Where Brand Meets Bad: Boosting a Target Market

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So it does takes all kinds to make the world go round.    While I’m highly appreciative of funny stuff and understand the importance for marketers to make folks remember a brand, not sure Boost Mobile is taking the right angle. While the value based messaging of all in pricing is interesting, it is only interesting until you read the details of the monthly unlimited plan as of 3/15/09, which was downloaded from http://plans.boostmobile.com/pdf/english/monthlyunlimited.pdf.

So maybe an unlimited plan is what a person needs, but you better not travel much if you select Boost.   Below is the coverage map, which looks more circa 1999 than the competitive market requirements for most cell phone providers.

coveragemap

So as you drill in, the limited coverage, incremental fees and $1.29 per directory assistance calls appear to make the unlimited plan a little wrong, not unlike the “other carriers” referenced in their recent commercial series.   So if you never leave your neighborhood, lose a phone number and have enough money on your account you are good to go!  Oh Yeah – you money on your account, it appears Boost Mobile is some hybrid pre-pay plan thing to make it easier to manage the overage risk – no money no overage, simple.   So if you factor in the account management overhead, limited coverage and that it cannot be used for “unreasonable use” this may not be the company for most people, especially people that read contracts.

Let’s explore the definition of unreasonable use -conference calls, placing call of abnormally long duration and atypical web use can get your account closed.  Here’s details of the plan and unreasonable use:

$50 Monthly Unlimited Plan: Includes domestic voice calling, walkie-talkie, web, text messages, picture and MMS/Audio messages. International services incur additional charges. Text to 3rd parties to participate in promotions or other may result in add’l charges. Directory Assistance: Calls to all directory assistance numbers incur a charge of $1.29. Payments: Your monthly payment date will be the day of the month that you activate service on your phone; activation of service will occur when you have sufficient funds in your account to fulfill your monthly payment. Your payment must be made in full within 60 days of service interruption to resume service or your account and service will be cancelled. When your account is cancelled, you will lose all funds in your account balance and your Monthly Unlimited telephone number. A $10 reactivation fee will apply. If your service is suspended or terminated your payment date will be the day of the month that you reactivate service. Service activations on the last day of the month will always renew on the last day of the given month. Payments are made by adding funds to your account and your account balance must contain funds equal to or greater than the monthly payment amount no later than 11:59 PM the night of your monthly payment date or service may be interrupted due to non-payment. This account balance is decreased as monthly payments are due and services not included in the monthly plans are used. Your payment amount does not include incidentals, including, but not limited to, international calls, wireless entertainment and downloads. A nonzero Prepaid Credit Balance is required at all times for access to any Boost services, except 911 and Boost Customer Care. Your account balance cannot exceed $300. Other terms: Unlimited services only available on the Nextel National Network. Coverage not available everywhere. Offers not available in all markets/retail locations or for all phones. Prices, rates, taxes and fees are subject to change. Boost reserves the right to modify, extend or cancel offers at any time. Other restrictions apply. Visit boostmobile.com for details. UNLIMITED USE DOES NOT MEAN UNREASONABLE USE. To ensure that all customers have access to reliable services provided at a reasonable cost, you may not use our service in a manner that interferes with another Boost Mobile customer’s use of our service or disproportionally impacts Boost Mobile’s network resources. Prohibited Uses: Boost Monthly Unlimited services are provided solely for live dialogue between, and initiated by, two individuals for personal use and as otherwise described in this policy. Unlimited voice services may not be used for any other purposes, including, but not limited to, conference calling, monitoring services, data transmissions, transmission of broadcasts, transmission of recorded material, interconnection to other networks, telemarketing, autodialed calls, other commercial uses, or other connections that do not consist of uninterrupted live dialogue between two individuals. In addition, Boost Mobile services may not be used to send or receive unusually high numbers of messages or engage in atypical web usage behaviors. We will presume you are engaging in a Prohibited Use, in violation of these terms and conditions, if you are placing an abnormally high numbers of calls, or repeatedly placing calls of unusually long duration (as compared to other customers on the same service plans), or if your usage is harmful or disruptive to Boost Mobile’s systems or services. If we determine, at our sole discretion, that you are using an unlimited service in violation of the Boost Mobile General Terms and Conditions of Service, the Monthly Unlimited Terms of Service, or in any other manner that we deem to be unreasonable or excessive, then we may terminate individual calls, or, after providing notice to you, terminate your service, decline to renew your services, or offer you a different service plan with no unlimited usage components.

So per their acceptable use policy, one would think the behavior in the commercial below, could get you kicked out of their unlimited plan.

So just who is there target market?  Can’t be people who travel, take conference calls for work or forget phone numbers.   Perhaps their advertising will help us out….

Pigs Eating Pork

When I first saw this commercial, it was at lightening speed on Tivo, so it didn’t click.  It only clicked when my 3 year old said he wanted to look at the pigs, so I slowed it down.  Not so glad I did, as I suspect this is offensive to whole populations by just the pork piece alone, but what about the cannibalism implications?

Maybe it is a customer segementation strategy?  They are just further carving out a target niche which is high margin and low touch – maybe.  As an aside, from a purist market perspective, while I suspect the whole mobile phone space is a cannibalistic commodity driven decision cycle/market – not sure it is the imagery wanted for the brand.

A Hairy Market Situation

Segmenting your target market is not always as easy as one would think, but humor can help you find that niche or even open up new markets.  The commercial below while entertaining probably weeds out tandem bicycle riders (small population) and members of the workers world party (small population), so Boost is now even alienating fringe populations.   I’m starting to think that I’m no where near their target market, but I do get the humor.

Ageist: Let’s Throw Away another Market Segment

The 10 kinds of Nasty piece below says we really only appeal to young people, not sure why you would do this to the fasting growing population segment.   Boost is the Anti-Jitterbug!  That could be a fun commercial.

This commercial not only makes me wonder why, but also reinforces my oldness as I’ve never heard anything close to “10 kinds of Nasty” prior to this commercial.  Perhaps the marketers are optimistic that if they get the customers early they can maintain the relationship for 40 years and take advantage of the increasing lifespan.  I’m not in the telco space, but I’ve switch providers 4 times in 10 years and not once due to price.  Service levels, coverage map and cool devices were my decision drivers.

Value Based Messaging

The George Washington spoof is the most traditional approach I was able to find online.  I’ve never seen this commercial prior to writing this post, perhaps this one didn’t air long or appeal to their target market.

Brand Empathy

An appealing thing brands can do is to be empathetic to your situation to ensure their ability to convert their target market to commercial transactions.  Boost definitely seems to be empathetic to their market segment throughout their messaging, as evidenced in the George commercial and others.  So how does Boost do this?  Below are some of the low hanging fruit which I can cull out of their ads:

  • We know YOU hate high fees.
  • We understand the importance of being YOU
  • We feel the same way about value as YOU do
  • We understand that cannibals need a phone too!
  • We know what it is like to have police helicopter hovering over YOU

A Boostable Market

So after doing some fuzzy math and over generalizing some category definitions, I’ve been able to carve out the target market for Boost Mobile.

targetmkt

Let Your Fingers Do The Walking

So to round out this piece, I did a little more clicking around their site and found out this just might be clever marketing.  Boost appears to be a niche marketing campaign/brand for Sprint.  This actually might be a good idea in that context.  A new brand which appeals to very small user class which spends into abnormally high per call and unit values to help them achieve profitability.

First, the good news: Sprint narrowed its losses considerably, compared with a year earlier. For the fourth quarter, Sprint lost $1.62 billion, or 57 cents a share. This is certainly better than the $29.45 billion, or a whopping $10.36 a share, it lost during the fourth quarter of 2007. The previous year’s losses were due to some large write-downs the company was forced to take related to its merger with Nextel. This time around, Sprint only had about $1 billion in write-downs.

Now for the bad news: Sprint is still losing customers. And as a result, its quarterly revenue declined about 14 percent to $8.43 billion.

Perhaps this is their answer to all the customers they fired in 2008.  If they were smart, they would have direct mailed the fired customers before the firing and after.   I could see it now – “Wow, the heck with Sprint I’m going with Boost!”

At the end of the day, it appears that Sprint continues to pursue paths out of it’s historically negative customer experience and market activities, so perhaps boosting a market is a good thing.

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4 Comments

  • Reply jon gatrell March 19, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Where Brand Meets Bad: Boosting a Target Market: So it does takes all kinds to make the world go round.    While.. http://tinyurl.com/c8ztj4

  • Reply @matsis May 4, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Jon
    even though it’s been an eternity since this post, it’s stuck with me. Mostly because those Boost ads bugged me so much. Your “sleuthing” was correct as you can see from today’s Sprint results call (http://www.moconews.net/entry/419-earnings-sprint-posts-better-than-expected-results-as-low-cost-boost-se/). This bit of niche marketing seems to have worked – Sprint is doing better because of it. Although I’m guessing it’s the ‘all you can eat for $50’ as opposed to the ads having a positive impact.

    • Reply Jon Gatrell May 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm

      @matsis

      Thanks for the link to sprint’s performance. Interesting. They definitely needed some higher margin business! I only wrote this because the boost ads bothered me, so at least I’m not alone.

      ~jon

  • Reply jon gatrell May 5, 2009 at 5:36 am

    @matsis thanks for the comment on the sprint post – http://tinyurl.com/c5eedl

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