Virgin or Lebara. The rest don’t matter!!

Saudi Arabia’s Telecom industry is evolving, 3 new Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in recent months. Question is: Which MVNO will have the 1st mover advantage? Virgin the equity owner, Lebara piggybacking on Mobily’s Equity or Zain and Axiom both being latest entrants before Virgin and Lebara? Users will decide but Brand Equity and Price points will determine the leadership

  • Lebara, an MVNO based out of Europe, partnered with Mobily
  • Virgin mobile, partnered with STC
  • The ailing Zain decided to partner with Axiom, a regional retailer for mobile/smartphones

The ‘Pay as You go’ MVNO model targets migrant workers and international community. For locals and residents, it’s a second choice to their official/original number. Which of these 3 MVNOs has the first advantage? Apparently, Virgin Mobile (partner of STC) because of its ‘Brand Weight’

I believe the Saudi market is fragmented into several segments that share same attributes or needs but are apart in many ways. Virgin will have the first mover advantage with inbound business travelers and others. Out of the 27 million, 6 million are Expats/Migrant workers or their family members in Saudi Arabia and that’s a big number which is using the current networks, so:

  • What’s the value in having the 3 operators (STC, Mobily, Zain) carry their own MVNOs?
  • What’s the benefit besides ‘Pay as You go’ for the end user in Saudi?

I see Price but other than that, it’s difficult to determine other benefits and expect the Brand which STC has as the winning partner: Virgin. Virgin Mobile will appeal to international community and citizens who are well aware of the Brand, for citizens and residents they will sign up with Virgin and Lebara as second choice (for back-up purposes). Lebara will focus on a target audience which is Price Sensitive (obvious from their communication). Most consumers associate Lebara with Mobily because of similar Brand colors and on the same token, they think it’s a sub brand of Mobily

It’s interesting to see how MVNOs will unfold under the original 3. Hardly anyone knows, at the least among the mainstream users, that Virgin mobile is associated with STC from first time experience but many see the association between Lebara and Mobily. I think Virgin’s Brand Equity will play an interesting role as it will have the first mover advantage and that’s STC’s strength in MVNO scene. On the other hand, Axiom and Zain are yet to prove their success story as Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

Slow moving and Price Sensitive audience will hardly find any value if Lebara and Mobily are attracting the same audience with the same values

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 29th January, 2015

NCB, Realize your tomorrow

NCB recently launched their new promise to their customers, that promise is on every TV channel, Billboard, Digital, you name it and it’s there. After such an aggressive launch, I would expect the promise to be delivered in day to day operations but according to the image below it’s not

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One of NCB’s customers had to visit 3 different branches just to cash a cheque. Branch no. 1 excused itself by claiming that cheque processing staff is out for giving an exam, Branch no. 2 said the system was down while Branch No. 3 was where the customer found a friend who also was an NCB employee to help him out

On my previous post I have placed great reservations on such taglines, I said:

“It’s almost impossible to achieve such promise with the prevailing human caliber in our region, the promise is far too difficult to provide to your customers. The incident above just backfired on the promise made by NCB i.e. Realize your Tomorrow (when you can’t cash a cheque today)”

Previously STC went through the same exercise with ‘Easier life’, now it seems NBC is heading in the same direction. This leaves me with great reservations on the competency of many professionals to understand how ‘Brands work’. I would ask companies to hire Brand experts to walk them through before hiring agencies, I’m sure the head of Marketing at NCB did his audit prior to embracing such promises

Brands must learn to keep their PROMISE!

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 29th December, 2014

The most Infamous Promise: ‘Easier Life’

STC’s most infamous promise to their customers ‘Easier Life’ backfired as a Harder Life for them. This is a great Brand as well as a Branding exercise. Yes Brand and Branding both serve different purposes

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When the Saudi Communication Commission decided to merge all its services (mobile, landline and internet) under STC Corporate Brand, the company went through a full scale Brand and Branding exercise. 3 companies participated in both exercises, a Branding agency at development phase with several initiatives and 2 Communication agencies to roll out the promise. Through my findings, the communicated promise ‘Easier Life’ was developed by an Advertising agency and not by the Branding agency which initially had developed the strategy. This signals the disconnect between the Essence and the message

I have always wondered why would STC, after the merger of their services, embarked on a promise that is far impossible to achieve during the day to day operations. Secondly, did STC train their human resource prior to the launch? And if they did, how much was invested in their training? Third, was the organization aligned at all levels from bottom to top or from top to bottom on the promise? Last but not least, did STC hire experts on Brand and Branding as internal members to guide them through the journey? I doubt it. The deep understanding about Brand and Branding is relatively new to the region and very confusing, even to seasoned Marketers in the Middle East and business people in many parts of the world. Imagine a region that grasped business understanding out of trade, how will they perceive Brands. Most treat Brand and Branding as tangible deliverables such as logos, colors and fancy Taglines and in most cases the results are detrimental. STC ‘Easier Life’ Brand and Branding case is a perfect example on how things went wrong. In the following points I will illustrate what EXACTLY went wrong:

  • Clearly during that period the CEO,Board and head of Marketing had very basic understanding on Brand and Branding
  • The region’s culture on Communication is Advertising and seemed to be the most feasible approach to the management as Branding
  • STC’s positioning was clear: ‘Mobile, Landline, Internet everything revolves around you’
    Great positioning before other mobile providers had entered the market but the positioning failed on delivery
  • The Advertising agency developed Tagline, why? The head of Marketing at the time didn’t find the Branding agencies’ proposed Taglines fancy enough and decided to ask the Advertising agency to come up with a fancy one, what happened? STC raised their promise bar for an ‘Easier Life’ for their customers which became impossible to achieve
  • STC Operations failed to deliver the promise, a billing system with tremendous issues, customer were billed once every six months
  • STC retail experience was all about ‘Pretty Stores’ which were hard to produce emotional end benefit to their customers
  • STC decided to continue its promise even when customers expressed their frustration across all social media channels
  • Why didn’t STC hire an expert on Brand and Branding? Well, they depended on their head of Marketing to be informed on the subject, which is usually the case in our region. Most if not all heads of Marketing have a very basic Brand and Branding understanding and it’s clear from most launches taking place in the region apart from Brands straight out of Dubai

STC ‘s Branding exercise is a great case study for CEOs and heads of Marketing on how a good Brand strategy failed at implementation. I have many examples similar to STC, the misunderstanding of Brands on Value and Purpose can be very detrimental to any business

The heart of a Brand is the Promise and the Emotional Value the customer benefits from by using the product or service

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 25th December, 2014

Zain: Not a Wonderful World

Zain the Mobile service provider in Saudi Arabia possibly had a chance, in my opinion. However there are various influencing factors out of their control which restrict their success within the Saudi Market. For starters I do not think the management at Zain has sufficient knowledge about the market reality and their market standing. From a Branding and Marketing perspective Zain has probably over promised on services such as including phenomenal 4G offers with well thought out communication to influence users, to switch to their service. However they remained inadequate and failed miserably. When Zain was first introduced in Saudi Arabia they suffered from bad network which is one of the most important Values of any cell phone company which they should have calculated and tested prior to launch

Other factors that limit them or will limit them, what they can or cannot do:

  • If Zain wishes to be a low cost carrier, that would be impossible since the regulators would see that as a threat to the local carrier
  • If Zain decided to enter a particular segment of audience or even tried, it would be impossible as it would narrow down the company’s opportunity making it almost impossible for the company to sustain itself
  • What can Zain to do to turn things around? Evolve from their current Business Model? I find that hard as prime stakeholders would consider that a threat (Cell phones are tightly regulated even on Prices)

Zain needs to think smart and fast; they need to focus on getting themselves out of their over-stated turmoil. Their user confidence is already low and declining further, and the only reason why cell phone users would use Zain is either to find advantage over Price or network, both of which require Zain to develop a solid and long lasting ground on

The Telecom industry in Saudi Arabia is watched closely by regulators (CITC) leaving network providers with very little room to maneuver competitive advantage

Each of the service providers are known for their unique single strength, for instance: Mobily is well known for its Data Strength. While Al Jawal by STC is known for its excellent network coverage. Zain is left out from any unique strength other than the previous promises that failed with users’ experience

Brand’s should be very careful in their Promise vs Proposition. It is not the Product or the Service that creates the miracle instead it is everything else that comes with them such as the People and the Brand. I hope that Zain’s management realizes the opportunity in the Kingdom and reconsider all possible changes for the coming years

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Branding Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 10th June, 2014