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HOW A STRONG BRAND CAN HELP UK BROADBAND PROVIDERS IN THE CUSTOMER RACE

Clarity is proud of its long association and expertise in the broadband sector, particularly in the public affairs space. While it’s not always viewed as being as sexy as newer disruptive technology, Internet Service Providers, Mobile Network Operators and the underlying internet infrastructure are the foundations of our world. 

To celebrate this, Clarity recently organized a key event in the UK broadband sector’s calendar, the ISP Business Summit. The all-day conference brought together more than 150 senior sector representatives to debate and discuss key issues facing the industry. 

The event took place against an interesting backdrop as the race to build gigabit broadband networks is slowing for the first time in several years, and the investment cycle cools. While there were warnings of more challenges ahead, ISPs that are investing in sales, marketing and a strong brand can give themselves the edge as the race for customers picks up pace.  

A leading broadband sector

The UK was somewhat of a latecomer to upgrading its broadband infrastructure to ‘full fibre’ broadband, that is fibre-optic broadband that goes all the way to your doorstep. 

In January 2021 there was around 12% coverage; now the UK has passed 50%. While the UK is still behind some notable neighbors, including France and Spain, who have passed more than 75%, it is actually ahead of many other developed nations, including the U.S. and Germany. This is partly thanks to the efforts of scores of disruptive challengers across the country, generally known as ‘altnets’ - providers who have built their own fibre infrastructure, many of whom sell broadband directly to consumers. They, as well as the more established incumbent Openreach, cable operator VirginMediaO2, and some targeted government support, are investing up to £49bn collectively by 2030 in futureproof infrastructure.

Customers aren’t upgrading to full-fibre broadband

Despite how far the sector has come in a short space of time (or maybe because of that) there is a big conundrum hanging over it - how can broadband providers encourage customers to upgrade to full fibre so organizations can start to pay back investors? 

Take up has been stubbornly low, with some newer ISPs often finding 10% penetration rates for full-fibre, against an industry-wide 25%. This is not good news for ISPs looking for the next funding round.

The ISP Business Summit touched on many reasons for why this is: low awareness, existing broadband more than does the job for most, cost-of-living pressures mean customers are prioritizing value, the change doesn’t seem worth the hassle of waiting for an engineer booking, and there’s a lack of awareness of what full fibre broadband is. 

But ultimately, like most technological services, most people don’t really care about the tech or having the fastest, shiniest thing.They just want something that works. Policymakers made a number of sensible, well meaning recommendations two years ago, but still the problem of low uptake remains.

The power of a strong brand

One increasingly important part of the equation is brand. The event heard from disruptive challenger firms that had invested heavily in their brand to stand out from the competition and raise awareness of themselves from a starting point of being largely unknown. 

A great many ISPs are identikit and instantly forgettable - all that matters between them and their competitors is speed and price.

To stand out from the rest and help build brand loyalty, as well as educating around the value of full-fibre, providers need to think boldly and act differently. 

Management teams may have to change to get sales and marketing people in senior leadership positions, or invest in comms and brand experts. The current economic situation means revamping a brand could feel unattainable right now, but if the brand refresh can be aligned specifically with business objectives, for example, repositioning the ISP to increase uptake of full-fibre, therefore shifting the needle of the bottom line). 

Other learnings shared were around the value of thinking creatively about how to fund new branding, for example by offering shares in the company, alongside the benefits of daring to differ with bold designs and branding.

Broadband shouldn’t be boring

Broadband as a sector suffers from several reputation issues. Public sentiment is that it’s boring at its best and frustrating when it doesn’t work as it should. An ISP’s branding should turn this on its head and embrace the value of connectivity - upgrading local communities, transforming how we live and work, supporting vulnerable customers and disrupting the market. 

There is no silver bullet that creates the perfect broadband brand because it should be unique as the company itself, As well, more than anything, our hunger for data and how we live our everyday lives online will ultimately drive people to upgrading to full-fibre at some point in time. But before then, ISPs looking to increase their customer share could do worse than invest all they can into positioning their brand for success.
Want to find out more about how we can support your broadband company to find its unique voice and brand? Contact us here.

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