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Standing out in Singapore's crowded telco market with marketing innovation

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Singtel’s recent campaigns have marked a shift towards becoming more consumer-centric.

Advertising used to be about price and benefits. The words "cheaper", "better", and "faster" were common sights in newspapers, and on television and billboards. In many ways, advertising is still about the same things, but the way they are communicated now is in the form of a stream of box-sized images and shareable films.

New media might be delivering familiar messages, but one thing that has changed for the Singapore consumer is choice. Markets have opened up and competition has flooded the landscape with homegrown brands, as well as foreign players and startups looking to be disruptive. The result: People now have more options than ever before.

Defending revenue with great ideas

One of the most competitive consumer categories is telecommunications. It had only taken five years for Singapore's telecommunications market to increase almost four-fold.

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In 2016, mobile phone users had three providers to choose from. Today, there are 11. As late entrants lure subscribers with price and challenge anti-establishment promises, consumers expect to pay less for data. The consequence is shrinking revenues in the category.

How should a leading market brand like Singtel respond? In fact, how should any telecommunications company evolve beyond utility and into an essential provider of connectivity and content?

The average Singaporean has three connected devices. 49 per cent can't imagine giving up their phone for a day. With a consumer base who cares so much about the product, how can a service provider grow loyalty to the product into love for the brand?

In our experience working with 12 of the world's top 20 brands across categories, the most effective approach for dominant leaders to protect and grow their market share is to turn to marketing technologies and innovation to develop a strong sense of trust, deliver more personalisation and demonstrate greater value.
Constantly providing value to its customers is how Singtel builds trust. PHOTO: SINGTEL

Brand trust matters, even more so online

A recent R3 study on e-commerce for the technology and electronics category in APAC found that trust was one of the most important factors when buying big ticket items (like laptops), over convenience and cost savings.

This explains why Lazada has a filter option to show only products that are sold by Lazmall (Lazada's store for items from authorised distributors for brands) and HP provides customers the option to "chat with HP", alongside detailed product descriptions and consumer reviews. These subtle, yet significant, features assure the consumer throughout the buying process.

Trust is about service, but it is also about brand. Advertising that entices consumers with great deals and freebies might attract a shopper's roving eye for a while, but when issues like fake news, deep fakes and security arise, a brand needs to be able to communicate strategy and leadership.

When positioned in a relevant way, formerly commoditised features like better network coverage, stronger Wi-Fi connections and even the ability to restart your favourite television shows can be used by telecommunications companies to communicate that brand trust empowers the consumer.

As the tagline says, "Because with Singtel, you can."

Creating competitive advantage with a single view of the consumer

In modern marketing, small actions taken by consumers in their everyday lives help companies serve them better.

From hiring a ride using Grab to paying for breakfast using Dash, the data generated by seemingly insignificant activities create opportunities for more relevant, timely and personalised content and service. This is the new competitive advantage — companies with access to such first-party data stand to gain if they apply these insights in ways that connect them more intimately, and less invasively, with customers.

Banks have gone down this path by using apps and features like virtual budgeting and eWallets to encourage people to become more involved in their finances. As data informs how people choose to pay and what they spend their money on, new products are being created that offer better and more convenient services.

Singtel's next-generation unmanned pop-up retail store, where customers can get assistance for 24/7 mobile emergencies. PHOTO: SINGTEL

Winning through value, not price

There have been recommendations for telcos to drive growth in new areas. 

Singtel has chosen to dial up the value of their overall product offerings by building on its base. It has extended its offerings beyond mobile, broadband and payTV into the energy market in partnership with Geneco. It has also chosen to compete by entertaining, instead of just selling — a strategy that speaks to Generations X, Y and Z, who don’t measure value the same way their parents do. 

How you communicate value is just as important as what value you’re offering. In a competitive category, the value of the brand perceived by consumers is often the key differentiator, much more so than product benefits. 

In recent campaigns, Singtel has signalled a clear shift towards making every piece of communication and innovation brand-centred. For example, for those vested in wellness, there's Step Up, a platform that allows customers to earn local mobile data and lifestyle rewards. In UNBOXED, an unmanned pop-up store, people living in our 24/7 economy can find service in the middle of the night for mobile emergencies.

As the landscape changes, businesses in every category, from consumer packaged goods to automotive and banks, are confronted with two challenges: How to stand out from the sea of clutter amid ad-blocking technologies and multiscreen eyeballs? How to turn fleeting customer relationships into long-term advocates? 

When old tricks of marketing are no longer effective, marketing innovation is no longer an option, but mission critical.

This article was written by Shufen Goh, co-founder & principal of R3 Worldwide. R3 is a global independent consultancy that drives transformation for marketers and their agencies.