One Powerful Signal: How T-Mobile Combines Engagement With Advertising To Drive Conversions

Peter DeLucaLast January, T-Mobile declared itself the “Uncarrier.” It was part of a massive brand revamp, one that involved a new network, new devices (including iPhones) and new phone plans (and the carrier might be in line for yet another overhaul, if rumors about a possible acquisition by rival carrier Sprint bear fruit).

T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” messaging was a reaction to the disdain many customers have for their telcos, and was followed by policy changes in some areas of particular customer loathing: the indentured servitude of the annual contracts, roaming fees that seem like a one-way ticket to debtor’s prison and the draconian restrictions around device upgrades.

T-Mobile’s brand renovation coincided with paid media efforts, including an expansion of its Facebook advertising and engagement strategies.

“It’s a two-pronged approach,” said Peter DeLuca, the telco’s SVP of brand and advertising. “There’s the Facebook we use to buy and amplify our message in a paid model. But it’s equally important to talk about the 4.7 million fans that we cultivate and engage. It’s a really important channel from that aspect, and it’s putting those two pieces together where we reap far more benefits.”

T-Mobile’s most engaged Facebook fans help disseminate ad messages served up through Facebook Exchange, Offers or Promoted Posts (T-Mobile uses all three). “If you first engage and create a great social relationship, when you serve up things that are relevant, [fans] actually help share them with their friends,” DeLuca said. “That’s really how the two mix together.”

This holiday season is the first in which T-Mobile has positioned itself as the Uncarrier, and it represents a particularly competitive time for all telcos. A survey from Flurry Analytics noted 17.4 million smartphone activations occurred on Christmas Day 2012, a 330% increase above the norm. And research house IDC reported 220 million smartphone units sold in Q4 2012, 36.4% year-over-year growth from 2011.

T-Mobile’s final holiday sales results will be an important indicator of how well it has positioned its messaging on Facebook and other channels. DeLuca declined to comment on T-Mobile’s preliminary sales figures during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, though results from offers T-Mobile tested in Q2 – and that it’s still applying today – have been promising.

Specifically, when T-Mobile ran a Facebook offer for the iPhone 5, 214,000 claimed the opportunity and 9% converted. T-Mobile got 29% ROI from the offer. DeLuca believes ongoing fan engagement drives results for these media buys.

“We’ve been engaging with people along the way and having these great dialogues with fans, such that when we put specific offers out there, we’re seeing a tremendous take all the way down to them taking the offer and converting over to T-Mobile,” he explained.

One of T-Mobile’s Q2 strategies revolved around a “mobile target block” – a three-day Facebook media campaign focusing on a certain demographic or geography. The idea is that the block of time in which the campaign is active gives users and their friends more opportunities to interact with the ad. As a result, 90% of claims for T-Mobile offers happened on mobile devices.

Targeting is also a major factor driving the efficacy of T-Mobile’s social media advertising. For instance, T-Mobile can extrapolate that someone might be interested in a new device based on website interactions or other signals. Perhaps they’d clicked on an “Other Devices” tab or spent a lot of time looking at new handsets.

“There are ways you can target past experience,” DeLuca said. “You’re not pinpointing exactly what they’re doing, but you can home in on [a consumer’s] previous position that they’re interested in devices, and you’re then able to serve up the ad or an offer.”

These earlier media campaigns led T-Mobile to invest again in Q4, including a News Feed target block to tout its unlimited tablet data program.

“[The midyear campaign was] a small, contained thing,” DeLuca said. “Taking a small test and amplifying it into larger programs is what we’re rolling forward with right now.”

For DeLuca, the ability to attribute direct ROI to a specific conversion on Facebook validates the channel (Facebook, for its part, released Telco Outcome Measurement in September, specifically to help carriers link ad impressions with in-store sales).

“There are only a few places where you can get that visibility,” he said. “It’s hard to have direct attribution in TV right now. You can get awareness, but does awareness transfer all the way down to a conversion? That’s something that in the near future we’ll be able to do hopefully, but not today.”

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