Digital Conference

AT&T's Strategy to Win Consumer Love: Be Human

Carrier Rethinks Strategy to Position It as Enabler of Experiences

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As the company that powers the smartphones we love, we all should love AT&T, right?

Gregg Heard, VP-brand identity and design, delivers a presentation at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York.
Gregg Heard, VP-brand identity and design, delivers a presentation at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York. Credit: Patrick Butler

You could hear crickets -- and a few giggles -- at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York today when Gregg Heard, VP-brand identity and design for AT&T, asked that very question to illustrate the fissure between consumers' attitudes toward the carrier and their profound love for their devices.

"What we want you to think is that AT&T is an emotional lifestyle brand that lets you live your life more expansively and brings you new experiences and new value," Mr. Heard said. "But that 's just not the perception. … All major carriers are facing same perception challenge: People really love their technology but don't love their carrier."

AT&T is looking to close that gap in its most recent marketing push, which evolves the Rethink Possible tagline it launched two years ago to focus more on human experiences.

"While 'Rethink Possible' is still our brand message, we're shifting to focus on how technology is enabling our life," Mr. Heard said.

Mr. Heard presented to the audience a commercial (below) from its new campaign that did not tout the speed of its network or its coverage area -- both tactics widely used in the carrier industry -- but, rather, showed how a woman's phone was the means to tell her entire world that she got a new acting gig.

In the same vein, AT&T will soon open a brand flagship store on Michigan Avenue, Chicago's high-profile shopping thoroughfare, that will focus less on handsets than the services they enable. Merchandising will be more experience-focused, where there's a larger focus on mobile apps and what you can do with handsets, organized around, for example, categories such as health care or security.

AT&T has also recently launched what it calls "Foundries" in Silicon Valley, Israel and its home state of Texas to provide resources, investment and access to its network to companies developing mobile apps and services.

"The experience [of buying a mobile phone] is on par with the complexity and significance of buying a new car," Mr. Heard said. "The trouble is the carrier part is like buying insurance; it's not the fun part. … We have to make a shift in the way we think about the problem."

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