Sprinting Toward Results ... Now1 Aug, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response
"Though direct response might not have that sexy draw of a glossy brand ad, it's a true workhorse that's performed well for us, always" says Mike Goff, vice president, corporate marketing for Sprint, the wireless and mobile communications giant headquartered in Overland Park, Kan. "It allows us to drive a consumer to a place where they have an intimate one-on-one with our brand, whether it's the Web site, a retail store or an 800 number."
In 2005, the company merged with Nextel to form Sprint Nextel, and the two wireless networks now serve more than 49 million customers. The Sprint brand is a top-10 U.S. brand in terms of media spending. Goff has spent 19 years in marketing and advertising at Sprint, and says the company has incorporated direct response aspects into campaigns throughout his time. "I've been involved in the DR space for my entire career, and it's always proven itself important, effective and efficient," Goff says. "However, DR marketing is only as good as the interaction the consumer receives when they decide to make that connection. It's all about what they experience when they take action."
Mike Goff credits direct response with helping the communications brand create and expand customer relationships.
Goff sounds like an old hand in the DR universe, even though he's spent most of his career at Sprint more responsible for "brand" advertising. "I am responsible for brand management and strategy, off- and online, direct, retail and marketing communications," Goff says. "We handle all activities in our retail stores, point-of-sale advertising, collateral. And our marketing operations group is responsible for getting campaigns to market."
Sounds like a lot of hats, but juggling so many different parts of the operation seems to come naturally to a man who — armed with a journalism degree — decided to pass on a small-town newspaper job right out of school because he decided he was more interested in marketing and advertising.
Sprint's Now Network campaign is truly all-encompassing across the media divide, including this downloadable screensaver.
A Kansas native, Goff attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, earning a B.A. in journalism. His love for the state and the school still shines on today as Goff eagerly opens up about his "long-time season tickets" to Jayhawk basketball and football.
However, upon graduating and considering a journalism career — "perhaps as a sportswriter," he avers — Goff drove across the state to interview for a job at a small-town newspaper. Offered the job, he accepted but began to reconsider the choice as he headed home. The next decision surprised even him.
"I decided to pass and go into the advertising sales business," he says, with nary a sign of wistfulness of what might have been. "After doing that for a bit, I spent 10 years in the ad agency world, all in the Kansas City area."
He took that "advertising background" and joined Sprint in 1990. "I've had a variety of activities and roles here," Goff contends. "I started working on marketing partnerships. During that time, I helped Sprint form partnerships with American Express, HBO, Hallmark, among others." Goff doesn't mention that his efforts in partnering with the sports world — with entities including the NFL, NASCAR, NCAA and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association — earned him the No. 57 ranking on The Sporting News' "100 Most Powerful People in Sports" just more than a decade ago.
It wasn't long though, before Goff gravitated to his role in branding, though he brought a healthy respect for DR to the mix. "As we think about brand, we're focused on trying to put campaigns into the market, whether it's for a new handset like the Palm Pre, or a campaign around the Now Network™ or our Simply Everything® calling plan," he says. "But, in creating such a campaign, we use all available tools, including DR, to elevate the brand and move the consumer along in the purchase cycle. DR can also help with customer reinforcement and get them to recommend us to other consumers."
Sprint's recent TV efforts, from the Now Network push to the Palm Pre campaign, have capitalized on its effectiveness in linking mobile users with social networking sites, including Twitter, via their handsets.
Goff led the branding and launch efforts of the merged Sprint and Nextel brands in 2005 — an effort he calls his greatest career accomplishment — which truly prepared him for the rapid-fire series of successful branding and DR campaigns he's led during the past 18 months.
A Series of Successes
Beginning with the April 2008 rollout of Sprint's Simply Everything campaign, which plugged the company's new all-inclusive data plan for its mobile service, Goff and his team have been increasingly busy. Since then, the company has rolled out campaigns for two major entries in the handset market, the new Samsung Instinct (summer 2008) and Palm Pre (June 2009), as well as for its Now Network (April), the jewel of Sprint's service — and of the company's marketing efforts.
Sprint launched a series of customized online ads showcasing the breadth of the Now Network, partnering with sites like Yahoo!.
"The campaign for the Now Network is a positioning campaign, one that is intentionally trying to elevate the brand. That's what Now is all about," he says. The campaign illustrates the breadth and appeal of Sprint's Now Network, which spans wireless Internet access, social networking sites, E-mail, GPS and more. "Much of the talk about network in the category has been about dropped calls, dead zones, lack of coverage. Our goal was to turn that talk around, showing how Sprint enables everything you can do with our products. Nowadays, your mobile phone is about more than just making calls on the go."
According to Sprint, the Now Network features America's most dependable 3G network, the largest push-to-talk community, the only national carrier to offer wireless 4G services, and award-winning phones and devices. Communicating all of this took Goff's steady hand and knowledge of how to mix stunning, glitzy branding concepts with direct response tenets to drive results.
"We used primarily online DR," he says. "We tagged the back end of our TV spots to drive consumers to a landing page, where they could enjoy a richer and deeper experience online. We drove traffic to Sprint.com and to our retail locations. We even targeted current customers."
Less than a month after the general campaign launch, Sprint also launched a series of customized online ads showcasing the breadth of the Now Network, partnering with such sites as Yahoo!, AOL, ESPN.com, WSJ.com, People.com and others. The idea was to encourage Internet surfers to engage with advertisements that entertain, educate and connect people to what's going on in the world now.
"These online media partnerships reach audiences with relevant and entertaining information, while providing an interactive experience that is unattainable with traditional advertising," Goff says. "In today's world, you can get virtually anything you want in real time, which is what life on the Sprint Now Network is all about."
Again, though, these concepts were not only pushed out to draw in possible new customers, but also to reinforce the quality of Sprint's service to existing customers. "Customers want instant gratification these days," Goff says. "Not only were we positioning the brand to a general audience to drive response and new customers, but we were also reaching out to those in franchise, reinforcing the idea that Sprint was the right choice."
Goff's latest campaign launched in June for the brand new Palm Pre, one of the most talked-about smart phones to hit the market in some time. The buzz was something that Goff's team capitalized on. "We began seeding it into some other advertising several weeks ago, utilizing the device at the back end of some of our TV work, as well as in print and online. We didn't make a big deal, just kept it in consumers' minds. There was enough consumer buzz about device for the past 2-3 months. People knew what it was."
The multimedia, multi-market campaign that launched a month ago and runs through the summer includes broadcast, print, outdoor and online elements. "We launched the campaign on TV, print and online, all with direct response elements. Out of home will follow a few weeks from now, including digital signage. The campaign focused on the differentiation of device — its multitasking, multi-updating qualities make it unique."
The TV spots, which brand the device while driving consumers to the Sprint Web site and to retail stores to get more information on or buy the product, highlight the social networking capabilities of the device. "The initial TV ad starts on a Facebook page, demonstrating that the Internet is very much a living, breathing thing," Goff says. "We believed it was important to show that the device is constantly live, allowing you to access all parts of the Internet anytime."
Lesson: DR Works
While Goff avoids sharing specific results, the growth of the Sprint business since the beginning of 2008 speaks for itself. And Goff contends that the company's advertising partners deserve their share of the credit. He says, "We use Euro RSCG's Chicago office for our direct efforts, while Goodby Silverstein & Partners serves ably as our agency of record (AOR). We also have specialized agencies for retail, media and sports marketing. Regardless of agency, we utilize them to help us with strategic planning. They are a partner, an extension of our internal group. For instance, Euro helps us with data modeling, analysis, targeting, back-end and execution."
While Sprint and Goff are experiencing a string of successes lately, he knows not every campaign wins — but each teaches its own lessons. "The best campaigns are the ones that are the most integrated across all media," he says. "We have to be very disciplined, very resolute. Campaigns should be tied across TV, print, online, direct mail and down to the store level. Marketing communications should be looped in, and all message points the same across the board. Our best successes have been those kinds of campaigns."
He points to the launch of the Samsung Instinct as an example. "It was a unique idea," Goff says. "We tied it to summer blockbusters, a movie theme across the board — TV, print, posters, direct mail — all the while pushing some sort of action. 'Go to the landing page and find out more.' Looking back, both on results and creativity, we couldn't have asked for more."
He also points to the importance of connecting customers with retailers. "We have company-owned stores, a dealer network, and third-party retailers like Best Buy," Goff says. "Obviously the environment in our company-owned stores is most directly impacted by what we do. We have close relations with third-party retailers as well. We want their in-store traffic predisposed to buy Sprint products."
With all of these different relationships — and a shaky economy — Goff and his Sprint team know that direct response will continue to play a major role in all of the company's marketing and branding efforts.
"In difficult times, there's more of a premium placed on performance," Goff says. "With DR, you have a clear understanding as to how a campaign performed. I've lived through a couple of different tough times before, and I've learned that the greater the performance of DR, the better you can pull all the levers in a campaign. This time, we're looking to make sure whatever dollars are spent are efficient and performing, and DR allows us to do that than any other facet of marketing."