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Wireless Phone Companies Face Off
The cell phone is now like an extra appendage, and cell phone companies are getting creative in ways to pique the interest of potential customers – especially those belonging to their competitors. Some customers are tempted by family plan deals that offer service to multiple family members on the same plan for a discounted rate. Others, frustrated with the quality of their cell phone service, might be enticed to switch when one carrier offers to cover the penalty cost of breaking the contract of another, which can be hundreds of dollars.
But the local customer can be an enigma that even well-known brands may overlook in marketing strategies. Maintaining a strong local presence is an imperative goal in 2017, and brand managers must address a myriad of ways in which consumers connect with businesses: local search and online listings, reviews, online ads, payments and others. To reach this newly-defined, on-demand intersection of the market, a shrewd look at five distinct local marketing themes can identify what new verticals must be addressed.
To gauge how each company approaches local marketing, Brandify’s proprietary technology analyzed AT&T’s and Verizon’s store locations with focus on areas of local presence management. 4,903 AT&T locations and 4,000 Verizon locations were included in the data sample, where Brandify reviewed current local marketing strategies and compared the two cell phone carriers. Though some brands let key aspects of local slide, the final scores for these two wireless giants show how adept they each are at connecting with the local customer.
The two biggest wireless companies are already well-known across the U.S. – AT&T and Verizon each host millions of cell phone customers on their networks. Both companies are rated in 2017’s top 10 most valuable brands in the world by Brand Finance, with AT&T at number 4 and Verizon at number 7. Those rankings are telling for these two brands – although Verizon has more subscribers overall and better 4G coverage, Verizon also trails slightly behind AT&T in its brand value ranking and in the final score for this Brand Battle.
The Final Scores
AT&T: 686 Verizon: 663
Battle Rounds: Data Quality | Local SEO | Reviews | Local Ads | Engagement
Consumers are obsessed with their cell phones, and that means that the stage is set for wireless companies to access huge numbers of potential customers in the local realm.
Battle round: Data Quality
Can you hear us now? No matter the size of your company or consumer familiarity with your brand, accurate store location data is a must!
Accurate store location data can affect shoppers’ opinions – and their path to purchase – in many ways. An existing customer could be frustrated by a wrong address or phone number, or a potential customer might move on to a competitor if the nearby location they’re searching for doesn’t turn up in search results.
For AT&T and Verizon, Brandify found that both companies must work harder to ensure their store locations are listed correctly online. On Google, 53% of AT&T’s locations had in accuracies , compared to 43% of Verizon’s locations. Given the number of locations analyzed,, each brand has over 2,000 store locations with erroneous data. .
On Facebook, AT&T fared slightly better, where 61% of Verizon’s locations were not claimed. A&T left 50% of its pages unclaimed on Facebook.
On Yelp, 45% of AT&T’s locations are missing, giving Verizon a slim lead in this round. The biggest loss for AT&T in the data quality round was on Foursquare, where 74% of its store locations were not found. Both brands are leaving massive opportunities to reach local customers on the table by overlooking these local-social media webpages, but Verizon managed to maintain its edge to win the data quality round.
*Locations that were “not found” were not returned in any search results. Locations that were “not claimed” were returned in search results, but data about the location such as phone number and address could be incorrect or missing.
Battle round: Local SEO
Shoppers looking for a new cell phone and service provider usually search online before buying, and these two brands would do well to up their local search games.
Wireless shoppers are some of the most likely to be swayed based on information they find while researching a carrier. While many shoppers have an idea of what they want, Google research shows that nearly one-third of wireless shoppers are unsure of which carrier to select, and they go to lengths to compare options. Every minute, there are more than a hundred online searches for a wireless provider store “near me”. Shoppers also look for key details, including what new smartphones are offered, if they are getting the best deal, and how the company rates in terms of customer service.
But more importantly, over 75% of wireless shoppers from the top four cell phone carriers sign up for service and purchase a new phone in person at store locations. According to Brandify’s analysis, 44% of Verizon store locations don’t show up on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for customers who search for keyword terms such as “cell phone store” and “smartphone store” on Google. AT&T’s search results were barely better, with 41% of store locations not showing up on SERPs.
It’s also essential that the search results that do turn up are listed high on the page – another area where Verizon’s local branding performed better than AT&T’s. 49% of Verizon locations show up as the first, second, or third result for the search term “cell phone store” on Google local search, versus 35% of AT&T locations.
AT&T hit back hard in the search results on Bing local search, where 52% of its locations showed up as the first, second, or third result. That mobile-friendly content is an essential that brought AT&T up to par with its competition – making this Local SEO battle round a draw.
Battle round: Reviews
When it comes to reviews, brands must upgrade their outdated flip-phone strategies for today’s instant-access smartphone strategy – wireless shoppers are extremely likely to read customer reviews before buying.
According to Google research, one of every five brand-related searches are looking for information about the quality of wireless customer services, and that trend is expected to continue growing. Customers love to write reviews about bad customer service, making this reviews battle round a critical one. Not only that, but one in 10 wireless shoppers who switch providers do so in the hopes of obtaining better customer service.
Brandify analyzed reviews for AT&T and Verizon from July through December 2016 – and found that Verizon again outperformed its competition. For this time period, AT&T had an overall negative sentiment, receiving 51% negative reviews overall out of nearly 15,000 reviews analyzed. Almost 60% of reviews for Verizon received four or five stars, while 55% of AT&T reviews received four or five stars.
Both brands’ reviews reflect almost 70% positive sentiment for the keyword “staff”, but that was counteracted by many reviews showing a negative sentiment for products such as tablets and iPhones. Overall, Verizon’s reviews were more positive, gaining the brand a win in this battle round.
Battle round: Local Ads
Finally – a brand that knows the value of a local-specific advertising plan, and is capitalizing on the reach it gains with specialized ad extensions.
The Local Ads battle round was where AT&T jumped in the ring swinging. According to SEMrush data, AT&T spends significantly more money per month on online advertising: $4.5 million for search ad campaigns on both desktop and mobile compared to Verizon’s $160,000 per month. Mobile users already spend inordinate amounts of time on their cell phones consuming media, and the opportunity to reach them with advertisements – especially locally-targeted ads – will only grow in coming years. Last year, Ericsson research showed that the average smartphone user consumed 1.4 GB of data every month, and that that number is expected to increase to 8.9 GB by 2021.
Already acutely aware of how much data their subscribers are using, both AT&T and Verizon use location extensions in ads, which enable users to easily pull up directions from their location to the nearest store. AT&T takes it a step further by using review extensions in ads, which show ratings for company service and specific products. Just for search advertising, options like these help AT&T generate 20 times more traffic per month than Verizon. This multi-faceted strategy earned AT&T double the points of Verizon and winning this battle round.
Battle round: Engagement
Every brand needs a engagement policy that personally connects with individual consumers on the local level!
Social media can be an easy way to engage with customers, but overlooking this option can severely limit a brand’s local success. AT&T again performed unmistakably better than Verizon in both local social engagement and in corporate social engagement, earning it again nearly double the points.
On Facebook, AT&T customers checked in at store locations almost five times more often than Verizon customers. AT&T’s engagement rate on social media overall was also significantly better than Verizon’s, at an average of 18 out of 30 engagement instances. Verizon didn’t achieve half that rate. A timely, thoughtful response to displeased customers can have more of an effect than many brands realize: take AT&T’s effort from a February 2017 Facebook comment:
The AT&T representative responded within two hours, communicating to the customer that the company does value her and offering to help in any way possible. Vargas did note that her problem was eventually resolved – but her experience speaks to the importance of customer engagement.
“Everything is now settled with AT&T,” Vargas said. “A representative called me last night and looked through everything and credited our account appropriately. He was very understanding and pleasant. But, the fact that I had to go through so many channels and have patience as it took almost two weeks to resolve is really annoying and frustrating.”
AT&T won this Engagement battle round, displaying its expertise in local marketing and winning this Brand Battle.
Brand Battle Winner: AT&T
Brandify’s Recommendations for Verizon
- PAY ATTENTION TO LOCAL PAGES: Verizon should take a look at its locations on both Google and Bing to correct inaccurate address and phone numbers. Additionally, claiming Facebook and Foursquare locations will definitely improve engagement at a local level. Currently, 61% of Verizon’s locations are not claimed and more than 40% have address problems. Improving those will increase brand trust and activity online.
- CULTIVATE MORE, BETTER REVIEWS: Verizon is using its local pages to garner reviews, but AT&T has native reviews on local pages, giving it an edge that helped it win this Brand Battle. Verizon should take the same opportunity and extend their review base to their own real estate – an option that more brands are taking advantage of every day.
- INVEST IN LOCAL ADS & SEARCH: Verizon has less than 40% of its locations ranking on Bing local, compared to AT&T’s 52%. Verizon must improve its search engine optimization on Bing to keep up with the competition – though the company does well in investing in location extensions in ads, enabling local ad copy using individual local pages and store locators in ads could help Verizon win the next marketing battle.
Brandify’s Recommendations for AT&T
- GO FOR GOOGLE: AT&T’S locations rank well on Bing, but on Google only 35% of its store locations show up in one of the top three search results. By beefing up its SEO on Google, AT&T will be able to ensure it remains in the top spot for wireless companies.
- IMPROVE DATA QUALITY: To gain a wider lead from its competition, AT&T must address its issues in location data. On Google, 53% of AT&T locations have address inaccuracies and 23% have phone inaccuracies.
The battle was scored using Brandify’s Social Data Matching (SDM) technology with data from various channels,* including Google, Bing, Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare. Data was entered into the Brandify analytics engine to test the two companies’ local digital marketing footprint to determine a final Brandscore for each. The Brandscore is calculated with an algorithm consisting of more than 250 variables over 5 core location-based areas: Data Quality, Local SEO, Reviews, Social Engagement, and Local Advertising.
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*Other channel sources included in this analysis: Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.
Brandify is transforming the way businesses connect to consumers by leveraging location technology and offering unrivaled personal service. Brandify has helped hundreds of brands understand and improve their local presence. Current and past clients include True Value, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Applebee’s, Black & Decker, and more. For more information about Brandify, go to brandify.com.