Bharti Airtel Limited, or as we all know Airtel, is a leading global telecommunications company having operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa. It has a customer base of 325 million across the company, as on March 2015. The portfolio of Airtel in India has 2G, 3G and 4G wireless services, fixed line services, mobile commerce, DTH, high speed DSL broadband, IPTV, and enterprise services including national and international services to carriers. It is the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. In India, Airtel has a GSM presence in all 22 telecom circles of India, and is in fact the largest mobile service provider of India. It offers the fixed line services in over 80 cities of India along with high speed broadband availability.
Airtel has been included in the BrandZ list of the top 100 most-valuable global brands of 2012 by the research firm Millward Brown. The success of this brand is justified by the different branding strategies adopted by its management.
Airtel Brand History
Since its inception in 1995, the product offering by Airtel was not simply a telecom network. It also added value by focussing on the proposition of “Mobility”. The government regulations for telecom operating licence were set at a premium and thus, the call tariff was exorbitantly high. Since it was so expensive, the services were targeted only to the elite class, corporate professionals and entrepreneurs. At that time, AirTel had the first mover advantage with little competition in a potentially high growth sector. These advantages came with the disadvantage of a smaller consumer base that had a ready disposable income to spend on costly mobile services. And thus, it was positioned not only as a premium lifestyle brand, but also an aspirational brand. This gave the consumers a badge of pride by subscribing to Airtel.
Airtel wanted their brand to denote leadership values similar to their own company’s position of being leaders in the telecom industry, innovations, and their service offerings. Their taglines of – Airtel celebrates the spirit of leadership”, “The power to keep in touch”, and “The first choice of corporate leaders” further emphasized their positioning. This is also the period when Airtel needed to educate their customers regarding the cellular world. They did this by advertising full and half page advertisements in newspapers informing what was roaming, coverage area, and how to make international calls. This campaign was successful and helped in building their consumer base to a 100,000 which made Airtel the first carrier service in India to do so in 1997.
What triggered the Logo Change?
In 1999, Government of India brought in the New Telecom Policy (NTP), which replaced the licensing fees by a revenue sharing scheme. The licence period also extended from 10 to 20 years. This new change completely changed the rules and prompted Airtel to again take advantage of the situation. The call rates dropped drastically which meant they could now expand their consumer base to include the SEC B segment.
This meant entry of competitors into the market as well. By early 2000, Essar’s consumer base had almost equalled to that of Airtel. This prompted them to undergo a revaluation of their branding strategy. After conducting multiple brand tracking exercises to understand their customer psyche, they realized that although their Leadership Campaign was successful, it failed to continue attracting more customers because there was no emotional dimension in their branding. In words of Preet Bedi, Director, Lowe India, “The brand had become something like Lufthansa – cold and efficient. What they needed was to become Singapore Airlines, efficient but also human.”
In a bid to strengthen their relationship with their customers, Airtel launched the “Touch Tomorrow” campaign in 2000. This new branding strategy not only repositioned the brand but changed their logo to show the endless possibilities that were now within reach for even the youth of India. Their communication to the public changed from “power” to “touch tomorrow”. The very words “Touch Tomorrow” signified the technological advances that were helping make life better and easier. Their advertising was now two-pronged – a product-driven communiqués for their new services, and an emotional touch which showcased the youth and families. The new positioning was designed so as to make the brand seem softer and more sensitive and highlighted the relationship angle.
The market reach of Airtel increased drastically due to the bigger customer base and their new branding policy. They went on to acquire the youth market by introducing Magic Prepaid cards, night time low rates, etc. This was a brilliant move by Airtel, but they did not stop there. Instead of continuing to ride this wave, Airtel again changed its positioning after two years. In 2002 itself, they launched their “Live Every Moment” campaign which had a new revamped logo that appealed to an international audience and more youthful.
Marketing pundits always advise not to change your brand identifying elements especially if your brand has a recollect value. But Airtel not only defied this rule but made it work to their advantage each time they changed their logo. Their brand recall value raised instead of tanking, also bringing in more revenue owing to their branding strategies. Airtel recognised what their consumers wanted and adapted themselves to adopt the customer wants. This is one aspect that makes Airtel customers be loyal to the brand – the human touch in their brand.
Image Credits: Airtel