#UNCARRIER: T-MOBILE’S REBELLIOUS SOCIAL MEDIA VOICE WINS THEM MARKET SHARE

Amanda Wolcott

Overview
Full disclosure, I love T-Mobile. I switched from Verizon to T-Mobile two years ago when my phone kept dropping calls while I was in my apartment. It was not the offensive $300 bill that Verizon was sending me every month or the clever marketing campaigns of other carriers that finally made me decide to switch from the wireless carrier I’d had for the better part of a decade, it was the fact that I could not talk to my mom in my own apartment, and Verizon didn’t seem to care.

The famous “Can you hear me now?” network was disconnecting me from my friends and family on the daily and it was chipping away at my brand loyalty. After spending hours chatting online with customer services representatives, going into the Verizon store to make my case in person, and paying a deductible to get a replacement phone to make sure the device wasn’t causing my connection woes, I still couldn’t hear my mom’s voice. Verizon offered to send a representative out to install a connection booster in my apartment (for a monthly rental fee, of course), but they couldn’t make it out for a month. Nope. I can’t go a month without my mama, so that was that. I was breaking up with Verizon.

Teary eyed (I missed my mom), I walked into the mall to make the switch. I hoped Verizon didn’t make a scene by begging me to stay or by offering me some deal. Then I remembered an online ad I’d seen describing the act of breaking up with your wireless carrier.

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My next stop was T-Mobile. At this point, I was willing to pay anything to be able to talk to my mom, but T-Mobile took care of everything, paying my early termination fees and my last phone bill with Verizon. Within an hour I was back at my apartment speaking happily with my mom. T-Mobile didn’t just make a sale that day, they made a brand ambassador.

Cut to today, T-Mobile is the third largest wireless provider after surpassing Sprint in the second quarter of this year. In this twitter exchange between T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, Claure concedes the third spot.

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As the voice of T-Mobile both on and offline, Legere often calls out the other wireless carriers for what he sees are their weaknesses, sometimes leading to exchanges like the one above. Legere’s borderline offensive humor, frequent use of vulgarity, and willingness to talk about the hard truths of the wireless industry make him and his brand seem real, relatable, and if nothing else, entertaining.

In 2013, T-Mobile released their rebrand by calling themselves The Un-Carrier, in an attempt to distance themselves from the negative connotations that the term wireless carrier carries with it like expensive, insensitive, and seemingly impossible to leave. The Un-Carrier campaign introduced the antithesis of many long-time industry practices such as no-contract options, no credit checks, and the ability to bring your phone with you from your last carrier. The rebrand was in many ways the beginning of T-Mobile’s edgy persona that has been carried through all of their various media channels, including their social media. #Uncarrier has been the ongoing social media campaign since T-Mobile’s rebrand and the hashtag is their go-to for all service related communications.

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There have been ten major updates to the Un-Carrier initiative, the latest was released November 10, 2015 and brings with it the new hashtag #uncarrierX. To many, the most exciting update coming with #uncarrierX is that T-Mobile will now allow free video streaming over their wireless data network, something the other carriers do not do.

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Legere has claimed a big reason for T-Mobile’s recent success is the #uncarrier initiative, saying that in the end all Un-Carrier really is, is listening to customers and giving them what they want.

Background

T-Mobile

T-Mobile International AG is a German holding telecommunications company founded in 1996 as Deutsche Telekom AG and headquartered in Bonn, Germany. Operating out of 12 European countries, the United Kingdom, and the United States. T-Mobile US, Inc. is a subsidiary of T-Mobile International and operates out of Bellevue, Washington. T-Mobile International AG owns 66% of T-Mobile US, Inc. stock.

T-Mobile US was originally VoiceStream Wireless Corporation, which was a subsidiary of Western Wireless Corporation. In 1999, VoiceStream split from Western Wireless to form its own independent corporation. In 2002, VoiceStream became a subsidiary of T-Mobile International, taking the T-Mobile name and branding. AT&T attempted to purchase T-Mobile in 2011 for a $39 billion combined stock and cash offer, but withdrew the offer due to major regulatory hurdles and government resistance.

T-Mobile US is the third largest wireless provider serving 61.2 million customers and has a network that covers 98% of Americans. J.D. Power and Associates has ranked T-Mobile as the highest in retail-store satisfaction for four years running and highest in customer care for two years running in the wireless service category.

John Legere

John Legere became CEO of T-Mobile US in September of 2012. Legere was previously the CEO of Global Crossing, another telecom company, as well as an executive officer at Dell and at AT&T. He has been credited for T-Mobile’s #uncarrier initiative as well as fostering a relationship between T-Mobile and Apple.

Lenati

Lenati is a marketing and sales consultancy that began in 2005 and is based out of the Pacific Northwest. Lenati focuses on creating actionable marketing and sales strategies that focus on:

• Customer Acquisition
• Go-to-Market Strategy
• Customer Experience
• Customer Retention and Loyalty
• Sales Performance

Lenati includes a projected return on investment (ROI) calculation on every recommendation they make to their clients. Lenati not only wants to create marking and sales solutions, they hope to provide their clients the information they need to make profitable decisions. Notable clients include:

• Nike
• Starbucks
• Hilton Hotels & Resorts
• Nordstrom
• Microsoft
• Adobe
• Logitech
• REI
• T-Mobile

Lenati claims to have delivered over 2 billion dollars in projected value to their clients in the last five years.

Scope

This case study will focus on T-Mobile’s #uncarrier social media campaign. While T-Mobile uses many hashtags and often stacks them in their social media posts, the data presented will be pertaining to #uncarrier, unless otherwise stated. The #uncarrier campaign is there main initiative and in many ways is reflective of T-Mobile’s entire social media strategy. The T-Mobile accounts examined will be those of their CEO John Legere, the official T-Mobile parent account, the T-Mobile customer support account, and T-Mobile USA account. This study will not include information on the T-Mobile accounts for their business to business customers, investor relations, careers, webcare, or the accounts specific to countries other than the United States.

Objectives

Mission Statement

“Connection is good. In a world full of busy and fragmented lives, we at T-Mobile USA, Inc., have this idea that wireless communications can help. The value of our plans, the breadth of our coverage, the reliability of our network, and the quality of our service are meant to do one thing: help you stick together with the people who make your life come alive. That’s why we’re here.”

While not quick or catchy, the T-Mobile mission statement focuses on connection, which plays off of the idea of connecting to the ones you love and the idea of fast, reliable wireless network connection. It is written in natural language, not sounding too corporate, and stays away from industry jargon. The language used such as, “make your life come alive,” sets the tone of their communications by attempting to impart feelings rather than information. While not yet mentioning the idea of the Un-Carrier, one can still get the feeling that T-Mobile is attempting to focus on people and communication, rather than technology.

Values

You’re unique. And that makes us great. We embrace diversity and inclusion. Not just because it’s the right thing to do. It helps us break down barriers and rewrite the rules. By being incredibly diverse, we more easily relate to our incredibly diverse customers. It means we can keep coming up with brilliant ideas that push our business and move our industry forward. It’s simple: an inclusive company is a great company. And we can’t wait to include you.”

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The diversity section of T-Mobile’s about page is the first time one is introduced to the Un-Carrier initiative. The page includes diversity information about their employees and their customers. By including customer diversity statistics and value statements, T-Mobile empowers their customers by including them in their “Un-carrier revolution.” T-Mobile does not think of their customers as just revenue generators, they think of them as agents of change in a flawed and often corrupt industry.

T-Mobile Customer Diversity

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T-Mobile Employee Diversity

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T-Mobile Consumer Empowerment

T-Mobile also empowers their customers and wireless consumers in general by giving them information about industry changing events. John Legere has been extremely vocal about unfair practices in spectrum auctions and how less competitors in the market would impact consumer prices and power of choice. In this video, Legere asks smart phone users to pay attention and to use social media to tell the FCC to support competition in the market by establishing fair spectrum auction rules. He owns that T-Mobile needs more spectrum and that, of course, more spectrum would help them generate revenue, but he stresses the big picture idea that less choice in the market means less power for the consumer.

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Campaign Goals

As part of T-Mobile’s Un-carrier rebranding in 2013, they brought on the marketing firm Lenati to develop a social media strategy that later zeroed in on customer relationship management (CRM). This CRM strategy, aligns well with their mission and values that speak to people and relationships. A CRM strategy is an omni-channel approach to management, synchronizing all parts of the customer communication experience.

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Goals

An important part of CRM is that it takes into account the needs and wants of current and future customers. Once deciding on a CRM strategy for the social media management, T-Mobile identified three main goals for their social media:

• Reduce churn
• Drive acquisition
• Save money

Strategy

While developing T-Mobile’s social media strategy, Lenati defined what they call T-Mobile’s social customer journey, which looked to the past, present, and future. This timeline of T-Mobile’s brand and social engagement with customers helped to provide the context necessary to develop a winning strategy for driving retention, engagement, and customer service through their social media channels. While it is important define how you want customers to see your brand, it is just a critical to address how customers have felt about the brand in the past and how they currently feel in order to communicate effectively with them.

Since this telecommunication’s underdog has been around since the 90’s, before the advent of social media, some of the data collected for this timeline was probably done by analyzing the results of surveys, focus groups, and archived press descriptions about the brand. Once all of the archived data was collected and analyzed, Lenati probably did a sentiment analysis of T-Mobile’s social media, covering customer sentiment since inception of the social media accounts until present. Factors that could have an impact on customer sentiment were changing CEOs, acquisition talks and rumors, different marketing campaigns, and celebrity endorsements.

As an example of sentiment data collection and analysis, the free social media analytics tool social mention uses the keyword or hashtag mentions of over 300 social sites to rate the general sentiment, passion, and reach. A search for #uncarrier tells us the current social mention scores are as follows:

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The 3:1 sentiment ratio reflects that for every three positive uses of #uncarrier on the social web, there will be one negative mention.

Often times, data says more if compared to competitors. While searching the feeds of other wireless carriers, none were utilizing hashtags to the same extent as T-Mobile. Social mention did not find any information for the #sprint, and their slogan #movingforward had very little correlation with the brand. AT&T’s most used hashtag, #ICYMI (in case you missed it), is used by many people and brands for a variety of reasons, so the data does not reflect an accurate sentiment rating for the brand. Verizon does not seem to be currently using a hashtag for a campaign, but the sentiment for #verizon right now is 1:2, for every 1 positive mention there are 2 negative ones. If we compare that to #tmobile, which is currently 4:1, it is apparent that the social web feels much more positivity toward the T-Mobile brand and its initiatives than toward its competitors.

Once Lenati did a sentiment analysis and created T-Mobile’s social customer timeline, they identified three key elements that were needed to create a comprehensive social media strategy:

• Driving more customers to engage with the brand social channels
• Intercepting detractors
• Leveraging highly engaged promoters to become brand ambassadors and evangelists

All three of these key elements to the strategy focus on building and maintaining customer relationships which, again, link back to T-Mobile’s mission of connecting people.

Social Media Platforms

While T-Mobile seems to have a presences on all of the major social media platforms, the majority of their focus is on Twitter and YouTube, which may speak to their target demographic and the CRM strategy. When asked about the Un-Carrier rebrand, John Legere mentioned the types of people he wanted to attract to T-Mobile:

What I’ve got is an organization of about 45,000 people where the average age is about 30. It’s a young, very excited group of people who want to be different. One of the first policies I had to change was the outlawing of tattoos and piercing in the store. That just wasn’t consistent with who we are. We want the young customers, the ones who want to be a little bit different, that want to flow with the data surge that’s coming and want the latest smartphone devices. I think we’ve got a good chance to be that way.

The average Twitter user is a young, college educated, adult, often making more than $75k a year. Because of their expendable income, many Twitter users are early adopters of technology which makes this an ideal platform to engage them about technology and wireless services. A report from BI Intelligence found that YouTube reached more adults ages 18-34 than any single cable TV network. These two platforms are highly concentrated with T-Mobile’s target demographic.

Another reason why T-Mobile’s social media strategy sticks to Twitter and YouTube might go back to their CRM strategy. One of the affordances of Twitter is the ability to quickly respond to customer service issues and solve problems in real time. The public nature of Twitter also allows for information to be disseminated quickly, often being picked up and shared by news media which allows even faster spread of the information. T-Mobile posts all of their investor relations information on Twitter first, so that once it is complete, their shareholders can have access to it as quickly as possible.

Voice

T-Mobile’s John Legere is the main voice of T-Mobile and his flavor of brash and sarcastic comments seem to translate well on the two platforms, but especially on Twitter. Because of the 140 character limit on Twitter, Legere’s concise and sometimes cold approach is appropriate for communicating more information. Legere has said that he posts all of his own tweets and spends at least an hour and a half every morning going through his Twitter feed. When talking about his utilization of Twitter, Legere stated:

The truth is, I learn almost everything I need to know to run T-Mobile [on Twitter]… I take every tweet that comes in and I read it. I forward it to people. My executive team gets them, we reply, and at my staff meeting every Tuesday, we track social media impressions, what they are and how we’ve responded to them. It takes a ton of time, it’s a lot of fun… I listen, and I respond.

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Legere’s bold social media voice is by no means random. Bold language goes back to that mission statement that encourages people to feel alive and the theme of revolution in their marketing. It also speaks to their bold industry-changing tactics like doing away with contracts. They are the Un-Carrier, and they are not going to play by the rules.

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Execution

The campaign had a soft start at the end of 2012, but built momentum through the first quarter of 2013. In March 2013, T-Mobile and John Legere started utilizing #uncarrier on Twitter and releasing their Un-Carrier videos on YouTube. Many of the 2013 #uncarrier have since been removed or marked as private for unknown reasons.

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This type of exchange is common on the T-Mobile Twitter account. Notice how it was a potential customer that was engaging them first. The sign out uses the #uncarrier hashtag and the employee’s name adding a personal touch to the interaction. T-Mobile stays consistent with their mission and goals by making their business about people and connection. They also include their revolution theme by inviting the customer to be part of history.


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Here, John Legere calls out other carriers on Twitter. He sticks to hashtags and statistics to communicate his message.


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Again picking on AT&T, this time Legere is highlighting AT&T’s lack of customer focus. It is important to remember that Legere was once an executive at AT&T, which might give his statements a little more power.


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Above is a good example of how the T-Mobile Twitter page and John Legere’s Twitter page will work together to engage customers and other brands. AT&T keeps it light, but T-Mobile and Legere’s bold humor and persistence catch the potential customer’s attention. These exchanges also lead to attention from news outlets and bloggers which can help bring more followers and engagement.


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At the end of each year of the Un-Carrier initiative, T-Mobile releases a video to their shareholders via YouTube and places it on their website. The videos include clips of their various advertisements and tweets from throughout the year. T-Mobile’s videos often include the use of interesting graphics and the vivid magenta color, giving them an edgy and rebellious aesthetic.


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Today, the #uncarrier campaign continues to push their competitors and engage customers. With the tenth iteration of the Un-carrier campaign released this month, most of the social media buzz is concentrated around T-Mobile’s new free video streaming that is being marketed as #bingeon. Another hashtag has been introduced for Un-Carrier, #uncarrierX. Many of the other iterations bared their own hashtags, but #uncarrier is always the default.

Outcomes

Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of success of the Un-Carrier campaign is that T-Mobile surpassed Sprint to become the third most utilized wireless network in the US. The campaign continues, but much has been accomplished in the last two years. Looking back at T-Mobile’s social media goals, one can see how successful T-Mobile has been in their efforts with the #uncarrier campaign.

Reducing Churn

Churn is the loss of customers to the competition. While T-Mobile’s overall churn rate is down for the year and still on track with their projections, the third quarter of 2015 found them in third place at 1.46% churn. Verizon was at 0.9%, AT&T was at 1.01%, and Sprint was at 1.56% churn.

Looking at the last quarter of 2012, right before the the Un-carrier campaign started, T-Mobile was 3.6% churn. Since the Un-carrier campaign started, T-Mobile has reduced their churn rate by 2.14%.

Social Media Efforts that Impact Churn

Many agree that one of the biggest factors in impacting churn rate is customer service. T-Mobile is the leader in the industry when it comes to providing customer service via social media. T-Mobile has replied to 86% of all customer questions on their social media accounts, normally within an hour, making them the second most socially dedicated international brand, next to KLM Airlines. Michelle Mattson, senior manager of social customer support at T-Mobile, says they are able to maintain their competitive advantage on social media by:

• Identifying trending issues and monitoring customer sentiment
• Allowing the tough conversations to take place
• Offering quick responses in real time
• Making positive connections that deliver on the brand promise

While there are many tools that monitor customer sentiment, T-Mobile uses T-Force, which highlights when their hashtags are used and when they are used in conjunction with negative words and phrases such as “never” and “hate.” Because of their diligent sentiment monitoring and quick replies in real time, T-Mobile was able to double their social media fans in the first year of #uncarrier.

Drive Acquisition

Since the launch of #uncarrier, T-Mobile has added 18 million customers, bringing the total number of customers to 61.2 million. Legere commented on T-Mobile’s third quarter earnings in a statement:

We’ve had 10 quarters in a row with over 1 million net new customers, 5 with over a million branded postpaid customers and a total of 2.3 million new customers this quarter alone. Our momentum is strong and our incredible customer growth is translating directly into solid financial growth which makes it crystal clear that putting customers first is just good business.

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Driving Acquisition with Social Media

Like churn, providing great customer service on and offline is one of the best ways to acquire new customers. The sentiment analysis of competing brands can play a significant role in reaching out to potential customers that are unsatisfied with the service of other providers. T-Mobile does a great job of responding to the customers of competing brands.

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Save Money

It is unclear exactly how much money T-Mobile saves by utilizing social media, but some money savings could come from consumer generated content as a form of free advertising, the viral nature of online video advertising, and helping to prevent service failures by responding quickly to customer complaints. Most consumer generated content for T-Mobile comes in the form of help videos pertaining to the different devices. This is perhaps an opportunity for T-Mobile to engage customers in a new way by asking them to create content such as T-Mobile branded memes or the utilization of the #uncarrier hashtag during popular events in technology or sports.
While the savings is not clear, the marketing firm Lenati uses T-Mobile social media CRM strategy as one of their success stories. In the first year, Lenati measured 14 million of added revenue was a direct result of the social media strategy. No matter how you feel about T-Mobile or their CEO, it is apparent that their bold and comprehensive use of social media for customer relationship management is getting them followers and customers.

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Resources:
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#UNCARRIER: T-MOBILE’S REBELLIOUS SOCIAL MEDIA VOICE WINS THEM MARKET SHARE

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