Digital Mercenaries in the Wireless War

Where to begin?

Maybe with my admission that I’ve been a sucker, and odds are if you’re honest you’ll admit you’ve been one too.

death-star-attCongratulations go to Verizon, for waging one of the most effective marketing/advertising/PR campaigns in recent memory. No, not for the Droid, but rather its successful effort to paint AT&T as some Death Star villain. It’s been years in the making, and in the process many of us have been assimilated into Wireless Tribes who do the dirty work.

The part that amazes me is no one is trying to connect dots, or trace paths of influence. There is a veritable army of people on the internet who will Tweet, Re-tweet, Digg and Share any link that refers to wireless wars. No one has questioned the supposed groundswell of Verizon Love that seems to exist, and here is why I have my suspicions:

We’ve been made to care about a distinction without a difference. The surveys indicate that when it comes to dropped calls or customer satisfaction, we’re looking at a hair’s breadth at most. A hair is enough to claim #1, but the truth is that coverage gaps and complaints vary wildly by market.

maps-for-thatWe’re comparing plastic apples to rubber oranges. Verizon is very proud of its 3G map, and is quite happy letting you think that “3G” is a universal standard. Verizon’s 3G is not nearly as fast, and does not allow for simultaneous voice and data. When you drop off AT&T’s 3G, you switch to an EDGE network that is just 20-percent slower than Verizon’s best offering.

Sure, Verizon’s map comparison looks fabulous, but when you factor where people use phones the most, you’re likely to have a faster and better experience with AT&T.

Somehow, most of the thought-leading tech writers seem to revel in the notion that AT&T is some evil empire — as though Verizon is some daisy-sniffing non-profit Mom-and-Pop that does things the old-fashioned way, like Ole Graham Bell intended.

Please. The dichotomy is apparent.

Eye of the Beholder

Truth is your own customer service experience is going to be your most influential factor. I’ve had great service with AT&T, but I never would have left T-Mobile if it hadn’t been for a bad personal experience. The network plays a role, but how you’re treated is huge.

Which gets me back to the Tribes. The greatest sucker-bait in the whole game is getting us at each other’s throats about the phones we use. The iPhone people, the Android Army, Palm Partisans, and the Windows Mobile folks who catch it on all sides.

Truth is, I really like my phone. I picked it because it does the things I need it to do, and does them well. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

Now, imagine how angry you’d feel if you ditched something you’re otherwise happy with, and switched to something that wasn’t as advertised.

The “conventional wisdom” that AT&T sucks and that Verizon rescues puppies is too one-sided for me to believe it’s genuine and universal.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way compensated by AT&T, nor have I ever been. I am on a rate plan that I was eligible for through a previous employer, and have never had a deal or offer that wasn’t publicly available to others similarly situated.

I don’t know how many others can say the same.

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  1. As I said on Twitter a few days ago, your brand is simply what your customers (happy and dissatisfied) think of you. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. “Ike, I’mma let you finish, but…”
    Well, seriously, the only weak point in what you wrote is I don’t see any evidence, even anecdotal, that what you’re describing exists in any world outside that of the TV spots. “Ford/Chevy” arguments exist in any field of human endeavor where there are a couple of strong contenders and everyone else is a distant 3rd (4th, 5th, and so on). I play Buffet clarinets and get kidded by my friends who play LeBlanc – how’s that for obscure? But no one with an IQ over that of a bag of hammers really takes it seriously, and I haven’t been dissed by anyone for my smartphone choices or the size of my map, either.
    But assuming some of this does go on and moving on to your main theme about tribalism – I was thinking just today (having gotten a Verizon Droid as my work phone yesterday, and having given up and bought an iPod recently) – market leaders are usually market leaders for a reason, but it seems the electronics market abhors competition and loves a monopoly/duopoly more than ever these days.
    Some of these reasons are fundamental, at least for some products – developers like to get behind one or two platforms at most, and given the high fixed costs of running a cellular network, you could argue the US market has room for only 2-3 players. Given your work with utilities, I guess you know a thing or two about this. 🙂
    I suspect you’re onto something about how we emotionally invest in brands, but I don’t think it’s something that marketers “cause.” You might say that the more you see it being synthesized in marketing, the less of it genuinely exists on the street. You rarely see “our customers love us” advertising for brands like Starbucks, Harley, Toyota, etc. – they don’t need to do it. All I ever hear about ANY cell company borders on hate speech. I (really, my company) is a Verizon customer, I like the phone okay, having seen both in action it’s a tossup to me whether the iPhone or Droid will be better in the long run, but I certainly am not going to diss a product or company that has taken the market by storm like the iPhone. It obviously raised the bar for these types of devices in power, capabilities, etc.
    All that said, I really think we need these other companies to stay in business. I had a cell phone in the early ’90s – avg. bill $180 for ONE line, used only in emergencies!  Competition is good! For that reason, I hope Android (and Palm, etc.) continue to hang in there and give other carriers (and their customers) viable choices so that it can continue.

  3. Ike,
    As usual, this is well-said.  And it’s all about personal experiences with both the phone (first) and the carrier (second).  I HAVE to have an iPhone, so I am saddled with AT&T.
    There are two dead zones on my way home from work and only AT&T does not work at my cabin (my Verizon-toting friends taunt me).
    My Nirvana is to have Verizon create the capability for simultaneous voice and data – and I would pay to get out of my AT&T contract.  But NEVER leave my precious iPhone.

  4. Ueber-piece of writing, as usual Isaac, and your ability to basically put the boots to Verizon for being so machinating about their AT&T hate-on advertising efforts, stretching out a post which could otherwise be a single paragraph going along the lines of: “Pardon me friends, but the reason Verizon’s knock-on ads of AT&T re: the latter’s 3G network are horsepuckey is because x, y, z…” but to then stretch it out with prosaic Occamisms and the rest of it…well, that’s why we return. Thanks for making me think twice about what the basher’s true intent is when the message is smells rotten, even though it doesn’t look the part.

  5. Hi Ike,
    As you said, the key is your customer service. In Washington, friends with AT&T are sometimes roaming for a signal in their own homes. So I’m stuck with Verizon, but the company shouldn’t mistake my retention for loyalty. Because Verizon doesn’t reward loyalty, I’d really love a viable alternative.
    Having said that, I do think the “there’s a map for that” ads have done a really good job of pointing to one of Verizon’s strength — consistency across its 3G network.
    Happy Friday,


  1. Ike Pigott says:

    Have we been suckered into becoming Digital Mercenaries in the Wireless War?

  2. Ike Pigott says:

    @amandachapel – I don't buy that article. I think there's something else at work:

  3. […] Somehow, most of the thought-leading tech writers seem to revel in the notion that AT&T is some evil empire — as though Verizon is some daisy-sniffing non-profit Mom-and-Pop that does things the old-fashioned way, like Ole Graham Bell intended. via […]