Bride vows to carry on regardless

T-Mobile spent 2009 gathering consumers together in public spaces for “spontaneous” dancing and mass karaoke sessions. But despite this high-profile marketing, the news that it would merge with fellow mobile brand Orange into a super-network has raised questions over whether the T-Mobile name will continue to exist in the long term.

Aspiring musician
Josh is real-life aspiring musician Josh Ward, who said that if he had free texts and internet for life he would start a “superband”. This idea then formed the basis of the next stage of the ads, which follow Josh as he texts, tweets and uses social networks to publicise his idea. This eventually leads Josh to host gigs across the country where anyone who brought along an instrument could be part of the performance. This has culminated in the production of a song, “Come with me!”, and related music video, which form the next part of the campaign.

Gopalan says: “[Previous campaigns] missed really tight integration with our propositions and sales strategy and how we execute them. If there has been one central theme for [CEO] Richard Moat and I, it has been much tighter integration across the organisation, with our customer offering at the centre of it.

“Part of that tighter integration is also about making it all work together – the margins, the consumer offer, the brand and the advertising.” This process also involved combining four communications budgets into one to ensure consistent brand messages. T-Mobile still uses six agencies, but Gopalan says they run like a network working on a single creative concept.

“The difference between previous campaigns and Josh is a consistent execution across all of our touchpoints. Wherever you see it, it’s the same consistent, coherent, integrated message, with a proposition at the centre of it. That’s driven a lot of our progress in the second half of the year,” he says.

As an example, he says margins from Q1 to Q3 of 2009 have jumped from 13.5% to 21.5%. The falling customer numbers seen at the beginning of 2009 have also stabilised. The real-life factor and humour involved in the marketing, seems to be hitting the right spot.

But Gopalan says that he is not tied to the idea of using only consumers to populate T-Mobile’s marketing efforts. “I don’t know that we will always do big events or if we will always use real people, but we will continue to capture emotion and the moment of sharing.”

He adds: “Social networking is going to have a bigger role to play in our marketing in the future – this has a big role to play for brands.” Using social networking also complements the company’s aim of increasing mobile internet use across its customer base, and future campaigns and handset packages will reflect this ambition.

“If we’re a brand that is about participation and sharing, then we need to drive real massmarket mobile internet,” says Gopalan. “The Android platform is starting to make mass-market mobile internet more accessible, and out of that will come social networking and the related brand values.”

Gopalan says that he is continuing to build the T-Mobile brand despite speculation in the media that it might eventually be phased out in favour of Orange. He points out: “No decision is being made now – the terms of the joint venture specifically state that both brands will continue to exist for 18 months after regulatory approval.”

While Orange chief Tom Alexander has already been named as CEO of the joint venture and the France Telecom-owned business has the largest customer base of the two, Gopalan is quick to shoot down future questions concerning his brand and the partnership.

“This is a continuation of the journey we have been on, improving our margins and making T-Mobile a really sharply positioned brand. We’ll start having conversations on the impact of the joint venture once the regulators resolve it. Orange and T-Mobile are still intense competitors until then,” he says.

“There is no sense of the T-Mobile brand being deprioritised. Our focus is still to drive the brand and we believe we are onto something.”

Advertising campaigns
Gopalan believes the T-Mobile brand is more relevant for consumers than ever before. While Orange has built an identity through its advertising campaigns and promotions such as Orange Wednesdays two-for-one cinema tickets, Gopalan says that getting integration right is the priority for him.

“We have to continue pushing and building the T-Mobile brand in terms of its emotional value and rational value,” he says. “We intend to continue driving the brand in the direction we have been taking it. Once we have formed as an integrated company, the management team will look at recommendations for what we will do in terms of brand strategy.”

With a background in FMCG marketing after a 10-year stint at Unilever, Gopalan is not fazed by a fast-changing industry like mobile. Even when he joined T-Mobile in April 2009, there were already rumours of a sale by Deutsche Telekom and only three months after his arrival, the merger with Orange was confirmed.

However, unlike Orange and Vodafone, which are looking to move into the supply of healthcare technology solutions both to the NHS and private sector, and O2, which has extended its reach into personal finance, Gopalan has no plans to extend T-Mobile’s brand into new sectors. He says: “An element of humility is necessary when you run the marketing of any organisation and you can end up taking yourself too seriously. We are a mobile network and, while we help in many aspects of a consumer’s life, we need to be careful about taking ourselves too seriously.

“Is it something we should consider at some point? It depends on what the opportunity is. For the brand to stretch, it has to be something that is consistent with the essence of the brand.”

Orange/T-Mobile brand index comparison
T-Mobile has fallen behind its merger partner Orange in the latest BrandIndex scores from YouGov, rating both mobile networks on consumer attitudes regarding “buzz”, “impression”, “quality”, “value”, “reputation”, “satisfaction” and “recommend”.

Despite their respective customer bases both measuring around 16 million, it appears that over the past three months T-Mobile’s overall brand index has hovered at around -3 to 5 points, while Orange’s score has sat in the range of around 5 to 17.

Across each category, T-Mobile experiences a sharp slide in mid-November, the time news of the brand’s customer data leak hit the media. The most disparate figures are recorded for “value”, the only area that saw T-Mobile surpass Orange’s score both in early November and late December. It seems that the impending merger benefits T-Mobile in terms of positive overall perceptions, while the biggest asset it offers to Orange is in improving its “value” profile