21st October 2004.
Caring, innovative, reliable

For six years now, the MTN brand has dominated mobile telephony in Uganda. Marketing Manager RITA OKUTHE last week spoke to journalists, including Weekly Observer’s Richard M. Kavuma, about MTN’s branding success:-

Six years of the MTN brand in Uganda; how has the brand done?
I think it has done very well. It is bigger than Coca Cola [for instance]. I think Uganda is one of the few markets where you have a brand bigger than Coca Cola.

Rita Okuthe

What specific marketing challenge have you faced in Uganda?
I think one challenge we have faced has been the resurgence of our competitors. They have become very aggressive – Mango and Celtel. And this has been largely from the pricing angle.

What is it that makes the MTN brand connect with the customers?
The secret lies in understanding your customers and creating products that meet their needs. You need to know who they are, what they want, the things that they do, and really reach out to them.

This sort of growth also comes once your customers have established a relationship with you that is based on trust. There are certain things that customers expect from us and if we continue to live up to that trust, then our market grows.

There are also other areas where you become part of people’s lives. That is why we get into sponsorship. We are big in music, in sport.

Ideally you want to transform this handset into an integral part of people’s life. The way you do that is by talking to consumers in their own environment so that they begin to link their passion for music or sport with brand MTN.

And I think this is something that we have done fairly well. People are very passionate about MTN. This was clearly demonstrated when we launched Kapyata. A lot of our customers were up in arms, which meant that they had a passion for the brand and they felt let down.

What does the MTN brand stand for?
A brand is made up of three things, [values, personality and essence].

The MTN brand values are: Integrity: we do the things we promise to do when we said we would do them. Relationships: These are very core to us. They are what make MTN.

Can-do: With MTN, everything is possible. Leadership: By virtue of the fact that we are market leaders in almost all the markets we operate in, people look up to us. Innovation: We are big in innovation.

I will give a classic example: Ugandans don’t like voicemail – this business of talking to a machine. And when you have to pay for it, it’s a major irritant. But we did not give up at MTN.

We could have said, ‘OK, these guys don’t want to listen to voicemail, too bad.’ We went out there and asked Bharti [India] to develop for us a product where, if I switch my phone off, I can at least get a log of the numbers that tried to call me and I can decide whether to call them back or not. I think we are only the second market in the world to develop that service, after India.

The MTN personality is caring, youthful (spirited), imaginative, responsible, reliable and vibrant. The MTN brand essence is originality. We make sure everything we do is original.

Is the secret in having a well-motivated team?
This team here is probably the best I have ever worked with. They are committed and very passionate about what they do. They love MTN, and also the culture. From the top, we are firm believers in delegation, and allow people to grow in what they do. We are also a pan-African company. I can pick up the phone and call my colleague in Nigeria or Cameroon and say ‘I have this problem here, how did you deal with it?’

How have your new products performed?
As expected, Pay Go Standard and Yellowmax are the most popular.

Yellow Go is doing well, but again, it is targeted towards a person who spends a minimum of Shs 300,000 a month on airtime. But you are about to see a whole host of new products being added to the current offering.

Your five-year exclusivity as the second national operator is expiring. What challenges does this pose and how do you plan to respond to them?

It certainly presents challenges, especially in the fixed-line environment. The market we are looking at is very small and this is a function of infrastructure and the way fixed lines were traditionally delivered – using wires right up to your door.

You find that the incumbent – in this case UTL – has a huge head start, so it is very easy for [them] to connect houses. But for us to do that, we either have to lay fibre in the ground or wireless local loop or use different technologies that are very expensive.

It becomes a challenge in that once the market is opened, we will all be fighting for the same customers.

Now that you have captured the market, you are probably going to sit back and bask in glory. Of course not. That is not MTN. We are forging ahead. We are looking forward to a whole host of new products and services that will give our customers the best value ever.