Saturday 22 October 2016

Don't relax! No one's planning to slacken the the pace of change in the telecoms market

Vodafone's consumer director Lutfu Kitapci tells John McGee how the company's investment strategy is consumer-driven

John McGee

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

‘Ireland is still in early stages in terms of convergence,’ says Lutfu Kitapci of Vodafone Ireland Picture: Stedman Photography
‘Ireland is still in early stages in terms of convergence,’ says Lutfu Kitapci of Vodafone Ireland Picture: Stedman Photography

With over 2.3m customers in Ireland and revenues last year of €953m, Vodafone Ireland is the largest player in the mobile space, with a market share - based on revenues - of around 42pc according to the latest Comreg figures.

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While mobile still lies at the heart of the company's service offering, it's probably an anachronism to describe it as a mobile phone operator any more, such is its reach into a fast-changing, highly competitive and data-driven communications market that includes fixed-line telephone, mobile and fixed-line broadband and, more recently, TV.

With 15 years of mobile industry experience behind him, including stints with Vodafone in Turkey, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic, Vodafone Ireland's consumer director Lutfu Kitapci says this fast-changing market is being driven by advances in technology but, more importantly, changing consumer habits and needs. And there will be no let-up in the pace of change over the next few years.

"I've been in the mobile industry for over 15 years across different countries from India to Germany, Turkey, UK, Ireland, but I think the fastest changes in the industry have really only occurred recently," he says. "The first of these is changing consumption habits. It used to be all about being able to communicate anytime and anywhere. It's now about being able to consume content anytime and anywhere and this is really critical for us. Customers expect access to high-speed internet 24 hours a day, and without buffering," he adds.

"As the biggest operator in the market, this brings a big responsibility to us as we have to be able to provide customers with the right products, the right bandwidth and the right capacity to be able to ensure that they can consume their content anytime and anywhere."

According to Kitapci, the second-biggest factor at play in the market is the demand for seamless experiences - whether it's via their TV or mobile, which in turn is pushing the market towards greater convergence, and the bundling of services like TV, broadband and mobile.

"Ireland is still in the early stages in terms of convergence... but we'll see a lot more of it over the next few years. It also means that we will be investing heavily to support this and to ensure our customers have the optimum consumer experience across all the different services," says Kitapci.

Finally, the third major factor, he says, is digital, and the impact it has not just in terms of the technology - which is a given - but in how it can be used to support all the customer and marketing functions. "We're not a digital native company, but we are now putting digital first. Digital is at the core of everything we do now. We have a marketing motto which effectively says that everything we do needs to be personal, contextual, real time and big data-enabled," he says.

"If you look at everything from product design, to marketing, to advertising, to sales and customer service, digital is extremely important because we have all the data and we can tailor propositions, offers, the marketing message to individual customers. Digital is enabling us to do this and we know our customers want a more personal and contextual service across all their Vodafone services," says Kitapci.

Although Vodafone doesn't divulge details about the number of TV customers it has signed up since launching in January, Kitapci says it is more than happy with the results to date and a major advertising campaign is currently under way to promote the service.

"We're very happy with it but it takes time to build awareness for a product like TV when the market is very cluttered with lots of competition. But we do need to continue to build awareness and that takes time," he says.

With the autumn rugby internationals approaching, arguably one of the biggest marketing initiatives undertaken by Vodafone in recent years is its sponsorship deal with the Irish rugby team, worth a reputed €15m over the next four years.

"I look at it in two different ways, one of which is that rugby is a marketing asset for us to be able to connect with consumers on an emotional level rather than a functional level. You cannot create brand love unless you connect with the consumer at an emotional level. It's also a partnership between Vodafone, the IRFU, the coaches and the team," he says.

"So far in all our discussions, communications and creative work, the coach, the players, the IRFU have always been involved because we need to ensure that it creates value for both sides," he adds.

He points out that further manifestations of this partnership will become evident as the season kicks off, with a range of customer propositions around ticketing, jersey sales in Vodafone stores, access to exclusive content as well as a much better communications infrastructure within the Aviva Stadium on match days. "We have installed around 22km of cabling at the Aviva Stadium so that we can give the best service to the fans while they watch the game," he says.

And if Ireland can beat the All Blacks on November 19, you can be sure there will be lots of texting, making it a win-win for Vodafone.

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