And it's not about the marketing spend. You have seen it in the news and if you managed to miss that, there have been some notable discussions about it in the conversations we've had in my neighborhood of the business blogosphere: AT&T announced that it will fold the Cingular brand into it's own. Get over it, says Todd Wasserman in a recent article on BrandWeek, after all the Cingular brand didn't stand for much.
I beg to differ: it did stand for something, which went well beyond the sentimentality of marketers -- it would be worse to call it the sentimentality of people, wouldn't it? As I outline in my weekly FC Expert Blogs post, the Cingular name and brand stood for an experience and a real customer conversation, and that was notable.
Stephen Denny, a veteran at connecting brands to the wants and needs of technology users, was the first one to comment on Brand Equity in his Note to CMO on January 13 --
Here's a guess on my part, and I'm willing to debate this, but I seriously doubt that the mobile phone users of the world all see AT&T as a brand they'd flock to; AT&T is a dinosaur of a brand image. It's like GM without the sexiness. That was a joke, by the way.
Brand awareness and brand equity are not the same thing. I can't believe AT&T is a brand your mobile phone core user would aspire to. This is a strange decision.
Matt Dickman, a technology strategist at interactive marketer DigiKnow, gave as a preview in Steven Colbert shows the confusion surrounding Cingular's name change in his Techno//Marketer on January 19 --
I am sure Cingular subscribers are just as confused. We'll see how this pans out for them. The iPhone launch may be the only thing keeping people as a customer here.
I know that AT&T...sorry...at&t wants to re-assert itself as a communications powerhouse, but Cingular was a well established brand that stood (in my opinion) for the opposite of everything at&t was and is again.
Marketer Mack Collier at The Viral Garden, the place beyond Madison Avenue where marketing ideas grow and spread, followed with his thoughts on AT&t Kills Cingular, Gives us your Grandfather's Cellphone on January 22 --
Cingular has brand equity. It is seen as young, hip, reliable. When you think of AT&T, you think of landlines, rotary dials, and the Reagan administration.
Is there ANYONE outside of the AT&T board room that would rather have the AT&T name on their cellphone than Cingular? I've been pretty satisfied with my Cingular service the past few years, but the first time I get a bill with the big bold blue AT&T logo on it, I'm going to start considering Verizon. It will be an involuntary reaction.
Did Steve Jobs know this was coming when he made Cingular the 'exclusive wireless provider' of the iPhone? Talk about a branding mismatch!
These are not the sentimental cries of people who fell in love with the idea of an orange Jack character, nor it is about the money. Branding a wireless service may be like branding utilities, yet Wasserman unwittingly makes my point: as a customer the most important factor for me is that the service works and that when it doesn't someone will make it happen for me. Cingular was better than some of the alternatives at that -- and I tested the company's limits on multiple occasions.
Price can be a factor when all things are equal. Somehow, some brands surprise us and manage to deliver above what expected. And that soft or intrinsic value is worth more than just a dismissive pat on the back, because today it's not business as usual. When companies manage to deliver on the people side in this day and age they stand quite apart from the pack. In that sense, they are singular.