Interview: Mr. Salman Wassay, Head of Marketing, Zong
Mr. Salman Wassay, Head of Marketing, Zong is the master mind behind Zong’s advertisements and media campaigns. It is his vision that Zong made an early impact over the industry and got its attention from mobile phone users of the country.
Mr. Salman Wassay was kind enough to give us the time and the opportunity to know his thoughts about Zong’s ongoing operations and its future face.
Let’s straight away get to the interview.
LahoriMela.com: How do you see Pakistan’s ongoing Telecom Growth and would you please mention upcoming Challenges and their possible remedies for the market?
Salman Wassay: The strong innate human need of live communication amongst each other makes mobile telephony a basic requirement for people across the globe with no real alternative. The telecom growth is natural and unstoppable, you can already see individuals that do not have a TV at home and cannot afford packaged milk but they use mobile phone frequently. Such is the power of telecommunication and that is why this industry is so different and much more dynamic than any other industry.
Pakistan has seen strong growth over the last 14 years. The subscriber number has surpassed 90 million mark and teledensity is over 54%. It was in 2005 that the industry gained real momentum when it crossed 10 million subscriber mark (12.7 million at the end of 2005). The growth has been upward of 80% per annum since then, totaling to over 90 million subscribers to date. In terms of geographical coverage more than 300 out of 376 tehsils of Pakistan have mobile network coverage. I believe that this growth phase will continue until the curve flattens out around 70% teledensity in next 3 years. This does not mean that the race is going to cool down, we have already started to witness the growth in number of minutes people are talking to each other and this is just the beginning.
The challenges for telecom industry are about to change very soon. As we get close to 70% teledensity, the priorities and focus is going to shift on retaining customers. This would mean a sincere effort by all operators to raise the quality of customer services and network. Understanding the customer from mobile usage and psychographic view point is going to be crucial as it will help the managers to offer targeted value added services. Industry will have to look out for alternate revenue streams such as broadband and auxiliary use of mobile handsets using GSM services. Youth is going to fuel the operators’ appetite for more subscribers as about 2 million youngsters are first time mobile users every year and about 55% of Pakistan population is less than 25 years of age. From organizational capability angle, a lot of professionalism and discipline is required to face the challenges of near future. The decisions that did not require much deliberation in the recent past would require in depth analysis and sound strategic thinking in the recent future. Good human resource and forward thinking is going to be pivotal for tomorrow’s success in telecom industry.
LahoriMela.com: How Zong is different? We would like to know not only about its services, but also its team, strategy and its back end procedures, if possible?
Salman Wassay: ZONG is a vibrant, youthful and high energy organization. We believe in providing real value addition to the people of Pakistan. We believe that communication is a basic need and every Pakistani has the right to access this technology. Since mobile phone is an integral part of everyone’s life today, we firmly believe that we can make this device more useful to everyone by providing relevant services that would add real value. To make it all happen, our main focus is on understanding the customer in depth and making the overall user experience rewarding.
The talent that we have attracted at ZONG is exceptional. It takes more than formal education and relevant experience to deliver 300% growth. The team behind the resounding success of ZONG is composed of committed, hard working and fresh minded individuals who gel perfectly to deliver results. The triple digit subscriber growth and double digit revenue growth is attributable to each and every team member of ZONG. It makes each one of us proud and motivated to deliver more in 2009.
LahoriMela.com: In your opinion what significant 3G has got, and how Zong sees 3G coming into Pakistan?
Salman Wassay: In my opinion, third generation technology offers great deal of connectivity to people at all time and in all places, they will ever go. But for countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and others with similar fundamentals, the question of whether the consumer will pay for such a technology will be hard one to answer, we need to look at our consumers income levels too before we actually go live with 3G.
LahoriMela.com: How do you consider Zong’s achievements in this short span of time, after it started its operations in Pakistan?
Salman Wassay: ZONG started with an inherited subscriber base of less than 2 million. The brand image of the previous company was at rock bottom. It was a mammoth task to first build the right team and then develop systems and structures that would make the magic happen. It was just as if we built the whole theme park with our hands and then sat on the roller coaster for the ride of a lifetime to see the over whelming response from Pakistan.
We launched the company on 7th April and within record time of 19 days we had our first million new subscribers. ZONG had gripped the nation in frenzy and our subscriber base kept on growing at a tremendous rate. The credit goes to each team member in every department that worked hard to manage the complexities of such high growth and delivered their best to keep the customers satisfied. Today we have more than 5.5 million satisfied subscribers that are giving us healthy revenues.
LahoriMela.com: In a very competitive market, where price war had hit its bread limit well before the saturation, what major elements played significant role in Zong’s short term accomplishments?
Salman Wassay: Price war is indeed hurting everyone. The quest to gain maximum subscribers in shortest possible time has led operators to cut prices repeatedly. The short term strategy at ZONG was to acquire subscribers while not hurting the market by severely under cutting the prices. Our launch pricing strategy was to offer easy to understand call and SMS rates coupled with “talk to the customer directly” advertising approach.
The default 12 Aanay package was designed to simplify the pricing proposition for the customer. On this package we offered flat rate of 12 Aanay (75 paisa/30 seconds) for call and SMS to any network. On 12 Aanay package we offered 5 FnF numbers and the flexibility to choose any hour of day or night as Happy Hour. Similarly on Free package we had a flat rate of PKR 2 per minute for calls and SMS while hourly charges of PKR 3.99 applied during noon to 2:00 pm and midnight to 7:00 am. Free package also had 10 FnF numbers at the time of launch.
ZONG also offered best value added services with EDGE and GPRS connectivity across Pakistan, Dial Tunes service and Mobile Music Channel. Book Your Number (BYN) was an innovative approach that ZONG adopted at launch to attract subscribers who like to have the number of their choice. The response to BYN was over whelming and within days ZONG website became the most visited website of Pakistan with more than 1,305,530 visits in April and millions bookings so far. All departments including S&D, CS, Marketing, HR, Finance, IT and Technical worked extremely hard to translate corporate strategy in actionable tactics to achieve the success that we are enjoying today. If I was to identify one major element for our short term success, it has to be our philosophy of placing ourselves in our customers shoes and seeing what they really want and then delivering this
LahoriMela.com: We know that Zong is looking for long term return on its investment, what goals Zong has set in for its short term and mid term phases?
Salman Wassay: As discussed earlier we at ZONG believe that access to mobile technology is the right of every Pakistani. Our medium term goal is to cover more than 95% of Pakistan with mobile coverage and our long term goal is to become an integral part of lives of Pakistani people by enabling them to use mobile technology to help them do be more productive in life. In the long term we see ZONG as the largest and most value added player in the market with customized solutions for people belonging to various walks of society. We plan to empower the youth segment by providing relevant services in the field of education, sports and other hobbies pursued by youth. We have plans to focus on small and medium businessmen who are going to be the growth engines for a prosperous Pakistan in future. The idea is to understand and segment the market in such a way that customer segments of significant importance are catered to with targeted offers and productivity enhancing services. Once we have the network coverage and grip on customer segments with targeted services and offers, the revenue and profitability will follow automatically.
LahoriMela.com: Deceptive and unethical marketing has come under discussion these days; how do you see margin for improvements for our advertising campaigners for cellular companies?
Salman Wassay: At the time of launch we were very much aware of the general feeling among the consumers about the issue of ethics in telecom advertising. There were instances when it became obvious that some of the telecom companies on purpose did not provide accurate information about their services and packages.
I think all stakeholders are jointly responsible for ensuring ethics in advertising. The stakeholders include the cellular operators to start with, the advertising agencies that come up with the concept and the creatives, the PTA and other government agencies who regulate our business and advertising.
On its part however, ZONG has been very honest and upfront about all their charges. We have even produced ads which criticize competition on not giving the full truth about their offers. It has actually resulted in the companies becoming very cautious in this regard.