|Michael Cullen talks mobile to Susan Branchflower, head of marketing at Hutchinson 3G Ireland.|
Some people might question why a leading mobile operator should need to work from a sprawling site which gives the Dublin night sky a blaze of light. They find it puzzling that a company which promotes the concept of mobility should require a premises the size and character of a power station. Not so with 3, latecomer to Ireland’s mobile services.
ESusan Branchflower, head of marketing, 3G Hutchinson Ireland, at a photocall with Caroline Morahan, presenter of Off the Rails. 3 has a content deal with RTE which allows its customers to watch various shows for 50 cent a day on 3Pay and pay monthly.
Susan Branchflower is in charge of marketing at 3 and her team operate from a modest third floor at 6-10 Suffolk Street in Dublin city. 3 is part of Hutchinson Whampoa, the Hong Kong group with 14.7 million users globally. With over 15 years experience in mobile comms, internet and TV, Branchflower knows a thing or three about the business.
3 was the last entrant to the mobile market, launching initially in 2005 but entering the mass market last May with its 3Pay product.
Ask her what 3 brings to the Irish market that its competitors cannot match and she is happy to talk. Is the emphasis is on content? “Well, it’s all about get more, get 3,” Branchflower replied. It’s not just about operating in the 3G market. From our research, what really turns mobile users on are three things - sport, TV, music and broadband.
“Music is a known entity, everyone understands it. Getting sports results is appealing to people and then for the first time we’re seeing true convergence. These are the things we’re focusing on in terms of ‘more’. Our data cards allow consumers anywhere in Ireland to access internet at speeds three times faster than Eircom broadband.” Being late to the market and having to compete with the three others - Vodafone, 02 and Eircom’s Meteor - has meant 3 had to shout loudly to let people who they were. So it is no surprise that 3 has been spending on marketing, particularly on media advertising. The early campaigns created by WCRS were quirky and had people scratching their heads.
Young Euro RSCG was appointed to handle advertising in Ireland. Only recently 3 UK made the switch to Euro RSCG in London, an account valued at £27 million. No doubt, the move to its parent is reassuring to Young’s. Media here is with WPP’s Mindshare.
“For the first four months we had over 25 per cent share of spend,” Branchflower said. “On the sponsorship front we go for partnerships. We don’t have our names on rugby shirts, nor do we put our name up somewhere for the sake of it.” 3 has stings on RTE’s Premiership and and content deals with Eamon Dunphy and Today FM’s Tom Dunne.
Dunne’s The Hive is a fortnightly music magazine-style show with live performances and interviews with Irish and international bands, gig guides, album reviews and a download music chart. Dunphy’s Last Word on Football is a twice-weekly show where the former Millwall player gives his views on the Barclays Premiership and other football news.
Produced by Random Thoughts Media, the brainchild of journalists and producers Eamon Carey, 27 and Daire Whelan, 29, who worked with Newstalk, Setanta Sports and RTE, the show is filmed on Thursdays during the season, with a preview available for download on Fridays. The 15-minute TV show is then streamed on Mondays.
Demographically, such content appeals mostly to Irish men. TV3 is the mobile media partner for the new Xpose celebrity gossip show which Lorraine Keane heads up. Provided the show gets reasonable viewing figures, it is a win-win for both parties, with 3 offering young women exclusive downloads. In turn, TV3 earns revenue and audience.
Lorraine Keane heads up the Xpose celebrity show on TV3 which 3 sponsors. The partnership gives the mobile provider exposure to young females and balances the predominantly male audience interested in the Eamon Dunphy and Tom Dunne shows.
Last month, David Riley, head of content, announced that 3 had teamed up with RTE to stream the best of RTE One and Two entertainment shows. It allows 3 customers to watch shows like The Late Late, Off the Rails, Tubridy Tonight and Show Me the Money on their mobiles for a charge of 50 cent per day on both 3Pay and pay monthly.
On the PR front, 3 uses two agencies, Heneghan, for corporate projects and Thinkhouse, run by Jane McDaid, for specific marketing work. During the RBS Six Nations, 3 engaged in some clever guerrilla activity before and after the matches at Croke Park. Both PR agencies work with Rachel Channing, 3’s head of communications.
Commenting on 3’s television commercial shot in South Africa, Channing said the campaign continues to increase the competition 3 has brought to the Irish market. “With the fastest mobile broadband speeds in the country, 13 per cent of the Irish charts sold on 3 and unbeatable price plans, it's no wonder the old networks are feeling the pressure."
3 prefers to turn silent when it comes to market share. Branchflower says they are not in a position to divulge such information, but analysts put the 3 figure at around 100,000 customers. While Vodafone has lost business to low-cost rivals like Meteor - who homed in on students in the early days – 3 is unashamedly targeting the big mobile spender.
3 claimed that the price war waged by Meteor tightened margins and created a negative mindset. A customer buys a meteor handset for €59 with €89 credit on it. He will use the credit, discard the phone and then switch to another provider. Such a low cost strategy is counterproductive and does nothing whatsoever to help customer loyalty and retention.
Branchflower has a refined countenance and speaks with a patrician accent. But like Eamon Dunphy, she favours a street-wise irreverence and a maverick approach to marketing. 3 is a challenger brand and so it must be less than polite in how it competes. Recently, it adopted Michael O’Leary’s stance at Ryanair by running press ads which highlighted rivals’ charges using the corporate colours of Vodafone, 02 and Meteor.
The day we meet for this interview, the EU outlined plans to do away with roaming charges, always a point of contention and annoyance to consumers. Branchflower denies mobile operators will try to compensate the loss of revenue by raising charges. In fact, she is confident that the end of roaming charges could prompt further drops in tariffs.
3 has 85 coverage for 3G and the fastest network at 3.6mb per second, three times the speed of broadband. Their coverage is twice the size of Vodafone in Ireland, even though the market leader has a better infrastructure and retail network.
3 opened its first store on Patrick Street in Cork and has since extended with shops opening in Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Navan and Swords. In Dublin city, it has an outlet in Henry Street and a flagship store in Grafton Street. Branchflower said 3 plans to have a network of up to 28 stores throughout the country by the end of the year.
The Irish market is the highest user of data in Europe. Over 60 per cent of 3 customers users download content off their mobiles and the service accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all digital music sales. The company is launching specific business rates and a new broadband package which is available using a device plugged into a laptop.