The launch of Vodafone VIP signals a new era for Vodafone and its brand.
The operator, which is often marred by its corporate giant status, can be slow to react to changes in the market. But now it is reaching out of its comfort zone with a loyalty scheme that follows its ‘Power to You’ rebrand last year.
The long standing British operator has come under fire in recent times, with some critics saying it has lost its way in the last few years. Meanwhile, rival operators – notably O2 and Orange – have been actively pushing their brands in engaging and innovative ways.
Loyalty schemes are nothing new. While Orange has its Orange Wednesdays cinema offer, O2 sponsors a number of venues – including the former Millennium Dome, The O2 – and gives customers priority access to tickets.
Despite the established competition, Vodafone is wading into the loyalty market and making a stand. ‘This definitely is a long-term plan and not just a promotional thing,’ says Vodafone UK brand director Danielle Crook (pictured).
‘The message we are trying to convey is, this is our way of saying thank you.
‘We realised we could be more overt in thanking them [customers] for their business. This is not based on how much they spend or how long they have been with us. This is about all our customers, whether they are prepay, pay monthly or access Vodafone through their business.’
Vodafone VIP, launched at the end of June, is aimed at a broad cross-section of Vodafone’s customers. The network has previously been very sports orientated, which Crook acknowledges.
The operator has been involved with some high profile names, including its sponsorship of the England cricket team, which came to end in 2008, and the Formula One team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
Vodafone is now looking to capitalise on its endorsements and retain its customers by offering them exclusive access to a variety of events – and not just sports.
Crook says: ‘We already have a large sponsorship with Formula One and the ability to access that is great. To be able to go behind the scenes of one the best British businesses is great for customers.’
As a headline sponsor of London Fashion week, Vodafone will give its customers priority access to the event. It will also offer priority access to the Reading, Wireless and T in the Park music festivals 48 hours in advance to allow customers to get in early, as well as the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Formula One.
Vodafone partnered with the companies after carrying out research with its customers. ‘We knew one of the areas we wanted to work on with customers was to reward their loyalty’, says Crook.
‘We did lots of research and asked customers what their main interests were. They came back with a range of different interests. Fashion emerged because we have a large female base and it is a huge industry in Britain. Festivals offer a wide range of nationwide events,’ she adds.
The broad spectrum of rewards appears to have been led by customers rather than Vodafone itself – a key differentiator for the loyalty drive.
Crook confirms this: ‘We were quite open to seeing what customers wanted to be offered and we want to offer them something different from the rest of the marketplace. The difference is in the breadth of what we are offering and the fact that it is nationwide.
‘This is a customer led initiative,’ she adds. ‘We have always intended to be very customer focused. As part of the Power to You strapline we want to make sure we deliver to our customers what they really want and be true to the brand essence.’
Vodafone’s strapline, ‘Power to You’, replaced ‘Make the Most of Now’ in September 2009.
Alongside the new strapline, a new emotive advertising campaign was launched, showcasing the ‘power’ of the network to give the brand a much more engaging feel.Through the development of Vodafone VIP, the network will continue to engage with customers, says Crook.
‘We will continue to evolve this [Vodafone VIP] based on customers needs and desires; this is intended to be a rich programme.
‘We are trying to concentrate on advertising and communications that are relevant to our customers. As a network we are very proud of what we offer customers but we wanted to give something back to our customers.
‘There will constantly be new offers to engage with people, and customers will be able to come back and re-engage. We want them to come back and realise how special they are to us,’ adds Crook.
Some will say the VIP programme was long overdue.
However, there’s no doubt the range and scale of the benefits offered could mark a step change for the operator. If successful, Vodafone VIP may be the start of an operator loyalty battle of new dimensions. Finally, Vodafone has some powerful artillery of its own to bring to the frontline.