4G LTE is great. Sustainable differentiation is better.

So, I was reading the papers the other day, and walla, Glo has launched a 4G LTE service (wait, didn’t they launch that stuff in 2011?). I thought that was really great because mobile internet speed in Nigeria waver between ‘damn-it!’ and ‘you-gotta-be-kidding-me!’ So, clearly there is a consumer need there. Any network that meets this need can dip its hands into my pocket.

Theoretically 4G LTE is able to deliver speed up to 150Mbps. That means you could download a 10GB file in under 11 minutes. 11 minutes! Such wonderfulness is only possible inside the Pearly Gates so I’m not even going to fantasize about it. South Korea, the country with the highest internet speed, averages 27Mbps. The United States is 14.2Mbps. It didn’t even make the top 10 of countries with the fastest internet speed. South Africa does 4.1Mbps. Nigeria is 2.7Mbps. If any mobile internet service – by whatever technology or name – will give me just 5Mbps, I’ll do the chicken dance all over Lagos. Naked.

The brand marketer in me also likes the idea of a 4G LTE offering. From a positioning point of view, it could be a great Point of Difference (POD).

If you are the only one who has it.

Turns out, Glo isn’t the only one with 4G LTE. MTN, Etisalat and Ntel all now boast a 4G LTE service. I reckon Airtel is not far behind.

Poof. There goes the Point of Difference advantage.

It was smart thinking by all the mobile networks to similarly launch 4G LTE, thereby negating it as a point of difference and an advantage for competition. That all the networks now have 4G LTE makes the service a Point of Parity (POP) in the industry, a ‘must have’ and a basic telecommunication requirement for every network that wishes to stay in the consideration set of the consumer.

Increasingly, we are seeing the commoditization of telecommunication offering in Nigeria. Price runs the gamut. Perhaps at its core, telecommunication is really a commodity, a product or service so basic it cannot be physically differentiated from a competing offering in the minds of the consumer.

If that is the case, and in the absence of sustainable innovation(s), the only opportunity for differentiation among the networks is therefore through imagery and brand associations. If you may, the extrinsic effusion of the brand; excellence in marketing execution, how compelling and memorable its advertising is, the relevance and uniqueness of its sponsorship assets and events, the atmosphere or feel of its customer care centre and many more.

To break parity, take a different path.

Coke and Pepsi are a classical example. The Point of Parity for both is that they are both soft drinks with high product quality, brands with great names, history and symbols, and satisfying the same basic need of refreshment. Their Point of Difference is in the associations and image they project. Pepsi projects the image of a trendy, cool and youth-inclined brand, while Coke projects a more emotional brand.

I still believe strong emotions is a fertile and untapped space for differentiation in telecommunication. After all, telecommunication is about reaching out and connection. Reaching out when you’re in anguish, reaching out when you’re joyous, looking in on people, building bridges and bridging gaps. It is never about bits and bytes.

I leave you with this emotion-laden TV spot from Telecom NZ. It says “Life begins with a cry. But that’s OK…” 




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