Executive Director of Interactive and Innovation
Chapter 11 is “Brands can be Answers.” For brands to be effective answers, they must know what the questions are. What problems does AT&T help people solve?
At the highest level, people look to AT&T to connect across their personal and business lives.
At AT&T, we look for ways to improve that experience whether that be through better devices, faster network, etc. We ask how can we make connecting to people, places and things such as content easier, better and faster.
U-verse is a great example. Working with content providers, we can take what they’re doing and add exclusives or behind the scenes stuff. As we do deals with [sports] leagues and networks, we ask what can we bring that’s unique and different.
Essentially, [in this case of this last example,] the question we’re answering is, “How can I entertain myself?” In other cases, it’s, “How can I connect better?” Or, “How can I stay in touch?”
There’s a perception out there that we’re aware of that AT&T is just a dumb pipe. We’re what people expect to just pass information through and people only notice us when it doesn’t work. We’re like offensive linemen in that sense.
That’s why our marketing tries to show people the tangible additional benefits we bring. Often, that is manifested in content.
The iPhone is also a good example. [The fact that it’s only available through AT&T] is a very real benefit to our customers.
Another example is the Olympics. We had exclusive content behind the scenes and cutting room floor material. AT&T subscribers got access to an entertainment portal.
Every large marketing platform we have (like NCAA, Olympics, World Cup, NFL) has content as part of the deal. In the future, you’ll see us get more engaged and take a leadership position with content as opposed to relying on the networks.
What about your standard advertising? How does the idea of making AT&T an answer inform your messaging and media strategy?
Verizon has made the conversation about coverage. They say theirs is broader but their 3G doesn’t have the same capabilities. [So, the question for us becomes,] do we focus on response on getting technical and explaining that AT&T’s EDGE network is comparable to their 3G?
No, we have more to say. Our response was broader. We talked about having the most smart phone devices. If you look at share of smart phones, AT&T has a big edge.
We talk about being able to talk and text or talk and surf at the same time. We talk about having access to 100 thousand-plus apps. These deliver content, entertainment, and utility.
Do you guys create any of your own apps?
AT&T Interactive in Glendale actually creates tons of apps. And we acquired Plusmo late last year. They are an app developer.
How else does AT&T position its brand as an answer?
Social is actually a good example of where we’ve taken a smart approach around understanding what people are looking for. At first, it was scary for us [to enter into the social space]. What happens if we open ourselves up and people just bitch and moan about our service?
We put in place a collaborative team between customer care and corporate communications (15 people or so) and they man our social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. We plugged this team into the platform, gave them some guidance, and set them free. We gave them the opportunity to just talk to people.
We were exactly right. The conversations were very negative [at first]. 4-5 months ago, it was a lot of nasty, upset people. This was right at the height of our network issues, especially in big cities like New York and San Francisco.
After talking to people, we were able to diffuse the situation. We didn’t delete any negative posts. We just turned the dialogue around. We’ve grown our fan-base by over 700% in the past 3 months.
[To do that,] we needed to get an infrastructure in place to talk to people before turning up the dial to recruit an audience. We still have a long way to go. Verizon has a bigger fan-base but we have a more engaged audience. [Our communications are] more than just save money on such and such device. It’s a real community.
What did you learn during your time in search that you have applied in your day-to-day now?
[Being in search] brings your attention to how to understand what people want and how to give it to them. Search requires you to take the selfishness out of marketing. [You have to understand] how people think.
Also, [I realized] how much difference a smooth operations structure can make. Google’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t its algorithm of back-links, it was the platform it created to make it very easy for advertisers [to do business with Google].
[At AT&T, we ask] how can we create a system that makes it really easy, smart, and scalable [to do business with us].