At the end of 2012, T-Mobile found itself in a troubling situation. A planned merger with AT&T had just fallen through, leaving it the smallest of the four national providers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile). Compared with the top two brands, T-Mobile only had about 30% of the subscribers, weaker national coverage, and a consumer reputation for dropped calls and poor call quality. Worse, they didn’t have the iPhone, and there was no other phone/smartphone differentiation. They were already the low cost-provider and had a flat subscriber count.
T-Mobile knew they could not continue to operate the same way. The fixes for the coverage and connectivity problems were understood, but it would take money and years. T-Mobile put a plan in place, but even when completed, it would only be a catch-up move if their subscriber base continued to be far behind the others. And they were already the low cost-provider.
T-Mobile devised a strategy to add new subscribers now, despite the current coverage and call quality issues. The “Un-carrier.” If they couldn’t change the product, they would disrupt the market with a series of pivots.
- The first blow was struck in March 2013, Simple Choice. Simple Choice offered T-Mobile customers unlimited calling with no term contracts, unlike other national brands.
- In July 2013, Upgrades For All gave T-Mobile customers two free upgrades of their phones every year.
- In October of 2013, Simple Global added free international roaming and 200mb for tablets.
- In January of 2014, Get Out Of Jail Free paid some or all of the early transfer fees charged to subscribers of the other brands when moving to T-Mobile, saving new subscribers hundreds of dollars.
In less than one year, T-Mobile altered the consumer’s perception of value primarily by changing billing methods. Same lesser network. Same devices. New billing methods. The results are shown below.
Note the impact on subscriptions is virtually immediate. After four flat years, T-Mobile increased its subscribers by 28% in one year.
T-Mobile didn’t stop there. The other pivots came regularly and continued to focus on what customers will buy now. The “Un-carrier” strategy was supplemented by network and bandwidth improvements beginning in 2015. By the end of 2016, T-Mobile had moved into third place of national providers, more than doubling their 2012 subscriber count.
Late in 2019, T-Mobile took advantage of their momentum to merge with Sprint (now the fourth-place brand).
In Q2 2020, T-Mobile moved into second place. T-Mobile reported having led the industry in total branded net customers for 22 consecutive quarters (4 ½ years!) and ownership of American’s largest 5G network covering more than 250 million people across 1.3 million square miles.
Many things powered T-Mobile to where they are today. Strong leadership. Focused execution. Shared and aligned values.
But it all started with a pivot. And another. Then another. That’s how David became Goliath.
If you’d like to speak more about how pivoting might work for your business, schedule a day, and time here.
“If you’ve got an idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going. That doesn’t mean quit your job and jump into your idea 100 percent from day one, but there’s always small progress that can be made to start the movement.”
– Kevin Systrom, Instagram