It has been a long journey for Telkom, since the company was hived off the moribund Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Company (KPTC)

Kenyans love free lunches, don’t they? Therefore, what better way to bait them to a new or refurbished product, than by promising them freebies! This seems to be the marketing prank of internet service provider “Telkom”, after it rebranded its name from “Telkom Kenya”.

But even with the freebies, there are not many takers yet. I do not think there has been a mass exodus from Telkom’s ultra-capitalistic competitors. The mass market is still held captive by expensive mobile service providers. So, what’s in a name, and what makes people attracted to it?

Mid last year, Helios Investment Partners and the Kenya Government bought off Telkom Kenya’s inheritor, Orange Kenya, on a 60 to 40 percent ownership basis. The two have since been searching for a new name for the new outfit.

It has been a long journey for Telkom, since the company was hived off the moribund Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Company (KPTC) in 1999. KPTC was a government company that provided telecommunication and postal services across the country. After privatization, the company split into Telekoms Kenya, Kenya Postal Corporation and the Communication Commission of Kenya, now Communications Authority of Kenya.

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But it looks like Telkom’s previous legacy of lethargy and gross loss making has refused to go away. The Telco has been unable to take off, even with apparent Government goodwill. The company is stuck in an innovation vacuum that needs more than capital to fill. But good ideas cost a lot of time and money, a culture that does not seem to have been inculcated in the telco’s strategists. Well, apart from the creative TV commercial!

Now, brands are tricky! Rebranding, by and in itself, is not a definite game changer. Oftentimes, cheap is expensive. In addition to value for money, there must be significant value addition by the service or product in the lives of the client. Even with rock bottom tariffs, people used to, for instance, the expensive convenience of Safaricom, are still reluctant to make the shift. Telkom needs to find the magic words, if you know what am saying!

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