How Buyapowa became the global leading telecoms referral marketing platform

Leading telecoms referral program

After just having returned from a very successful Mobile World Congress 2022, it’s interesting to reflect on just how Buyapowa got to become the global leading provider of referral and advocacy marketing platforms to the telecoms Industry.

If it hadn’t been for the hiatus caused by the outbreak of Covid in 2020, this would’ve been our fifth participation at the MWC Barcelona, not to mention that we’ve also exhibited at the MWCA in Los Angeles twice. And today, we are immensely proud to say that we power referral marketing for not only telecoms titans like T-Mobile US, Vodafone, BT, EE, Bell, Telus, Rogers, VTR and Wind, but also wholly owned MVNOs like Koodo, Fido, SMARTY, VOXI, 48, Vodafone X, and independent MVNOs like Red Bull Mobile, Lebara KSA and iD Mobile. And, of course, we not only work with mobile communications, but also across broadband, fiber, streaming, IOT and, increasingly, in the B2B space.

But it’s interesting to think that we hadn’t planned this from the start. Here’s what happened:

How we first got started with telecoms

We should begin with an admission. When we launched our first refer-a-friend platform back in 2015, we didn’t instinctively think of telecoms, nor did we have utilities, banks, insurers or gaming at the top of our mind. Of course that makes us smile when we think about it now, as those sectors today make up by far the greatest part of our global client base.

Actually, given that referral marketing is a means to take latent positive consumer sentiment and supercharge it, and turn it into an effective and low cost customer acquisition channel, we first thought of industries that you can classify as passion products like music, fashion, beauty, sports, food, wine etc. where people naturally and easily share discoveries and experiences with friends.

And although our first mobile telecoms client came about more or less by chance, we quickly realized that mobile telecoms was the perfect industry for referral because it’s typically:

  • A very competitive market with at least 3 or 4 mobile networks in each country, and that’s before we factor in MVNOs and specialist local or business providers;
  • Where these networks all compete for the same customers;
  • Where customers find it very difficult to distinguish between the offering of one mobile operator and another, given they can get almost identical coverage, and the same text limits and the same iPhones, Samsung Galaxys, Oppos and Xiaomi phones from just about all providers. And add to that, that the terms and conditions of many phone plans make comparison difficult – the sceptics amongst us might say that this is deliberately so;
  • And the CPAs from other marketing channels, including paid search, paid social, and from affiliates and comparison shopping sites, are excruciatingly high.

So how do telecoms brands differentiate themselves from the competition? Well, apart from expensive ATL campaigns and giving away stuff like cinema and concert tickets, one way to do this is to focus on customer service. Hence the fortune invested in measuring and improving customer satisfaction in telecoms over the past few years, and in particular in NPS. Customergauge recently reported these NPS scores in telecoms:

  • T-Mobile US: 82
  • Macquarie Telecom: 72
  • Vodafone: 60
  • Etc.

When the question is “how likely are you to recommend us on a scale of 0 to 10” and where, according to Bain & Company, any score above zero is good, above 50 is excellent and above 80 World Class, clearly these and many other telecoms brands have a pool of potential brand ambassadors ready and willing to advocate for the telecoms brand within their circles of social influence. All they need to tap into this net positive sentiment, is an effective and enticing referral program that takes that expressed NPS intention to recommend, and turns it into an actual referral that brings a new value added customer.

And to illustrate just how effective referral marketing can be for telecoms brands, we have seen some of our telecoms clients achieve up to 30% of all customer acquisition at up to 80% the cost of other customer channels. Of course, they do this by effectively promoting their program across all customer touchpoints, offering attractive referral rewards and incentives, and using engaging tools such as gamification, tiered rewards and booster campaigns to encourage repeat referrals.

OK, we admit those are best in class stats, but the point is, if you take all these steps, and you have the right software and support, you could achieve similar results.

But wait…surely referral marketing is nothing new in telecoms?

Of course, the well heralded success of referral marketing in contributing to making brands like Uber, Dropbox, Slack, Tesla and Airbnb the titans they are today, meant that most telecoms brands have long been aware of the potential of referral marketing. And many have already tried to build a program in-house.

Unfortunately, outside a few noticeable successes like giffgaff in the United Kingdom, many of those attempts proved to be unsuccessful. In some cases, the programs never launched, as the brand or their agency greatly underestimated the work, time and costs involved to create a first class referral platform with advanced features like gamification, data and analytics, A/B testing and back-end integrations.

Or where they did launch, results were disappointing. While there can be various reasons for failing to achieve acceptable performance benchmarks, such as the limitations of in-house software, or a lack of enticing rewards and incentives, the most common reason for failure was typically a lack of marketing to ensure that all customers were aware of the referral program in the first place. And then that they could easily find it when they looked for it, and that it naturally surfaced at moments when the customer was thinking positively about the brand and would be minded to refer.

As a result, we’ve replaced or rescued dozens of in-house or agency-built programs over the years, and the main thing to point out is that success in referral marketing is about so much more than just the software. Which is why Buyapowa offers all its clients a managed service where we can share our experience in powering referral and rewards programs for over 150 enterprise brands.

What telecoms brands need in a referral program

One of the reasons we have had so much success in the telecoms space is that working with so many telecoms brands meant we quickly understood what a telecoms referral program needs that you won’t find in many of the referral offerings in the market. This includes:

  • Because telecoms brands often pay out attractive high value rewards and incentives, such as cash and third party vouchers, this means it’s essential to only pay out for valid referrals. In other words, referrals that aren’t cancelled or are fraudulent, such as self referral. Typically, to ensure that a referral is valid, a post completion condition is attached, such as requiring that not only has the cooling off period passed, but one or two months bills have been paid. This requires that the referral program can integrate with the back end systems of the telecom to confirm these conditions are met before any reward is paid out;
  • Typically telecoms brands offer multiple product packages from SIM Only, Pre-paid, Post-paid, triple-play and quadruple-play etc., as well as different subscription periods from contract less to two or three year’s deals. Which means that referred-in customers do not all have the same value, and so a well-designed telecoms referral program will be able to pay out different rewards according to the package chosen by the referred-in customer. Also being able to pay out different rewards in the same program avoids the inefficiency of having to have a different program for each package or bundle;
  • Given that most telecoms brands invest a lot in brand building and developing customer satisfaction, it’s essential that the programs are white-label and don’t plaster the logos and colors of the supplier everywhere; and
  • As a regulated business, it’s vital that the referral program complies with all laws and regulations, in particular with regards to the use and storage of personal data, and sensitive personal data in particular. Which is why it’s important to work with an enterprise-level supplier that has been ISO certified, regularly pen-tested and is able to hold and store only hashed data.

These and other reasons, go a long way to explaining why Buyapowa has cemented its position as the referral platform supplier of choice for the telecoms industry.

Why the United Kingdom proved a great launch pad

Of course, we started our business in London in the United Kingdom, as that’s where we’re from. But with hindsight it was an excellent place to launch a SaaS start-up targeting the telecoms industry.

For a start, not only is the United Kingdom one of the countries with the highest rates of Internet usage and smartphone penetration, the United Kingdom telecoms industry has long had a reputation of being innovative since the days when the nations telecoms businesses played a key role in the adoption of the GSM standards, and it’s also the headquarters of the GSMA.

A particular feature of London is its vibrant conference and networking scene, which makes it easy to meet executives of telecoms companies, and the location of many corporate headquarters in and around London, given the short distance to Newbury, Maidenhead and Slough, meant we were able to quickly meet the the teams at our clients and work closely with them to set up and run efficient referral programs.

How we scaled from the United Kingdom

Having quickly established ourselves as the United Kingdom’s leading telecoms referral platform provider, we naturally looked to expand beyond our own borders. Key to this was establishing a local presence in key markets, not just in sales, but to be able to assist our clients with implementing and running their programs in their own language and time zone. This led us to acquire Canada’s Rewardstream, which was the leading provider of referral programs to the North American market, and to establish local teams in mainland Europe and LATAM.

Also, in our efforts to internationalize, we have made good use of the help and funding made available by the UK Department for International Trade, and its partner Tradefair, to exhibit at Conferences like the MWC and MWCA. This help has been very welcome for a fast growing business like Buyapowa and has enabled us to meet executives from global telecoms businesses and show them what we were doing with leading European and North American telecoms.

Today, a referral program is indispensable for a telecoms business as you can see from the examples in our list of 35 of the leading telecoms referral programs.

If you’re looking at a referral program for your telecoms brand then please feel free to reach out.

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