C-SUITE Q&A: Siddharth Banerjee, Executive Vice President, Marketing Vodafone India
Brand tailors mix
to match Indian
Spending on digital media increases
Executive Vice President, Marketing
Vodafone India serves around 211 million customers with mobile telecommunication services. Siddharth Banerjee, Executive Vice President – Marketing, heads brand, insights, media, and digital. He brings extensive business and brand building leadership experience in telecommunications and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), including 15 years of packaged goods experience, largely with Unilever, across several countries.
What key challenges do India consumers present for the brand?
Consumer habits are changing in this very dynamic country and category. Our first challenge is understanding the changes that are happening in the consumption of voice, data, services, and content. It’s about what people are using our services for. We tailor the right basket of product and services for the consumer, so that we offer a competitive overall customer experience. The second challenge is keeping the brand equity, engagement, and brand love growing. The consumer today has many choices in terms of brands and how she consumes media. How do I keep the conversations going? How do I keep our brand messaging top-of-mind? The third challenge is that a lot of consumer behavior is happening in the online world, and how do we move with the consumer in this world that has gone digital? How do I make sure that the entire customer experience—the gateways and user journeys—are all aligned with our customers’ behavior and expectations.
How is the Indian consumer changing and how do you view or segment the consumer market?
We have gone beyond the urban-rural divide because, although differences remain, those two worlds are colliding, as technology democratizes access. In terms of understanding consumers, we are applying some basic marketing principles of customer segmentation. For the last several quarters we have looked at customer experience in a different way, so we can delight customers in a relevant manner. We’re looking at India and saying, there is an India that is young and vibrant. We have 200 million-plus young people, around the population of Brazil, and their aspirations and requirements from Vodafone are very different from other customer segments. Similarly, the rural farmer is an important segment because farmers have the need for mobile phone service, but also the need for information. Another segment that we focus on is the high-value customer. Again, the needs are very different, including the need to roam internationally.
How are you presenting the brand to young people?
We try to respond with a solution for what our customers value the most. With young people, who would like to experiment more and discover the world through their mobile phones, data becomes very important. We try and understand their daily habits and attitudes, their 24-hour clocks. For example, when we provide a Youth Data Pack with extra data allowances, we recognize that he or she might be awake at three in the morning. So, could that person get some extra data if he or she is a 23-year-old, first-jobber who’s just returned from an office party and has two hours to kill watching Game of Thrones in the middle of the night? Hence, Insomnia Quotas. By understanding needs and aspirations, and what is of value to the consumer in that segment, we can offer relevant customer experiences. Also for Youth, we combine the telecom offering with offerings under Vodafone U, which provides invitations to concerts, movie tickets, access to meet a popular film celebrity, or other desirable experiences.
How do you apply your marketing approach to rural people?
We have a powerful offering for the Indian farmers called Kissan Mitr (A Friend of the Farmer). It’s a value-added service for a nominal monthly cost. With this service, we can provide real-time information about weather patterns, crop information, and other details that enable farmers to increase the yield that they get from their farms. That increases the farmer’s income and reduces earning volatility. Here we have gone beyond just providing this consumer segment with connectivity through mobile phone services. This is another segment of consumers where we give something of relevant value to them.
And who are your high-value customers and how do you serve them?
We are privileged to serve a large base of high-value customers across both large metros and the Tier 2 cities. They range from corporate professionals to entrepreneurs located across these cities who trust and use Vodafone. For them, it is very important that they have relevant plans and access to Vodafone when they need it. Hence, we ensure that our high-value customers get great service, either through our customer retail touchpoints or via our My Vodafone app. We also offer them tailor-made plans, including our Red plan, which we believe is one of the best post-paid plans in India.
Do the high-value customers represent a change in the distribution of wealth?
If you look at the shape of income distribution in most developing economies, it typically looks like a pyramid. In India, that pyramid is changing into a diamond. The base is contracting and the middle is becoming wider. And the tip of the pyramid widens with many more people with high disposable income. The per capita disposable income is going up. Also, as consumers become more aware of the world through technology, their needs and aspirations change. The urban youth, for example, begin to mirror their global counterparts.
How do you respond to the fierce competition in the telecom provider category?
Telecom competition has always been fierce in India. Now, there is a new player in the market that has unleashed pricing moves, which have driven down the price of data. At the same time, there is a host of handset manufacturers in India who now offer devices across multiple price points. Consequently, you can see faster adoption of smartphones and, because of the low data costs, people are experimenting with the internet, looking for uses beyond entertainment. We have built a powerful position in the market by keeping our focus relentlessly on the consumer. Consumers associate us with superior service, a high-quality network, and iconic communications campaigns that endear them to us. We do human storytelling. That’s how we have built our brand. And in a heated competitive environment, we will continue to ruthlessly focus on our customers’ needs.
How do you see the brand changing strategically, as telecom brands globally try to become more than conduits of voice and data?
People will see telecom providers bringing in relevant technology for consumers, and moving beyond basic mobility into convergence products. That’s about total mobility solution products, whether it’s a landline or television. In the Internet of Things (IoT), Vodafone globally has built up huge expertise. On the business-to-business side, Vodafone already has a deep understanding of machine-to-machine. We already offer some of these capabilities in the dynamic market that is India, especially on the B2B side with our Vodafone Ready Business services.
Are you looking beyond India to nearby markets?
Currently there is huge scope and hyper-competition in India, so we need to maximize what we have in India. But the global footprint of Vodafone is certainly a big advantage. We have the possibilities of impacting people across the world, and you will see more and more of that.
As the India market changes, has your media investment changed?
As the world becomes more digital, and the world becomes multi-screen, it is not only about TV. We have 211 million subscribers, and counting. Reach is of prime importance to us. So, there is a role for television, because television enables us to gain the reach at a certain cost. Given the fact that there are consumer segments that are multi-screening and using their mobile phones, our spending on digital over the past two years has increased in percentage and absolute terms. The touchpoints depend on the consumer segment. However, if I look at the high-value customer, I also use cinemas. If I look at youth, we look at platforms like YouTube and Instagram, and we communicate our messaging in partnership with them. If we look at rural, we have a distinct media mix, with free-to-air radio. Overall, our media priorities are TV, digital, and outdoor, and then specialized media vehicles.
How have recent disruptions, like demonetization, impacted the category and the Vodafone brand?
We are well placed to take these challenges as they come—whether competition or regulation. Personally, I strongly feel that the telecom category is not for the fainthearted and that’s the excitement. In terms of business opportunities, the glass is always half full so there’s huge headroom for growth. In terms of the direct impact of digitization and m-commerce, Vodafone India has a successful money transfer business called M-Pesa, which began in Africa. We’re increasing the availability of that product and have seen a good amount of consumer uptake.