In a previous article I discussed the difficulty of applying market segmentation in developing markets. As hard as this task may be, some aspects of segmentation were done during the first stages of mobile telecom implementation.
When entering a new market, we analyzed the expectations within the capital city of the country we were planning to enter. The geographical approach was necessary to determine the needed investment for coverage (mountains, hills, bushes, buildings, distances, soil tests, etc…)While demographics were the basis to determine the potential of profit (People, Businesses, population density, etc…)
Analysis however was not conducted in order to determine any type of detailed segmentation, as all potential customers were grouped in one single segment: Customers who can afford the service. This was mainly due to the limited competition and the lack of alternatives to our products and services.
As the competition increased and the mobile telecom technology developed the needs and ability to define various market segments grew. Existing operators, if able to adapt to changes, were better placed when it came to market research, study, and analysis. The developing markets often do not have updated information resources. Although some are more advanced than others, you can be stuck in a place where a source of reliable information, the information you need, does not even exist.
To a new operator this is a serious challenge. I remember when we entered to a market based on Internet outdated information and the reports of our local partner. When we went to implement our plan we found out that our competitor was already well established, the market was well covered, and that the area we had decided to use as a set up point was suffering from lack of infrastructure. The population we estimated to be there did not was already displaced due to civil war. It was a disaster for us as a new entrant. Although I believe we should have studied this market more, there was still the fact that there was not enough information to rely on.
However in a different market where we have been operational for a couple of years, the development of the billing systems helped us define multiple segments based on customers’ usage trend. Regardless of the lack of official information, our presence and our systematic data collection gave us an edge over any new comer. We were simply better positioned to identify market segments based on geographic, demographic, and psychographic information.
In my next article I will be discussing the cases when we were the new mobile operator and how we proceeded with market research, analysis, and segmentation. Future articles will also discuss how we formulate and tailor products to target the segments of interest.
Market segmentation is a useful methodology when it comes to nowadays highly competitive markets. From my personal experience in mobile telecom, the market segmentation was not always something we were interested in. In earlier days, the competitors were limited and although we identified our customers to be among the rich within society, we did not take the niche approach and neither positioned ourselves as an upper scale service. In a matter of fact, during those old days, we barely practiced any type of promotion.
By realizing the fact that the selling price of the handset was prohibitive to the majority of the population, we had to plan our approach to the market. The service fees were above any communication budget that a middle class household could afford. Actually, during that stage, we targeted upper class businessmen, international organizations and others who could afford the service and needed it due to their line of work.
Although not practicing segmentation yet as an understanding, the nature of our products geared the company towards a psychographic approach especially related to lifestyle of expected customers. Although the psycho-graphical approach continues to be used heavily, it is not the sole focus of mobile business.
Various segments joined the mobile telecom market: Small and medium businesses, freelancers, students, housewives, etc… The mobile telecom business became bigger than ever and as it got bigger more and more competitors entered the market. Segmentation challenge spread over geographic, demographic, and psychographic aspects and although one aspect or the other may have been the leading basis, the challenge often included a combination of all.
For us, marketers in developing countries, the challenges are not only in the ability to identify successfully the various segments and pinpoint the target- As much as we try to apply what we learned in Universities, and follow the latest marketing trends, we need to face the realities of the markets we work in. Theoretically it looks rather easy to collect a bunch of reports and market researches, understand and analyze them then implement a marketing strategy accordingly. But what if these reports that are supposed to be a given in developed markets do not even exist?
Let us take as an example the geo-marketing. It can be simply described as the usage of geographic information in the process of planning marketing activities. For any location within the US if you consult any free mapping service on the web you can be overwhelmed with the information you get. Try to find the same information for a city in West Africa. Nowadays you probably would find some information but is it even comparable to the information you can find about a village in the USA? The databases of information, if available, are decades old.
As hard as it may be, marketers have to find solutions. Whether in-house development of available information or do-it on your own research, we still have to understand the market. When faced with competition it is important to position yourself, and you cannot position yourself anywhere other than within your targeted customers’ base, the segment that needs your services.
The “funny” part about trips within Africa is that you are treated as a common citizen of a developing country. Although tunnels are there, they are only used for trips coming and going to Europe or some other lucky destinations. If you are coming or going to another African country, you have to walk. By walking I mean you go over a bridge go down or up the stairs (depending if you are leaving or arriving) cross a couple of planes and some luggage trucks, watch the airport workers perform their tasks, in brief it is a kind of an airport tour that you never paid nor asked for. However, the crew has a bus waiting for them, while we had to walk carrying our carry-on bags (I am so thankful they don’t make us carry our own luggage to the plane).
Anyways, when I settled in the plane and before takeoff, as a measure of health, an insecticide had to be sprayed. The crew member announcing that did not miss to inform us that this spray is safe. “For those who may be bothered by the smell however, they can close their noses” the hostess stated.
I even don’t know how many times I went through the same process when flying to some African destinations. This time was a bit different though because the crew member did not dispose of the container as she should and being the nosy me, I got a hold of the empty container and I took pictures of so I can find out more about this “safe” product.
Apparently the product follows the World Health Organization (WHO) formulation. Although I don’t know how safe is the d-phenathrin but I assume that the WHO knows what they are doing (key word being assume). However, on the instructions, it says that the crew should inform us to avoid inhalation. I never remember anyone letting me know throughout multiple trips that I should avoid inhalation. In one of the flights I even recall the hostess stating “it is perfectly safe”. The instructions are repeated again on the container “Do not breath spray mist” all in capital letters.
The other thing I noticed is that they should keep the empty can and hand it to health/quarantine officer upon arrival as per the instructions. This was the first flight for me where the hostess decided to leave this empty container in the head compartment with my bag.
I know one thing for sure, a container that describes its content as “extremely dangerous to fish and other aquatic life” cannot be perfectly safe for me. So fellow travelers, be sure to not breathe when traveling. Well, at least do not breathe that spray!