One Sunday afternoon when I was telling my daughter, "no more television", she shot back, but tell him first (him being my son, who was playing a game on my husband's mobile) to stop "screening". I was a bit confused before it suddenly struck me that she was talking about the experience and not the format. It dawned on me that they now looked at it as 'screen time' and not just TV time and in this context the possibilities of what all mobility could mean to this generation. Having now spent a little over 3 months in the telecom sector, I am struck with awe, the scale, the workings and the dynamism of this 'in transition' industry feels surreal.
Of course, let me clearly state that what you read ahead is from an industry novice and a ring side view of the happenings. Needless to say it could have a heavy dose of idealism. But I couldn't stop myself from penning this down. Telecom in India is an industry whose pace of growth is frightening, where 'because of' and 'in spite of' heavy regulatory pressure the action continues. I have observed consumers across FMCG, Healthcare, Home products and durables but am yet to see such dynamism and complexity in behavior, easily the most challenging consumer behavior ever in my opinion.
As I look back on my last 100 days of being a part of this industry, there are thoughts that I would like to share. A few observations and peculiarities of this wireless wonderland.
Consumer participation and involvement: There is intense level of involvement, not only because the players are pushing action in the market but also because the consumer is participating whole heartedly, sometimes following and sometimes leading marketers. So the Indian consumer, who cracked the code of expensive washing powder for office clothes and cheap one for everyday clothes, is using his own homegrown logic even on telecom products. The sheer creativity with which usage is planned, by way of multiple service brand SIMS, using missed calls, SMS's and separate sims for incoming and outgoing calls, it's astounding.
The paradox of the being one of the most talkative nations and at the same time most value conscious, consumers in no other market would have used such home grown street smart wisdom to get the best value possible every day in every possible way.
Constantly changing consumer context: In most industries new consumers come in with varied expectations depending on their context of the category. Telecom has the most diverse set of consumers, ones who have been mobile since a decade and hence have a different context and expectation vs. consumers who are born in the lap technology and expect the world at the best price. It is a challenge for marketers to be able to meet such a diverse set of needs. Where the 30plus consumer expects to pay more for smart services and the 20 plus expects it to be 'ofcourse available' at an affordable cost.
What is advanced to one consumer is basic to another, and hence the logic of 'more advanced, more expensive' that operates in other industries is likely to be challenged, especially since players want to encourage usage of services other than voice. So now you can buy a bag of chips or surf the net for two days in the same money.
Law and loyalty: An industry that has too much of a regulated environment to breathe easy, it is impacted from all sides, revenues, offering design and distribution. The industry is almost pushed in the direction of downgrading the market under the excuse of 'fast growth'. The scale of the commercials of this industry has put tremendous pressure prompting players to do tactical short term initiatives and get quick wins, but this could become huge challenge in the long term. Prepaid sims helped hugely to expand the market but while all were busy trying to match a bag of chips price point in the acquisition game, they forgot to value add and give any meaningful reason for the post paid consumer to stay. In fact with fixed rentals, post paid service is quite the contrary and not surprising that only a very small percentage of the market comprises committed users. It's quite possible that soon consumers will actually get paid to make calls.
Bottomless price wars, government policies and regulations that change stance frequently, to add increasing competition, number portability and low loyalty the market has set an 'extreme conditions' stage to perform on.
Consumer and market research: It is quite a task to research this market, by the time research findings are available, the dynamics of the market could have changed dramatically. The consumer base could be totally different and the assumptions thereof challenged. One more market intervention in form of new technology, one more new handset, one more new plan etc could change the dynamics completely making the findings rather redundant.
Real time research that is predictive and not descriptive is what would really help.
Last but not the least, an incestuous industry it has people and sometimes teams who have been there and done that with other brands. They belong and almost have such deep tacit understanding that once you get them talking you realize how much knowledge isn't documented. They have worked on consumer bases that are possibly equal to the sum of the population of a few European countries.And of course the industry insiders use a language that cannot be understood by lay people, an outsider has to crack the lingo of the industry to comprehend any discussion. Most of it is in acronyms (seriously there are times when the entire sentence is made up of acronyms, sample this: "ARPU of REC is from VAS, CRBT ,WPDL" Phew, how on earth is one to understand ? And for my telecom friends who are thinking hard about what is WPDL, there is nothing called WPDL, I was just being wicked (Wall Paper Down Loads, may be).
Dr Anupama Wagh Koppar
(Views expressed are personal)