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Cell C: Is it too late to course-correct?

I had coffee with the real Cell C CEO, Lars Reichelt, last Monday. Our meeting went on longer than I had originally expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing has changed in my assessment of the Cell C campaign but, paradoxically, what was articulated to me about the Cell C strategy makes sense. The strategy was solid, the execution, less so. Has there been a slip between the cup and the lip?

Let’s review Cell C’s goals for the new campaign.

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  • The company wants to stir up the market to shift it out of the position of always being the “also-ran” network.
  • It wants to deliver real quality customer service.
  • It wants to deliver a superior technical service.
  • It wants the customer experience to be the best in the business.

1. Seen in that light the rebranding makes sense. Cell C wanted to send a very clear message that this is a new, different, better company.

But the actual implementation of the new brand was extremely poor. Firstly, there are unanswered questions about whether one can use a logo so close to the universal symbol of copyright. But on a far simpler level – the exact device has already been used by a local ad agency for years. The Chillibush group of companies have protested outside their Johannesburg premises with this banner.

Did the design company really not check whether the brand could be protected? Using a logo of another business in the same industry? The best that can be said is that is really sloppy.

2. The idea of engagement with the customer also makes perfect sense. Getting into social media and demonstrating a commitment to talking to customers in an open, transparent way is brilliant. Nobody else in this space is doing it, no-one local and certainly none of the major cell networks I know of internationally. But again the execution was poor. I have covered this extensively in another memeburn article.

Trust and transparency, along with influence, are the fundamental building blocks of a social media presence. The worst crime is astroturfing — pretending that you are what you are not. The Trevor Noah CEO campaign is a huge exercise in astroturfing.

3. The 4G network claim may also be a subterfuge. Cell C are building a new network with major capabilities – but is it a genuine 4G network? Various media reports and PR from the other networks says no way is this genuine 4G.

4. Building the customer experience is also good, because the brand is not built by advertising, it is built by what the customer actually experiences, what people actually get and what they tell their friends.

  • I don’t have any personal experience of the network and the call centre, so will leave it to you to judge until I do.
  • I suspect that a huge amount of internal culture change within Cell C still needs to take place.
  • But the new stores are lovely. They appear to be based on the Apple iStores, and that is a great model. Customers can try real phones, browse and have a free cup of good quality coffee behind the “genius bar” – full marks for a great execution.

5. Many have argued that the campaign has been a great success because everyone is taking about it, quoting that old cliché that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I think that is a fallacy. Think about it.

  • Is Cell C’s objective to get known? Are they an unknown brand that needs to build awareness so that they get on the shopping list? I don’t think so. Most cell phone users already have an opinion of Cell C. They are known, but they are just not preferred.
  • The marketing problem is not salience, it’s getting to preference. The critical step in the branding process before salience is the association in the minds of customer. These associations include judgements (performance/rational) and feelings/ image (emotional). As the CBBE Brand Pyramid shows, only when this is cracked can you get to the level of brand preference.
  • This whole campaign is working in the salience space. Although Cell C believes that its reputation has improved, I have seen a comprehensive Reputation Management Report, (which I have arranged to be presented to Cell C), that says different.

Take out
I think that what Cell C is trying to do is sound. Getting into the engagement space is a brave move and should be applauded — I suspect that it has made Cell C into a new marketing case study.
I imagine that Lars Reichelt has been swimming upstream on this. I can only imagine the response from the internal PR department over the Trevor Noah YouTube video for example.

The execution of the campaign has been very poor.

If Cell C were smart, they would take a very urgent and very honest look at the campaign and course-correct. There is much that they can do – now that they have taken the first step.

But the first step in successful new marketing is listening. Let’s see if Cell C will listen.

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