Marten Pieters, MD and CEO, Vodafone India, addressed delegates at the ISA Global CEO Conference on 30 October in Mumbai. The conference, hosted by the Indian Society of Advertisers, was focused on the theme ‘Navigating a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world’.
Reflecting on the current situation of the telecom industry in India, Pieters said, "There's bad news everyday about the economy. Telecom is generally on the front page of the newspaper everyday, and more often than not, it's for the negative. We're living in tough times as it's tough for the consumers as well as businesses. So, professionals have no other choice but to embrace these changes. VUCA should be made friends with. Friends are people who we love spending time with, so if we're friends we'll face it and not get disheartened when we see it."
Pieters then said that the only constant in India is finding new growth pockets. "In hindsight, you can learn what a good strategy did for someone and then follow it. Instead of following it, shouldn't one create it?" he questioned.
Vodafone India's CEO and MD then brought out some of the things the telecom major has followed globally to embrace the environment and be successful.
Our future customer is already with us
"Customer behaviour is embedded in the past and present. Future behaviour is embedded in the present and to understand future needs of customers, one needs to study trends. An example of this is, when you take an helicopter ride and fly over a forest, it looks green. If you land in the forest, it looks very different. That's the distinction between the big picture and details. Similarly, brands must look at details as well as the big picture. Remember, consumers bend only if there's something worth picking up. The important this is to have products or services that connect with the consumers. Telecom has created something like Callertunes - no one really needs this, but it's something that's done really well," explained Pieters.
Behaviour changes happen more slowly than expected
"Human behaviour is evolutionary and not revolutionary. Changes in behaviour happen slower than we expect, sometimes. An example for this is the launch of 3G services across telecom sectors in India - we expected explosive growth, but in truth we didn't get it. Consumers needed to change handsets to use it. It's only now that the market is doing well. So, being patient and remaining on course is the key," said Pieters. To drive the point home, he mused that often, marketers get bored of their own advertising.
Pieters then complemented Apple on the success it has achieved as a brand and the speed it has grown at. He then showed a fun video created by Jimmy Kemel at the time of the launch of the iPhone 5S.
Business grows by leveraging opportunities
Pieters then urged CEOs to leverage opportunities and not look only to solve problems. An example he cited for this was photography. He said, "Photographers and brands who didn't embrace digital have fallen. (Camera) Brands that didn't expect mobile cameras to do well have been worst effected."
He then cited an example of how Vodafone leveraged an opportunity of mobile banking in Kenya and how 70 per cent of total money transfer transactions now happen through mobile in the country.
Light buyers matter and acquisition are a must
"It's believed that acquisitions are more expensive than retention. One must keep an eye on customer retention, but acquisitions address new customers who are either new to the brand or new to the category, with the latter being an important type of customer. In India, Vodafone has always focussed on finding new customers through things like trial packs," said Pieters.
Pieters then explained why brands must look at ‘light’ buyers as an important segment. "There's a belief that marketers should target heavy and medium users. The light users and the toughest to address. But, 34 per cent of the revenue for Vodafone (India) comes from heavy users, 36 from medium and about 30 from light. So light users are pretty significant too.”
‘4G should worry cable operators, not telcos’
Asked what would happen to Vodafone when 4G is introduced, Pieters said, "People try to get me worried by using that term. But, no one really knows what it is. When I was in Europe a few years ago, people in India asked me what will happen to telecom once fibre comes in. For now, 3G is sufficient to buffer videos and it works perfectly fine. With 4G coming, videos will continue to play in the same way and won't work three times faster because the speed increases. If anyone must get worried, it should be cable operators and not me!"