The Telecom CMOs: NSN's Barry French

11:00 AM Light Reading talks to Barry French, CMO of NSN, and finds out what the big marketing picture is for the vendor

March 2, 2012

4 Min Read
The Telecom CMOs: NSN's Barry French

11:00 AM -- The challenges facing Nokia Networks are well documented, but did they affect the company's marketing spend at MWC? Not a chance. Barry French, NSN's urbane and articulate CMO, explains why NSN (like its Euro-based competitors Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)) spent amounts approaching the Greek debt on its booth.

What is NSN's core message here at MWC?
It's all about our new strategy, our clear focus on mobile broadband and services. We are the company best positioned to provide innovation and quality since we're focusing on being the world specialist for mobile broadband.

What's the tie-in to the core NSN brand value?
That message is the new core value proposition of NSN brand. It's about innovation and quality though products like Flexi Zone, active antenna, and customer experience management. We're not going to be in the fixed business.

How much of marketing budget is tied up with MWC?
It's the biggest single expenditure by a considerable margin. When it comes to events, we've cut way back. But we've not cut back here. We are being efficient. What we value here is the ability to have high-level customer conversations, demos on the floor that show our great thought leadership, and meaningful conversations in conference rooms with the technology folks.

Is your marketing budget up, flat, or down this year?
Ours is down.

How do you measure telecom marketing effectiveness?
We have a number of things here in Barcelona. Typical feedback for us includes activity metrics, how many journalists and analyst meetings to see if we're getting the traction, and a very rigorous system of tracking leads, putting them in funnel and figuring out how much came out the other end.

What is your best marketing program in last six months?
There are two I love. Our liquid networks campaign captured people's imagination in articulating the way that the evolution of the network was going to play out, but with real products today. Our customer experience management program was extremely successful in enabling our sales teams to generate excitement with customers with the possibility of unleashing unutilized capacity in the network.

Best marketing program from competitor in last 12 months?
A year ago here, Alcatel-Lucent did a good job with lightRadio, particularly as it was a concept not productized.

Is social media actually driving marketing, or still in experimental phase?
Social media, especially involving the highest echelon of customers, can’t replace direct conversations. It is an excellent way to touch influencers at customers who we don't access directly, as well as influence external influencers like analysts.

What are you personally doing to blog, tweet, video blog, or market your brand?
I blog internally at NSN. At a show like this, I will tweet now and then. I've already done five tweets here at the show. Others here are more proficient than I am. It is hard to measure impact. [For corporate issue management, French said social media is a critical tool as NSN learned when during a controversy about Iran using its gear to monitor Iranian dissenters.] It is absolutely essential because of the speed and access you get to key players in the connected communities that quickly come together to advocate on specific issues.

How do you tie in marketing programs with service provider marketing aims?
We do a very small amount. When you look at our customers, they are very sophisticated consumer marketers. We don't have a lot to teach them. We're b2b, they know the consumer world very well. Our value is not there, but it's where our tools help telco CMOs to segment customers, collect network and billing data, and compile it in a way that you can identify slices of profitable customers and proactively offer targeted plans.

Which book on marketing would you recommend?
Most marketing books are nonsense, like "10 easy steps to marketing success," and such. If I want to think about business, I re-read classics from Michael Porter, like the Competitive Advantage of Nations.

What's the most important issue facing the telecom industry?
There is a fundamental shift in the infrastructure industry playing out over next few years. I think that we've stepped up and made important choices to focus our portfolio. The slowing of growth, the decline in gross margins, and the requirement of massive R&D ... you can't invest in all areas, and can't invest in areas that are losing money for so long. I believe we're ahead of the curve and you will be seeing others do the same.

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