Building Better Brands: The New Realities for Telcos’ Business Performance

better brands

I’ll start with a provocative assertion: most telcos typically pay less attention to their brands than they ought to, and that doesn’t work for them. The proof: mobile service has become commoditized in over ¾ of the 50+ markets studied by Strategy&.

In many Telcos, the responsibility for the brand sits in Consumer Marketing, meanwhile, Enterprise do their own thing, the Innovation and Business Development teams cook up new ventures and come to the brand team quite downstream, and the net effect of all this and more is often a sub-optimal and less coherent approach to identity development and management than one might wish for ideally… and this is particularly acute in lower-ARPU markets.

How is this best remedied? Based on our collective experience and my personal journey in the sector, we have eight recommendations.

1. Evolve the thinking around brand – from a marketing instrument to an organizational asset

In the most evolved and best-managed organizations, the role of an identity is defined very simply – to operationalize the company’s Purpose across all aspects of its business.

Accordingly, a brand should serve as an organizational asset which is the keystone of all activity, not merely as a marketing instrument to create more consumer appeal and drive demand.

Most companies don’t look at brands this way, and most telcos certainly don’t – my point is they should, because better business performance lies that way. A brand-centered organization delivers better business performance, and if you don’t believe me, just ask Apple – because brand is Apple’s OS.

2. Develop a brand strategy that is fact-based and data-driven

We have the world’s leading proprietary brand assessment methodology and the largest and oldest database of brand data. Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) was developed with leading academics at MIT, Columbia, Washington, and Dartmouth and has over 25 years of data on over 60,000 brands from over 1.6 million consumers in over 50 countries.

BAV allows us to have tested country- and sector-level benchmarks of brand equity and performance in most major categories. We assess Brand Strength (Relevance and Differentiation) and Brand Stature (Knowledge and Esteem) to arrive at Brand Asset Scores and provide directional guidance on how to shape the right brand strategy to drive enhanced business performance.

Telcos typically tend to score high on Relevance but not well enough on Differentiation – primarily because functionally-driven advertising creates parity perceptions on the basic category drivers. Our methodology can help uncover not just gaps but also the levers to bridge them and serve as vital input into the development of an evolved or new identity strategy rooted in creating greater differentiation.

3. Create a coherent brand architecture using quantitative analysis

Many telcos in lower-ARPU markets have complex brand architectures, which are often an amalgam of organizational structure and architecture, contain too many disparate brands or sub-brands, and consequently make consumer navigation difficult. There’s a better way.

A quantitative brand equity assessment of its portfolio yields data about which brands and sub-brands contribute the most to overall equity, which ones are best equipped to drive future growth, and which ones can be subsumed into others (or retired even) to make the architecture leaner and the portfolio more efficient and more easily navigable.

This is important because brands and sub-brands need investment and can be expensive to sustain and build. When budgets are scarce (and when are they not?!), prudence dictates identifying the right brands and sub-brands to invest in to drive business performance and brand equity simultaneously. We can provide actionable guidance around brand portfolio and architecture decisions and currently work with two significant African telcos who are finding this to be an extremely useful exercise with substantial implications for their future revenues.

4. Graduate from brand implementation around identity and communications to driving its performance via culture and experience

Telcos often look at customer experience in merely functional terms (first call resolution percentages, retail waiting times, social media engagement levels, etc.) while relegating the role of the brand to providing the necessary executional assets – the visual, verbal, and digital components.

The reality of brand experience demands more. It requires integration of the strategic aspects of the brand into the design of experience across the Digital, Retail, and Care functions. Even more importantly, it demands that the brand serves as the keystone of corporate culture, because quality of employee experience drives the delivery and quality of customer experience.

Gone are the days when brand was only about identity and communications. Today’s world asks brand to play an integral role in the operational workings of the organization, from culture to experience design and delivery. It needs to frame each of them in ways that deliver realization of the corporate purpose, drive business performance, and accrue brand equity.

5. Value brand experience more than advertising

Today, all brands are experience ones – how you treat me matters far more than what you tell me. It follows that a dollar spent on experience enhancement will deliver greater returns than a dollar spent on communications.

The reality, however, is that investing much of the brand budget in communications is typically followed by much hand-wringing around “why aren’t things working for us as we’d like them to?!” Often the answer is simple: advertising sets up a promise which the experience is unable to deliver on, and the resulting disconnect plays out in customer satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Brand Health scores. It’s time for a re-think.

Invest in brand experience first, make sure it all works the way it should, and only then invest in communications. The magic lies in matching delivery to promise… and your CSAT, NPS, and Brand Health scores will provide proof that your investments are paying back.

6. Tackle every touchpoint

Brand experience is holistic and only as good as the delivery at your weakest touchpoint. That said, all touchpoints are not equally important, as some matter far more than others. How best to reconcile these twin realities?

The answer lies in brand driver analysis to figure out which touchpoints matter most and maximize the brand experience at them – including creating at least one or two signature brand experiences that only you own in the category to drive customer delight at high-importance touchpoints. For the rest, particularly low-importance touchpoints, a good experience will do just fine.

What’s important here is that omni-channel coherence matters far more than consistency – looking identical at every touchpoint is merely a table-stake, working as well as possible at every touchpoint is what your customers expect. Ensuring the physical, digital, and human aspects of your experience design work in harmony to deliver an excellent, on-brand, and memorable experience is where excellence in brand performance lives.

7. Appoint a Chief Brand Officer

Many of the world’s leading technology companies (also some of the world’s most valuable brands) have appointed Chief Brand Officers (CBOs) responsible for delivering the corporate Purpose – principally through Brand, Culture, and Experience.

Yet very few Telcos have done so – to their detriment. Instituting the function and appointing the right person to the role is the right thing to do, especially as the ‘Telco to TechCo’ progression continues to play out. Corporate Strategy-aligned, holistic, and function-agnostic oversight of brand development at an organizational level is the best guarantor of the brand’s ability to drive business performance and equity growth in tandem.

To realize this, the CBO must be entrusted with responsibility for brand positioning, architecture, identity, culture, omnichannel brand experience, equity, metrics, and ongoing development. It’s the only way to break the siloed thinking which bedevils many Telcos.

8. Institute the right brand metrics on your corporate balanced scorecard and use them as part of your C-suite’s shared KPIs to ensure alignment around identity priorities and efforts

Most Telcos don’t have a brand metric on their Corporate BSC, and that’s just not right. To exclude a fundamental driver of competitive differentiation in the sector from the overall yardsticks for corporate business performance just doesn’t make sense! The outcome has been continued commoditization.

Some Telcos include Brand Value, but that’s not the most optimal measure as it doesn’t provide directive guidance for the business and is not useful unless Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) discussions are on the cards or there’s a vanity need in terms of rankings on regional or sectoral league table rankings.

We believe Brand Equity is a far more useful measure as it captures competitive standing, has a directive ability for the business to calibrate its efforts for better business performance, and serves as a unifier across the diverse but complementary agendas of the people in the C-suite.

So, there you are, with our eight imperatives for Telcos to build better brands, or build them better, to drive business performance. We’ve worked with over 80 telcos over the last 40 years, and we’d be happy to help you make more of your brand to drive better business performance and equity growth.

Ash Banerjee is one of the most experienced Telecoms brand strategists in the world, having worked with over 60 telcos on all continents over the last 3 decades. Landor & Fitch is the world’s largest and oldest brand consulting company, delivering transformative brands by design.

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