"...we need to rely more on knowing and understanding our customers and less on numbers—which at times can be frustrating, but is also quite freeing, because you are relying on your gut and your instinct."
What are the major changes affecting your brand that you see, at the present time, of marketing in Africa?
First and foremost, it’s a different era. We went from being one of two or three mobile operators in our markets to being one of six or seven in many of our markets. So, there is increased competitive intensity and everything that comes along with that—including pricing pressures, staying ahead with innovative products and services, and increasing our distribution footprint. A lot of effort went into building a strong brand, and now we have established dominant awareness, brand attributes, preference, and affinity. It’s now less about building the brand and more about maintaining the position we have established.
Secondly, the brand is a huge asset and we have to start using it as such. We don’t build equity for the sake of building equity. It needs to drive employer preference, customer preference, distinguish the quality of our offering versus competition and more. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating a commoditized environment.
Lastly, and this is related to the second point, we have more pressures on the business as voice revenues begin to fall due to environmental and competitive factors. Because of MTN’s brand dominance on the continent, we need to embark on more thoughtful and targeted initiatives versus the large scale, mass properties that got us to where we are today. In other words, how can we better leverage the MTN brand to create a more efficient and effective marketing program?
Is marketing in Africa different from that in other parts of the world?
I’ve had the good fortune of working with marketers on several continents and in several segments, from Japan to Europe to African-American or Asian-American segments in the U.S. The marketing fraternity in Africa is extremely professional with world-class capabilities—both on a client and agency side. The biggest challenge on the African continent is the lack of information or data that more developed markets take for granted. We do not have the luxury of GRPs or clear ROI calculations. We don’t know how many people are watching an English Premier League game being broadcast on satellite TV. But, we do know that our markets are more likely to engage in communal viewing. I give that example, because we need to rely more on knowing and understanding our customers and less on numbers—which at times can be frustrating, but is also quite freeing, because you are relying on your gut and your instinct.
What new trends affecting your commitment to environmental sustainability are emerging?
Please note that my responses are inclusive of some of the major and material sustainability trends within the mobile communications sector, with some consideration for the overall ICT sector, and are not listed in any order of priority. Nor is this necessarily a fully inclusive list of the sustainability issues we address.
The International Telecommunications Union’s 2011 Trends Report indicates that “From climate change to health, to education and personal security; no discussion of major social issues is complete without close examination of the role of ICTs in creating, managing and resolving these issues.” Similar discussions on the role of mobile communications in addressing environmental and social imperatives are being undertaken at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP17) negotiations in Durban 2011.
As a relatively low environmental impact company, MTN has the opportunity to leverage its ICT position to help emerging economies address emerging risks such as climate change management and emerging opportunities, e.g. through closing the digital divide, enabling enterprise development. MTN also operates in some of the most economically, environmentally and socially vulnerable communities of the world, and therefore recognizes the role it can play in making a sustained difference.
For MTN, sustainability is about core business practice: taking account of material opportunities and risks that can maintain or enhance economic and non-quantifiable value for its stakeholders (not only shareholders and investors).
Issues affecting sustainability include the following:
- Energy consumption of networks, switches, data center, and IT-intensive infrastructure (economic cost, greenhouse gas impact).
Electronic waste management.
Closing the socio-economic divide and enabling enterprise development through affordable, easily accessible digital communications (including access to broadband connectivity and affordable voice and data communications).
Business cost efficiency (the role of sustainable business practices to address the new economic reality the world faces).
The use of ICT solutions to address social and environmental challenges, e.g. air and water quality monitoring, emissions management, SMART grids and SMART automation solutions, etc (this is proposed in the context that the boundaries between IT and Communications are blurring, called business convergence or the move to data communications).
The use of social media in democracy and citizen movements (freedom of expression).
Privacy of information and security.
Transparency and effective corporate governance.
Use of conflict-free minerals and valuable components in ICT manufacture (MTN is not a manufacturer).
Use of public-private partnerships and collaborative working with competitors, suppliers (upstream and downstream), peers, communities, governmental and non-governmental bodies and other stakeholders to address significant/large/complex/multi-faceted issues of mutual concern, e.g. green job development, universal electronic solutions, or waste management.
Corporate reputation and its value.
Sustained community investment impact (non-checkbook philanthropy, but ensuring an enduring difference that uplifts and reduces human dependencies).
Employee and consumer health and safety.
Network and site sharing and co-location to reduce economic, environmental, and social impacts of duplication by multiple operators.
Cradle-to-cradle manufacturing of electronic and electrical devices, extended producer responsibility, and supplier take-back.
Respect for the legislative and regulatory environment in which MTN (and mobile network providers) operate.
What is the secret to staying relevant all these years?
There are three things that all humans require—food, shelter, and communication. As a provider of communication, in many cases in areas where there are no other options for connectivity, it's a huge responsibility. Furthermore, as our markets are largely pre-paid, we don’t speak about share of wallet, but rather share of pocket. We understand that for many of our customers, when they go into a store, we are competing with a Coke for example. Am I going to take the R10 that I have today and spend it on a Coke or on airtime?
But, beyond meeting a basic human need and expanding that to include products that provide access to information, health care, agricultural prices, and banking products, we also endeavor to share the passions that are important to our customers. On the African continent, that is football and music—and more likely to be local music versus Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. We run the leading website for African football news, mtnfootball.com. We were the first African company to be a global sponsor of a FIFA World Cup. We are also major sponsors and supporters of national and local leagues throughout our footprint. That is just a small taste of the range of activities that we engage in to ensure that MTN remains the largest supporter of African football. With regards to music, we sponsor numerous local music festivals and concerts and provide our customers with the best local and international music content through our content portal—MTN Play.
Lastly, I would also like to mention that our marketing teams are world class. In most of our markets, the CMO and the marketing team are proudly Cameroonian or Nigerian or Syrian, etc. They understand their consumers and are empowered to develop localized marketing plans that are ultimately aligned to our global strategy. This is quite a different approach to many of the other global mobile operators.
How do you maintain momentum, day in and day out?
We have a highly collegial but very competitive environment. There is always something that is being tested somewhere in the MTN footprint and it’s exciting to be a part of so many firsts on our continent. We want to continue to get there first and maintain our number one position in the hearts and minds of our customers and employees. That’s what keeps me motivated.
Does the company have a different strategy in emerging markets?
Our entire strategy is based on emerging markets and is embedded in our corporate vision, which is “to be the leading mobile operator in emerging markets.” We believe that one of our major points of differentiation is our employees. Recently, our CEO was interviewed on CNN and was asked about setting up new networks in challenging emerging markets. We’ve got the expertise in our people who not only know what to do, but also have the most amazing “can do” spirit in sometimes trying circumstances. You should read some of our internal employee award submissions to get a sense of what MTNers are capable of.
What do you predict to be the main issues for brands/company reputations in the immediate future?
Both in developed and emerging markets, the main issue impacting brand reputation will continue to be trust. This may manifest itself differently between more and less developed markets, but it is the root of all customer engagement. Can I trust in the service you will provide me? Can I trust in your leadership and corporate intentions? Can I trust in the value for money you are providing? Can I trust that you will acknowledge and rectify mistakes or problems? Can I trust that you will genuinely and positively impact my community?
Related to this is a company’s strategy around corporate citizenship. There needs to be a clearly communicated plan for how a brand or company intends to engage with communities and positively impact on the economies and societies in which they operate.
Is green/sustainability gaining traction?
The answer above, and the fact that MTN’s sustainability imperative is governed at the top-most levels of the organization, and that we report our sustainability performance to our investors, are indicative of this.
However, if your question means “is it globally gaining traction,” I think the response is rather the following: between the 60s and the 80s, generally it was considered a fringe/green-thinking element, and only progressive businesses or those that could directly quantify its impact on their business would address it. However, since the 90s, and within the new millennium, almost all businesses wishing to “keep their doors open” realize that they cannot continue to exist without addressing this as part of core business. (There are numerous examples of this globally and locally.) Businesses are also moving away from seeing “green” as a risk, to green as an issue to generate revenue or obtain access to other opportunities.
I am not sure if I have answered your questions satisfactorily as they are so broad—however, please feel free to contact me should you require further clarification.
Any newly formed partnerships or major initiatives that the company is looking into?
This is a very exciting area for us right now. We are constantly engaged in developing partnerships that will differentiate us from the competition and add value to the services we already provide our customers. This is not a comprehensive list, but some areas include NGOs like the UN in the area of refugee assistance. We are also talking to health care providers and health insurance companies. We are actively partnering with several banks and money transfer organizations. In the area of content, we are speaking to music companies, sports leagues, software, and application developers, and more. Finally, we are also working with device manufacturers at all levels to ensure that customers in our markets have options from low cost handsets to the latest smart phones and tablets.
ABOUT JENNIFER ROBERTI
Jennifer started her career as a corporate historian at The History Factory in Washington, DC, but quickly came to realize that understanding where a company and brand came from can help inform where it is going. Subsequently, Jennifer moved to New York to work on Madison Avenue—historically the epicenter of American advertising. After nine years at Y&R New York, working on global brands such as Colgate, Philip Morris, and SONY, Africa and MTN came calling. Jennifer has spent the last five years at MTN Group Marketing, and has held the position of Executive: Group Marketing since November 2010. This role requires her to work with agencies and in markets across the Middle East and Africa to firmly entrench MTN as Africa’s Leading and Most Valuable Global Brand. This objective culminated in MTN’s recent sponsorship of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for which Jennifer managed MTN’s global communications strategy. Jennifer holds a B.A. from The University of Chicago.