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Mobile Number Portability: It is a Service Matter, not Saka.


By 'Biola Kazeem

The first shots in the Mobile Number Portability war have been fired and it appears MTN have drawn pints of Etisalat’s blood with their audacious and cheeky use of Saka, a character Etisalat used effectively in most of its promo-led communication with mass segments. Expectedly, the issue has generated a lot of buzz and interest and no doubt MTN has scored a good point with its brilliant use of the character in communicating its “porting” message, apparently catching Etisalat pants down. From a communication standpoint, it is a score in MTN’s column and Etisalat would certainly feel embarrassed –their defence totally exposed- watching with seeming helplessness at how their own gun was turned on them, with potent shots being with great gusto, precision and enthusiasm.

From a communication strategy point of view, Etisalat can learn valuable lessons in its use of characters and models. While it is a publicly known fact that they do not use brand ambassadors explicitly, the truth is that the Saka brand had become so synonymous with their brand that it should have become apparent at how exposed they’ll be if another network “ported” him. A simple audit of consumers would have revealed that Saka, as far as most consumers know, is a brand ambassador of Etisalat and as it is often taught in marketing communication classes from Lagos to Laos, perception is reality and the consumer is the ultimate custodian of a brand’s “truth”.

Also, critical thinking in a SWOT analysis session should have revealed that “porting” of Saka by another network was a clear weakness and steps should have been taken to protect the brand from such an embarrassment .While not suggesting that they alter their strategy because of a one character, they could have had him signed up on a contract that ensured that another network couldn’t have used him to such good effect having seen how the Saka narrative and character took a life of its own.

MTN can feel proud of their “achievement” in porting Saka and the backslaps and hearty laughter would probably continue for a few more days. Using Saka so effectively -even though the argument was narrow as it was limited to Etisalat-against a key rival was ingenious and shows that the network has its ears to the ground to have known Saka might be available. The brilliant way the campaign was rolled out was also excellent and it has since gone viral. It shows clearly that a few stumbles apart, MTN’s communication strategy and execution is top notch or close to it. As an offensive and even defensive tactic, “porting” Saka ticks many boxes and the brand and its creative agency deserve full credit.

Having said that, the damage to the Etisalat brand is no more than an embarrassment and mild humiliation by a fierce competitor. Ultimately, after a few weeks, the novelty will wear off and MTN and Etisalat will be left to fight it off on the key criteria for “porting,” service delivery and that, by all accounts, is where MTN is lagging behind. While Saka has a lot of admirers, he certainly doesn’t have disciples and no one would be moving over to MTN just because Saka moved. He might generate a lot of awareness for MTN but they are not exactly lacking in that regard.

What MTN needs more than anything else is generating deep brand loyalty and that would be predicated more on superior service delivery than marketing gymnastics. Presently, most users of MTN-and I am one- are in a barely tolerable relationship with the brand and portability opens a window to a better life. The goal of the brand should be to turn a barely tolerable relationship to a loving, respectful one by improving its service.

The only reason anyone would move to another network is the promise of better, cheaper and more enjoyable experience and that is where MTN has to win. The Saka battle might have been won but in the war of “porting,” service is the heart of the matter, not Saka.


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