The uphill battle for Sprint phones

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

17 October 2011

Now that Sprint has the iPhone, what’s next?

The crux of positioning a messaging towards something like “unlimited data” is that the messaging must always maintain consistency or the messaging becomes meaningless. For some time now, Sprint has marketed itself as the last place in town where unlimited data was still safe. If only. It seems Sprint phones will now be doing away with its unlimited 4G data for devices with mobile hot spots.

“In fact, Sprint couldn’t fulfill its “Now Network” brand until it recently paid heavily for the ability to carry iPhones.”

Sprint phones
When we work with brands and provide brand positioning, that positioning also includes ways to action that brand and fulfill its promises. Positioning without action is as meaningless as no position at all. As a general rule, don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Sprint is in a difficult position and has been working down this road to correct the situation. It is behind the competition and pushing a message (unlimited data) that the market can no longer trust with complete confidence. It is also competing in a market where consumers are locked into contracts and have to pay extra costs to switch. In fact, Sprint couldn’t fulfill its “Now Network” brand until it recently paid heavily for the ability to carry iPhones. Therefore, for a time, Sprint couldn’t fulfill its brand promise until it carried the today’s most coveted phone.

Being the “Now Network” is also inherently a challenge as “now” is a bit nebulous. It might mean “fast” and “acting urgently,” but it can also mean “up to date” or even “status quo.” The problem is that Sprint has never defined what that meant, unless it was the unlimited data. Leaving any room for interpretation is never good, not to mention the much larger issues of how is it at all emotionally resonates to the market.

Sprint’s financials showed a Q3 drop, but it also saw an increase in subscribers by 1.3 million. Tactically, Sprint is now moving in the right direction. It has the iPhone and is working to create a faster LTE-advanced network, but tactical moves are not enough by themselves. Now, with the category table stakes out of the way, Sprint needs to find something more meaningful than “unlimited data” to talk about if it wants to foster a strategy transition from “let’s keep up” towards “lets get ahead.”

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