Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Low Tescosterone

I've been seeing this ad on TV for the past few days, and I thought I'd share it with mega-uber value readers everywhere. In case you aren't acquainted with it, Tesco is a highly successful UK-based chain of supermarkets/superstores, with operations in many other countries. For some, the company represents a vampire squid on the face of UK retailing, and to others, a textbook example of masterful site acquisition and marketing genius (Tesco's ground-breaking loyalty card/data-mining approach can now be found in many walks of life in the UK, and is almost as prevalent as CCTV!).

Love them or hate them, they are typically very good at what they do, and one thing they have been doing for over five years now is running an MVNO in the UK. The network now has 2.3m subs, and is branching, with some success, into the contract segment from an historical pre-pay focus. So, with that background, here the company takes good-humored aim at the inflated egos on display among telcos when it comes to branding and brand extension. (This is particularly interesting/ironic as Tesco's long-standing CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, succeeded mentor Lord MacLaurin, who was chairman of Vodafone during its period of frenzied international expansion and global re-branding of local subsidiaries.)

Anyway, it's all good fun, but with a relevant and fairly obvious point which must be a source of discomfort for UK telcos. The Tesco customer regularly interacts with physical manifestations of the Tesco brand and its values: its stores, its staff, its carparks. Tesco is literally something the customer can get his teeth into, and while in the carefully-structured cocoon of its stores, Tesco can get under the skin of the customer - guiding, manipulating, gaming, and, yes, rewarding. In contrast, the telco customer experience of an operator's brand is almost an entirely abstract and barren affair, most tangibly measured in the relative indifference/ineptness of call center staff. No wonder there is an almost desperate sense of need evident in the branding/sponsorship activities of telcos.

Not for our beloved Tesco Mobile. No such self-esteem problem or delusions of grandeur in evidence here. Just rewards for customers via the "real world" brand, delivered with appreciation - a virtuous circle reinforced. Masterful. It will be a warm day in December before we see BT Group or Virgin Media rewarding customers with Christmas turkeys, though in this time of austerity, that might be just the strategy which would resonate. Members of the Dumb Pipe Taliban Gospel Choir, chime in, "Leave the retailing to the retailers."

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