Positioning of KPN, the right course or empty words?

Positioning of KPN, the right course or empty words?

Do you know KPN’s core values? Even if people are aware of these core values, it’s still questionable whether they truly associate them with the former state-owned company. The company is facing challenges, as it often does, but according to CEO Blok, it has a course where they “show how our products and services enrich life and add value to society.” The need for change has been evident at KPN for years, but why have all the efforts not yet yielded results? We examine KPN’s positioning and provide answers to whether this is the right course from that perspective.

KPN’s Core Values

KPN has been promoting the core values of ‘personal, simplicity, and trust’ for years, and its marketing and communication efforts consistently align with these themes. However, the crucial question is whether KPN’s target audiences still associate terms like ‘personal’ and ‘trust’ with the organization after all these years. KPN uses the Net Promotor Score (NPS) as a tool for this purpose and has been focusing on it for years. The 2011 annual report even set a goal to achieve a positive score by 2013. This was not accomplished, as in 2013, the company still had an overall score of -10, but they managed to improve it to an average of -3 for 2014. The company celebrates an ‘all-time high,’ but in the business segment, for example, they still have a score of -13. How proud can you be of that improvement in the average?

KPN’s Strategy and Positioning

The customer relationship is also central to KPN’s strategy and positioning. The “strengthen, simplify, grow” strategy is quite clear. KPN aims to grow by strengthening customer relationships—through ‘operational excellence’ and rewarding loyalty—while improving its networks and thereby its competitive position. However, they must simplify their products and services to achieve this. It’s not a complex story, but it’s based on the assumption that KPN can truly make its core values resonate with its customers, and we have our doubts about that. The company cites operational excellence as a core tool, but we believe that a focus on efficiency may not have the desired impact on customer satisfaction.

Competition with Vodafone

Merkelijkheid is a customer of Vodafone. Not because we think they are better than KPN, but it’s more of a ‘in the land of the blind’ situation. However, Vodafone adopts a completely different tone, even in its annual report. The CEO appears in a red Vodafone polo and talks about how essential attracting good personnel makes or breaks his success. This is a world apart from KPN’s highly strategic narrative. Moreover, Vodafone seems to be clearer about both results and ambitions, while KPN tends to ‘hide’ certain aspects.

In all other respects, the companies are the same. Roughly the same message, strategic direction, and goals, even their positioning and core values align. Therefore, the two telecom giants are competing for the exact same spot in the market.

KPN’s Positioning: The Right Course or a Hollow Promise?

Significant layoffs and a fundamentally steadfast strategic course give us confidence in the company’s future. However, when it comes to positioning and communication, the company is missing many opportunities. We also have serious doubts about KPN’s chances in the positioning battle with Vodafone, simply because Vodafone is capable of being personal and clear in its communication.

The answer to the question of whether KPN has the right course with this positioning is no. The social and societal messages the company uses are at odds with its actual behavior. We believe the company would fit better in a more conservative and less socially oriented position in the market. In short, KPN’s positioning is a hollow promise. How can the company capitalize on its focus on network and operational excellence in its positioning? How about a slogan like ‘Simply better’?

The data used in this piece is from KPN Annual Reports from 2011 to 2014.

If you want to learn more about positioning and how to work on it yourself, read our Positioning page. In addition to in-depth articles, you’ll find dozens of examples and models for every possible positioning challenge.

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