While inbound roaming is a lucrative business for operators in specific countries, too common is the company relying on old-school practices to market it, focusing only on mass outreach and non-customized value propositions. Operators wanting to retain and grow roaming revenues need to start tapping into targeted marketing practices before their competitors do…
According to a study by Juniper, the global total mobile roaming market is expected to reach $80 billion by 2017, over $35 billion of which will come from data roaming revenues. This estimate means there will be a jaw dropping 21% year on year growth of roaming revenues; mobile operators (especially in high inbound visitor traffic countries) will clearly have to get their act together to capitalize on this opportunity, beating their competitors to the punch around winning over the roamer segment. With increasing availability and adoption of Wi-Fi as well as Over the Top (OTT) applications (culminating, for example, in the launch of a recent app declaring war on mobile operators and promising a 90% drop in roaming rates), operators will need to compete not just with other operators for roaming revenues.
Mobile operators should gain a better understanding of their inbound roamers (i.e. where they come from, when they visit, which locations they visit, where they stay, how they roam, etc.) so that they can estimate their performance across different roamer segments and start targeting them through above the line (i.e. seasonal cell towers, country of origin marketing, etc.) as well as below the line (i.e. ‘welcome back’ offers for frequent visitors) efforts.
Targeted marketing is now the conventional way of marketing in most operators, with established customer analytics teams, campaign management solutions, and advanced data mining models in place. Yet, more often than not, the scope of these activities is limited to subscriber base management. Roamers, as a segment, are unfortunately all too often ignored by marketing teams; this is in part driven by the fact they have limited day-to-day interactions with the operator, and the operator has little information regarding them (i.e. their product usage preferences and needs, age, handset, etc.). As a result, most operators’ roaming-related marketing activities are guided with analysis limited to operator-to-operator traffic statistics, almost never interacting with or involving the roamer himself.
What this implies is that a roamer who visits a given country every year, for example, and generates roaming revenues of over $100 per visit will go unnoticed the following year if he or she chooses to roam with a competitor; so too will the silent roamer, who happen to use his mobile for receiving SMS only and could be motivated to use his mobile for voice and data as well if he only knew how much it would cost and felt it was within his budget to do so.
With targeted marketing as a practice proven its worth in subscriber base management, the obvious next step is to leverage such methods around managing the roaming segment.
Inbound Roamer Targets & Opportunities Analyses
Adapting a more targeted approach in inbound roaming starts with better understanding roamers’ value, behavior, and needs. While there are vast number of analyses that can serve this purpose, the following would establish an initial base for key decisions and actions:
Country of Origin Profiling: Since demographics information is non-existent for roamers in most cases, a key differentiator becomes their country of origin, identifiable through their mobile prefix. While country of origin can provide basic insights into a roamer’s socio-demographics, it creates more value in identifying untapped opportunities with the country itself (allowing for comparing monthly tourist inflow from the country against roamers to identify months with growth opportunities, or for comparing MoU of an average user at home country against roaming behavior to analyze potential usage). A partial and illustrative “Roamer Country Fact Sheet” that combines data from both internal and external sources is as follows:
Such fact sheets should be complemented with a “Roamer Country Segmentation,” where countries of origin are segmented based on their usage and potential similarities, which can be used in prioritizing and customizing international marketing efforts as well as inter-operator agreements. As well examined here should be country-specific operator roaming-related tariffs and offerings, to identify opportunities for closing gaps the country operators are not addressing.
Visitor Needs Segmentation: While country of origin profiling provides valuable insights into targeting countries, it adds limited value towards understanding individual visitors and their profiles (i.e. what type of communications they need when overseas and how much they would be willing to pay for such services). For this purpose, operators can use a similar approach to that used when segmenting consumer needs – that is, a market research around sizing and profiling inbound roamers with different needs. A partial and illustrative segmentation of visitors based on their communication needs is as follows:
Based on such segments, operators can decide on their roamer positioning, communication strategies, and come up with relevant roamer value propositions for targeted segments.
Visitor Behavior Segmentation: While the first two analyses focus on market opportunities and segments, operators should also look into their precious internal data to understand how visitors roam on their own network. Analysis and segmentation of inbound roamers based on their usage on an operator’s network provides deeper insights into a single roamer’s preferences and can be used for prioritizing and offering relevant propositions to different roamers. Such segmentation is facilitated through use of call detail records, where each roamer is identified through their international MSISDN and segmented based on his frequency and variety of activities. A partial and illustrative segmentation of inbound roamers for a mobile operator would look something like this:
Such segmentation should be also coupled with location information – which is already conveniently available to mobile operators with cell site data – to deduct the nature of visit and mobility of visitors, which can facilitate better targeted and more relevant propositions to individual roamers. A partial and illustrative illustration of such a segmentation effort:
These three analyses, when brought together, can provide fundamental insights into roaming performance by country, segment, as well as individual, offering a complete view of potential revenues that can be generated from inbound roamers and where untapped opportunities exist.
Inbound Roamer Targeted Marketing Strategies
Once all required analyses are complete, the next step is to turn these insights into action. As in all marketing efforts, targeted inbound roamer marketing can be facilitated through both ATL and BTL activities:
Targeted ATL Roamer Strategies: Based on the country of origin, visitor needs, and location findings, operators should customize their above the line communications and activities for attracting new inbound roamers as well as activating existing ones. A couple of sample customizations would be:
Tapping into the customer base of overseas companies in high potential countries, especially strong in high potential needs segments – an example of this is in action is the loyalty program partnership between 3 Hong Kong and Singapore Airlines, where inbound roamers earn 3 KrisFlyer miles per minute.
Creating visibility in high potential countries of origin and segments – a side-benefit enjoyed by Etisalat, which advertises heavily in the UK at Premier League games (advertising not just to Middle East viewers who are in its markets of operation, but also to the British ex-pat & tourist community that travels significantly to a number of its markets).
Capitalizing on peak visit dates and locations by country of origin and segment – an example here is of Turkcell setting up stands at the Gallipoli memorial grounds visited every year by New Zealanders on the 18th of March.
Luring a specific segment of roamers based on their needs to switch to one’s own network when roaming in the country – for example, Avea tries to get data-driven roamers to switch to its own network by promoting its free wi-fi benefits at the Arrivals terminal.
Targeted BTL Roamer Strategies: Utilizing the usage and location based behavior segments, operators should take more pro-active and targeted actions towards reaching out to the right roamers with the right message, instead of sending an en-masse welcome SMS to all. A couple of sample customizations would be:
Activating and motivating outbound calls and data usage in silent and near silent segments – through offers such as rewards at first minute of use, free Wi-Fi access for outbound calls, etc.
Earning loyalty of frequent visitors to the country – which can be achieved by targeted promotion of visitor SIMs common nowadays in markets with frequent visitors, such as StarHub Tourist Prepaid Card in Singapore.
Maximizing relevance based on visitor profile – such as targeted promotion of tourist information services, like Travel Guide service of Dialog in Sri Lanka, to roamers known to be spending most of their time in touristic locations.
As in all targeted marketing activities, key success factor for such strategies and tactics would be establishing a closed loop marketing practice, where each activity is piloted, monitored, measured and optimized over time.
Once operators transform the way they approach roamers through better targeting, the next step would be analyzing and leveraging social and commercial relations they have with the local subscribers – that is, an expanded social network analysis (SNA), facilitating identification of social influencers of tourists and business visitors, who can be targeted as referral agents.