Cell C is like a new company. In a presentation to media on Wednesday morning, CEO Lars Reichelt set out a radical new strategy and unveiled a revitalised brand image for the mobile operator.
It may still be SA’s smallest cellular network by market share — Telkom hasn’t launched its mobile business yet — but under Reichelt, who was appointed to the job last year, Cell C is fast becoming the market’s feistiest player.
His presentation lasted little more than an hour, including question-and-answer time, yet the changes Reichelt’s proposing will remake the mobile phone operator and give its bigger rivals a headache.
Key to the changes has been a restructuring of the company’s debt. Shareholders have converted billions of rand in loans into equity and Reichelt says the company is at an advanced stage of restructuring its bonds to reduce the crippling interest payments it’s been forking over on a regular basis.
Discussions with banks should be concluded soon, he says. “Until we are over that hump, Cell C is still being fed by its shareholders,” he says. Saudi Oger, a Middle Eastern group, controls the company, with minority local shareholding from CellSAf. “It’s taking a little longer than expected but that’s the way banks work.”
There are two main pillars to Cell C’s reinvention.
The first involves the construction of an advanced third-generation (3G) mobile network capable of download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s.
Cell C’s big advantage over larger rivals MTN and Vodacom is that its network will use the 900MHz band, which requires it to construct fewer towers outside the cities, saving money. It also provides better in-building coverage.
The other big pillar of the strategy involves a rethink of the company’s branding and marketing.
Reichelt says Cell C’s old brand identity had become “long in the tooth”. Active customer engagement will form a cornerstone of the new Cell C brand.
Gone is the “For Yourself” tagline, and in its place is “The Power is in Your Hands”.
“We have recognised the flaws of our sector and ourselves, and we hope to use this campaign as a way to change that,” he says.
The company has hired top SA comedian Trevor Noah, who regularly complains about the mobile operators on stage, as its new “consumer experience officer”.
Cell C kicked off its new marketing campaign with a full-page advertisement in Sunday newspapers responding to a YouTube video posted by Noah.
Watch Trevor Noah’s sketch on YouTube:
Noah will be a go-between, providing feedback from Cell C customers to the company’s management team. The operator has set up a new website to facilitate interaction with its customers. It’s encouraging consumers to tell it where it’s failing them.
“We know that we have to improve, and we are inviting the consumer to participate in that change,” says Reichelt.
Marketing guru Chris Moerdyk describes Cell C’s new campaign as “outstanding”. However, he says time will tell whether the company is serious about the strategy.
“We’ll have to see how genuine they are in terms of taking advice from their customers,” he says.
According to Moerdyk, the mobile operators — and Cell C in particular — have lost credibility in the eyes of consumers. “When Cell C came into the market, it was supposed to provide big competition to the other players, but this never materialised.”
He says the best way the mobile operators can market themselves is by cutting prices. “One thing consumers are aware of is the high prices of cellphone calls,” he says.
Moerdyk says if Cell C’s campaign truly tackles the issues raised by consumers, it could be successful. “But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding,” he says. — Duncan McLeod and Candice Jones, TechCentral