In October 2013, T-Mobile started its “Un-carrier” marketing campaign. The message then, as it remains now, was that T-Mobile is different than major carriers AT&T and Verizon. CEO John Legere has told us over the last two-and-a-half years that T-Mobile is a customer’s friend, not an airwave-hoarding overlord like its larger competitors.
Legere on Monday announced the 11th(!) Un-carrier promotion. This latest one is perhaps the most unusual, and it further establishes the populist marketing Legere has spearheaded. T-Mobile post-paid subscribers can now receive one share of common stock in the company. Refer a new customer, and you’ll get another share, up to 100 in a year. (T-Mobile shares fell today.)
The company also announced it would offer customers free food and movies with partners such as Domino’s and Wendy’s, but the Stock Up share giveaway is a unique perk, and feels like a culmination of Legere’s tenure. Legere’s long hair, brash language, and casual clothing give him a persona more befitting a local bartender than a CEO of a major telecommunications firm.
T-Mobile’s corporate image has mirrored Legere’s to an extent. Its youthful, rebellious marketing establishes it as the wireless carrier that cares most about the customer. With Stock Up, T-Mobile seeks to make customers feel co-op owners, or like Green Bay Packers fans who own shares of the NFL’s lone publicly traded company.
“If (customers are) invested with us, they’re more likely to tell people about us, they’re more likely to stay and it really reinforces that we already have the most satisfied customers in the industry according to several different major industry sources,” T-Mobile chief operating officer Mike Sievert told USA Today.
That feeling of investment is what differentiates Stock Up from another form of retroactive reimbursement: giving away cash. “They could have done a (secondary equity offering), sold those shares … and handed out cash as a gift,” said University of Washington finance and economics professor Philip Bond.
T-Mobile, a fast-growing but distant competitor to AT&T and Verizon, realized early that the pool of wireless customers isn’t growing. Thus, new customers would likely have to be poached from existing carriers, and simply providing reliable service alone wasn’t enticing enough. T-Mobile’s competitors have largely followed suit; AT&T just last week announced it, too, is offering weekly deals on food and movies.
With its stock giveaway, T-Mobile customers now can embrace a Packers fan’s technical, but not practical, ownership. Packers shareholders own a share of the team, but they aren’t voting on free-agency decisions or draft picks. The same goes for T-Mobile.
“One of two things happens when customers get shares,” Bond said. “One is they sell them, which is almost exactly like a cash incentive. Or, if customers don’t sell, they’ve somewhat changed the investor base for the company. They’ve achieved a more passive and compliant investor base.”
All these newfound T-Mobile shareholders likely won’t participate in shareholder meetings or votes. But to many, that won’t matter. They’ve graduated from customers of T-Mobile to, in some small way, owners of it. And if that’s not enough to keep them around, free pizza should do the trick.