Telenor Easypaisa- a futile exercise in branding?

Telenor’s new branded service easypaisa appears to be a novel concept, intended to remove the hassle in the payment of utility bills. What’s more, you don’t have to be a Telenor customer to avail this service.


Now only if the service worked as it was communicated to the entire nation by a very expensive branding campaign.


There’s no doubt that the local branding endeavors have become quite refined in the last decade. Pakistanis are fast catching up with the Indians in communicating the brand promise. Trouble is, the promise is broken more frequently than the frequency of the loadshedding.


The same is the case with Easypaisa. It’s launch on the 15th of October was unprecedented in the history of branding in Pakistan. Full front and back-cover print ads in all the major dailies except Dawn. Even in Dawn, a full page ad was present, only that it wasn’t on the front page. That’s impact for you.


And the cost? A full page ad in one of the inside pages of Jang costs a staggering Rs.1.3 million. Now if you want to take the entire front page, which isn’t offered as an option, it must have cost twice that amount. Multiply that by the number of major dailies, both English and Urdu, and you get a staggering Rs.100 million plus thrown away on a single day, and that’s only the print medium. You can safely add another 100 million for the TVC and then you get an idea of how much Telenor is spewing out on this campaign.


Of course it’s their money and they can dish out as much as they want, there’s no law against it. But when the moolah changing hands is in the scale of millions, it does make you wonder why a fraction of this dough couldn’t be spent on streamlining the service before going for an all-out launch?


The reason this thought is probably crossing the mind of any marketer observing telenor’s easypaisa launch is because it has begun to take stingy hits from the consumer almost as soon as the launch. Since the launch was aimed at pretty much the entire nation, the masses influenced by the campaign reacted favorably by opting for the service right away.


Maybe Telenor was not expecting a response of this magnitude or it wasn’t ready at all. In any case, the blogosphere is buzzing with mostly negative to lukewarm reviews of the service. But the most damning verdict has come in the form a letter to the editor in which the irate customer narrates his ordeal that in spite of paying his electricity bill through easypaisa, his electricity connection was disconnected by LESCO.


Although Mr. Sikander Ali, Director of Tameer Bank, tried to control the situation by replying to the letter in the same section right away, the damage had been done.


This was a one-off case. The most common complaint doing the rounds in the blogosphere is that it’s way too expensive. One blogger on Karachi metro blogs narrates he was charged Rs.10 on a mere bill of Rs.140. He says if he has to pay that much, he might as well do so through online means rather than going to all the trouble of physically visiting the easypaisa shop.


So there are basically three issues at work here. One, easypaisa is expensive, two, it is not that convenient, and three, it is not 100% reliable.


No service, no matter how sleek, is 100% fool-proof. There are bound to be problems, some that you cannot even anticipate beforehand. The trick, however, is to find out as many of them as possible by launching a stealth mode instead of coming out with the all-out launch right away.


There’s no evidence that Telenor did take easypaisa for a net practice. That seems to be hurting it badly now.  The fact that a company of this caliber will be able to weather this storm is secondary. The primary consideration ought to be preemptive measures to save the brand not only from the competitor onslaught but the more deadly consumer onslaught as well.


And in this day and age of social media, it is surprisingly easy. All Telenor needed to do was create a Facebook profile for easypaisa augmented by a Twitter account (which it has done now). It should have notified its customers (which is the 2nd largest customer base after Mobilink) through SMS of its new service, and then just waited to see what happens. No ad. No TVC. No nothing.


Telenor’s investment in this strategy? Zero.  Was this so hard to do? Or because it entailed no money that the brand manager thought it won’t work?


Of course, even then there would have been some negative reviews, but only confined to the blogosphere. And it would definitely have created a buzz in the real world that Telenor was doing something radical in the online world. It would have gone viral and although it wouldn’t have reached the 170 millions souls Telenor claims to have reached with this extravagant campaign, it would have given Telenor enough customers to take its easypaisa for a proper test drive.


Then when it had identified and rectified sufficient bugs in the system, it could have gone for the extravagant campaign which it did. There’s just no way this test-driving strategy would have fared worse than the present one.


So why did Telenor failed to apply such a common sense strategy? Herd mentality. Every brand worth its salt in Pakistan has not dared to come up with a launch strategy that kickstarts from cyberspace and then makes it’s appearance in the physical realm.  There have been  online campaigns, alright, by some of the well-known brands, but they have been far and few in between. And no exclusive product launch.


The best that has been done is what is fashionably referred to as the 360º launch strategy which entails making use of all medium to create both hype and awareness about the brand.


But what’s so bad about creating hype first and then not living upto that hype?


 You break the immutable law of marketing, ‘ Underpromise but over-deliver’. By doing what Telenor has done with Easypaisa, you over-promise but under-deliver.


The best way a business can flourish is to exceed customer expectations. Not many businesses are able to do that, but then not many businesses are successful. And marketing is just a tool to deliver this positioning. The real value addition has to be imbibed into the core of the business, not embedded merely in the branding strategy.


The fledgling Wimax industry in Pakistan is a classic example of these blunders. First to commit the original sin was Wateen which offered the moon to its customers but failed to satisfy them because of technical glitches and constraints which it didn’t address before the formal launch. Then came Infinity whose story was just a tad better than Wateen. Then came Witribe all guns blazing with its launch, its most glaring blunder being, its inability to offer the services in many parts of the city it advertised to be operating. On top of that, potential customers who expressed their interest in the service by registering online as well as at the sales outlets were never contacted to let them know when the service would be available in their area, or even a courteous response.


This pretty much sums up the appalling state of branded service not just in the telecom sector but across different industries in Pakistan. Qubee, the new player in the Wimax domain looks to be the only one with a shrewd strategy, that strategy being to remain low-key until it has streamlined its network substantially. It is aiming to promote its brand only through shopping mall kiosks and its own service outlets spread throughout the city. And of course it has its website to spread the word. In addition to that, it has dedicated one of its reps to surf the online lounges and counter jibes taken at Qubee, an extremely cunning tactic if there ever was one. No other brand has had the common sense to make use of this virtually free tool.


Does this mean Qubee will have no customer problems? Hardly. But at least, they won’t spread like wildfire like the rest of the brands, because Qubee hasn’t as yet come out in the open with clear-cut brand positioning and promise, so what will the customers complain against?


A few problems have already arisen and are well-documented in the blogosphere but if Qubee plays its cards right, it ought to be able to deal with them without them being known too much. That’s the beauty of keeping a low-profile until you get a grip over the simmering issues.


So what’s the verdict? Easypaisa could have been a better launch if it was beta-tested akin to what has been done with Windows 7. And even then, it should have been confined to a few niches rather than going for the masses. To Telenor’s credit, it invited some bloggers to the launch ceremony held on the 16th of October at PC Karachi, but for some inexplicable reason, it has failed to garner the support of bloggers which it probably expected with the invitation. At best there have just been a few posts mentioning the event not the rave reviews Telenor would have wanted. At worst, well, here’s a trailer of that.


The other thing not in favor of easypaisa that it’s not entirely unique. Settlement of utility bills through mobile banking and the likes already exist. It’s only they are not that well-known and thus confined to a few niches. In fact Nadra’s E-Sahulat fulfills the same purpose for almost free.

Easypaisa on the other hand is geared towards the masses and yet requires a somewhat hefty charge.



Whether Telenor will be able to weather the storm and make its branded service relevant to the masses only time will tell.