In 2018, Safaricom lost its market share by 1.6% to close Q4 at 65.4% down from 67%. While this is a marginal number in terms of percentage points, it is a magical magnitude when it comes to customer numbers.
Much of these customers acquired new cards with Airtel, Telkom, and Equitel but the reality is, some might have retained their Safaricom cards for reasons best known to them.
Airtel and Safaricom competition has dominated telecommunications discussions since the turn of the century.
Price wars have previously been the battleground until some level of threshold was reached that allows little or no flexibility for significant cost reductions.
Safaricom took the market leadership with per second billing, something Airtel has to play catch up despite high brand metamorphosis over the years.
Mobile money also provided an avenue for flexing muscles for a number of years until stability was achieved, and discussions shifted to regulatory affairs. A lot of lobbying was done last year seeking Safaricom to split its business into two, in a sense dilute the assumed monopoly state in compliance with existing competition rules.
Data, voice, and mobile money have been the premises on which a number of campaigns have been rolled out in the effort to gain market share. In all these, Safaricom seems to be the punching bag.
What has captured the attention of most consumers is the recent campaigns by both Telkom and Airtel that have reduced the promotions to bare-knuckled boxing. This is not a new phenomenon though; the world has seen worse days.
In 2012, The Times of India launched ‘the Wake-Up!’ featuring readers from Chennai being put to sleep by a newspaper full of boring news. This was obviously aimed at discrediting The Hindu. The Hindu hit back and told its readers to ‘Stay Ahead of the Times’ by accessing news that was relevant to current affairs instead of gossip from Bollywood. This was supported by television commercials and print ads.
In the US, Burger King has previously used McDonald’s mascot in a brand bashing initiative in which it did not use the name of McDonald but the brand colors were clearly McDonald’s. The campaign was loaded with freebies and send out the persuasive notion that even McDonald customers had agreed to patronage Burger King delicacies.
Closer home, the two leading media houses in Kenya squared in a series of print ads discrediting the value proposition on whose ground each attracts advertisers. Nation Media stood on the grounds of “the Truth “backed by statistics about Daily Nation as the most widely read newspaper, while The Standard portrayed the dwindling numbers for the competition. By the end of the day, the consumers were more confused, unless those who dug deeper into available research.
As a product development and brand management enthusiast, I find the recent assault by Airtel, and previously Telkom so asymmetrical. Probably the brand managers in these organizations should ask themselves why despite promising attractive packages, lower rates, and even free services in some instances, the rate of adoption is very low.
They should interrogate why Safaricom does not hawk SIM cards in the streets but still almost maintain their market share. Probably, they should find out why despite Safaricom being branded as expensive still maintains a lead in all aspects of mobile telephony in Kenya.
There is more than advertising, whether digital or through conventional platforms. A full product and services offering must consider the product itself, price, place and obviously the promotion.
Nothing illustrates this than the Resist Movement after the 2017 elections. I remember my mother standing up to a local politician over telecommunication services. She knew all the ‘green’ related services are available and reliable in the village. All the other mobile services providers are not available to her, and worse, the working mobile money provider preferred by Resist was 95km away. As a consumer, she had to make a choice.
Consider also the fact that Kenyans are a closely knit family whose ideas and cultures must be considered in designing a product. There is a very high chance of family members maintaining mobile lines from the same telecom. I have seen this over the years were mostly driven by accessibility by all parties.
In my opinion, the recent combats will only serve one purpose, creating brand awareness but not strengthening or creating a bigger market share. Feel and touch leading to customer experience will.