Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MVNOs need more consumer marketing expertise

Dan Neal, president of the startup tween MVNO kajeet, bemoaned the lack of consumer marketing insight in the MVNO world. “We need more consumer marketing sessions at conferences like this,” he said yesterday at the MVNO Strategies and Markets Conference.

And the importance of knowing the consumer market was underlined today at the conference by Thomas Desarnaud, VP of Marketing for Universal Mobile, the largest French MVNO. Universal, a sister company of Universal Music, the largest global music company, has used its deep understanding of the teenaged market to attract 550,000 subscribers and become the #1 wireless operator in France for customer satisfaction.

The MVNO has capitalized on Universal's success in the music market (35% market share in France) not by simply leveraging their promotion and distribution assets, but by applying the lessons they've learned in communicating and creating a brand that is attractive and desired by their target market—allegedly unpredictable teens.

Desarnaud used terms different from what we've heard from the the other presenters (a nod to Neal's plea). He discussed the service as a status symbol and invoking emotion in its customers. More than simply claiming to be cool, Universal knows the language of its audience and, as Desarnaud said, “speaks to youth in codes they understand.”

They speak a different message to parents, who pay for the service. To them, the message is all about budget control (as an parent of a teen can relate to).

A clever way they've merged the two messages is one of their advertisements, which parodies teen slasher movies with a teen terrorized by an electric-knife-wielding crazy—his mother, upset about a high cellular bill. The message? “Don't get on your mom's wrong side. Keep your spending capped.”

An important factor in Universal's success, and a cautionary lesson for US MVNOs—Universal has been able to succeed as a “SIM-only” MVNO. That is, they don't sell phones, but instead sell SIM cards that users can insert in their existing phones. This model is limited to GSM and as well because of locked phones would be difficult to achieve in the US even for a GSM-focused MVNO... and, of course, the GSM operators (Cingular and T-Mobile) have been the least aggressive enablers of MVNOs in the US. Zut alors!

Desarnaud's final thoughts:

Content is about life style

Mobile is about life style

Therefore, content and mobile go perfectly together. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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