Image fix for telecoms

Design has a vital role to play in improving telecommunications companies’ images worldwide as the pace of change quickens and competition hots up from the media industry, says Wolff Olins.

Wolff Olins surveyed 50 companies from the 1995 Fortune 500 for its report on business users’ perceptions of the major telecommunications suppliers.

Half the respondents claimed that companies are technology-driven rather than customer-focused. This leaves the industry vulnerable to new entrants such as media or software organisations, the survey says.

Of those surveyed, 68 per cent saw media and entertainment groups as the biggest threat to existing telecoms companies.

“Entertainment companies with high and exciting profiles will make telecommunications companies rethink their identities,” says Wolff Olins telecoms consultant Philip Orwell.

A Mercury Communications spokesman adds: “Competition means that companies now see brand management [instead of technology] as the area where they have to invest. Competition makes telecoms brands much more important in influencing customers’ perceptions.” Mercury’s own identity was redesigned earlier this year by Forster Cavendish.

A fifth of the respondents felt that the industry may be changing too quickly, leading to confusion for customers. “The role of design is to cut through that confusion,” says Orwell. He cited Orange, whose identity was created by Wolff Olins, as the only company to make a serious attempt to help people understand. “They treat clarity as fundamental,” he says.

As national telecoms groups attempt to internationalise, the most critical issue they face is their global culture, according to the survey. While some groups are seen as too monolithic for a 1990s market, others suffer from an image which is too localised.

“Telecommunications companies with strong national identifiers in their names or brands, such as Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, have little or no equity beyond their national borders,” says the report.

There is now the opportunity to be global with a different style – less dominant and arrogant and more fluid, says Orwell, who pin-points BT as achieving this.

“Telecommunications companies who are not quick to adapt [to the changing culture] are the most threatened,” he says.

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