Recent pricing wars have seen major telco operators rush toward offering more appealing “unlimited” data packages, demonstrating that mobile data is the most important revenue asset at telcos’ fingertips.
However, telcos must ensure they’re not solely focused on giving away big buckets of data – even if it’s an unlimited bucket, as this is not necessarily what mobile customers are after, or what is right for their needs or wallet.
Customers in established markets still want personalised, flexible data offerings. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 mobile subscribers in the US and the UK, 55% wish that their mobile carrier would provide more personalised offerings – rather than a one-size-fits-all offering, like many of the unlimited packages operators are pushing.
And, for bill-shy customers in emerging markets, big data buckets are not always attractive. According to the GSMA, the regions that are poised to be the growth engines of the Internet over the next several years – BRIC countries and Africa, Latin America and Asia Pacific – are predominantly of mid to low income consumers, with the majority on prepaid plans.
Capturing the next two billion mobile data users in these areas will require operators to think differently about how they are marketing and selling to these customers. Simplifying the buying experience will help eliminate customers’ fear of bill shock or being locked into a plan, while operators gain from more monetisation opportunities, greater customer engagement and better trust.
There are a few ways that telcos can successfully sell mobile data to customers in emerging markets. To win over these customers, operators must make mobile data buying fast, convenient, affordable and personal for consumers.
The Appeal of Time-Based Purchasing
On the whole, mobile data is still sold, packaged and marketed in old-fashioned and inflexible ways. Buying and consuming mobile data should be intuitive and effortless, as easy as making a phone call. The data buying experience can be simplified through transforming the way offers are packaged – for instance, with time-based service, rather than hard-to-understand packages of megabytes or gigabytes.
Globally, operators like 2degrees, with its “Data Clock” app, and Etisalat, with its “cliQ” app in Sri Lanka, have rolled out some variation of time-based data purchasing that allows customers to buy exactly as much data as they want, exactly when they want it. Presenting this type of contextually-relevant, real-time offer is key to success in time-based purchasing. With the cliQ app, for example, customers buy access to data in minutes, hours or days.
In the past, many operators have tried time-based offers with little success. But, their cumbersome delivery model was problematic: It wasn’t contextual, and it wasn’t offered in real-time. Newer offerings aim to deliver on customers' specific data needs, right when they arise.
In an emerging market where many mobile subscribers are ill-equipped to buy data in expensive bundles based on megabytes and gigabytes, cliQ provides a flexible and transparent approach to purchasing mobile Internet connectivity. Users can easily and affordably purchase time-based Internet access, granting them full control and understanding of how they manage and pay for their personal digital services.
Partner with Companies to Offer Sponsored Data
Mobile operators in Asia, Africa and Latin America are also exploring the concept of sponsored data, marking a global shift to content-first data models. The previously mentioned survey of mobile subscribers also found that three quarters of mobile customers support the idea of sponsored data, and would be willing to perform an action in exchange for free or discounted data. And, studies show that consumers in Asia are willing to accept branded content and advertising in return for free data access.
Sponsored data can take two main forms: customers can either perform an action – like filling out a survey or playing an ad – in exchange for discounted or free mobile data, or purchase mobile data that in some way incentivises using specific services, like receiving offers to watch promoted movie trailers, play games or check out new apps, all without using their monthly data allotments.
The key to unlocking the potential of sponsored data advertising will be highly personalised offers. Operators like AT&T and SK Telecom in Korea have partnered with companies to develop these personalised offers, providing sponsored content that doesn’t eat into data plans. For example, GS Shop, a Korean television-based home shopping program, has partnered with SK Telecom to sponsor data incurred from its app, so customers can browse and make purchases without fretting over the data cost.
Customers in emerging markets tend to opt for inherently restrictive prepaid plans. Sponsored content helps reduce that barrier to access, as customers will engage with content they may not have consumed when rationing data.
Explore other Creative Data Options
Beyond sponsored data, some other creative ideas like data gifting or data rewards are gaining traction. Providers like Globe Telecom in the Philippines offer data gifting, where customers can gift unused data to other users, usually to a family member who’s at risk of reaching their data cap. When customers don’t lose unused data, they feel like they’re getting the most out of their data purchases.
Rewarding longstanding customers for continued use is another creative way to develop a loyal customer base. Japan’s au, for example, offers long-term customers a “long-term hospitality” bonus in the form of extra data, which is available after four years as a customer. This bonus grows with time, incentivising customers to stay with au for the long run.
Operators increasingly understand data’s value to customers – it’s practically currency, as telco analyst Fredrik Jungermann calls it. Especially in emerging markets, creative monetising can provide rewards or savings and create brand enthusiasts.
Harry Järn is the Chief FWD at Comptel, now a Nokia company.