3 Tips to Market the Sprint/T-Mobile, Other Brand Mergers

When brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

Change is constant, and something we deal with daily in a rapidly changing world of business developments, technology breakthroughs and, of course, mobile apps that change how we do just about everything. In most cases, we embrace change. We like having a faster, smarter, better way to do routine business tasks, to connect with people, to manage our resources, play games, find information and much more. We like change that impacts our every day, like gas stations that offer 24/7 diners instead of just stale, often expired sandwiches mummified in plastic cartons.

Yet, when brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

For example, just this week we learn that T-Mobile and Sprint, both of whom had less than half the number of customers as industry-leader Verizon at the end of Q4 2017, are merging. And even though their combined size is still smaller than Verizon and AT&T, they will be a stronger third-place competitor with less than 30 million fewer customers than No. 1, Verizon vs. the nearly 100 million Sprint has as a standalone brand.

While this is good news for shareholders of each company, is it really change for the better for consumers? As quickly as the merger plan was announced, speculation consumed news and social media headlines worldwide as to what this merger really means for consumers: higher prices, the end of unlimited data, more control for the carriers and less competitive offers and perks for the consumers who rely on wireless plans 24/7 for every aspect of daily survival — not just phone calls home to Mom.

As reported in MarketWatch yesterday, the morning after, “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.

True or not, Mills’ reaction is how many consumers react to change when brands they’ve known for years, and have established a comfortable and trusting relationship with, change. Even so slightly. Mergers, acquisitions, discontinuation or sell-offs of products lines or services, can be unsettling for consumers if not managed properly by brands.

The following are some tips for how to manage consumers’ reactions before they can change your bottom line.

  1. Put a Stake in the Ground That Matters: Define what this change means for your customers’ well-being, not just yours, and what market position this new change will allow you to own, develop and build upon. Does this prepare you for greater sustainability, future breakthroughs and developments through merged R&D efforts by leading minds? Does this improve shopping and service convenience for customers with more access to resources? What is the No. 1 promise and deliverable associated with this change?
  2. Speak Fast: Don’t wait to tell you story. If you are slow to explain how even a small change benefits customers and not just your bottom line, you open the door for competitors and analysts to explain why this could be a bad thing. As the first story heard is often the story that sticks, time is of the essence. Prepare a statement about the “why” and “what” it means, and get it out quickly.
  3. Speak Loudly: With today’s digital channels, loud is not about volume, but about relevance and reach. Send your story to analysts, news writers, influencers, consumers, shareholders, existing customers and more before they can read it elsewhere. Include statements from outsiders explaining why this change is good, and send your story across all channels. Train all your employees how to tell this story credibly at every customer touchpoint.

No matter how big or small your brand is, or the impact of the changes you make, managing change is critical, as our consumer minds will run amuck with all sorts of reasons to lose faith in trusted partners and even jump ship if left to speculate as to how change changes everything they know and trust. Yet change can be a beautiful thing for all involved when done right.

Wikipedia:

Verizon’s 180 on Unlimited Data

Unlimited data: for many, it’s a core requirement of their mobile plans. So when Verizon killed the option for existing users in 2012 … well, customers were none too happy. But the other three major telecoms? They probably felt like they had won the Super Bowl, and have spent the last five years reminding anyone and everyone that they’re NOT Verizon.

Unlimited DataLet’s kick today’s post off with this: I have been a customer of AT&T, Verizon, Straight Talk, and Sprint … and Sprint is my current mobile carrier because, when it came down to it, I needed a plan with unlimited data at a certain price point. Now you know my mobile biz.

Unlimited data: for many, it’s a core requirement of their mobile plans. So when Verizon killed the option for existing users in 2012 … well, customers were none too happy. But the other three major telecoms? They probably felt like they had won the Super Bowl, and have spent the last five years reminding anyone and everyone that they’re NOT Verizon.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, T-Mobile used two of its four ads to specifically call out Verizon, with the other two ads focusing on its unlimited data offerings, explained by Justin Bieber in one and Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog in the other. Sprint’s single Superbowl commercial also called out Verizon … and got dark:

https://youtu.be/w_8ms2RzSYk

Yowza.

Oh, and Sprint nabbed Paul Marcarelli, the “Can you hear me now?” guy after Verizon ended his contract in 2011, and has been using him in commercials as well. Ouch.

And you can’t forget that the customer base has been eaten into by the likes of T-Mobile.

Yet still, Verizon put out ads like the one below, rallying against unlimited data, stating that consumers rarely use more than 5GB.

https://youtu.be/hzYOr-CeRCs

This ad ran from mid-January to early February of this year … and then on Feb. 12, Verizon announced, “Oh hey … we have an unlimited plan now.”

Say what?

https://youtu.be/4Zf1NLj_FGA

Now, in my opinion, this is where the marketing whiplash comes in. Verizon went from “You don’t need more than 5GB of data, and here’s a great price” to “here’s some unlimited data on a great network.” Okay … but it’s been FIVE YEARS.

Verizon, you’ve been the butt of jokes made by T-Mobile and Sprint. Many customers have jumped ship. And Sprint now has the actor who provided possibly the catchiest of catchphrases in telecom, who was apart of the Verizon family for over nine years, working for them.

And yet you present your new unlimited plan like someone ordering “the chicken” on an airplane.

It’s underwhelming. And a little off-putting. Why not own it? Own the fact that you’ve finally listened to what consumers want, not what you think they should have.

Or, and I realize this could be risky, make a little fun of yourself. Everyone else has … I think it would have been hilarious to see the marketing team come up with a series of ads where Verizon is upset over being picked on, breaking up with its spokesperson only to see him run into the arms of another carrier, and then finally coming to the realization that it needs to get with the times and get back on the unlimited bandwagon.

Because an unlimited plan isn’t mic drop worthy anymore. It’s the norm.