SA’s mobile Che Guevara?
Virgin Mobile’s new boss will further its self-appointed role as consumer champion
CONSUMERS MUST THINK beyond the purchase price when subscribing to a mobile network. This is the message new Virgin Mobile South Africa CEO Peter Boyd wants to drive home this year.
Newly arrived from the US where he led the marketing efforts of start-up Virgin Mobile, the Edinburgh-born, Oxfordeducated Virgin-boytjie took up his post at the beginning of December last year. Boyd says he’s excited to see what the company has already been able to achieve in getting its service offerings to customers and being ready for mobile number portability.
Even first thing in the morning – when we meet for coffee – Boyd’s enthusiasm for the challenge ahead is palpable. He’s also excited about being back in South Africa, where he spent six months 10 years ago trying to help turn around underperforming police stations under his then employer McKinsey & Co.
Boyd’s expertise contains an attractive mix of marketing, business and international experience. Having started his career as a business consultant for McKinsey & Co across the UK, SA and India, he joined the Virgin Group 10 years ago as a brand manager and later head of marketing for Virgin Cola. He then headed UK-based student marketing company Virgin D3 before joining Virgin Mobile in the US as vice-president of promotions and partnerships.
His predecessor in South Africa, Sajeed Sacranie, left late last year after only five months at the helm. Sacranie told Finweek sister publication Fin24 at the time that having built the company from nothing into a powerful brand employing 500 people in less than five months had been no easy task.
This had required an aggressive management style he conceded hadn’t left him universally popular. The board had agreed that Virgin Mobile needed an operational person to take it forward, rather than a builder of companies, as Sacranie described himself.
Boyd says his management style is to surround himself with people more expert in their fields than he is, and delegate responsibility.
He sees his role as taking what’s already established and building on it, all the while bearing in mind the values customers have come to expect from Virgin – “great customer service and pricing”, as well as “fun, honesty and irreverence”.
Boyd says: “It’s more about evolution than change.” He adds that tasks include further improving customer service levels, being even clearer about how products are expressed and building on early gains in number portability.
Number portability, says Boyd, was never going to be a panacea, but it’s all about ending “mobile injustice”.
He describes the SA market as one of those prime Virgin opportunities, where consumers have gotten a little sleepy, are not used to getting the best service or pricing and are being “ripped off ”. This provides the perfect environment for Virgin’s entrepreneurial spirit.
When Virgin Mobile came to market, it was quoted as saying it wanted to sign up between 200 000 and 300 000 subscribers in the first few months and was targeting a 10% market share within three to five years.
Although it’s not ready to disclose where it is just yet, Boyd says it’s hitting good numbers initially and promises to openly celebrate reaching key milestones along the way. More important, he says, is to ensure customers who join recommend it to others.
Virgin Mobile and joint-venture partner Cell C are the proverbial “little guys” up against the Goliaths of the SA mobile market, Vodacom and MTN. And yet, it clearly punches above its weight with its typical Virgin in-your-face marketing campaign.
Boyd says its marketing budget is a lot smaller than that of the big players, as was the case in the US: “That was great training for spending so little above the line, and yet being noticed,” he says.
In the UK, pay-as-you-go is not the poor man’s choice,
it’s a lifestyle choice.
Virgin’s strategy to the consumer, says Boyd, is to offer “great value”, without necessarily being the cheapest up front, or offering the cheapest handset deals, but in terms of the actual cost of calls – although, he says, it does have good handset deals because this is a handset-driven market.
SA is predominantly a pre-paid market, but pre-paid users pay more for their calls than contract subscribers.
Boyd says although customers willing to commit to Virgin Mobile are rewarded, prepaid users are not punished (the drop-down rate of R1,55 a minute after five minutes any time is the same).
And, there are no contract lock-ins. If you buy a phone on credit with Virgin, you can pay it off if you want to: “With us, you’re not stuck.”
“In the UK, pay-as-you-go is not the poor man’s choice, it’s a lifestyle choice,” says Boyd. “It’s the same in South Africa (with Virgin Mobile).”
From police stations to cell phones. Peter Boyd