Mates rates: Vodafone uses friendship to pull in the youth market

Every telco wants to get its claws on the mobile savvy millennial market, and Vodafone is no different. 

To do this, the red telco has just launched a new offering called Vodafone Mates, allowing customers to choose from a range of flexible prepay plans and giving them the ability to dial up or down their data, texts and minutes to suit their needs. In fact, there are 160 different combinations available through the My Vodafone app.  

Vodafone Mates will also offer a range of rewards, including a 500MB data bonus every time customers under 25 tops up $20 or more on Vodafone Mates Prepay.

The telco launched two ads today, one directing people to its Vodafone Mates webpage and the other, featuring interviews with young mobile users about how they use their devices and what they want out of their mobile plans.

This campaign comes at a busy time for Vodafone (and FCB), with the brand recently launching Vodafone Xone, a business accelerator programme by telling the story of Kiwi entrepreneurs taking their startups to the market, as well as a campaign trumpeting the reliability of its 4G network last month.

Shields says Vodafone’s core audience for the latest campaign consists of 16- to 24-year-olds, but the packages are available to anybody.

As part of the rollout, the telco is launching a search to find New Zealand’s ‘Best Best Mate’ next Monday, where it will select someone who is prepared to maroon themselves on a barge in Auckland Harbour for a week in August in an act of self-sacrifice, so that three of their friends can enjoy a fun time at a tropical island in Fiji.

“Friendship has always been really important to Kiwis and young adults but we are going to find a particular group of mates and offer a fantastic holiday in Fiji but one of those mates will really have to prove themselves as New Zealand’s Best Best Mate by marooning themselves,” she says.

“They will do challenges allowing friends to have a great time in Fiji. So [they are]really putting themselves on the line and showing their commitment to mateship.”

Shields says in regard to the new plans, structured prepay plans, with a set amount of minutes, data and txts, were popular with New Zealanders, but didn’t always fit the needs of young kiwis, with a growing appetite for data over minutes and texts.

“Our customers are looking for much more flexibility in prepay, so they can design a plan that suits them,” she says. “Vodafone Mates is all about delivering that flexibility, and we think young Kiwis are going to love it.”

She says the decision to offer customisable plans came after Vodafone conducted research over the past few months, including speaking to the youth market about their needs.

So, is Vodafone struggling to attract a younger market?

“Not at all,” says Shields.

“I think Vodafone has always been quite a youthful company and [has attracted] a youthful culture and that’s always been really important for us and in this case we are designing something really specific for young teens and adults. And we spoke to hundreds of young people and they said communication is changing and it’s more about images and social media and data is increasing and we need to be flexible with their plans.”

Attracting the youth market is important for customer longevity. In much the same way that banks go to great lengths to attract younger customers during orientation week at different universities, telcos also look to get younger consumers locked in. The reason being that while it is becoming easier to switch from one provider to another, it still has the perception of being a burdensome procedure.

Vodafone isn’t the only telco making a big youth push in its marketing, with Spark also investing heavily in this space across a number of campaigns. 

The most noteworthy effort from Spark was the 2014 launch of The Boroughs, which is being brought to life—somewhat slowly—in partnership with Auckland Council. 

Spark has also attempted to attract a younger market through package deals, which include Spotify or Lightbox bundles, and it is also pushing its affiliation to music culture through events such as Auckland City Limits and Rhythm & Vines.

Music also plays an important part in Vodafone’s marketing plan, as evidenced by its long-standing sponsorship of the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. And 2degrees has also struck up a fruitful partnership with iHeartRadio, bringing a host of international artists to New Zelanand.  

What these experience do is provide a tie-in to the over-arching strategy that technology facilitates experiences. It’s worth remembering that it wasn’t long ago that these two telcos were squabbling about which one had the biggest 4G network. 

But as the industry has evolved, the conversation has shifted from who has the best tech to who offers the best experience. 

While all the players are doing a pretty good job of providing unique experiences to consumers, it will be interesting to see if younger customers are drawn to Vodafone by the ability to exercise greater control of their usage.

Vodafone will certainly hope so, given that 2015 Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report showed Spark was gaining ground on its competitor.  

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