Thursday, August 12, 2010



By Namakando Nalikando Sinyama

Allow me to comment on the recent developments at former celtel. I must confess that i may not exactly be abreast with the Zambian corporate calendar but the re-branding of Celtel to Zain cannot go without observation. What was noticed was a very sadden change over to this new brand. One would have hoped that these corporate entities owe their profits to its clientele and thus the least they can be is courteous towards them. What should be understood is the difference between these two messages that we could have been bombarded with in all the daily tabloids. “CELTEL shall become ZAIN.” As opposed to suddenly “CELTEL becomes ZAIN”. One of them is clearly less courteous even patronizingly arrogant in a corporate kind of way, even rude and the other more polite and informative. Gradualism is a soother even a healer! I hope their Research and Development team carried out an exhaustive analysis on the potential impact of the change or re-branding. I always envied their marketing prowess, which to me is where their strength really lay. But what should never be underestimated was the value of their previous corporate brand. What they have done should go down in the annals of marketing as a classic example of how not realizing the value of a corporate brand can affect business. What must be said even from any lay person’s view point is that there is bound to be negative consequences to this re-branding at CELTEL. I may not have direct access to their books of accounts but they may either be making less money or they could be making a whole lot more.
Did they, for instance, consider that we live in a society that is predisposed towards negativism which manifests itself as general hostility to unfamiliar concepts and is less well informed? This especially when new things are rudely imposed on it. Already there is talk going round that their new colours and black symbols have satanic connotations, which is of course preposterous. But then ,when your market base is in a country that is predominantly awash with Christian fundamentalists it would not be a bad idea at all, albeit unnecessary, to explain some unfamiliar abstract business logos to your clients so as to allay the suspicions of people with runaway imaginations. But have you seen the paintwork on their new fleet of cars or on those cars whose owners have probably just volunteered to have painted with Zain shades? With good reason i might add. I must commend them though for finally saving some of us from the previous brand with an almost blinding visual impact of the crimson/red aesthetic litter which had a shade of red too many!
In a business environment where serious cut throat competition exists in the cellular phone service provision market, other firms would seek to strategically capitalise on CELTEL’s re-branding and the manner in which it was done and thus dislodge them from their otherwise previously strong market niche during this period of re-organisation. But ZAIN needs not worry, as Zambia is not such an environment because the other players on the market are in comparison quite cavalier in their approach to business. This does in a big way rob customers of the opportunity to enjoy better products and services which results from continuously improved products and services in a very healthily competitive atmosphere. But alas, others are now just learning how to configure their systems to enable subscribers share Talk time! It is exactly this kind of situation that encourages the coming of dominant corporate entities that think they can treat their clients in whichever way they please, as they would have no choice or real attractive alternative due to sloppy competition. But they are wrong; this will not go on for long! What one will clearly observe is that MTN has managed to come up with a robust team which has accomplished some marketing milestones and this has helped them claim a sizeable share of the mobile service provision customer base.
The lesson that can be learnt is that once a firm undergoes a Take Over, Merger or acquisition or whatever it was that happened at CELTEL, they may have very little say on what should or should not change in as far the corporate image is concerned. The majority shareholder more often than not has more influence on the direction the new firm takes. What is undebatable is that things at this firm seem topsy-turvy. The frequency of ownership change at ZAIN may not be healthy and will make its subscribers become disillusioned. Who knows who the new owners are after Baharti Telcom? You see, my point exactly!

However, as far as the competition goes CELTEL, sorry ZAIN need not worry itself none as the Zambian public is one of the most accommodating lot with a remarkable memory span! Here are a people that are even almost forgetting they ever had a beloved president in a display of a rare form of synchronised collective amnesia. A people who were prepared to remain forever silent and be in the dark about his true condition in a neatly orchestrated media blackout akin to the cold war era when there were Ministries of Misinformation. A people who are prepared to casually sit idly by and watch the prices of fuel dangerously going up gradually. A litre of petrol costs K 8500 /litre whose dollar equivalent is $1.65! While in the US and western Europe we see mass protests from truckers and motorists for the powers that be to free their countries strategic reserves of the commodity, those of them that had the foresight to stock up in the event of skyrocketing prices of petroleum, which product is now being used as the 21stcentury weapon of choice. Only their gasoline is charged per gallon and for them a gallon is equivalent to 3.7 litres! They(Zambians) are mute when their country’s only petroleum refinery facility continues to be mismanaged with shocking inventory control practices. May radical suggestion is this that That White Elephant of a structure called INDENI should be shut down. Its costing your country way too much in transport the crude via pipeline. This is a very risky method and we all know that it continues to break down there is very little security to safeguard it. What jobs has INDENI created? What tangible benefits in by products have accrued from refining the crude at high cost, kerosene? Which is used to do what exactly? Has having the refinery made the petrol cheaper? Please close the dumb thing erect it closer to the source, say Nakonde, give jobs to my more serious and focussed brothers the Somali transporters to distribute the product to OMCs in Zambia. This done will save the country the hassles and embarrassment of constant shut downs at INDENI.

Most serious minds see what is wrong in the general approach to issues by Zambians but the tranquilising drug of gradualism numbs them for they do nothing and carry on as though things were normal. But Zambians are just that they remain forever quite, these are the people i would like to be around. Docile natured you call them? No, just a peaceable lot they are or so they would like to believe.

This does remind one of the tale of the amphibious frog which when put in a pot of hot water immediately jumps out .However, when the same frog is plunged into cold water that is gradually heated up to a perfect boil, the frog would not twitch a muscle to move until it was very dead in the hot water. But Zambians are just that they remain forever quite, these are the people i would like to be around. Docile natured you call them? No, just a peaceable lot they are or so they would like to believe.

To ZAIN i say take heart, before long they(Zambians) will forget there was ever any ‘RED Network’ and will take to the ‘Black Network’ with magnetic ferocity. I derive credence for my optimism from what i reckon is one the most aggressive and creative marketing teams at CELTEL ever seen on the Zambian business scene. That is if they were all taken on to be part of ZAIN.

The second lesson a business might want to learn is , “ Do not unnecessarily change a winning brand, for there is a danger in NOT knowing the value or strength of your current business brand.” This, especially, if the changeover is not exactly going to be coupled with shockingly better or more improved service level delivery. The outcome of this is bound to cause a crossing over of subscribers en masse.

If there were serious competitors around, the probable result of this re-branding may be ZAIN Pain!

Kozo ,

Namakando Nalikando Sinyama
Barotse Patriot
Barotseland, Central Africa
“I tell you a Truth, Liberty is the best of all things, my son, NEVER live under a Slavish Bond.” – Sir William Wallace’s Uncle

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