Some GPRS Marketing Positives
By Steve Wallage, Tue Aug 13 00:00:00 GMT 2002

How do you market GPRS?


Mobile operators and service providers have made a lot of basic mistakes in the past, over-emphasizing technology and functionality, and over-hyping features. Yet, looking at global examples of GPRS marketing, some operators are marketing and promoting GPRS in a successful way.

In the current business climate, many mobile operators are reducing their marketing expenditure. Improving GPRS marketing need not cost more, but requires more focus on the areas that are important to residential and business users.

The Nuts and Bolts of Marketing

Promotion

One of the lessons learnt from i-mode that can be copied around the world, is correct branding of the service. i-mode services have always been marketed as mobile services, with no reference to the Internet or the underlying network technology.

Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) has used this same strategy with its M-Services initiative, focussing on the services rather than whether it uses GPRS. Meanwhile, other carriers have put more emphasis on some of the advantages of GPRS. Examples include; Orange Switzerland markets its business GPRS service as “Orange Express Plus”and MTN South Africa markets its service as “MTNdataLIVE.”

A more imaginative approach has been taken by StarHub in Singapore. It markets its GPRS service as "Gee!". There is also the possibility to market individual services in different ways. O2 in the UK brands a service for compressing files and sending over GPRS as “DocRocket.”

Unfortunately, a lot of operators are still promoting their service as GPRS – a term which is meaningless to most customers.

Pricing

Trying to compare global GPRS tariffs and pricing strategies is incredibly difficult. This had led to accusations that operators have been trying to over-charge for GPRS, and to confuse users. In fact, some operators have been trying to simplify the tariffing, and offer monthly packages that are often comparable to those on the GSM and voice side.

Typically, operators offer options that include no monthly fee and a high monthly cost with a large amount of data usage included. For example, Vodafone in the UK offers seven GPRS tariff packages ranging from free monthly line rental to 100Mb bundled in the cost. For Orange UK, its most expensive bundled service includes 500Mb per month for a cost of around €8,500 a year.

Operators have used price promotions to build up their GPRS user base. Examples abound varying from free usage for the first month to SingTel offering a 20% discount for the first 12 months.

An interesting variant is MTN South Africa which launched a trial service which was free until the commercial launch. This also had the benefit of allowing the company to receive feedback from its user base. The bottom line is that more than 10% of users with GPRS-enabled handsets are now using GPRS.

Pre-paid customers have generally been ignored as operators have concentrated on high-spending consumers and businesses. This will prove short-sighted, particularly given the appeal of MMS. TIM is currently offering a promotion to its pre-paid customers called "TIM GPRS Free Summer" which, for a cost of €10, allows 30 days of free service from activation.

Research company Analysys suggested in a June report that Western European residential prepaid users could generate €16 billion in GPRS and UMTS non-voice service revenue by 2007.

Such promotions have been vital in kickstarting GPRS usage. Stories of very low GPRS activation rates, such as reported by retailer Carphone Warehouse in the UK, provide very damaging publicity for the service.

Savvy operators are giving users a lot of flexibility in pricing plans, although data usage is still a difficult concept for many users to understand. The last thing that operators should do is to try and confuse GPRS customers with complex and unfair tariffing.

Products

The key challenge is to sell the benefits to private and business users. Again, i-mode provides a good lead showing the importance of attractive services and a wide range of content providers.

On the private side, a number of operators have seized on MMS as the driver for GPRS. Again, evidently some have learnt lessons of branding and promotions. For example, advertisements for MMS from operators such as T-Mobile and Orange have focussed on simply showing 'what MMS can provide' and even avoided mentioning the term MMS.

Thus, T-Mobile has promoted MMS as 'picture messaging'. With TIM, MMS will be free up until 30 September 2002. Vodafone D2 offered three months of free MMS up to the start of August. Ovum research has suggested that users were willing to pay 1.5-2.5 times the cost of a SMS message.

TIM has also marketed "SuperSMS" as a service for GPRS users allowing messages of up to 600 characters long that can be sent to either a TIM mobile phone or to an e-mail address.

While a number of operators have been fairly successful in marketing GPRS, some operators have struggled to make GPRS appealing enough to consumers. For example, Australian operator Telstra markets GPRS as making "connecting to online services such as news or sports updates, email, flight schedules or movie sessions both affordable and fast."

A more focussed approach is that from SingTel which has launched Bizlive with Reuters. This uses GPRS to provide access to Reuters online reports, and allows high levels of customization. It uses the always-on nature of GPRS to provide alerts. Such partnerships are key to showing the scope and differentiation of GPRS. Consumers need to be clearly persuaded of the benefits of GPRS to invest in the handset and service.

On the business side, users want to know about the benefits of GPRS and what sort of payback it can provide. Key to this are well-targetted services, reference sites and partnerships.

In this respect, the O2 DocRocket service clearly markets its benefits well. It claims that a 100-page colour document, which would normally take 14 hours when transmitted using Adobe Acrobat over GPRS, can be transmitted using DocRocket across GPRS in less than five minutes – a straightforward offering. O2 is partnering with content management software firm, LizardTech.

Another contender in this field is Orange in France. Orange offers MIB (Mobile Internet for Business), developed with Transpac and Equant, to provide an end-to-end service for Internet and Intranet access. In the UK, this is offered as GPRS Business LAN to extend the office network to mobile workers. A similar service from StarHub in Singapore is called StarHub IP.Q GPRS Interconnect linking a corporate broadband network to GPRS. StarHub partners include IBM, Peramon and REALVision.

In the IT world, customers expect to see reference sites and tangible business cases. One of TIM's examples is Reale Mutua Insurance which uses GPRS to gain mobile access to company information. After three months of testing, the service has been extended to estimate preparation, the issue of policies and the notification of claims. This casestudy provides clear cost-savings and enhanced customer service. In the US, FedEx is using the AT&T Wireless GPRS network and Bluetooth connections between a driver's handheld device and a smart phone, to tell a driver about pick-up requests in a building in which he's making a delivery. Two UK examples include retailer GUS which is using GPRS to process customer orders within 24 hours, and heating specialist BSS which is using GPRS to provide and receive information to its field engineers. Both applications provide a clear payback.

Many mobile marketing campaigns have made the mistake of focussing on future possibilities. GPRS can already offer clear benefits, and early adopters are already taking advantage of this. Business marketing should make the most of these tangible examples. It should also avoid the trap of positioning GPRS as an interim technology to 3G – customers want to know what they can use now.

Place

An equally important element in selling GPRS is for operators to ensure that their channel partners correctly promote GPRS - and they ensure widespread knowledge of the possibilities of GPRS.

TIM has been active in ensuring its retail outlets aggressively promote GPRS as part of M-services. UK retail outlets are pushing MMS as a way of selling GPRS handsets and service. However, some mobile retailers are still too focussed on technology and future possibilities.

Part of the marketing success for GPRS is positioning the buzz around the applications that GPRS can provide. China Mobile launched a massive poster campaign for GPRS and signed up 1.3 million subscribers in the first two months. The re-positioning of the mobile device as more than just voice needs to be the thrust of every mobile operators' advertising.

Steve Wallage works and writes for the451. Steve has more than 13 years of experience as a technology analyst specializing in telecommunications.