Operators focus on building brand in Africa

According to Analysys Mason, there are now more operators per capita in Africa than anywhere else in the world, attracted by the huge untapped potential of African markets. This goes a long way to explaining the obsession with brand building on the continent.

Zain and MTN’s cross-border roaming for the same price as phone calls back home was a masterful PR coup boosted brands much good, putting them on the moral high ground, but not contributing much to their bottom lines.

Safaricom – in which Vodafone owns a 40% stake – is famous for its innovative m-payments scheme, M-PESA, but as a spokesperson told me last week, the company doesn’t expect to make substantial revenue from it, rather it’s about building the brand (not Vodafone’s though, please note) and customer loyalty.

Yesterday Orange announced it will be launching a pan-African brand campaign across the majority of African countries it operates in – by which it meant Senegal, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Botswana and Kenya – to unveil its new international vision “together we can do more”.

This is the first time that Orange has rolled out a single brand campaign in so many countries, it says, adding that, “The tone for this campaign is set by the statement at the end of a publicity film: ‘I am delighted because thanks to everyone I can share my experiences with the people I love’.”

A commendable sentiment, but not exactly snappy, and it won’t pay for the backhaul, will it?

As an interesting juxtaposition, Vodacom announced its first results as a public company, yesterday too. It reported revenues were up 14.5%, but net profit had dropped by 22.2%.

The group ascribed this drop to the charges related to the South Africa’s Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) deal and the tough economic environment – neither of which are going away any time soon.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in Africa over the next couple of years – I predict massive consolidation among operators and lots of infrastructure sharing. In the meantime though, as operators fight to .attract and keep customers, it will be bonanza for the Africans themselves