Bayo Adekanmbi, Chief Marketing Officer of telecommunication giant, MTN, tells NTIA USUKUMA and LAWRENCE AMAKU why MTN remains the country’s leading global brand in telecoms.
How has been the journey so far, especially from when you left Nigeria for South Africa five years ago?
I left DDB to join MTN Group in South Africa to lead global brand strategy with some expanded responsibility in developing go-to-market strategy for all our international products that have cross-border impact. I was responsible for insight generation to support our global brand strategy development, the issues around brand valuation, ensuring that the brand is consistently represented on a global scale, especially leveraging the first World Cup on the African continent, and to ensure that the equity that the brand derived from that competition is sustained, not just from the sponsorship aspect, but also from the product positioning perspective. That was the responsibility I took for some time after which I came back to Nigeria and took responsibility as Senior Manager, Insight and Information Management. So, it was more like coming back to the position I started my career from which was the analytical side of the business. So, that allowed me to merge the magic and the logic of customer engagement together. So, while doing that I became General Manager Business Intelligence, where I was responsible for knowledge generation, business planning, strategy development, business case development, geo-marketing strategy, customer analytics for the business, before my appointment as the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer in the last quarter of 2014.
You are nearly three months in this office, have you settled in?
Of course, I have. I think for me having been part of the system all along it’s been coasting well with the people. I’m working with the same people, the same brand and context. And I’m proud to tell you that one of the greatest assets we have is the people.
So, it’s the same entity, we assume the same energy. So, it’s more like settling down with the people. The only things that have largely changed are decision-making and level of responsibility. Fitting into the role has been very seamless.
How do you see the South African telecoms market, compared to Nigeria?
I think it is a much more sophisticated and informed market, a much more demanding market, but a less competitive one. The reason is that there are only two players, unlike Nigeria where there are many players. The other insight about South Africa is also the fact that South Africa is clearly segmented; your route to market is very clear. You can understand those in the city and those in the rural areas and you can uniquely engage them, unlike in Nigeria where there are too many clusters, too many segments, too many behavioural drivers that you have to understand to engage. If you look at the population, you will see that this is where the money is. Nigeria is the biggest market in Africa, both in terms of people and GDP.
But in terms of channels, I will like to say South Africa has clearly defined routes to market. So, when you talk about the media, essentially I’m talking about seven to eight media channels, unlike in Nigeria where there are so many. So, when it comes to the issue of clutter, there are so many alternatives to engage the market. Nigeria is a more complex market compared to South Africa.
Can one say that your preference is for the South African market?
The beautiful thing about MTN is that it is a brand that works in every market. That’s why we pride ourselves as the emerging market champion. We understand the peculiarity of emerging market, whether in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon or Iran.
We have broad expertise that understands the peculiarity of each market and that begins to define our marketing; developing solutions and approaches that are unique to this market. And that’s some of the things that have made MTN such a great success. It’s not one-size-fits-all; it’s all about what is unique about each market, what is most relevant to each customer, how is the market configured or structured and how can we appropriately service that market and to the benefit of the market and the customer and also to our own benefit.
From your understanding of MTN, when you were in the advertising agency, there were challenges. How will you compare those challenges then with now, in terms of regulation and others, considering the peculiarity of the Nigerian market?
I think whether then or now, to a large extent, it has not changed. Being on this side enables me to have a perspective of the end-to-end driver of MTN business. Often times, when you are an outsider making demands of the business, you may not really understand other things that are out of your control that often affect performance, issues or ability in the way we engage the market.
Some challenges persist, especially the challenges of outages, and the one of protecting our assets. But I think one of the things that have changed with time is the commitment of the regulator even much more to preserving the industry. Now, we’ve seen the regulator helping more to secure our assets and raising awareness about the fact that telecom assets are national assets. And the fact that the ability to utilise government policy to drive our advance in the market. For example, the broadband policy, which is now a very clear compelling policy from government, is now enabling our internal strategy.
So, I see more synergy and working relations. I see us generating results, even as we serve our over 60 million customers with the support of the eco-system members.
What is your competitive edge at MTN, even with stiff competition in the market?
I may not be able to tell a lot about that secret. I think the obvious one that everyone sees is the power of the brand, the fact that MTN means more than just making a call in the mind of the consumer. That we have consistently projected and have consistently invested in it, validating it on a daily basis. More importantly is the fact that we have shifted from selling a product to selling meanings that resonate and connect with the people, especially when you look at our investment in corporate social responsibility.
There is no business in this country that is making such level of investment in education, health, economic empowerment etc. It is the inclusive impact that has given us a special place in the minds of our customers.
MTN has been able to record huge successes in the South African and Nigerian markets. Have you been able to replicate similar successes in other African countries?
MTN has done the same. That’s why we are the number one brand in Africa. MTN is the only brand from Africa that appeared in the listing of global brands. If you look at our global valuation, it is higher than many multinationals in America. So our success is not just in Nigeria. It is clear strategic positioning to offer Africans, especially emerging markets, the most relevant market-fitting telecommunication services.
What is it that you want to see improve in the industry?
When people say that there is network quality, I think we must understand that for every one hour of down time it is not just about the customer, it is also because MTN has lost money. So, we are concerned about the issue that people raise about network quality, call drop and all that. The technology that MTN is using is as sophisticated as the technology that is being applied in any part of the world. The only thing that has changed is the context. We must get to a point where every infrastructure of all telecom owners is seen as a national asset and is protected by law and national security. We understand the role we play in driving the economy – that people must always be available and accessible.
How are you coping with the problem of insurgency in Northern Nigeria? How is it affecting your market?
Like any company, you adjust to the reality on the ground. As a responsible company in as much as we make efforts to serve our customers we are also very conscious of the impact on our people. We want to be sure that wherever issues are happening our workers are secure; if it is getting to a point that the security of our workforce is not guaranteed of course we have to move. Occasionally, when we see that insurgency goes down we can use our mobile base stations so that people can make calls.
From a business perspective and a global perspective, we do understand that the issues of merger and acquisition will become imperative. But I think what is important is the driving force. The driving force is industry efficiency, serving the customer optimally, reducing the cost of service and ensuring that the customer gets the best. As the market evolves, there will always be a point where firms will see reasons to come together. But beyond the issue of merger and acquisition, there is the issue of industry collaboration. We must realise that the industry has grown beyond just the telecom operator.
There are other value creator within the ecosystem— content developer, tower providers etc. Besides, the eco-system is emerging where we now collocate with each other. In a very subtle way, there is already a convergence happening in the industry. You see most of our content providers give service to other telecom providers. So that begins to tell you there is already a drive towards the epicenter. That epicenter is where the customer gets the best, the economy gets the optimal value and all the stakeholders get even much more than the individual gets.
What roles do banks play in all of these?
I think the banks have been part of the game. You know this industry is capital intensive. Much funding has been made by local banks and, of course, the international banks. Of course, it is a sustainable and profitable industry; an industry that has a clear and justifiable business case and you see the investment coming through. Then talking about the delivery side, we can see the banks supporting us to create more channels for service delivery. Now, customers can use their bank account to dial the ‘Top Up’ on MTN. I’m sure you are aware of Diamond Bank ‘My Yellow Account.’
I’m sure you are aware that more banks are coming on board. So, now customers can use the power of mobile to be able to do banking services. So it is purely inclusive banking. I think banks have really come to the table and it’s been a mutually beneficial working relationship.
In terms of local content, how much support does MTN give?
I think if there is anything that captures that story, it is the passionate commitment to the promotion of local content. There was one product we launched in January to welcome Nigerians to the New Year. It aggregates news, information, politics, etc, for you. This application was built by a young Nigerian company and a lot of those companies are companies we are supporting through our content development, through our eco-partnership which is more like the mantra driving our business. The second thing is the fact that Nigerians are heavy consumers of local content. That was why we created a platform for Nigerian musicians to be able to drop their music on MTN portals. And today, an average musician makes more money on MTN than on shows and CDs. So those are our commitment – giving back to the community that has given so much to us.
We have not. And I need to say that we still sustain them. In last year’s LAIF Awards MTN was the most awarded brand in terms of advertising. So, at no time have we reduced that quality and commitment. I’m sure last year the most awarded campaign was from MTN – Saka (I don port). It was conceptually accurate, well-delivered.
But I think one thing has changed – there is a clutter now – there are so many channels now, unlike in the past. There were few advertisers at that time. But as a business, we create the best content and optimize our channels. I think to a large extent, that is the reason. We have also won awards outside Nigeria, that’s in South Africa.
Let’s look at the economy. What kind of impact do you think the dwindling price of oil and the imminent general elections have on the Nigerian economy?
I think for us, it’s all about the fact that every nation has its ups and downs. We have gone through this path before. It is about looking for alternative platforms that can still make us achieve our national objectives.
How far has the mobile number portability gone in boosting your customer base?
I need to say something about the MNP. I like the fact that it allows a customer to move from one network to another – which is what we love as a brand – rather than have a customer locked up somewhere. So, we supported it. That’s why we created the biggest campaign to celebrate the concept. The second thing is that what is driving mobile portability is the fact that almost every customer in Nigeria is carrying two or three phones. The most important objective – which we love as a brand – is to make the customer the king; let them use their discretion, let them have the power and execute it the way they think is right. Yes, in terms of national coverage, we still take the leadership.
We’ve crossed the rivers. We have gone beyond the rivers, but beyond that is now rural coverage, because coverage is not just from a point of view of being there to make money, it is the concept of access; wherever you are you must have access to the telephone network. We want it to change the face of communication and to see everybody leveraging telecommunication for national productivity.
What is your thought about the expectations of the market from MTN this 2015?
We promised the market that 2015 is a year of ‘Better Me.’ We realised that a lot of opportunities that people are looking for are all scattered on the Internet and we want to make it easy for them to have access to it. We had to collate it for them. We want to make the Internet relevant to the common people and how they can use it to make their lives better. In MTN, we think of how telephony can reduce the cost of doing business. Why would someone be in traffic and be burning fuel when he can use MTN network to run a video or teleconference and so on. So, for us, we believe that using the power of technology and telecom we can turn things around. That is why our ‘Better Me’ campaign is underpinned by that philosophy. We believe you can cut cost by using technology, and productivity can improve very well.