By Milind Kangle, CEO, Lycamobile

As the global economy continues on its arduous road to recovery and focus both politically and economically falls on sustainable growth; it’s important to take a moment to not lament the losses brought about by the worst financial recession in decades, but instead look to lessons from the survivors – even the prosperous – during troubled times.

MVNOs particularly are a fascinating case study in growing business against the backdrop of a downturning economy. To give you some context, MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) rent out unused parts of the mobile spectrum to offer new bespoke services to specific groups of customers at invariably much more attractive prices. Nimble and unsaddled with the burden of ownership, they are able to broker cheaper deals, achieve broader span and provide a more personal experience for the end user.

I believe that many MVNOs weathered the economic storm because – in general – they are building their businesses around their customers, and making lives easier. This is true of any business model: the ability to change with your customer and adapt to their needs is paramount to success. Provide them with solutions, not problems.
Employ your customer

My Chairman, Subaskaran Allirajah, and I founded the international MVNO Lycamobile in 2006 with ourselves in mind as the target customer. This immediate understanding of our customers’ problem –huge call charges to speak to our families abroad - left us with an opportunity to solve it in the best way possible. It is essential that the entire team: every director, supplier, marketer, researcher is fully engaged in the vision of not just the company but also the customer; from providing or marketing a new product or service to offering expert advice. The spirit of problem-solving that sparked the business at the beginning needs to remain at the core of the company and must be encouraged throughout.

Try to employ from your customer pool: it will be in their best interests to be as excellent as they can possibly be. As customers they think “wouldn’t it be great if...”; as innovators they think “let’s do it”.
Adapt to your market: be relevant

Getting to know your customers so well that you can anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations provides obvious rewards: in our business alone, 48 per cent of new customer acquisitions are a direct result of a friend or family recommendation (YouGov 2012). A deep understanding of people rather than segments also means that when investigating expansion, your market research is already done.

Our launch in the USA this year, for example, was borne specifically from our implicit understanding of our customers’ needs. For example, we knew that there were 15 million potential customers in the US currently using calling cards at an exceptionally low call quality. Among them are two million from India, a market we already understand and engage with as our number one calling destination for UK customers.

Similarly, the Hispanic market – one which is already familiar to us through our success in Spain and Portugal – holds a huge amount of promise collectively holding $1.2 trillion purchasing power in the US.

In your marketing department, employ teams dedicated to building relationships with the communities you serve comprised of people who are part of that community themselves. Hire experts, not employees, and treat them as such. They need to understand not just the need for a service but how your customers tick: the events they actually get excited about, the charities they are passionate about and the prizes they really want to win.

It is businesses which are built around their target market and provide the best possible ways of doing things, which will not only prosper but will set a standard for their industry. It is these businesses which make people’s lives easier, cheaper, more enjoyable that defy economic downturns and debt crises, increase market share and deserve to be recognised as not simply having an important economic role, but an important social role as well.

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