Mary Dillon has the unique distinction of being the only female to lead a publicly traded U.S. wireless operator. And though she has only been in this position a little over a year, she is already making her mark as a savvy marketer and an advocate for the small wireless operator that she believes must innovate or risk extinction.
At the Rural Cellular Association conference in April, Dillon spoke to a group of small operators about the importance of segmenting their market and innovating with marketing programs, a technique that U.S. Cellular used in 2010 when it unveiled its Belief Project. The Belief Project reduces overage charges, provides earlier phone upgrades, gives paperless billing discounts and offers free accessories to customers who are loyal to the operator--but perhaps the most significant part of The Belief Project is that U.S. Cellular does not require customers to sign an additional two-year contract after they fulfill their first one.
U.S. Cellular also recently unveiled another promotion intended to attract more smartphone customers; the carrier is offering shoppers a $100 credit toward their bills if they switch to the carrier and sign up for a contract with a smartphone.
The actions likely are geared toward reversing U.S. Cellular's recent subscriber losses. The carrier lost 39,000 net subscribers in the first quarter.
Dillon has her work cut out for her. In May, U.S. Cellular accelerated its LTE plans by announcing it will launch LTE in 24 markets by November, covering approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of its total subscriber base of around 6 million subscribers. The company will outfit around 1,250 cell sites with LTE using its 700 MHz spectrum. To try and keep pace with larger carriers, U.S. Cellular also said in June it will launch seven Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android-based smartphones (including one LTE smartphone), two tablets and its first Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 7 device by year-end.