“Silly” remark by Everything Everywhere chief lets slip truth about T-Mobile brand

October 26, 2011

Dear Mr Swantee

How do these female Telegraph journalists do it? Trap you into saying things you didn’t really mean to say, that is? Not many months ago, Mr Cable was silly enough to tell two such hackettes that Mr Murdoch’s empire was thoroughly evil and that he was going to put a stop to it, just when he was supposed to be impartially adjudicating the self-same Mr Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB.

Now you, too, have been very silly. Or, to be more precise, you have been caught rubbishing Everything Everywhere, the brand name of the company where you are chief executive.

Here are the very words you used, as reported by the delightful Katherine Rushton:

“Everything Everywhere is not a brand, it’s a silly name with a stopping effect”, he said, although he maintained it was useful for stores which house the two mobile brands.”

Now I know what you’re going to say; in fact what you have said: just like poor old Vince, you were quoted out of context. His context was entrapment; yours we’re going to work on a bit – just in case there’s any misunderstanding.

The first thing I’d like to make clear is that we are all right behind you. Not only do we admire the candour of someone in so senior and responsible a position voicing what we have all long since judged to be a self-evident truth (just, as it happens, we did with Mr Cable). We are also quite prepared to accept that journalists, with their obsession for compression, tend to miss the bigger picture.

I expect, when you were describing your corporate brand as “silly”, what you were really doing was employing a bit of time-honoured rhetorical licence: using the part as shorthand for the whole. It’s not Everything Everywhere the brand that is “silly” with “a stopping effect”, but the brand strategy behind it. That, surely, is the bigger picture that got left out of the context.

Right from the beginning, that brand strategy has been misconceived, hasn’t it?

I mean, the initial idea was all right as far as it went: putting together 2 failing UK mobile telecoms brands in one brand-new holding company and, overnight, transforming yourself into UK leader by customers, ahead of those snake-oil people at O2. What a clever sleight of hand, and one that avoided Orange and T-Mobile experiencing serious difficulty with the competition authorities into the bargain.

The trouble is, your predecessor Tom Alexander wasn’t empowered by his twin masters, France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom, to take the idea any further – and you were left to clear up the mess that resulted. 50:50 ventures never work, do they? Still, you’ve done what you can, within the agreed terms. You’ve swept away all those unnecessary backroom boys and girls, stripped out excess infrastructure, rationalised the shops, brushed up the margins, cleansed the boardroom of useless, nay-saying, former T-Mobile executives and ploughed on with a leaner, meaner Orange team. Yes, Sirree, having worked at HP before you joined France Télécom, you know just about everything there is to know about consolidating tired, low-growth companies.

But one thing they haven’t let you do is to slay the elephant in the room. Yes, I know what you said when you took over earlier this year:

“The T-Mobile customers want a flexible payment and usage system. The Orange customers want a predictable amount paid every month. There is a clear difference.”

But the justification for that difference is becoming less and less apparent, isn’t it? Look at your latest, Q3, figures: pre-paid, plummeting; contracts up. T-Mobile’s days as a UK brand are surely numbered.

Truth to tell, Orange is and always has been much the stronger brand; better serviced too. Maybe, if there hadn’t been all that fudging at the beginning by your corporate masters, then the figures would have been a lot more convincing than they are today. And your brand hierarchy a lot more coherent. Without T-Mobile to worry about, poor old Tom would never have had a nervous breakdown trying to justify the vacuous sticking-plaster of Everything Everywhere – as the best of all branding in the best of possible worlds, when it patently wasn’t.

No wonder you let slip your frustration with a “silly”, unguarded remark.

O2 brand cashes in on financial services

July 15, 2009

O2It’s possible to see in O2’s diversification into financial services a Branson-like instinct for strategic brand-building. Which is all the more surprising as O2 is steered not by a gifted, marketing-savvy entrepreneur but by an international conglomerate called Telefonica – the Spanish equivalent of BT.

Or rather, not BT; nor France Telecom (which has made such a mess of the once formidable Orange brand). Telefonica has been careful not to swamp the entrepreneurial drive of its subsidiary with the bureaucratic culture of a state-run, or former state-run, utility. And it has paid off: O2 retains market leadership in the UK mobile market; has far and away the most distinctive brand; and continues to be a first-mover in strategic brand innovation, as befits a market leader.

What do I mean by this last point? The big mobile networks know they are on borrowed time. Mobile airtime, once so profitable, is becoming a commodity, partly thanks to increased regulatory intervention from the European Commission. Added value is now the name of the game. But technologically, this has not been straigthtfoward. Even 3G is quite clunky and despite the advent of more user-friendly smart phones like the iPhone, access to the internet (and data revenue streams) is not all it might be.

O2 of course scored quite a few points by being the one to seal an exclusive deal with Apple over the iPhone’s UK distribution. But where it has been really imaginative is in exploring brand-stretching possibilities. Buying the naming rights to The O2 (formerly the Dome) for 20 years was one such step. At a practical level, it gave O2 users venue discounts over the mobile platform. At a more strategic level, it presented O2 as a youth brand with a finger in the leisure sector pie.

Much the same sort of thinking can be seen in the launch of O2 Money. Although the product launch – two prepayable Visa cards – is modest to begin with, the same trademarks are in evidence. Cash Manager and Load & Go (as the two cards are called) will be particularly attractive to on-the-go youth (and their parents, so far as the control element is concerned), and provide another practical vindication of the mobile platform. More widely, O2 is making a strategic move into financial services at a time when trusted brands –and we’re not talking banks here, because there aren’t any – are at a premium. It is probably no coincidence that O2 has done the service-provision deal with NatWest, the self-same bank that underpinned Tesco’s successful foray into financial services.

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