP)? You seem to have intensified your campaigns…
If you see the Mumbai market post MNP, every operator has been losing and gaining customers on a monthly basis. But the number of subscribers who have left us, as a percentage of the overall numbers, is the lowest. It is actually a revelation, because that is the function of brand strength, network strength and our retention strategy. Not just campaigns, we spent about 12 to 18 months revamping our network. We invested money. We had a technology partner. We configured Mumbai city perfectly and our strength is above 2000 towers now. The subscriber base has crossed the 3-million mark and is growing. It reflects the brand strength and the success of this campaign.
So, in this context, how successful has been the ‘I Choose Wisely’ campaign?
‘I Choose Wisely’ was a campaign set in the context of MNP. We wanted to generate confidence amongst the current subscribers that they have chosen wisely, and the reasons for their choice are valid. It was also meant to communicate with fence-sitters who are deciding whether to port out to another operator and still examining options. We wanted to entice them too and tell them the story of Loop Mobile. We also wanted to demonstrate our brand values and services. The context was that when we built up the entire brand imagery of Loop Mobile, first we came up with a revamped brand philosophy of ‘Going for Great’ and the colour purple representing the mission.
You had print and broadcast campaigns. But, for a telecom brand, how important are Out of Home (OOH) and digital campaign ideas?
In Mumbai city, OOH is very important. Apart from the time spent sleeping, most people are out of their homes, and always on the move. OOH is not only about billboards and hoardings. It may even be a coffee shop, or a movie you are watching inside a bus. Being a Mumbai-only brand, OOH is very critical. We invest disproportionately in outdoor media. In digital, we entered the social media about six months ago. Today, we already have about 50,000 Facebook fans. Earlier, we were participating in the digital space only through banners and ads. It is the first time that we went and really optimised this media through the Facebook platform. We also leverage the existing set of fans to get more fans on our Facebook page.
We do a lot of engagement activities, be it a Bryan Adams show or a Mumbai Indians match. We engage with people and help them build character for the brand. We also make sure that we provide answers to customers’ queries within two hours. The person gets instant resolution of problems. We also focus on Value Added Services (VAS). They are important for any organisation. We have been the first ones to announce GPRS and caller tunes on phones. We continue this trend in the social media. We announced Mobile Money and Autoguard services. These are new, innovative, yet trendy utility services. Additionally, we do a lot of test marketing through this medium. People immediately react to such initiatives. The feedback is instant. We too have to respond immediately on the digital platform. It is a tough place to be in. If we were car-makers, people would wait. But in a service industry like ours, no one waits. They demand instant responses.
Your new communication is targeted at the youth. Is your strategy more inclined towards coming up with new schemes than providing a good network?
Brands need not have a single-dimensional approach. While network is as important as the best tariff plans, service technology innovations are also important. These are non-tangible products. You can have three or four pillars, but a value that is a unifier. We are committed to delivering something that is the best in the class. So, all three pillars are crucial - network, value for money as well as techno-innovation and retention of subscribers. We have relationship managers at the high end. At the low end, we have engaged with people through activities.
Value added services (VAS) formed the core of Loop’s earlier campaigns. Now, the campaigns are also about the network. What next?
VAS is an important pillar of our brand strength and journey. We involve customers who are young and tech-savvy. The mobile is something that they always carry. We have to mirror their aspirations with respect to network and technology. People can even leave an iPod behind, but they will not leave their mobile phones. It is the closest piece of technology, or a person’s tech identity. We try and do something which has a technology edge and is also relevant to people’s lives. If it is only technology, they will use it for some time and junk it. Subscribers look for continuous and relentless excitement. One way to deliver that value to them is through VAS. A network cannot give you something new every month, but VAS can. You can keep the excitement up for customers, and they will be engaged with you continuously. It is a very important brand pillar.
Do you have any plans for 3G services?
People are aware of the term 3G, but are not very knowledgeable about it. Nobody has educated them. If they think that they can get TV on their phones, I don’t think it is happening. For those who have launched 3G, customer experience is not good. 3G is a buzz thing and is seen as the zenith of technology and network. Youth also aspire for it, but we have to balance it with the fact that they may not be able to afford the 3G service. Will their experience match aspirations in the 3G service? We have to understand these issues. They might subscribe and later reject it. If they reject it once, they will never come back. You have to give subscribers a good experience. Therefore, we are examining our own options within the regulatory framework of the Government of India. We are looking at how we can deliver a 3G-like experience to people. It is possible within the current framework.
What is the focus of your brand strategy?
One key area of the strategy is around young users. I think it is the demographic truth of India and Mumbai. The purpose has to be useful. We aspire to be a young, youthful, energetic vibrant brand. What are the pillars to deliver that? VAS, for one, to give youth what they will use, value and be savvy about. Because they are young, we have to give them value for money. For example, we have a unique product called Dus ka gang for groups of 10 people. They can use it among themselves. It is quite popular among college students.
What are the challenges you face from competitors?
Let’s look at Mumbai. The population base of the city is not increasing. However, mobile phone penetration exceeds the population figures. People have more than one SIM card. People might buy SIM cards from two operators, depending on what kind of tactical experience you offer at the retailer level.
In a competitive market, brand recall is very important. How do you take care of it?
The telecom sector is hyper-competitive. There are 12 players in the market currently. To figure among the top three is a challenge, and brand promise becomes important. In a city like Mumbai, how do you get yourself seen, heard and remembered? We don’t have the benefit of TV as yet, so how do we keep ourselves relevant to subscribers? Relevance is a challenge; awareness is a challenge and creating excitement too. Brands live in the context of people’s lives. Fortunately, in India we operate in a very rich cultural context. There are brands that came in early, occupied some space. I’m not saying that every space is available or occupied for all the brands. There are niches available. A good company with a brand vision can create a brand with a unique identity and sustain it for years.
So, you are looking at the niches?
Absolutely. Loop Mobile has already created its identity. We have a unique purple identity along with our mission ‘Going for Great’. It has a unique look and feel. I think we have lived up to the challenge of a competitive market in Mumbai, which is media-savvy.