Corporate presentations usually have several things in common. Bad coffee. Circular conversations. Each participant walking out thinking a different thing was agreed upon. Powerpoint. For its own corporate presentation, EE has done things rather differently. Over the course of five days last week, it took some 15,000 people, comprising employees, b2b partners and journalists, to the NEC in Birmingham. There they heard from CEO Olaf Swantee and the board of directors. Or rather, they heard from their holograms.
The audience sat and watched as projections of the likes of chief marketing officer Pippa Dunn or chief sales officer Marc Allera were formed from the particles that EE is putting at the centre of its new brand. What was discussed was similar to what store managers and manufacturers were told in London’s Science Museum last month – that EE will allow its customers to do all the digital things they could not do previously, under EE’s ‘now you can’ slogan.
But then things got weird. After a brief speech from the real Swantee, where he spoke of the business taking the next step ‘to make sure [EE] comes to life for our customers’, the rear of the stage opened, revealing a group of aqua t-shirt clad staff waving at us. They stood in what looked like a bizarre trade fair, with phones being shown off on leaves of corn, rather than the conventional tables, a whack-a-mole style game where users had to turn off the lights of 4G cities as soon as they lit up, and a test-your-strength machine with 4G at the top. At the rear was a 25m sprint track where visitors could win an iPad for running it in the fastest time. Swantee, an avid long-distance runner, confessed his time was not impressive.
Swantee said the event was a means of letting people learn about 4G for themselves rather than being told in a top-down way. He said: ‘They can learn and experience it themselves rather than it being a one-way street.’ He went on to add: ‘The most important thing is that employees who have gone through this will take that to their customers. The brand will come to life not just through advertising, the stores and the network but through people, and that’s what we are trying to achieve through our people here.’The critical question of pricing has been resolved internally but Swantee was cagey on the details. He said it would be announced in the days before 4G launches on 30 October. Suggestions it would be around £5 north of a traditional smartphone contract were not entirely dismissed. He said: ‘I have asked the marketing teams to make sure the pricing is simple and easy and allows many people to adopt the 4G premium in the UK. We will price it so many people can adopt it quickly.’
Swantee said he would be gunning for new customers, as well as working to retain the existing Orange and T-Mobile base. The company will take a leaf out of Virgin Media’s quad-play strategy, and offer benefits for customers who sign up to both a 4G phone plan and its new fibre broadband. The latter is expected to form the centre of a fresh push on b2b, an area where EE has arguably not punched its weight.
Swantee said: ‘There are lots aof small and medium corporates who are knocking on our door to say they are excited about 4G.’There was also a dig at his rivals. While readying their own 4G networks for a potential late spring/early summer launch, O2, Three and Vodafone are likely to focus on how the speeds between 3G and 4G do not constitute a quantum leap forward. Is Swantee concerned? ‘The strategy of using legal threats or to constantly look out your window to see what other competitors are doing does not give long-term differentiation.’ EE’s acquisition numbers in the quarter after its next results should make for interesting reading.