Bmobile’s 30 million dollar questions…

Bmobile’s 30 million dollar questions…

Branding | Judette Coward-Puglisi

February 21, 2010













Which comes first the product or the marketing? The chicken or the egg?

Pesky questions that they are.  They require careful thinking even when you’re planning a concert.

If you are the largest telecommunications company in the country, used to throwing around your advertising might, you’d probably  think it’s the product. Because once you have the product, especially if it is as attractive and commercial  as Beyonce, you probably figure all you have to do  is throw your advertising dollar behind it  and voila,  you can count on your pot of gold.  

That’s foolish. Stupid really.

Marketing is not the same as advertising. In 2010, advertising is a  sliver  of what marketing is, and in fact, it is pretty clear that the marketing has to come before the product, not after.

And so onto the Beyonce  and the B Mobile equation.

Great product + poor planning – expert events management + huge advertising  spend – marketing thinking = 1  of the most spectacular event/concert  failures in recent history (barring Machel Montano stand collapsing incident  concert over a decade ago).

Here’s the essential factor that B mobile’s  brand managers forgot.Just about every successful product or service is the result of smart marketing thinking first. Sure it’s super desirable to have a great product but the role of the product is to make the marketing story come true. It’s not at all difficult to conceive. In fact, the marketing thinking for the Beyonce concert should have been  built  on some very fundamental questions:

1) Who is the concert for?

2) How will the audience  be segmented?

3) What will add value to their  individual experience so that each person walks out   of the concert  as a brand loyalist?

4) What systems will be put in place to ensure the product is enjoyed with maximum pleasure? 

5) Who will comprise  the team that ensures the effective delivery of the events system?

6) What is the experience of the team?

7) What checks and balances  will be put in place to make sure the brand is never compromised in the process?

These are smart questions because if you rush to advertise  the product without thinking through the marketing systems, you’ve already lost the essence of the thing.

To be frank, I was not among the nay sayers that knocked TSTT/Bmobile for bringing Beyonce to Trinidad or aligning their brand to the mega superstar’s light. In an overcrowded market place with an inattentive audience, it is the conundrum of all brand managers: how to draw the right kind of attention and create something so interesting and so valuable that people will cause people to not only spend their time and money and also sit up and take note. ROI is not always about the bottom line in the short term. Sometimes the marathon run of building good will and reputation can leave your competitors standing in the dust.

Still, when this party was over the only dust was that of the Savannah and it was blowing all over the TSTT’s face. There were several mistakes made on the night Beyonce graced the Savannah stage. They are already described eloquently and angrily here. But I’ll focus briefly on 2, the events management and the company’s use of social media.

Events Management

Not giving the project to event experts was a fundamental mistake. No project should be  conceived in a vacuum, no decision  should be made in isolation and no negotiation can happen with a muddied sheet of paper when it comes to events planning. Clearly the  lead events team simply did not   have the expertise? But here’s the bigger question, why did TSTT and Bmobile not sense this? In events planning, you go through the systems  during several meetings with the client, you explain the systems, you work through the issues, you present your plans. With everyone around the table and with the client in the lead,  thorny issues are spotted and thrashed out. Clearly this did not happen. TSTT did not exercise enough due diligence and as a consequence their brand was severely compromised.

Social Media

For over the decade that I have been writing about Public Relations, I have always maintained that the process of communication is a great litmus test of the transparency and honesty of a company. So here’s another question for Bmobile. Why did they use facebook for weeks before the concert  to communicate with their fans and yet when the crisis hit the rooftop last week TSTT/Bmobile remained silent. There was no apology, no statement, no admittance of the technical mistakes made, no explanation of what went wrong on their social media streams. That should have happened within the first 24 hours of the mess.  Instead in its absence, fans took to Bmobile’s facebook  to paint  their corporate wall in the most colorful language. And from the company, not a peep.

Marketing will always be an art and a science. You test. You measure. You do the math. You try to understand  the impact of your  spend and your message  in the market at the time its dissemination, and even long after. That’s the science part.  And then there’s the art. And here it is not about the fancy billboards and the advertising spend. In the age of social media it really was about how Bmobile used the concert and the experience to inspire and connect. It was about how they worked to create a brand movement by surprising their stakeholders with the most  amazing of experiences. 

In both the science and the art Bmobile failed simply because they forgot for a mammoth moment, that the chicken never, ever comes before the egg.



6 thoughts on “Bmobile’s 30 million dollar questions…

  1. I think you falsely assumed two things here:
    1. TSTT has a positive image in Trinidad & Tobago to start with.
    2. TSTT cares what its image is.

    When you’re operating as a monopoly – especially a government-backed monopoly of an essential service, customer service generally isn’t a huge consideration. Neither is the public perception of your brand.

    If you consider the standard of TSTT’s customer service historically, you probably wouldn’t be at all surprised by the outcome of the Beyonce concert.

    Why should TSTT care what the people of Trinidad think about them? Are they going to lose significant business?

    (As an aside, substitute [current governing political party] for [TSTT] and it gets even more off-putting.)

  2. All valid points, Judette. BUT.

    This is TSTT. Subsidiary of Cable and Wireless, a company that has been rendered irrelevant in every global market except the Caribbean, name changes notwithstanding. This is a company that has cheerfully screwed customers for decades… for so long that it is now an integral part of their corporate character. Having a Beyonce concert was not going to change that character.

    So the lack of "shame" or the lack of apology does not surprise me in the least. But they make money for their shareholder and that is enough for that shareholder. Mind you, in an open market they are not particularly good at competing, and that tends to engender a siege mentality.

    Social media? TSTT is a company firmly in the mode of old media. TSTT does not apologize when they screw you over, as they do not consider you to be important enough. I hope, but do doubt that those celebrities that have linked their public selves (and to some extent their public reputations) with TSTT will learn from this, but Trini blue and purple paper can blind you, if provided in copious enough quantities. And these "partners" seem to have the upper hand, since (apparently) both BC and Machel can get TSTT to have a Digicel-linked artiste in the form of Destra perform at the biggest ever TSTT branded event – the kind of elementary branding nono that no serious organization would make.

    The reason that TSTT hasn’t responded on Facebook is because it is the weekend. They are still on the 8/5/260 paradigm. Whoever runs the page will very happily bowlderize the page of the complaints come Monday morning. Though really. Not having water for folk to wash their hands with after using the toilet seems to indicate the type of contempt for people not seen in Trinidad and Tobago since Grand Bazaar was built with no toilets for patrons to use.

    But they made their money in the short term. Of course, they have something like sixteen months of badwill from Rachel Price, who, unlike them, uses social media better than them. Her response was up on Friday, and was delayed because she had a show to do after she attended the Beyonce show.
    conversation now, and quite frankly I believe that the corporate persona of TSTT does not care.

  3. The power and brilliance of social media. Rachel surprised me with the speed at which she uploaded her comments, but why should I have been.

    My friend said that by 5 pm her facebook started to buzz with folks complaining about the long lines and food. Brands forget the immediacy of the medium and how viral an environment it can be when the collective sentiment is shared.

  4. I cannot agree more. It was very foolish of them not to think about marketing and let everything go its own way. Marketing is very important. By the way, I’ve downloaded a lot of books in marketing from torrent SE . I hope they will help me to avoid such mistakes. This is one more example that well-prepared marketing strategies work.

  5. With everyone around the table and with the client in the lead, thorny issues are spotted and thrashed out.

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