Although mobile communications (mocoms) began primarily as a service for business users and rich individuals, for over a decade mocoms have attracted a mass consumer audience. Perhaps for this reason, it is often the case that mocoms marketing folk have cut their baby teeth in the fmcg sector — those consumer goods that move off the shelves so fast that only a short, unpronounceable acronym with all the vowels deleted to save time would keep up with them. But there are many differences between telecommunications and other consumer products and services, and, despite having pre-cut teeth, these imports don’t always cut the mustard.
We have long tried to identify these differences, and the key difference seems to be the time at which the product is created. If you sell chocolate bars, you make them in a factory, deliver them to a store, and sell them to consumer. The product is created before it leaves the factory door. If you sell draught beer, the product is partly created before it leaves the factory (that would be the “beer” part of “draught beer”), but also partly created at the time the service is purchased (the “draught” part). So a publican who waters down the beer he or she sells will alter the quality experienced by the end-user.
But telecoms services are not created beforehand, and they are not even created at the time of purchase; instead, they are created at the time of use. Provision of a network and its level of quality are created and re-created each and every customer call, and not even just once per call, but repeatedly throughout a call. As a cellular phone user moves around during a call, for instance, his or her call will be routed through different cells, and these may vary widely in quality of service — for example, due to the presence or absence of other, simultaneous users in each cell. This is quality of service generated on-the-fly, at-runtime, to use some computer-speak. And, as with all marketing, perceptions matter far more than reality: if customers expect a network to be congested they may be more accepting of quality of service problems than if they’ve been led to think they will be the only users of it.
Lots of fmcg folks don’t see the difference with their prior world. Marketing can’t simply order the folks in the factory to ensure good quality product, and then sit back, gin and tonics in hand, to commission a few TV spots. Instead, Marketing has to ensure that customer expectations are set and re-set realistically to match the quality of service being generated by Engineering as the network operates. For new networks, add, “and as the network rolls out”. Marketing have to monitor customer expectations and perception of network quality and compare with actual network quality in real-time, and adjust campaign tactics as they do so. Marketing, too, has to be generated, on-the-fly. It’s a lot harder than selling candy.