Merchant Innovation

What T-Mobile, Trump And Twitter Have In Common

While it’s not likely that Amazon, Apple and other industry leaders are exactly bemoaning their competition-beating performances, heavy lies the crown for the top players in any area. In fact, the consumer expectations that come with being the leading provider of a single product or service can be quite restricting, limiting what companies do in everything from research and development to social media marketing.

How fortunate for T-Mobile to be a distant third to AT&T and Verizon.

The cellular carrier has shown a serious willingness to adopt an edgier, social media-friendly persona in recent months that came to a head this week as its main competitors prepared for their quarterly earnings calls. However, rather than keeping the corporate kid gloves on, T-Mobile instead went for the jugular and released drinking games for AT&T’s and Verizon’s earnings calls that mocked the empty buzzwords, business platitudes and other meaningless utterances that keep so many consumers from engaging with brands in the first place.

Calling its new social media approach the “Ball Buster Challenge” in reference to a widely circulated Verizon TV spot that uses balls to represent network performance, T-Mobile encouraged its followers to take a swig every time somebody at AT&T or Verizon mentions an overused phrase (“Internet of Things”) or corporate-speak for less flexible options (bundling and data privacy). GeekWire reported that T-Mobile also sent representatives out to Washington neighborhoods, offering $100 to anyone who could show stronger Verizon signals than T-Mobile’s own in those areas.

While few people outside of T-Mobile’s offices actually poured out some libations ahead of AT&T’s and Verizon’s earnings calls, the carrier’s willingness to call out its much larger competitors isn’t just a unique tactic in cellular ISPs today, it’s one of the only tools that companies struggling for market share, like T-Mobile, have left.

It’s easy to imagine multinational corporations trying to assume this kind of irreverent populist perspective when trying to reach the customers who respond to it, but for one reason or another, many of those attempts come off as hamfisted at best or insincerely exploitative at worst. But it’s not as if T-Mobile is a down-by-the-corner, mom-and-pop cell phone store either, so what makes T-Mobile stand out from the crowd?

A CEO who’s the face of his brand.

Granted, John Legere has created that cult of personality surrounding himself over the course of a few years. In a Fast Company profile, Legere does everything from riding around offices in a fuchsia Segway, dropping in unannounced at T-Mobile stores in far-flung states and cussing out his two largest competitors with brusqueness. However, the biggest factor to Legere’s success as a figurehead for a company that needs visibility over anything else might not be his in-person antics but his Twitter habits. Though tech moguls, like Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk, dwarf Legere in followers, the T-Mobile CEO tweets about three times more often than and has nearly five times as many favorited tweets as both of them combined.

That’s proof enough that when Legere speaks, the average person likes what he has to say.

Legere hasn’t just shown signs of media savvy directed at his industry competitors, either. In November, Quartz reported that Legere even took on quite possibly the most shrewd (and unscrupulous) Twitter user out there today — Donald J. Trump. After artfully goading Trump into responding to one of Legere’s replies to an early Trump thought, the two began sparring over the capabilities of T-Mobile’s cellular network — exactly what Legere would like to talk about on exactly the kind of far-reaching stage that Trump’s interaction provided.

While Trump might be changing modern politics for better or worse with his insurgent presidential campaign, T-Mobile and Legere could do the same for underdogs across retail industries. Especially as startups continue to push disruptive ideas onto the market, all they might need to topple industry standbys is a leader who isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers in a high-profile way and a verified Twitter profile to get started.

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