Last Friday, Sprint announced that it had lost another 1.3 million subscribers, and turned in a quarterly loss of $326 million. It promised to boost ad spending. Company CEO Dan Hesse said they'd "make the case for competitive pricing." He's been the spokesperson in some of the ads so far.
Maybe I'm missing something, but who cares about a generic white guy declaring to the world that his phone costs the same as everyone else's?
Sprint needs to go steal some customers from the companies that have been poaching them. AT&T. Verizon. T-Mobile.
Instead, we get word of a new branding angle -- they're shifting their positioning from "lifestyle" to "value," whatever that means -- as if anybody cares. Value in the mobile phone business means the lowest possible prices, usually combined with the greatest amount of obfuscatory complexity in usage reporting. Cool phones and ephemeral price promos prompt switching, and then customers get busy hating their service.
Branding? The mobile phone business is about as close as you can get to a knife fight in the street without 1) fighting with a knife, and 2) being in the street.
Worse, the weekend of its business announcement, Sprint sponsored the Half Time Reports on Fox TV's football shows. What that has to do with stealing customers, I have no idea. Maybe it makes sense for the brand positioning on some PowerPoint slide.
And remember, these are the branding experts who gave us those flashlight commercials with people drawing cool shapes in the air. Relevance to switching phone carriers? Not so much. Great for flashlight makers, though.
Instead of talking about positioning and faux catchy slogans (theirs is "Simply Everything"), wouldn't it make much more sense for Sprint to target the behavioral triggers that'll get 'em some customers?
Here are a few ideas Sprint might want to spend money on...and skip some of the branding nonsense:
- Give some group of "winners" a year of unlimited phone use. Blunt, brass-tacks promotional marketing would let contestants (or sign-ups in, say, December) qualify to win a 2009 of free use. For that matter, why not do it every year, and one of the benefits of being a Sprint member is qualifying for that drawing on an annual basis?
- Offer a bounty for switchers. More in-your-face marketing might inspire people not only to switch, but incentivize them to bring their friends. Maybe groups of people qualify for bulk discounts (a friends-and-family mini-network pricing structure?), or at least Sprint could make its word-of-mouth aspirations more financially lucrative to the would-be talkers
- Declare Usage Goals and track progress. Maybe Sprint needs to quantify what "success" means, and thus make success its primary brand attribute? So name the # of customers its wants, announce its progress every month (or week, or whatever), and invent incentives/rewards for the entire user community as they progress along the path (or add them if progress falters)
Dire circumstances require true invention, not just mouthing the right words about brand and spending. Wasting more money on marketing that hasn't worked so far is a pretty dim bulb thing to do. Branding emerges from the business, not versa visa, so why not create an '09 brand strategy that is driven by actual company behaviors, and that offers actual, real benefits to phone users?
Sprint needs to stop branding and go steal some customers.