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Jun 05, 2002

AT&T's Consumer Product Launch Expert Katherine Bagin Shares Her Tips & Tactics

SUMMARY: We think of Katherine Bagin as "The Launch Queen" because she has led so many consumer product launches and repositioning campaigns for AT&T over the past 15 years, including Online Billing, ecommerce, the youth-targeted 1800CALLATT launch, AT&T calling card re-positioning, and the AT&T Universal Credit Card launch. Now at last she has agreed to share what she has learned about: Email marketing results in reality; Online surveying tactics; Getting consumers to use new online services such as ebilling.
Will consumers ever adopt broadband wholeheartedly? 15-year AT&T veteran Katherine Bagin was recently made Marketing and Sales VP for the Company's Consumer’s DSL – Broadband Services, which is a new service entry for AT&T, so she is about to find out.

Bagin is the perfect marketer for the job because in the past she led AT&T Consumer’s E-Business Strategy, which included Web Operations, E-Commerce, Online Billing transactions and Online Care Self-Servicing. In this role, she helped increase consumer adoption of online billing three-fold.

Plus, she is a launch expert, having previously, led major marketing initiatives such as entry in local services, the youth-targeted 1800CALLATT launch, AT&T calling card re-positioning, and the AT&T Universal Credit Card launch.

QUESTION: What marketing tactics have you tried that have not worked as planned and why?

BAGIN: In recent memory the hardest nut for me to crack is the promise of email marketing.

There has been way too much hype about it so our expectations were very high. Also, the skill set for good execution is still very new. Things like getting into permission marketing, for a brand like us, we have to do it in the best way and it’s a lot harder than you think. You can’t just take 20 million names that we collected over time and blast emails to them. You need respect for the customer. You need that permission.

When you go to do email marketing, there so much of a deep knowledge of how direct marketing works and yet there hasn’t been a perfect translation to how email works. You also have 2,000 vendors that all want to help increase our response rate by 100 percent and they don’t always work that well.

Between getting permission, figuring creative, hitting the right target area, it’s all very difficult to do. Email is has just not delivered as high as the hype suggests and we have had multiple [email marketing] efforts that just didn’t meet our expectations.

That said, we are by no means abandoning it, but we have had to reset our internal expectations.

QUESTION: Online billing has become standard for large financial institutions and major consumer brands such as yours. What do you feel was the greatest challenge in the creation of your online billing service and what still needs to be improved?

BAGIN: Our first challenge was awareness. You’d be surprised at how low the awareness of this service is. Second, we found out that because banks haven’t been as successful [with online billing], we had to separate ourselves from what banks do. They often charge a fee for this service and we have get awareness that there is no fee for us. Third was choice of payment. Some customers love automatic payment and others want the convenience [of online bill payment] but not have it be automatic. When we added the view and pay option, adoption was really high. We grew our user base three-fold in one year.

Awareness is still the key challenge for us.

[To get the word out] we use existing bill statements, we use email; every medium to reinforce the benefits of online bill payment. The big thing we just did, for those who still wanted paper and online bill statements, is offer the capability for ‘paper billers’ to just see their bill online. If they want to pay [online] they can. This feature has only existed over the last few weeks, haven’t told ‘paper billers’ they can do this yet. We now have to do that.

QUESTION: What has been the most effective way for AT&T to let consumers know about new programs?

BAGIN: We all live in a fragmented media environment and literally there are no ‘silver bullets.’

There used to be, but now it’s all about being innovative. Integrated marketing is the only way to reach the masses effectively and that can be the ‘silver bullet’, but it is much harder to do [then just choosing to run ads in one target area like prime time TV]. You have to pick and chose and use money wisely. No consumer is doing one thing anymore.

QUESTION: Based on your experiences, what needs to be avoided in integrated media campaigns?

BAGIN: Avoid multiple value propositions. Really, succinctly define your value proposition.

Even if you do use different channel mixes it will feel like it hangs together right. For example, you’re surfing the Web and I’m selling a calling plan. If on the Web all I’m touting is price and then you see a newspaper ad with a different price and then on TV you see something else, all we’ve done is hurt ourselves.

On the other hand, if what you are selling is not about a price point, but about something like convenience, you can have different price points on different [media] channels and market that. Then, you position it as a choice. That is your umbrella.

Ultimately, if you don’t have an integrated value proposition, it’s just clutter.

QUESTION: How often do you conduct online surveys of your customer base and what kinds of questions do you ask?

BAGIN: It is ongoing, literally. The beauty of the Web is your frequency for feedback is increased exponentially. We have random feedback modules on every page [of the AT&T site]. You don’t have to make it intrusive either. For one, on our homepage we know we get the widest net of people and we know when you’ve been there and completed a survey we won’t hit you again for a while.

On the homepage we survey by random pop-ups, and we’ll ask simple questions like how they learned about us and if they found what they were looking for on the homepage.

The pop-ups in the online billing section are, of course, totally different and that is geared toward billing needs. There, you won't get same questions as on homepage. We change questions all the time and make fixes all the time. We feel we are building our quality higher and higher by not asking same things. We may come back to you in six months if you already saw a survey. You should make it a few seconds too.

But pop-up [surveys] are still relatively new so we do use classic market research tools. We bring customers in and we will ask them to find things on site and we study how easy or difficult it was to do.

QUESTION: In the same right, what should you avoid in the creation of surveys?

BAGIN: Most importantly, if you are not going to use the information you are asking for, do not ask. I am always amazed at other surveys that do this.

Don’t waste customers’ time with things you will not act on. Keep it short. Again, most of all, if I have six months worth of data and I didn’t act on it, the customer will just get turned off.

QUESTION: What was the greatest challenge in repositioning the AT&T calling card program and how did you overcome it?

BAGIN: In any repositioning effort, you either take a look at what you have and really divide your core value proposition from the customer prospective or you are thinking ‘we’ll build it and they’ll come.’

I personally feel you need to take the biases away and figure out where your product is at a given time. Put it in front of a customer and let them tell you what it is. You also have to decide how you define success. These things take a lot of effort.

What was unique to the calling card effort was that the forces that made us decide to reposition it in the first place had nothing to do with internal issues. At the time, payphones were being deregulated and there were a lot of scams. You couldn’t just dial ‘zero’ then the number anymore. Your bill would show up and it would have per minute charge plus a payphone charge. AT&T was getting a black eye over this so we thought if we did 1800CALLATT and bypassed the ‘zero’ it would help avoid the extra charges, and allow a unique branding opportunity.

Re-education about an existing product is most difficult.

We had to teach the public about this [new dialing] and convince them they were safe to dial from anywhere. We came up with a tagline, “know the code.” We also had to reissue the card into the public with the new number, but we had a great spokesperson [model Tamara Taylor] in 1995.

Viral marketing wasn’t really a word at the time, but there was a collateral element. We could go and label payphones. Our brand was marred so it was worth the investment. We had to step above what was going on and make it positive and make it easy. This is what really worked.

QUESTION: What did you learn about your target audience in this effort and how did you learn it?

BAGIN: We did the first two principals [of repositioning] right and a bonus came out of it. We found out a new customer segment, the youth market, and they were getting ripped off in the collect card market. We found that one of the largest segments of payphone users was kids [concentrated in the 16-25 age range] and we really didn’t market to them before.

For the CALLATT for collect calls plan, we had yet another spokesperson ([actor] David Arquette), to appeal to the youth audience. The cards, as I mentioned, were targeted at adults.
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