Special report: Marketing in Western Canada: SaskTel gets head start on fighting competition

Real Savings plan lets customers save on long distance in two waysSaskTel, another telephone company threatened with the loss of its provincial monopoly, is hoping a new advertising campaign will encourage loyalty among its customers when it goes up against future...

Real Savings plan lets customers save on long distance in two ways

SaskTel, another telephone company threatened with the loss of its provincial monopoly, is hoping a new advertising campaign will encourage loyalty among its customers when it goes up against future competitors.

The provincial telephone company suspects that a two- to three-year moratorium on long-distance telephone service competition in Saskatchewan may be rescinded some time in the next 10 months and it wants to discourage its customers from even contemplating switching suppliers.

So SaskTel has gone ahead with an aggressive marketing campaign to fend off competition that does not yet exist, and part of that campaign is to use real people to promote what it calls its ‘Real Savings’ plan.

The SaskTel Real Savings plan, started last spring, lets customers save on monthly long-distance bills, and accumulate points that can be applied later to further reduce their bills.

‘When we initiated this campaign, we thought there could be competition as early as January 1, 1995,’ says John Haiggs, advertising manager at SaskTel.

‘The whole thing is a bit of a question mark, but we wanted to get this plan out to our customers as quickly as possible,’ Haiggs says.

The loyalty plan includes a 15% savings on all calls to all locations, and 20% off calls to the three numbers on which the most money is spent.

Customers earn 100 points for every dollar spent on long-distance calls, which they can have credited to a future bill.

Time-of-day savings will also be in effect.

Members can sign up for the Real Savings program by returning a postage-paid reply card or by calling a 1-800 number.

The plan was promoted throughout last year, starting in May, with an extensive tv, radio, print and outdoor campaign created by the Brown Communications Group of Regina.

Five tv spots were created for the campaign, starting with a preliminary teaser that let customers know something was coming from the telephone company.

The teaser, which ran for 10 days, was a scrolled-text execution that introduced the theme of the campaign, but without divulging the name of the plan.

Four following spots used real Saskatchewan residents to promote the plan from first-hand experience.

The first two profile typical customers and include types such as a young couple, an elderly woman, and a middle-aged man with a thick Hungarian accent.

‘These ads simply said `Here’s the plan and here’s what it can do for you,’ ‘ Haiggs says.

The second two appeared later in the year and featured the same people giving testimonials on the savings they had received on the Real Savings plan.

‘It seemed very natural to use real people, [given] the product name,’ says Ken Christoffel, president of the Brown Communications Group, and the SaskTel account manager.

‘We wanted to make it as realistic and as relevant as possible for the market we were aiming at,’ Christoffel says. ‘We wanted something they could identify with.

‘Quite often, this type of campaign would have been generated by the Stentor Alliance [the consortium of nine Canadian telephone companies,]‘ Haiggs says.

‘Because we were the first to launch, we decided to go with what we felt comfortable with – the look and feel of Saskatchewan people,’ he says.

Christoffel notes that although there is ‘no gloss’ to the ads and the lines may have been delivered a little stiffly, there is an authentic feel to them, which appeals to people in Saskatchewan.

The print ads do use models, but they were chosen for being ‘ordinary-looking.’

One ad shows a dancing older couple, while another shows a casually dressed young woman.

Radio spots promoted SaskTel’s 1-800 Real Savings membership number, and billboards were used to raise the awareness level of the program.

SaskTel also used mailers extensively.

SaskTel divided the market of 390,000 residential customers into three categories of high, moderate and low long-distance users.

Households with higher long-distance bills were given extra attention with follow-up telemarketing calls.

‘That is the group, of course, that it is more important for us to retain,’ Haiggs says.

Although the results cannot be tested until competition is established, SaskTel says the loyalty-promoting Real Savings plan has far exceeded its expectations.

‘We [signed up] approximately 85% of our primary target market on the plan in the first year,’ Haiggs says.

At the time SaskTel rolled out its own campaign, other telephone companies across the country were also developing strategies to promote their own loyalty campaigns.

The SaskTel Real Savings campaign is actually the local version of a greater Stentor Alliance program that was eventually named the Real Plus campaign, and SaskTel was forced to tweak its advertising to include that name.

‘It was really very easy to convert our customers from the Real Savings program to the name Real Plus,’ Haiggs says.

Christoffel agrees: ‘To a great extent, the creative had to be developed without a finalized name. We were confident that the `Real’ was going to be used somehow.’

Although the success of SaskTel’s campaign may not be measurable until its monopoly ends, the telephone company is pleased with its accomplishment and confident its efforts were a good investment.

‘It was a major team effort for SaskTel to put all these things together in a fairly short time period and not only launch, but with some excellence,’ Haiggs says.