Fierce competition among telecom marketers

A changing landscape and new channels makes telecoms a competitive and complicated sector. David Ward shows how marketers take on the challenge.


The combination of decades of government deregulation and huge leaps forward in technology have opened up the telecommunications industry dramatically, giving both businesses and consumers an assortment of hardware and services to choose from.

In this landscape, telecoms are increasingly leveraging online direct mar­keting channels not only to educate their target audiences about the latest feature sets, but also to accelerate them through the sales cycle.

“Telecoms in b-to-b are still doing a lot of traditional direct mail and outbound calling campaigns tied to voicemail,” explains Aaron Batte, owner of Denver-based Faction Media, which handles direct marketing for Avaya and Time Warner Telecom. “But just by the nature of telecom being a technology business, you’re seeing many programs move online as these companies look to maximize their marketing spend.”

Since most telecoms operate on annual or two-year contracts, the timing of messages is essential. As a result, many companies build their own lists internally and then cross-reference them against rented lists of consumers and businesses whose contracts are about to expire or who have moved into a building equipped with fiber optics, to find high-value targets.

“With telecoms, you want to cut through the clutter as much as possible and you do that through list segmentation and lot of statistical modeling to target likely buyers,” Batte explains.

Also, because its audience is increasingly found online, telecom companies also rely on a proactive audience, signaling when they’re ready to receive messages.

“By this point people know what they want and they have seen all the features and plans, so the goal of most telecom operators is now to be in front of them when they’re look­ing rather than having to push that message,” says Aaron Kahlow, managing partner with San Diego-based Business Online, whose clients include Helio. “So you’re seeing a lot of programs tied to contextual ads and paid search to drive traffic.”

Many companies also try to differentiate themselves with aggressive calls to action, notes John Kitover, president of Chicago-based Banner Blindness. Last year, he worked with Vonage on a campaign that combined SEO and paid search, with performance-based banner ads and e-mail.

“The most important elements for reaching telecom consumers these days are incorporating terms such as ‘free’ in your messages,” he says.

“You also have to put more into your Web design to indicate that this isn’t your grandfather’s phone company,” adds Kahlow. “You can have creative and provocative traditional ads, but the messages on your Web site should be straightforward and be right where the consumer can get them.”

Because telecoms are so comfortable with emerging technologies, they’re also leveraging new tools and emerging channels. For example, Jajah, a provider of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, has put a lot of marketing effort into blogs and social networking sites, such as YouTube, Flickr and Twitter, in order to drive word of mouth about its global calling program.

“We don’t put any money into these channels to reach our audience, but we do monitor everything on these sites and make sure everyone who’s expressed interest in Jajah stays in our loop,” explains Jajah marketing director Frederik Hermann.

In conclusion, Batte says, “it’s still all about delivering the right mes­sage, to the right audience at the right time.”

But, he adds, “that urgency is heightened when you combine an ever-changing telecom landscape with an ever-changing media, with new channels emerging all the time.”

Jajah Viral, social campaigns

Jajah relied heavily on viral campaigns through social networks and blogs to drive awareness fora service that offers seven-digit global calling. Concise and clear messaging and an aggressive effort to court the tech-savvy members on sites such as YouTube, Flickr and Twitter has allowed the VoIP provider to grow, with little marketing spend, to 122 countries since its 2005 launch.

Time Warner Telecom 3D direct mailer

Denver-based Faction Media created this 3D direct mail piece for b-to-b client Time Warner Telecom. Mimicking the look and feel of a kids’ pop-up book, the mailers are customizable for different markets and offers. Thanks to their eye-catching look, the Time Warner Telecom dimensional mailers are generating an 8%-10% response rate, well above the average for more traditional b-to-b mail pieces.

Vonage Integrated online campaign

Vonage turned to Chicago-based agency Banner Blindness for this 2007 campaign that combined paid search, SEO, e-mail and performance-based banners with display networks. Banner Blindness used multiple variate testing, and also continually tweaked the creative, emphasizing direct value-based calls to action to help Vonage stand out in the increasingly crowded VoIP market.

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