How Boost Mobile has kept its brand identity

Telco talks through its 20-year history and how it's tapped consumer sentiment and views to stay relevant


Telecommunications can be a brutal game, with brands coming and going faster than Australian prime ministers. Remember 3? Remember Orange? Remember One.Tel? Or DingoBlue?

So for Australian-born Boost Mobile to have survived for 20 years is a noteworthy feat, especially given that many of its much larger US carrier partners, including Nextel and Sprint, have come and gone in that time.

Now owned by the US carrier, Dish, Boost boasts 9 million US subscribers and maintains a healthy presence in Australia thanks to its long-term partnership with Telstra. Founder, Peter Adderton, had been working in marketing roles for consumer brands including KFC, Pizza Hut, Pepsi when he first conceived that similar branding principles could be applied in telecommunications.

“I looked at the mobile industry and found that it was very much a utility-based business,” Adderton says. “I started thinking, what if we created more of a consumer-driven brand?

“And then we specifically targeted a market that no one really cared about, which was pre-paid subscribers. Everyone wanted post-paid subscribers, they didn’t want pre-paid because they were seen as the ones who were credit-challenged. And I thought they weren’t being spoken to and no one really had a brand for them.”

The Boost name itself came from a conversation that Adderton overheard between two surfers at a bar at NSW’s Avalon Beach.

“Surfers were talking about how they had been boosting off a wave,” he continues. “Everybody wants a boost in life, so that is where the brand came from.”

Cultural connection

That connection to youth culture has been a key pillar in the Boost brand ever since, with the company having signed sponsorships and ambassadorships with many sports and participants before they received mainstream attention. One of these ambassadorships is with snowboarder, Jason Haynes, who today works as a general manager for the company in Sydney.

Credit: Boost


“The brand wanted to engage in those different cultures and fan bases and lifestyles, and I was the right person that was the right pick for them,” Haynes says. “Fundamentally I was talking to the same kids, it was just instead of selling board shorts and t-shirts I’m selling data and connectivity.”

The brand has at times courted controversy in its choices, especially through being the first telecommunications companies to embrace hip hop culture in the early 2000s through relationships with performers including the rapper, Ludacris, despite their sometimes volatile lifestyles.

“We were doing it when everybody else as running away from it,” Adderton says. “And we would stick with them. When you walk the line, you are going to cross it. Boost was doing these things before they were cool.”

That credibility means Boost still retains strong representation in the urban US community.

The company was also called out by Media Watch in 2010 for a marketing campaign that purported to identify text messaging disorders. Several media outlets failed to realise the campaign was a ruse.

“We are constantly finding way to push the boundaries,” Adderton says. “The problem is the boundaries have become a lot closer. Our brand is about personal expression, and how you feel and what you want to say. Whether people agree with you or disagree with you, I tell people I would rather you stand for something than hide for nothing.

“Stuff we were doing back then, which was ground-breaking, you wouldn’t ever get away with today because we have become so politically correct. I look at the advertising taking place in Australia today and it is not the cutting-edge stuff I had when I was here 20 years ago. It is not the edgy advertising, and everyone is just playing it safe.

“We have had some mistakes, but the difference between us and everyone else is we move fast, we learn from them and come back even stronger and better.”

That Boost has been able to retain a strong brand identity is also reflective of Adderton’s hiring policies when it comes to his marketing team.

“If they had wireless experience or mobile experience in marketing, I never hired them, because they always took a very different approach to what we took,” he says. “When it came to driving the brand and driving the vision, I hired guys from Oakley, Quicksilver, Billabong and Pepsi.”

While this has helped the brand stay true to its spirit, Adderton says the range of perspectives within his team also prevents the brand from presenting a homogenous front to the market. Hence much of his investment in brand development now is in micro segmentation to maintain the widest possible appeal.

“We don’t try to pick a winner,” Adderton says. “You can’t afford to do that now. What you have to do is allow yourself the ability for consumers to pick the winner.”

The company is also keen to get in on the trend of convergence between carrier and content companies, as exemplified by recent deals between Verizon and Disney, T-Mobile and Netflix, and AT&T with HBO. These deals lead Adderton to believe the future won’t be one where companies are competing simply on price.

“It will be who can provide the better customer service, the better solution, and the better bundling of specific content that is important to you,” he says. “And it will be around your ability to purchase your data easily and simply. The evolution of our product will be more around making the consumer’s life easier.”

 

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