The opportunities for telco’s in light of COVID-19

Douglas Nicol
October 12, 2020
Over the shoulder shot of someone using a smart phone

Choosing a mobile or internet provider used to be a relatively small decision in life prior to the COVID-19 era. Our needs were simpler, and the impact of a bad decision was limited. Choosing a telco today, however, carries a lot more weight. No longer the dumb pipe, they’ve become a lifeline to a rapidly digitizing world – and a strangely disconnected one.

Interestingly, some appear to have overlooked this change in their status and the responsibility – and wealth of opportunity – that comes with it. We’ve been examining the opportunities at The Works as part of Course Corrector – a research and analytics initiative which aggregates first-party survey, search and social sentiment data across seven different industry categories.

Some eye-opening learnings have led me to conclude that it’s time for telcos to move out of crisis mode and into creative mode to redefine their value proposition for our new needs in the post-COVID-19 era.

Netflix (and Amazon and Stan and Disney+) and chill

We’re lucky to be living in a golden age of TV. The deep pockets of global streaming services has allowed for an endless stream(ing) of new content that has served us pretty well over the last six months. I expect, however, 2021 will see us fall off a ‘content cliff’ due to the lack of new episodes and movies being filmed in 2020. Soon, consumers will find themselves caught in the agonizing indecision of trying to find new content that they haven’t already seen and that suits their taste.

Using Course Corrector, we get a snapshot of what streaming services Australians have been signing up to in the last three months. Overall, some 27% of Australians have signed up for an additional service. Not surprisingly, Netflix has led the growth, but we can also see a quiet achiever in Amazon Prime, which is benefitting from the boom in ecommerce. Free delivery with Prime Membership also allows access to their streaming service – a win-win for Amazon’s footprint in Australia.

Person with feet up streaming Netflix on their TV

Streaming services we’ve signed up to during COVID-19

Chart: Streaming services we’ve signed up to during COVID-19

The sign-up numbers aren’t great for Quibi, the new mobile-only streaming service from Hollywood heavyweight Jeffrey Katzenberg. Unfortunately, the death of the commuter and working from home has robbed Quibi of its potential in-transit audience.  

The opportunity for telco’s to create value:
Help customers find good content and viewing recommendations across their many streaming subscriptions.

For example, promising start-up Vuniverse uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to curate viewing recommendations across five different streaming services. This will be an invaluable service as we all fall off the ‘content cliff’ in 2021.

Lost connections

While technology has given humanity a great utility during COVID-19, it has also robbed us of something quite basic: emotional human interactions. Feeling connected to other people is a core part of our own self-actualisation because it affirms our value and purpose in life. Curiously, the technology designed to make us feel hyperconnected has led us to feel more disconnected than ever before.

While it’s clear from Course Corrector that people feel technology has given them a wealth of information and entertainment sources, its ability to facilitate connection to friends and family, and colleagues, is still lacking. Well over a quarter (35%) of Australian adults feel like they’ve had less contact with friends and family during COVID-19, and 58% rated their connection to work and colleagues as poor. In Victoria, where the second lockdown has imposed stricter isolation among its citizens, you can see the effects of quarantine more clearly, with almost half (48%) affirming they’ve had less contact with friends and family.

A queue of people seated outdoors, scrolling on their smart phones

Contact and communication with family and friends during COVID-19 - Victoria

Pie Chart: Contact and communication with family and friends during COVID-19 - Victoria

Already, the impacts of our feelings of disconnection are starting to show with a wave of negative mental health outcomes on the horizon. The Black Dog Institute estimates between 25-35% of the community are experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety based on community behaviour during other pandemics. We see a similar outcome from Course Corrector, with 31% expressing feelings of worry, frustration and despair about their mental health.

How are we feeling about our mental health?

Chart: How are we feeling about our mental health?
The opportunity for telco’s to create value
If telco’s want to build brand differentiation they need to move from being an enabler of disconnection to an enabler of human emotional connection.

Optus is taking a step in the right direction with Australia’s first text-based counselling service, Virtual Psychologist, designed to support wellbeing and mental health in rural and remote parts of the country.

Re-defining your value proposition

Is it time to go back to the basics to develop better telco value propositions? I believe a strong value proposition in any product or offer should consist of three core elements:

  1. Superior utility: does the core functionality deliver better?
  2. Emotional insight: is there a powerful human truth hard wired into the proposition?
  3. $ win–win: where the consumer can clearly see financial value but also how the telco makes money

To access the opportunities available to them, telcos will need to live a bit more in the changed mind and mood of Australian consumers. The first step will be to recognise their newfound power and influence in our lives, before preparing to make meaningful change that won’t simply better our connections, but better our lives in the long term.

Written by

Douglas Nicol
Douglas Nicol
Douglas is a digital, direct and CX marketer and self-confessed data nerd. He loves using data and technology to solve client problems and has a special passion for emerging technology including chatbots and voice. Douglas also co-hosts the tech and innovation podcast, Smartdust.

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