Q&A: Jennifer Roberti, group marketing executive at South Africa based telecommunications and mobile finance brand MTN

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Marketing Week (MW): Can you give an idea of MTN’s brand position in African markets and what it does there?

Jennifer Roberti (JR): MTN is the number one telecoms company in terms of share in the majority of our markets.

We have rolled out mobile money to about half our markets. But for the longer term we aim not just to be about telecoms but a whole mobile lifestyle. We want to give people access to banking and credit facilities, particularly in markets where they aren’t available to a lot of people. Things such as health insurance and the ability to pay for utilities through a mobile device are also being rolled out across our markets.

There is also a huge diaspora worldwide with people sending currency back home, so we want to develop ways to make it easier and cheaper to access those funds than it would be going through traditional routes.

MW: Who is your target audience and how do products and services differ for low income consumers?

JR: We want to be able to offer services at all ranges of the scale, from people with a disposable monthly income to those with a basic income. We want to make sure we bring in enough low-cost handsets to our markets and we are bringing in more low-cost smartphones so more people can take advantage of internet connectivity and applications.

In some cases we are dealing with corporate clients and we want to package things appropriately. In markets such as Uganda, the population is gravitating largely towards urban areas, and they’re the ones who have the jobs and are supporting people back home in more remote areas. So the mobile money product is relevant.

MW: Is there a challenge in communicating your offering to someone who might never have used a financial service before?

JR: There are some areas where the product has been available for a while so we are communicating the benefits of our product specifically, but there are some markets where we are communicating the benefits of the category as a whole.

What’s more critical is distribution; making sure the product is available everywhere. We have invested a lot in our distribution to make it more convenient for people to take advantage of our products and services. Being more widespread obviously increases the familiarity of our brand.

MW: What is different about brand building in African markets compared with Western markets?

JR: One of our biggest communication media here is radio, which is an advertising craft that is deteriorating in mature markets. Here, it is something we are quite good at. We have markets where there are numerous local languages, and radio is a great way to communicate in people’s own language, whereas print, TV and billboards are quite limited in what language you can communicate in.

MW: How do you see this market expanding in the future?

JR: We are looking at all the areas in which mobile can play a key role: health, learning, and agriculture.

We foresee a future where these are the mobile services people will come to expect. People will ask, can I get insurance or funeral cover through my mobile phone? Or even, can I get access to educational resources and textbooks?

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