Ireland's new orange order
|Conor Carmody spoke to Michael Cullen about Meteor's steady determination to succeed as an Irish brand and make the most of broadband and its currentshare|
It goes without saying that any business start-up must determine that there's a gap in the market. But Sir Tony O'Reilly posed another question. Is there a market in the gap? By the time Meteor launched in 2001, they had endured a three-year wait while the court adjudicated on the rights and wrongs of awarding Ireland's third mobilelicence.
Mobile phone penetration nationally had risen from 32 per cent to 70 per cent with the giants, Vodafone (originally Eircell) and 02 (originally Esat Digifone), in pole position. Meteor had defined aims; firstly, to drive market share in the prepay sector by appealing to 15-24 year olds. Secondly, they intended to win critical mass in the more profitable billpay sector with its bias towards professional males, aged 35 and over.
“We targeted a 20 per cent share of prepay and ten per cent of billpay by last year,” Carmody said. “The Meteor brand would have to stand out and we'd have to produce marketing communications that had an edge. We also faced product issues like coverage. Not surprisingly, launching during the foot ‘n' mouth crisis limited our national rollout.”
Meteor needed to convince mobile owners to switch. The strategy adopted played to the psychological need for Irish consumers to stay ‘in the loop' and be popular. They worked on providing a rational price advantage and they knew they must react as customers matured from prepay to billpay and the need for a one brand/two products strategy.
Promotions were run to highlight low cost talk and text rate packages. Meteor was the first network to offer a standard rate during different parts of the day. Free calls to friends, free SIM cards and low roaming rates got noticed. Advertising campaigns with the Meteor girls and man's best friend played on the innate Irish appetite for humour.
Carmody puts Ireland's mobile market in revenue terms at €2 billion. Saturation has caused a slow-down but it's still over 120 per cent penetration with five million subscribers in a population of 4.2 million. Last year, the net addition was just 57,000.
So the years of growth spurts are gone. There are now two games in play. Mobile broadband is the new space for revenue. In tandem with that, the networks are trying to hold on to current customers. So Meteor is concentrating on retention and analytics and management of its customer base, skills, which Carmody admits, need to be honed.
Vodafone and 02 are in exactly the same game. 3, the last network on the market, is still growing but the growth is coming off mobile broadband, rather than voice and text. Tesco has failed to make much of an impact. Could Ireland support another player? Given Ireland's population structure and the current downturn, it's most unlikely.
“The total population of foreign nationals is 400,000,” Carmody remarked, “of which 200,000 are from the UK and the main European states. We probably have 200,000 from the accession states and further afield. Of that 200,000 figure, 100,000 may leave the country in the next 12 to 18 months. So the signs don't point to mobile growth.”
Carmody has always seen himself as a retailer and Meteor is in that space. “We're a retail business,” he said with certainty. “Our stores face the same footfall challenges that any retailer faces. The latest CSO published figures show the high street is under huge pressure. Our position is as the challenger brand – we're Irish and we offer value.”
Being Irish and youth-based has worked well as the challenger brand. Meteor ads are distinctly Irish, in contrast with some of the Vodafone, 02 and 3 campaigns, which rely on work created overseas as part of a global pitch. Last November, Meteor was the most recalled brand in Lansdowne's Adwatch study, ousting the usual incumbent, Guinness.
RTE presenter Pat Kenny with Conor Carmody at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards in the RDS. Kenny presented the Phillipines-based priest, Fr Shay Cullen, with a humanitarian award and a cheque for €100,000 forthe Preda Foundation.
Meteor has a €1.5m campaign to promote its mobile broadband service, Broadband To Go. Chris O'Dowd, from The IT Crowd on Channel 4 and The Clinic soap on RTE, stars in the humourous TV commercials. Research showed that Irish people don't understand the concept of mobile broadband, so they went for a simple, jargon-free approach.
The mobile networks are among Ireland's top spenders on marketing and advertising. Last year, IAPI figures showed that the four networks accounted for €63m in media spend, a 27 per cent increase on 2007 spend. That's no mean achievement and is one reason why agencies are keen to have a network as part of their client portfolio.
OMD reported a €21.5m spend on outdoor by the networks, while press was €18.3m. Online jumped from €712,000 in 2006 to €2.7m last year. Carmody sees spends returning to 2007 levels this year so that means a 20 per cent reduction in real terms.
On the sponsorship front, Meteor's big gig is the Meteor Ireland Music Awards. The Script was voted best Irish band and topped the Irish album category; Mick Flannery, won best Irish male act; Imelda May, best female; Westlife, best Irish pop act and The Blizzards was voted the best Irish live performance for their Oxegen concert.
Carmody said that the music awards have been terrific at putting the Meteor brand name on the map. But he is hesitant to say how much longer they will continue to sponsor the event. As with all sponsorships, but particularly with the more costly ones, there comes a time when marketers must decide if the event has outlived its usefulness.
But for now the music awards remain part of the marketing plans. They give Meteor a strong base in the prepay youth market. Music and content will become more important. As they roll out mobile broadband, people want a high-speed connection and to be able to get music, entertainment and sport – and the Meteors play a big part in all of that.
This year, it was staged on St Patrick's Day and tickets sales were up. The voting platform for nominations was up too. The PR activity is huge. So based on those criteria, the music awards would appear to have ‘legs'. “It's the Oscars, the Grammys, the social celebrity night of the year,” he added. But Meteor would consider a suitable sporting tie.
Carmody does not rule out a greater push for the corporate end of the market in future. Should it happen, he would envisage the push coming from Meteor's parent company. “There's an argument that says ‘you have another brand and it's called Eircom'. With its heritage, that's probably where a big drive for corporate customers would start.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Chris O'Dowd, star of Graham Linehan's IT Crowd sitcom and The Boat That Rocked, Richard Curtis's retelling of Britain's 1960s pirate radio stations, fronts the TV spot to launch Meteor Broadband To Go. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam and Paul and Garage), it was created by Publicis QMP with Vizeum handling the media.
Judging by the wide smile on Carmody's face, maybe that's something we should look out for in the not too distant future. If so, remember where you read it first.
A MARKETER WITH MUCH IN STORE
Conor Carmody, director of marketing, Meteor Mobile Communications, began his career with Superquinn and Penneys, doing menswear and fresh food buying and store management. “I'm a retailer at heart and retailing is what we do at Meteor,” he said.
In 1993, Carmody left Ireland for Russia where he spent four years in Moscow running a chain of home d