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Going beyond the call

By Mindy W. Toran

Can you hear me now? From local and long- distance telephone carriers to wireless communications, the Internet, fiber optics and satellites, there are numerous options for promotional campaigns in the burgeoning telecom industry. Here's the 4-1-1.

Last spring, Cingular Wireless attracted more than 41.5 million customers to its wireless text messaging feature by teaming up with Fox TV's American Idol. Cingular customers had exclusive inside access to the American Idol competition via text voting, a TXT-n-Win sweepstakes in which fans could win $50,000 cash or a trip to the American Idol finale in Los Angeles, TXT chats with Idol contestants, Idol trivia, and downloadable ring tones.

"The fourth season of American Idol helped spur a national wireless text messaging boom," says John Burbank, vice president of sponsorships for Cingular Wireless. Throughout the show's 12-week voting period, Cingular reported the largest volume of text messaging in a single campaign in the history of the U.S. wireless industry.

Cingular knows the value of a perfectly timed, perfectly targeted promotion and "Promotional products remain a key part of the marketing mix, as we try to engage consumers with our brand," says Clay Owens, director of media relations for Cingular. The largest wireless company in the U.S. uses all things imprintable, from the most inexpensive and simplest to the Dodge Viper painted with a Spider-Man theme it gave away in connection with its sponsorship of the first Spider-Man movie.

"We are in a unique position to align our company with the hottest in sports and entertainment properties that best resonate with our more than 50 million customers," Owens says. "As part of the American Idol promotion, some of our markets gave away an American Idol DVD with the purchase of a phone or data package. We're tapping into popular culture to strengthen our connection with our customers and take a leadership position on the convergence of wireless and entertainment." In addition, Cingular has coordinated numerous NASCAR-related promotions, as the sponsor of the #31 car, driven by racer Jeff Burton.

And Cingular is only one of a growing number of telecom companies for which large-scale promotions are key in an era when customers switch services with increased frequency.

The competition is fierce, which is good news for the promotional products industry as each company searches for ways to stand out from the crowd. According to the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), a trade organization serving the communications and IT industry, the telecom market is expected to grow at a projected 9.5% annually, between 2004 and 2008, rising to $1.1 trillion. Spending on telecommunications equipment was expected to increase by 5.4% in 2004, and grow at high single-digit rates through 2007.

In the wireless market alone, there will be close to 2 billion subscribers by 2005, according to Deloitte & Touche LLP's Technology, Media & Telecommunications Group. "The most compelling and lucrative mobile content will continue to revolve around personalization, such as ring tones, wallpaper and basic games," notes the consulting firm. Thus, promotions highlighting downloadable "extras" such as ring tones, music, games, driving directions and the like are popular among providers.

Practically everyone has a cell phone today, and promotions designed to keep consumers coming back to a particular company or switch to a new carrier are everywhere. "Wireless phones have become a lifestyle tool, allowing consumers to communicate and connect how they want, when they want and where they want," says Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, the international association for the wireless telecommunications industry. "It's a vibrant and growing industry." In 2004, Americans used more than 1 trillion wireless minutes - an increase of nearly 33%.

Enter Here
Tie-ins to sports, entertainment, trade shows, festivals and special events, employee recognition and sales incentives are just a few of the entry points into the telecom promotional market. Don't forget the tons of telecom trade shows - the booths need promotional products, and the telecom employees need matching shirts. Co-branding and brand-name recognition are particularly important.

"The wireless industry frequently uses large-scale marketing campaigns to attract customers, often sending representatives to sporting events, festivals, car shows or other populated events," says Mitch Silver, of Printable Promotions (asi/299458). "Giveaways at these events can include cell-phone-shaped magnets, mugs, calculators, etc., with the company's logo on them as a way to get their name in front of potential customers."

John Bonomo, director of media relations at Verizon agrees. "Sporting and entertainment events make for great entry points into special promotions," he says. "We often sponsor raffles for prizes at sporting events and concerts, and may have celebrities do meet-and-greets to attract customers to our products."

Promotional items are being incorporated into consumer campaigns largely to catch consumers' attention and lure them to whatever the company is offering - whether it's low rates, extended service plans, text messaging, etc.

"Telecommunications companies are using promotional products mainly to capture market share and promote name recognition," says Silver. "Companies are striving to get their products into the minds of consumers and can gain a competitive edge using promotional products that convey a professional image and promote brand awareness."

Brand-name recognition and customer loyalty is especially important in the telecommunications industry. "Companies are doing whatever they can to differentiate themselves from the competition, because they're basically offering the same services," says Joshua Arkin, marketing director at Funco Promotions/The Funline (asi/55525). "Promotional products provide an inexpensive way to keep a company's name in front of current and potential customers, and help build brand awareness."

Michelle Michelsen, marketing director at Tagmaster (asi/48500), adds, "The object is to get the consumer to think of your company when they need your services. Simple items like shirts and caps, mugs and pens are inexpensive and work well to draw consumer traffic."

Since there's a lot of switching of providers that goes on among consumers, special promotions can help motivate the salespeople themselves, using premiums such as electronics and gift cards or apparel. Some companies reward salespeople when they sign up a particular number of new accounts or promote new products.

Get More Business
Offering a free gift to lure customers into a store or encourage them to sign up for a wireless plan is another great way for consumers to take notice of the services a telecom company offers. Mark Bruk, of Corporate Fulfillment Services (CFS) Inc. (asi/46728), says, "Most of the promotional items we utilize for telecom are designed to retain existing customers, followed by attracting existing customers to additional products the company offers."

CFS has provided two types of promotions for these companies - phone cards and music download cards. Many telecom companies have used phone cards as giveaways at trade shows or for thank-you gifts to customers and leave-behinds by sales personnel. Music download cards are often handed out at trade shows as well or used as a gift to customers when salespeople have missed their appointment window. "Music is particularly popular with high-speed Internet service, as they go hand in hand," Bruk says.

Silver says, "Because there are so many telecommunications companies making offers to consumers, companies need to do more than provide a low rate to attract them. Offering free gifts when a customer signs up for a phone plan or giving consumers perks for switching carriers makes a company stand out among the rest."

Another useful promotional item for the telecommunications industry is the Tracer Tag. "More than 400,000 cell phones will be left in taxicabs this year, and only 5% will be returned," says Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Tracer Tags (asi/91743). Customized, imprintable Tracer Tags can be used by cell phone stores as a value-added promotion or as self-promotions for distributors seeking new business in a particular industry. According to Schlesinger, 75% of items lost with a Tracer Tag are returned.

Since the tag stays on the item for as long as the consumer has the product, along with the company's logo, that company gets long-term exposure. In addition, if the item is lost and ultimately returned, the client will be even more likely to thank the telecom provider who gave it to him.

Obviously, anything that makes your product stand out and gets consumers in the door is a worthwhile investment. "Providing a tangible promotional object with an offer a consumer hears about on the radio or television grabs the attention of potential customers," says Silver. "In an industry with so many companies competing for the attention of customers, using a promotional product with a phone- or communications-related theme can help you achieve a higher response rate," he says.

"One item of particular interest is the gel pad that can be placed on a car dashboard to hold items - such as cell phones, sunglasses and pens - in place," says Ben Adler, president of Top of the Line Promotions (asi/470250). "Cell phone holders, cases, holsters and desktop organizers are all appealing to the cell phone accessory industry and, when presented with creativity, can become hot sellers for promotional products distributors."

For example, Adler is currently working with a customer who owns a number of cell phone accessory stores. "They give out stress balls in the form of a chair, which comes in handy to hold a cell phone." He says, "I presented them with a much more creative product - the Fun & Funky mobile phone holder, supplied by Concepts in Motion (asi/79525) - a cell phone holder with hands that comes in a variety of bright colors and stands on a car's dashboard to keep your phone within reach. The client's main focus is to gain exposure among its customer base."

Maintaining good relationships with existing customers is just as important as attracting new clients through a promotional campaign. Promotional items can thank long-time customers for their business, motivate them to purchase additional products or en-courage them to refer friends and family members to your company.

Janice Perzigan, director of marketing at Imperial Marketing Inc. (asi/230430), stresses, no matter what the industry, "Clients are seeking to develop creative marketing solutions that will prompt their targets into action. We always come back to the idea that everybody likes to get stuff." As such, imprinted items keep a company top-of-mind.

In an industry such as telecommunications, with so many providers offering so many different services catering to specific needs of consumers, it's often difficult to compare apples to oranges. "Promotional products offer a way to break down these often confusing offers to consumers," says Silver. "An offer with a promotional product bonus may be the one thing that sets your business apart from the competition."

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Mindy W. Toran is a PA-based freelance writer.

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