Giffgaff: We need to think about what we stand for, not just what we stand against

As Giffgaff reaches its 10th anniversary the mobile network is thinking about how to more clearly communicate its purpose, particularly as its points of difference become less distinctive.

giffgaffA major anniversary is all too often a time when brands look backwards at what they’ve achieved rather than forward to future success. But as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, and with a CMO who is a little over a year into the job, Giffgaff is focused on where it wants to go next.

“I’m not sure it’s [the anniversary] something you advertise; I’m not sure it’s something people will care about unless they know us,” Sophie Wheater tells Marketing Week.

“The thing that was most important to us was that we use it as an opportunity to thank the members who have been with us on this journey. We know so many of them personally. It’s a celebration with our members about how far we have come together. And hopefully, it’s a good opportunity to look forward to ‘where now?’.”

Where now is an interesting question given the state of the mobile industry. Wheater describes the past year as a “bumpy ride at times” amid strong and mounting competition. All the major networks are focusing on quadplay (bundling mobile with TV, broadband and landline) and launching 5G, while smaller operators are trying to muscle in on Giffgaff’s disruptor credentials.

That has led Giffgaff to think about how it positions itself in the industry. It has previously set itself up as “David versus Goliath” and stood against some of the industry norms by offering SIM-only deals and no contracts, explains Wheater. But as the industry changes those points of difference are not as strong anymore.

“The brand originally was very much about being small and disruptive and pushing against the big networks,” she explains. “But the industry has changed significantly over that time. Differentiators around contract-free the industry is following and so they’re not so strong as USPs anymore.

“But there is an opportunity to think about what we stand for rather than against. That’s the exciting space for me.”

Rethinking its brand positioning

One area where Giffgaff is starting to talk about what it stands for is in the activity it is doing around Black Friday. The company has opened a pop-up in London that will promote its range of refurbished phones, as well as other second-hand products made out of what would previously have been regarded as waste.

giffgaffVisitors won’t be able to buy from the pop-up, but Giffgaff is asking them to make a pledge to reduce the amount of new stuff they buy for the rest of this year. The aim is to tap into a growing focus among consumers on sustainability, recycling and the circular economy, and to help people understand that refurbished phones can still offer good value and quality.

“We want to really start to drive home the notion that it isn’t just about buying new anymore. That we need to be thoughtful about whether or not we need new if there’s an alternative,” says Wheater.

“We want to make it clear there is a choice. Buy a new phone if you want to. But you don’t have to go out and gorge yourself on new product, there is another way of doing it.”

From midlife crisis to plane doodle to pink gimps: How Giffgaff turned a ‘hunch’ into a mobile success

Another area Giffgaff is focused on is making better use of its community of members. Since its inception, it has relied on a group of members to help it develop products, services and strategies. Wheater wants to take this further, however, and has created a programme called ‘Pioneers’ that involves engaged members even more in the business.

This group is invited into Giffgaff HQ to get a first look at what the company is developing, A/B test ideas and provide feedback. That could be to test a new service, “qualify a hunch” or gather insights on customer behaviour.

“Over the course of the last year we have really tried to expand that in terms of how we invite members in to work with us while we’re developing products,” says Wheater. “We’ve always done things very much hand in hand with that community, but that has taken a real step-change this year.”

There is an opportunity to think about what we stand for rather than against. That’s the exciting space for me.

Sophie Wheater, Giffgaff

The community is part of the reason why Giffgaff has such strong brand advocacy and why NPS is so important to the company. Given it doesn’t offer contracts, Giffgaff has to work “bloody hard” on retention, says Wheater, hence NPS is a board-level metric, alongside customer acquisition, retention and business growth.

“Our measurement of success is do people join us, how much do they love us when they join us, how many people get their phones with us, how long do they stay with us. Those are broad metrics, but I’d like to think there is a lot of science behind how we deliver them,” she says.

The community is also something that attracted Wheater to Giffgaff in the first place. She joined a year ago, initially on an interim contract before taking on the role full time when Ashley Schofield, the former marketing boss, was made CEO.

She describes Giffgaff as a “gift of a brand to work on” because its positioning is still so in line with the idea its founder Gav Thompson had 10 years ago. In fact, in her marketing strategy presentation for next year, she has a picture of the notebook Thompson used to jot down his first thoughts about launching a new network.

“As we look at how we want to build on that original strategy, what is so lovely is that we don’t have to undo anything or be disingenuous, everything we want to build on and move forward is from a place of complete authenticity,” she says.

“The more we talk about and think about the direction we want to move in with regards to broader social purpose, the more we realise we have total permission to be in this space because we’ve been doing it for 10 years. That’s a really lovely place to be as a CMO.”