The power of ‘silly stuff’

Guest Article

This is a guest post written by Saffron-Brunel Prize 2014 winner Sebastian Grenzhäuser.

Earlier this year, my mobile phone contract was up for renewal, an event rivalled in its excitement and efforts only by Christmas. Not wanting to easily part with my money, I decided to shop around a little, and was soon engulfed in a myriad of choices; fortunately, when it came to choosing a network provider, matters were simpler, with only 4 major players occupying the market. One of them is THREE, which admittedly I never dared even poking with a stick due to fears of abysmal network quality or coverage – how wrong I was (my THREE-loving friends quickly reaffirmed)...

As one of the most recent players in the market conceived to disrupt existing paradigms, THREE has enjoyed steady success, now keeping 7.9 million customers happy with their “silly stuff” and increasingly threatening established competitors. Initially following a price-led strategy, the company realised this was not future-proof thus differentiation, paramount on such tight and regulated markets, had to be achieved differently. Switching to a more sustainable brand-led strategy entailed re-visiting their core brand values to inform their strategic vision of the future. The first order of business was to address low brand awareness and affection, thus boosted brand fame, closer proximity to consumers and better communication of core values and intentions became imperative, in addition to building an exciting experience-based offering around simplicity and value. Efforts also included investigating issues consumers hated most about the mobile telecommunication industry, resulting in a list of eight pain-points THREE is now working to eradicate.

Having recognised the hunger of their young, swag audience for affordable and omnipresent mobile internet became the spearhead of their revitalised efforts and realigned brand-presence. THREE is now deemed one of the quirkiest and ‘freshest’ mobile telecommunication providers on the market, busily wresting consumers from more uptight competitors, working hard to empathise better with consumers, and offering competitive value to its fun-loving audience – without getting in the way. Cleverly, they reflect customers’ culture and interests onto their brand and communicate in their lingo, whilst removing aforementioned hurdles: Customers now enjoy all-you-can-eat mobile internet, unbarred Skype usage, free 0800 calls on mobiles, and their contract allowances usable in 16 countries, sparking mountains of holiday-picture-spam (THREE ‘apologised’). This empathic approach, paired with a design strategy effectively reflecting their core values of entertainment, simplicity and value, enabled unprecedented success.

The case shows some vital ingredients important for brands of the future. Firstly, delivering true value to consumers remains key to brand success. Secondly, getting closer to consumers, showing empathy and understanding for existing needs and problems is crucial, as is translating insights into truly tangible solutions. Thirdly, integrity and authenticity build trust and loyalty, which both can go a very long way. Most crucially perhaps, brands of the future are and act more human: don’t be afraid to show consumers your inner workings , and be more open and transparent! Everybody has a good friend who’s company they enjoy, and brands can occupy a similar emotional space, evoking positive emotions while being honest, trustworthy, empathising, and fun to be around — without being overly clingy. Just ensure efforts are authentic, and aligned with your brand values!

With brands having influenced consumers for decades, the nature of their presence is changing: brands of the future will claim an emotion, demonstrate an intricate understanding of its consumers, and construct an emotive experience around their offerings, without being in the way. Furthermore, country of origin will gain further importance due to globalisation and more universally accessible information, enabling more informed deductions of consumers at point of purchase about ethical and ecological standards, safety or quality of goods. However, this can be used to your advantage! Lastly, crowd-driven products and services will gain increasing importance for brands, however there is a darker side. With crowd-funding opening up global markets, brands have less margin to ‘screw up’: consumers will take their money elsewhere very quickly.

THREE has understood well how to use some of the above to their advantage in efforts to revive an uninspired market and improve their commercial position. Being part of their target audience, I cannot deny that their emotive offerings and motivations to deliver tangible value impressed. Having joined a competitor for another (perhaps final) round, where I feel the only positive emotions so far have come from much less silly things such as network reliability and coverage, has nevertheless left me feeling a little jealous. THREE cares, entertains, and offers tangible value. Next time, I’m in!