Sing the loudest since your voice is at its best. Billed as one of the biggest brand makeovers India Inc has ever seen, Airtel is undergoing an image bolstering process that will touch its customers, employees and business partners. Vodafone, Unilever and Sab Miller have done such makeovers in the past, but Airtel honchos claim their's is something pretty similar. So don't confuse it with gloss and grease paint or a flashy new ad campaign. It's more in the nature of an inward transformation by raising the service and consumer experience bar.
The Rs-8,000 crore company has initiated a five-month long enterprise wide corporate branding exercise, that, by February end, will apprise its 16.5m plus subscribers, 9,400 employees and thousands of trade and enterprise partners of what the brand stands for and the promise it seeks to deliver. This would then set the stage for the next part, which will be developing the brand's revamped advertising.
After many rounds of parleys within its top management and a global search, London-based WPP group company Enterprise Business & Brand Engagement was given the mandate for the transformation. “Airtel was an altogether different experience for us, because unlike most brands that came to us, it wasn't in any crisis, rather it was in a position of strength and is a company that has ambitions to go global,” Peter Bell, CEO, Enterprise Business & Brand Engagement, told ET.
In fact, he has conducted similar transformation programmes for several global biggies in the consumer goods space. According to Bell, their job was just to make sure the brand essence flowing from the leadership - Sunil Bharti Mittal - and the subscribers and retailers touch points in different regions were similar in their communication and delivery.
The ongoing exercise that started in October has reached its penultimate leg, where the new brand essence 'Think Fresh, Deliver More' is being communicated through extensive training programmes. Just prior to that the top 100 company honchos were briefed about the programme at an offsite in Thailand. This was followed by another workshop attended by over 300 executives who continuously interact with consumers. The last leg will involve the functional level.
The process seems to be a follow up on the umbrella branding process that Airtel went through a year ago, when mobile services, telephone & broadband services, Airtel long distance services and enterprise services (single-window end-to-end telecom solutions for large corporates) all got integrated under one brand, the then existing flagship Airtel.
A year later, it was imminent for the mammoth brand to weave in an essence that gave the same experience for the brand's internal and external customers. “Fighting in an industry that is growing at a scorching 60-70% and with mobile becoming a part of everyone's life almost by the hour, we want to be identified by the experience that we provide, not just by numbers,” says Rajan Mittal, joint managing director, Bharti Enterprises. “The brand aims to be number one across all categories by 2010,” he added.
Industry experts point, telecom industry like any other services industry is turning towards retaining its customers as part of its maturity cycle. “At this time a rebranding exercise will give them an even better focus,” said Prashant Singhal, telecom industry leader, Ernst & Young. The last six months have seen competition getting intense in the space of acquisitions; Airtel has not been having a great difference with its nearest next in the share of acquisition on a month on month basis.
With churn rates as high as 5% per month for prepaid and 1-2% for postpaid, it is natural for operators to work on controlling the churn rate. “And here Airtel is taking a lead to protect its leadership position. Other operators too will follow suit and it will be apparent in the next 6-12 months - the large shift from advertising campaign to more of loyalty campaigns,” added Singhal.
Brand strategist and founder, Shining Emotional Surpul, Shombit Sengupta, has another take. He says, “The brand has a huge mileage but the intangible premium with the brand is not felt. The consumer bonding is missing.”