Have you heard the one about the Norwegian, the Arab and the Chinaman? Unlike the many fables of the Englishman, Irishman and Scot, this one hits closer to home and includes special mention of a confused “American-Pakistani turned Egyptian-Pakistani turned Russian-Egyptian-Pakistani” and a Pakistani-Emirati.
Now the tale could begin with the customary “Once upon a time” line, but that would just end up becoming a drag post; too long to read and too tired at the end to comment. So let’s begin around the year 2005; the boom times of Pakistan, or at least the illusionary boom time.
These were interesting times. The confused Pakistani was in his middle transition and enjoying a strong place in the market. Its main competitor was still a Pakistani, although in the budding stages of acquiring Emirati status. The two players jostled the local consumer with high rates and long lines to acquire a GSM SIM card; a commodity that was considered as valuable as anything else, and in recent years has gained the status of an asset.
Then Big Brother of Pakistan decided to open the market for more players, and make a lot of money along the way. However, becoming a player required a license which had a nominal fee. And this is where entered the Norwegian and the Arab. There was another dude who got a license, but could not play the game as well and ended up selling his soul to the Chinaman.
So, the market of two became the arena of five. The confused Pakistani was least bothered on the face; either because of the fat ego it carried or because it just didn’t know what to radically say or do. The other Pakistani was like a sugar-filled kid, screaming every week at its customers with offers of nonsense, and devising comedic satires to ensure recognition.
The Norwegian was an old veteran with over 100 years of player experience in the markets of many countries. He took a steady approach to the local arena by spending almost a year taking a scenic drive around the country.
Along the way, he spoke to people and asked about their needs, while picking up on their behaviors so he could also act local. At the end of his journey, the Norwegian sat on his big table to reflect on what he had learnt from the locals, and found that while the cities had large population to adopt his goods early and quickly, the rural areas offered greater opportunities for the future.
Furthermore, he realized that the people liked control; so the more variety and choice that he could offer, the better the response he would get from the people. Thus, he began by selling his wares first in the cities, but then developing the network in the rural areas that had remained neglected by other players.
A few years into the operations, the Norwegian saw that people wanted convenience with sending payments. Using the technology at his disposal, the Norwegian bought a microfinance bank and began money transfer services, which evolved recently into branchless banking. The focus remained with the rural segment that ends up devoid of basic functions the urban population takes as standard.
As of date, the future is bright for the Norwegian as he has managed to recoup his initial investment and maintained a steady growth rate in customer numbers. While he still has to work out some kinks in customer service, he has a solid foundation and strategy to complete his vision.
Flush with oil wealth, the Arab already had his fingers in many pies in 2005 and was on the lookout for ventures that would yield yet more returns. So he came to Pakistan and bought a license to become a player in the market.
The Arab had little experience of the GSM arena against the other players, but was willing to compete actively. His vision differed from the Norwegian by focusing on the corporate and high-end users, as like his own tastes he was more attracted to pomp and show and glamour.
With strong competition in the market, the Arab decided to use his other ventures in a bid to boost customers. He pumped subscriptions through his banking arm to all account holders and staff, inducting the banking workforce as another sales team. At the same time, he made sure that his network was stable and of good quality, with acknowledgement from all in the market.
However, he did not have the marketing know-how to become a dominant player and after reaching a certain point, has become dormant.
2008 brought the global financial crisis (GFC) and some of the pies turned sour for the Arab, causing him to lose money. This meant a dearth of funds to invest in technology and innovation, and the usual corporate penchant for cost-cutting.
The Arab remains a silent player of the market; twice being rumored to have been holding talks of marrying the Norwegian or the confused Pakistani, he still remains single and has recently prompted whispers of resurgence fuelled by further equity injection and a new management vision.
In the midst of this market battle, the Chinaman resembles the true underdog. A late entrant after buying the washed-out soul of a dried-out player, the Chinaman brought his home country knowledge and expertise to differentiate his offerings.
While all undermined his understanding of the local market, the Chinaman has in recent months confounded those thoughts and become the most aggressive one among the 5.
While low price is one reason, it is the clarity of vision and strategy of marketing that the Chinaman has applied, following the Norwegian in the rural areas, and appealing to the middle-class consumers nationwide.
The China man has used the effort to concentrate on products and solutions. Watch out for the China man; he is planning something big and could trump a few in the coming months.
In the end, the market is becoming saturated and the 5 players are finding it hard to milk the same consumers for more money without anything new. A fresh version of G is discussed more than it should be, but with no interest of further investment by any of the 5, diversity could be the short-term key to achieve something.
Everyone is looking for that happy ending; will it be the confused Pakistani or the Norwegian to become the public favorite, will the Chinaman wallop both with its arsenal, will the Pakistani-Emirati offer something serious, or will it be the Arab who uses more money to wipe everyone out from the arena?