The journey in the lift was brief. Also, in moments I was ushered into the warm and beautiful office of the Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Bola Akingbade. Seated, he was, at the head of the table, looking at the dailies. He was dressed in a simple T-Shirt and a pair of jeans and of course his staff identity card hung humbly on his neck. You can never catch the man that has influence the marketing field not wearing his card. Confidence oozes easily from him. He looks up, answers my greetings and waits for me to get set for the interview. Bola Akingbade, fondly called Baba – my host, is a graduate of Biochemical Engineering from the University of London, but all his professional activities hereafter have been centered in the area he is well known for – Marketing and Brand Management. His years at the Nigeria Breweries as the Marketing Director were characterized by innovative marketing. Years after he still waxes strong as the Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Nigeria.
Obviously, his scientific and engineering knowledge coupled with the MBA in Marketing Management has helped and sharpened his skills in the marketing field.
In this rare exclusive interview, Akingbade dissects the Marketing Strategies of MTN, Customer Care, Professionalism, the Green Campaign and many more KEHINDE OLESIN writes.
From a marketing perspective what is your assessment of the Telecoms Industry in Nigeria, considering the fact that we have reached the tenth year already?
Over a relatively short period of 10 years, the Telecoms Industry has transformed from a predominantly voice-centered service, catering to the needs of just over 200,000 customers into one that now boasts of a variety of services – Voice, SMS, MMS, Portal Services, Data etc. – that are currently enjoyed by over 90 million customers. By all standards, this sort of transformation is phenomenal. I guess that is why there is talk of a telecoms revolution in Nigeria. The development has not only transformed the telephone experiences of a large cross-section of the urban/semi–urban population of Nigerians, it has also led to a major enhancement of job opportunities within the sector and its ancillary industries.
It has also been a major Marketing success within the context of the massive leap in the level of satisfaction of customer needs (for telephony and allied services) which the revolutionary transformation has brought about.
MTN has a rich pedigree on their Product Development. What innovations have your recorded in your product offering initiatives?
A number of incontrovertible examples come to mind:
I) BB Service for Pre-paid Customers: MTN Nigeria was the first telecoms company in Africa that introduced the Blackberry Service for the pre-paid customer segment. Before then, it has only existed as a Business Tool for High Value Customers within the relatively much smaller post-paid customer community.
II) Happy Hour: Pioneering introduction of free midnight calls.
III) Segmented Pricing Plans: First to introduce pricing plans that are targeted at different customer segments. A very popular plan in this regard is our “Family & Friends” offer – a plan that provides our customers the opportunity of calling a good number of loved ones at very affordable rates on the MTN Network.
IV) MTN One-World: This is a service that allows our subscribers to enjoy MTN Services in other countries where MTN is present at rates that are the same as those prevailing in those markets. Through this innovative service, MTN basically eliminated roaming charges which would have been an additional burden on our customers.
V) MTN Back-Up: Providing the opportunity for our customers to back-up the information on their Sims or phone on dedicated servers. Thus, if for any reason you lose your phone, you will be saved the discomfort of having to retrieve stored information from memory or through the tedious process of time-consuming and difficult reconstruction efforts.
VI) The ‘MTN Eye’ – an innovative service that allows the customer to plan his/her journey through the opportunity of establishing the traffic situation from the comfort of their handsets. All that is necessary is to dial into the cameras mounted on relevant routes to obtain a clear picture of the traffic situation. Customers therefore have the opportunity to plan their routes along highways and streets that do not hold out the risk of delays that could arise from traffic hold-ups.
Many people believe that CSR is a marketing gimmick that is not really giving to the society. What are your views?
CSR done in the most sincere manner is not a marketing gimmick. That is why you won’t see us advertising what we are doing on CSR on the television or the radio. The only link between CSR and marketing actually lies in the fact that we are still talking to communities which are made up of people, many of whom are customers and many of whom may not be. It is something that is done to satisfy the yearnings of the community and that is the only link. We don’t do it from a marketing perspective, we don’t do it to promote sales or draw people to ourselves. We don’t compel people to be on MTN network before we give any support. To that extent, you will know it is a very genuine way of actually helping to build the society. It is our own way of giving back to the customers or to Nigerians in ways that are structured to show genuine gratitude.
We have MTN Foundation that runs the CSR Programmes. It is a different corporate entity. It has its own board although it is funded from the profits generated by MTN Nigeria on a year-on-year basis. If you take a look at all the things we have done – housing for people in the rural communities, empowering women in rural communities to make money on their own, health screening and educational support – you will see the extent to which MTN is demonstrating commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.
Among all the marketing campaigns you have done so far, which would you say is the best or your favourite and why?
We have had so many interesting marketing campaigns. In the early days of the launch of MTN, there was this particular one where a man was able to reach his grandmother in the village to announce the birth of a new baby. The campaign was called Mama na boy. Even though we got criticism bordering on gender issue, it was nevertheless a good advert.
The other ad that was also very interesting and memorable was the one meant to demonstrate the wide coverage of MTN Nigeria via the images of “Yellow Rivers and Streams” all around Nigeria.
Another very soul inspiring ad was the one titled “Oh Jerry”. This featured a young man calling out to his girlfriend to send a message of love on a bright new morning.
In more recent times, we also introduced the ad tagged “First Steps”, where a young baby took initial steps to the amazement and amusement of her parents, through the excitement generated by the MTN caller tunez message!
How best does MTN connect with its Subscribers?
We connect with our customers in a variety of ways. How we do it depends on the nature and type of message we would like to communicate.
The most important message is that relating to our customer Value Proposition – essentially encompassing the reason(s) why customers should prefer MTN to any of the other available networks. This we do via adverts on Television, Radio, Press, Outdoor and through other non-conventional media such as Social networking sites, direct contact and point of purchase posters.
We also connect with our subscribers via program and events that they are passionate about (e.g. sports, music and general entertainment). In this area, we connect through sponsorships of relevant programmes on television and Radio. Our sponsorship of such world class events and programmes such as the English Premier League, Project Fame West Africa, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Dandalin in the North and Family Game Show etc., fall into this category.
We also have an ongoing 24 hour Customer Care line that our customers can call for enquiries. For this purpose, MTN has a number of world class care centres with well trained Agents to give prompt and satisfying response to customer enquiries.
Despite all these and sponsorship many Nigerians still believe that MTN Network is expensive?
We are not expensive. I think it is important people get to know some things. This business did not start to bring in profit until a few years ago; many years after the commencement of basic operation in this Country. There are people who believe we are here just to exploit. Nothing can be farther from the truth! Today, MTN has the friendliest pricing plan in the market.
Having been around for quite awhile, what are those things that drive your instincts as a professional?
What drives the instincts of a marketing man is how to satisfy the needs of customers ahead of competition and deliver these in ways that would genuinely bring smiles and happiness to the faces of target customers. The idea of being compelled to be innovative is something that drives my instincts on a regular basis. Sustainable leadership flows from there.
What would you tell upcoming marketers?
They should be driven largely by what has been established as the key driver of a truly world class marketing professionalism. The “Marketing job” is not just about sitting down in the office and saying that you are a marketing director. You must add value. The role must be seen as the engine that propels the business. If the wrong man is there, the engine will not function efficiently. The moment the engine functions in the ways that are less than optimal, competition will zoom past you before you know it! . Whoever wants to mount the saddle of marketing, the idea of making sure that you understand your customers extremely well should be taken seriously. “Understanding the customer” means knowing the products & services that will meet their needs and knowledge about the professional steps needed to deliver those needs in ways that will excite the target customers. Those are the kinds of things that must be on the mind of everybody that wants to be the head of marketing in any organization. On a regular basis you should know that the methods and approaches are changing; therefore one should keep abreast of such developments, so you don’t start offering stale ideas.
So many companies are going green, is MTN part of this global practice?
Yes, we are, albeit within the limits of opportunities that are available to us. We have taken the lead in trying to source for alternative power solutions and we are increasingly working towards the adoption of hybrid solutions that will be friendlier to the environment.