ISPs are entering new broadband markets at an unprecedented rate. There have always been ISPs expanding into new markets, but I’m seeing ISP expansion at a far greater rate than ever before. A large percentage of new ISPs are entering markets where they have never served and are operating under brand names that may not be familiar to potential customers. Today I want to talk about some basic Marketing 101 concepts that any ISP entering a new market should be aware of.
It’s easy for somebody bringing fiber to a market to assume that the folks in a new market will flock to the new opportunity – but market research has shown that this is not the case. No matter how much folks might want a better broadband alternative, they also need to be convinced that they can trust the new ISP.
Local ISPs that already operate near a new market have some advantage if folks in the community already know their name. But I think ISPs often overestimate how well they are known in a nearby community – it’s likely that a significant percentage of a community will not know them even if they’ve operated in the region for many years. People tend not to pay attention to brand names for companies and products that are not available to them.
Nielsen has been doing market research for many years and offers up some interesting statistics about the effectiveness of advertising aimed at building a brand identity. The two characteristics that Nielsen says are mandatory for somebody entering a new market are baseline brand awareness and brand recall. These metrics measure how well the residents of any community recognize a brand name (brand awareness) and know what the company behind the brand name sells (brand recall). One other important characteristics is how many folks in a community have a negative opinion of the brand name. This last characteristic defines the uphill battle that the big telcos must overcome in rural markets where a large percentage of folks have an ingrained negative opinion of them.
One of the most interesting statistics from Nielsen is a measure of the effectiveness of brand advertising. In a market where less than half of residents have heard of a brand name, a good brand advertisement can raise awareness of the brand by 8% for those folks that hear or read the ad. The effectiveness of brand advertising decreases with the familiarity of the brand. For instance, if 75% of folks in a community already know a brand, then there is only a 3% bump in positive brand building among those viewing an ad.
These statistics point out a few things that an ISP entering a market should consider. First, how well do the folks in the community already know you? When residents hear your brand name, do they know you are an ISP and think of broadband? Do the residents have a positive or negative opinion of your company? These are things that can be measured in statistically valid surveys.
But many ISPs take the conservative approach that folks do not know their brand name and reputation. Even in communities where a significant number of residents might know them, they feel that they need to build brand name awareness among folks that do not know them.
The relatively low success rate of a single brand-building ad should remind an ISP that it has to find multiple ways to get the word out about them entering the market. The percentage of folks that will see any advertisement is small, and the incremental impact of brand-building only applies to those that see your ads. This means that a new ISP should leave no stone unturned. On top of the normal ad channels, ISPs should work hard to get stories about entering the market in the newspaper, on social media, and local TV. New ISPs shouldn’t miss opportunities to have a presence at any local events where lots of people gather.
The bottom line is that an ISP should assume that most people in a new market don’t know who they are. Even if they do, they probably won’t have an opinion if you are a good or bad ISP. In fact, if the community has experience with poorly performing incumbents, a new ISP should assume that folks will be skeptical of all ISPs.
It’s too easy to bring a fiber network to a new market and assume that folks will automatically flock to it. I’ve known ISPs who are shocked that they don’t get the flood of new customers they expected. ISPs need to take a page from Marketing 101 and build awareness of their brand name and plant the seed that it is not the same as the incumbents. ISPs that can make that connection with the public usually fare well.