Do you remember ‘All that jazz’…? I digress momentarily to pay (undisputed) homage to the most titillating song of the longest running musical on Broadway, but will bring readers right back closer to home to what I myself defined as a ‘proper’ mobile brand (Aurora, May-June 2005) i.e. Mobilink’s Jazz brand.
Among all the disorder we see today with mobile branding, it is easy to forget that the Jazz brand, which was launched in 1998, was brought to the market not with a focus on price but with a single-minded focus on ‘perception’. The only real, but equally innovative competition in the prepaid market in its early days was given by the now defunct Instaphone’s InstaXcite brand.
Recalling Mobilink’s own vision of that moment in time: “…when cellular companies were differentiating their products on tangible features such as price, coverage or technology, Mobilink gave birth to the concept of a ‘brand’ – with a vision to lead and a strategy to promote itself on the basis of image, standing out on grounds beyond the conventional differentiating factors of the local cellular industry.”
And for a while Jazz was ‘all’ there was! Phenomenally so. The unabashed (and dare I say, quite blatant) glamour that the Jazz Girl lent to the brand is irrefutable – an image building move that successfully transformed Jazz into a ‘power brand’.
Based on ‘freedom, convenience and control’ and with the backing of a strong distribution network and smart market positioning, Jazz easily migrated from being a ‘power’ brand to becoming a ‘premium’ brand. The Jazz brand became synonymous with the words ‘better value’ and more significantly, with the word ‘classy’. Apart from the obvious voice revenue, Mobilink cashed in further on Jazz by linking it with VAS-based activities such as the All That Jazz SMS-vote campaign in collaboration with Indus Music. And so Mobilink for many years did indeed become ‘Pakistan’s favourite cellular service’.
Although still the market leader today, Mobilink has come down some very painful notches from that rating, with even Ali Zafar not quite managing to compete with the definitive Jazz Girls to infuse some Jazz-ba back into the brand.
I do not write this without a sense of disappointment as I have, and still do, admire the innovation and trends that Mobilink has brought to the market. The fact remains, however, that the lacklustre performance of Jazz in recent years shows how easily brands can lose their appeal and that mobile brand building has become all the more difficult as competition has increased.
Which brings me to Jazz Bananas. Launched in Q-4 2011, Jazz Bananas is in the words of Mobilink ‘Pakistan’s first ever operator powered mobile app store that offers thousands of free and paid apps along with other content for Symbian, Java and Android operating systems.’ (The app store is available to all Mobilink users and builds upon the Jazz brand.)
Truthfully, I am not very impressed with the uninspiring way in which Jazz Bananas has been promoted so far. However, Mobilink gets full marks from me for introducing the local market to operator-driven mobile content. With reference to the Mobile Marketing Value Chain (see Aurora, Nov-Dec 2010), the availability and choice of mobile content is an important factor in building up a mobile marketing eco-system in Pakistan and it is likely that other operators will follow suit in terms of launching app stores.
Note that the mobile content is operator ‘driven’ and not operator ‘created’. This is the norm in the telecoms industry where operators favour partnering with third party mobile content providers to leverage third party expertise rather than investing in creating mobile content themselves.
Hamza Mudassir, Head of VAS, Mobilink elaborates.
“All applications on the Jazz Bananas app store are being developed through a number of sources, including international independent developers as well as content aggregators. Egypt based ARPU+ and Link Development are primarily our developers for the Jazz Bananas platform. We have major application providers such as GetJar and Handster onboard that provide applications accordingly.”
Significantly, Mobilink in not averse to sourcing apps from local developers.
“We are very eager to have local developers on-board.
We have created a special portal that allows them to register and upload their applications on Jazz Bananas through a seamless online process.”
Some local mobile content development companies such as the Lahore-based Pepper.pk have already gained recognition for developing world class applications with their BlackBerry photo editor app rated among the top paid-for apps on the BlackBerry app store in 2010. Initiatives such as Jazz Bananas coupled with a recent strong focus by Nokia on local app development will provide further growth platforms for local mobile content developers.
Regarding how Jazz Bananas has been received by its users, Mudassir says that “as Pakistan’s first online mobile app store, Jazz Bananas continues to receive significant traffic as well as a lot of positive mileage through social networking, with our gaming apps being the most popular among consumers.”
Reflecting the popularity of Nokia phones in Pakistan, Mudassir confirms that “as per the latest standings, Nokia leads the list for downloads, although this is fluid as an increasing number of smartphone users realise the convenience of having a local app store, with customised apps as well as local prices.”
There is, however, some scepticism in the market as to how much of an impact Jazz Bananas will have. Regardless of this, it is my view that Mobilink’s ‘walled garden’ approach to mobile content provision is going to benefit the operator. By virtue of this approach, the operator controls the type and volume of content that is offered and gains leverage with respect to marketing as the content increases in popularity. For example, the Jazz Bananas mobile website could become a sought-after portal for mobile banner ads or mobile promotions. At the moment, however, it is early days as far as mobile marketing initiatives are concerned, as Mudassir explains.
“We are in the process of analysing traffic and trends and as Jazz Bananas is already attracting sufficient traffic without any marketing initiatives, we intend to wait and strategise based on how things unfold.”
He elaborates on how Jazz Bananas fits into Mobilink’s overall mobile branding strategy:
“Our services go from music, sports and infotainment to health and socio religious services and have long been appreciated by our subscribers and now they have access to hundreds of applications. Applications are the essential component in the data eco-system as 3G is expected to be available to customers in Pakistan; this will lead to further application consumption.”
Ambitious words, which I stress with a strong dose of realism, need to be seriously translated into success for Jazz to regain some of its former glory. Come on, Mobilink, polish up your branding. Come on Mobilink, bring us a show stopper. Come on, Mobilink, slick your hair, and wear your buckle shoes and give us some more of All That Jazz.
Yasmin Malik is associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media. firstname.lastname@example.org