The Empire Strikes Back: Can Telcos Power the “Outernet”?

Before you could scan a QR code and get someone’s contact details automatically stored in your smartphone... Before you could Google Search, shortlist, choose, chat, and set an appointment with a plumber within a few minutes… there was this advertising legend.
The Yellow Pages was the original king of hyperlocal advertising. Owned by the major telco companies, it was probably the most effective way for local businesses to reach relevant consumers.
Then came the internet and typing out search terms replaced flipping pages. The advertising dollars too shifted to bolstering brands’ virtual presences. The fact that advertisers can now measure and improve their advertising spends only served to hasten this shift.
Search Advertising, which Google very much dominates, is expected to reach a total market size of US$142.5 billion in 2021. Search, at 46% share, remains the biggest component of the digital advertising market.
Today, the telcos are being faced with a new business challenge. While the technology used to be the major differentiator - quality and availability of the networks - these core aspects are now much more commoditised.
It wasn’t just the advertising business that was disrupted by the internet. The telco empire was built on the staple services of voice and messaging. The second battle saw the rise of the app store wipe out this empire. OTT players with more attractive instant messaging and video calling apps cannibalised these traditional telco revenues.
Can Telcos wrest back control by powering the digital communication platform?
Telcos are now reinventing themselves as internet companies or technology solution providers by providing value-added services to both consumers and other businesses. But while connectivity remains at the heart of the telco business, they are less experienced in building and monetising value-added services.
While the focus is very much on 5G, which is set to transform just about every commercial vertical, there is an opportunity for telcos to go beyond just powering “connections” to building the new digital communication platform.
The “Outernet” is an internal term that we have coined to describe the connectivity and personalisation happening in physical spaces. This is being driven by the rise of digital signage in just about every environment.
Outdoor advertising was another advertising giant disrupted by the shift of media spends to digital. Ironically, it is undergoing its own digital transformation to attract the same spends.
We believe the telcos actually have a headstart in this space and it is an opportunity for them to build a complete online-to-offline communication solution that addresses every brand-consumer touchpoint. Most of the components are already in place:
Programmable Digital Signage
The first piece of the building block is the huge presence of digital signage across these retail stores. While these are currently used to promote new phone launches or consumer deals, they can easily be turned into a hyperlocal advertising solution for SMEs and other nearby businesses.
Location Data
Most telco companies have already set-up internal business units to develop their digital-services portfolio. The biggest trend is in pursuing adjacent verticals such as media and consumer analytics. Telco companies sit on huge databases that could provide consumer insights around movement, app-usage, and purchase-intent behaviour.
Hyperlocal SMS Advertising
The above components can easily be packaged with SMS advertising to create a unique hyperlocal media solution for local businesses and digital brands alike.
SMEs and local businesses cannot compete with the larger brands in terms of marketing budgets, but they still require a solution that enables them to physically reach consumers around their locations. Meanwhile, digital-born brands have a need for physical touchpoints to influence consumers in the offline world.
Feet on the Ground
Major telco brands have a significant physical presence with sales and customer experience centres located in CBD areas, shopping malls, and even airports. Some of them are already overhauling or shutting down these locations as they look to drive sales via digital sales instead.
However, by having a physical presence, telcos can offer a customer touchpoint solution that most internet brands cannot.
Additionally, with the telcos themselves now building small business software and connectivity solutions, this advertising solution can close the loop between reaching out to consumers and connecting to actual conversions.
The arsenal for the Empire to Strike Back is ready. At Moving Walls, we are already adding the programming capability to digital signage across the globe. Location data and IoT sensor placements have helped us deliver personalised content experiences. Meanwhile, our programmatic OOH solution has powered campaigns for brands that don’t traditionally use digital signage.
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