David Kimbell, chief marketing officer, U.S. Cellular
Making your brand stand apart from those of your competitors is a challenge that all marketers face today. But when your competition is the likes of Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) that just happen to have multimillion-dollar marketing budgets, it can be nearly impossible to make a mark with consumers.
Nevertheless, Chicago-based regional operator U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) is doing just that. Thanks to the efforts of David Kimbell, senior vice president of marketing and the company's CMO, U.S. Cellular has been taking some bold steps to differentiate itself from the competition and attract new subscribers.
Last summer the company launched a new advertising campaign dubbed "Hello Better" that focuses on its customer service appeal and attacks the practices of larger U.S. carriers. One U.S. Cellular TV spot dings larger operators for locking in customers to long-term contracts in exchange for phone upgrades, and ends with "Goodbye to lifetime commitments. And hello new phone upgrades without new contracts." Another spot lambasts phones from other carriers that can seemingly do everything but give customers reception where they need it most, and ends with "Goodbye deception. Hello reception, with the highest network satisfaction of any national carrier."
The efforts appear to be working. In the third quarter, U.S. Cellular reported 9,000 net subscriber additions, which was an improvement after successive quarters of net subscriber losses. U.S. Cellular ended the third quarter with 5.8 million subscribers.
Nevertheless, U.S. Cellular does have some challenges ahead. In November, the company announced it would sell some of its major Midwestern markets and spectrum to Sprint for $480 million. As part of the deal, U.S. Cellular will offload its Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois and three other Midwest markets to Sprint. The deal includes a transfer of PCS spectrum and around 585,000 customers, or about 10 percent of U.S. Cellular's total customer base, to Sprint. The deal requires approval from regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice and is expected to close by mid-year.
Kimbell is clearly using his background working for big consumer brands to try to fine-tune U.S. Cellular's strategy as the regional operator committed to providing superior customer service. Before joining the operator, Kimbell was CMO of Seventh Generation, the green household products cleaning company. Prior to that he worked for PepsiCo where he led brand management and marketing for Quaker's cereal brands. Interestingly, his last position at PepsiCo was vice president of marketing, the same position that U.S. Cellular CEO Mary Dillon held from 2002 to 2004.
- David Kimbell, chief marketing officer, U.S. Cellular