National mobile carrier Vodafone has taken another significant step to ditching the ‘3’ brand it inherited with its merger with Hutchison, radically overhauling the brand’s separate website and revealing plans to sign up no further new customers using the ‘3’ labelling.
Visitors to the ‘3’ website are currently greeted with a large banner advising them that the company has “taken the next step in our journey to one brand — Vodafone” — with an explanatory page giving further details of how the company will change the way it deals with customers over the next while. This story was first broken by iTechReport.
“It’s now been two years since we brought 3 and Vodafone together,” the site states. “Over the next few months you’ll start to see the distinctive red Vodafone logo along with the 3 logo, in places such as this website, when you recharge and on your monthly bill. It’s all part of moving to one brand.”
In a practical sense, the company noted, nothing would change for current ‘3’ customers — including access to ‘3’ services such as ‘My 3’ and ‘Planet 3’. Even prepaid customers will be able to recharge their SIM cards in the same way — or through Vodafone stores, as well, for example. However, no new customers will be able to join using the ‘3’ brand. “We’ve taken the next exciting step on our journey towards one brand: Vodafone, which means that all new connections for any new customers will now be to Vodafone,” a frequently asked document on the ‘3’ site states.
To support the campaign, Vodafone has enlisted the support of cricketer Adam Gilchrist, who was one of the most prominent faces of ‘3’. “For over five years I was really happy on 3. And after they got together with Vodafone two years ago, they asked me if I’d like to make the move over,” Gilchrist says in a testimonial posted on a Vodafone sub-site advising ‘3’ customers how they can shift to Vodafone. “My experience on Vodafone has been great.”
The plans mark one of the final steps in a long and gradual migration process towards the Vodafone master brand for the merged company.
When the merger took place several years ago, Vodafone management confirmed a long-term plan was in place to shutter the ‘3’ brand. However, as late as May last year, the company’s chief executive Nigel Dews wasn’t able to disclose the precise timeframe for the change, noting only that a number of steps would be taken toward the goal in 2010 — such as selling both brands through its joint distribution channels and beginning to “reposition” the Vodafone brand.
The news marks the end of one of the most persistent challenger brands in Australia’s mobile market.
Hutchison (‘3’) shook up the market in the early years of last decade when it introduced Australia’s first third-generation (3G) mobile network, at a time when other telcos such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone were focused primarily on voice and text services. Since that time, all of the other telcos have strongly embraced 3G services and are currently marching towards the 4G class of services based on the Long-Term Evolution standard.
Branding as ‘3’, Hutchison was able to attract significant customer numbers and content offerings on its network — and quite a number of customers are still believed to be loyal to the ‘3’ brand.
To be honest, I think in many ways Vodafone will have done itself a bit of a disservice by shuttering the ‘3’ brand. Over the years, the brand had earned itself a reputation with the early adopter crowd, and many of us were seduced by the ability to sign up with a mobile telco which wasn’t one of the big anonymous companies like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
With Optus operating the cut-rate Virgin Mobile sub-brand, and Telstra investigating wholesaling its premium Next G network, one wonders whether there might have been potential for the overarching VHA company to operate two brands in Australia, with ‘3’ being focused at the premium end of the market where Telstra and Optus sit, and the Vodafone brand itself being positioned to take on the Virgins, amaysims and perhaps the Dodos of this world.
The performance woes suffered on Vodafone’s network late last year and earlier this year have no doubt also destroyed a significant amount of value inherent to Vodafone’s brand in Australia. Nobody wants to sign up with Vodafone right now, and many rats have been jumping off the sinking ship — but I suspect that they might have been a little more willing to go for a deal with ‘3’. Plus, you expect poor service from a cut-rate operator, and Vodafone is definitely positioning itself into a price war with the likes of Virgin and Optus.
With no ‘premium’ brand to its name, and with its main brand being devalued by customers, one wonders what potential there is for Vodafone to maintain its every-important margins in the Australian market. It may come to regret shuttering ‘3’ in the long-term. Then again, perhaps operating two brands for a company this size would have been a waste of resources and confusing for customers. I guess we’ll never know ;)
Image credit: Vodafone