World biz and more as seen from India

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Swapping to be freely allowed in India: Game anyone?

No this is not an article on wife-swapping or swinging couples.

Nor is it an article trying to promote it or sell our services regarding the same.

And no, this article is also not about the effect of consuming intergalactical gargleblasters, when consumed in excess by the human species... (ya H2G2 can have quite an effect on ppl!)

Brands today have become much more than a label for recognizing or calling a product. Gone are the days of the 'mom and pop stores' who sold goods wrapped in yesterday's newspapers. A brand today not only defines the product, but also to quite an extent symbolises the character, or rather the personna of the user. A customer today opts for ThumsUp not because a pepsi or coke can is not available - rather he goes for it because he thinks it makes him look 'macho'. This very aspect of the brand is the reason for companies looking to create a 'power-brand' that not only defines the user, but also epitomises the ethos behind the company.

Moving over to the topic for discussion for the day, branding has been important even in the Indian Telecom market - with the Hutch 'dog' symbolising more than just another service - an Ornage/Hutch customer would think twice before switching brands because he thinks that the brand symbolises something he/she believes in, or rather is trying to portray.

The reason why I decided to go back to classroom, is because of the news thats abuzz in the telecom domain today. "TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has initiated a consultation process on mobile number portability..." reads a news article from one of the dailies in Mumbai. The news is of great interest to me and to several users of the mobile telephony in the country for one primary reason - the ability to maintain one's identity and yet getting the freedom to choose.

Mobile phone numbers (or other Telephone numbers for that instance) have this very unique characteristic - they are almost like a part of you. Imagine the difficulty that one might face, having to change numbers - informing a million friends, colleagues and relatives about your new number could well be a nightmare for today's mobile-savvy consumer, who believes that his number is a part of his identity.

An Orange or a Hutch customer today believes that he is a premium user, and will surely think a million times before switching to a BSNL line, not only beacuse of the hassles, but also because psychologically, he thinks that owning an Orange number has some status, or charm attached to it - something that a BSNL number wont give him.

A mini-research showed that people associate differently with each brand:
Orange - premium customer/user, high-society, dependable
Airtel - Youth, an 'Indian' brand
BSNL - Cost conscious user

The new TRAI initiative under discussion means "a service that would allow users to change their telecom operator without having to change their phone number".

What translates out of this is that the mobile user of tommorow may have an Orange-series number, but may be well using a BSNL connection for a few months to experiment (and perhaps stick to it if he finds it actually better), without losing his identity.

In marketing parlance however, this means much more - customers would now not stick to a service, just beacuse of the brand-name or the image that it creates for the user. Instead, marketers will have to concentrate on providing better services to retain customers.

Customer acquisition has never been an issue for most of the top prepaid service operators - however the big game now would involve retaining them. Service marketing talks about this very are of focus - " How to retain customers, and ensure customer satisfaction?"

The Indian markets have predominently focused on "sell the product" concept. However, the telecom industry might see the start of a new era of marketing where the need for the hour will be to sell "an experience" rather than a mere 10-digit number.

While the top-notches in the business have already started focusing on maintaining customer loyalty by providing excellent service, network, and quality, the concept if implemented would mean simply that the so-called average player in the market would need to pull up more than just his socks to get his stufff in place if the customer churn needs to be curbed.

“While India can learn from the experiences of international implementations of number portability, some specific issues in the Indian context such as ensuring tariff transparency and amending the national numbering plan would need careful consideration,” TRAI said.

Will this swapping freedom be successful? Is this the rise of a new sun or is it just another dark cloud in the telecom sky? Only time will tell...

Reference: Mumbai Mirror - Business section (23rd July, 2005)
P.S: Direct link to this reference seems to not work for some eerie reason!