Youth Marketing Guru Shares Virgin Mobile USA's Vision and Business Model
FuturTech speaker Howard Handler provides insight to wireless market and youth demographic.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. Untapped, underserved, unlovedthat's today's wireless youth market, says Howard Handler, MBA '85 and chief marketing officer for Virgin Mobile USA.
Handler's keynote address on Jan. 28 was part of the FuturTech conference held by the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, College of Engineering and School of Information.
After identifying a viable niche in the youth market, Virgin Mobile USA was launched in summer 2002 and quickly gained recognition as a trendsetter among Generation Y and a leader in the "pay as you go" wireless category. Handler provided key insights into the company's brand, vision and business model and shared advertising depicting their "live without a plan" motto.
Despite early criticism, the company (one of several under the globally recognized Virgin brand) has secured a respectable place in the wireless market and now serves over 2 million customers, 70 percent of whom are under 30. It is their irreverent, fresh approach to products, services and advertising that today's youth identify with, Handler said.
"We take risks, no question about it," he said. "We're definitely resonating and striking a chord."
It is those risks that are setting Virgin Mobile apart from its competitors according to Handler. The company offers a "Rescue Ring" feature that allows you to get a "call" when you're in a sticky situation such as a really bad date or a boring meeting, he said. You set up the rescue ring for a pre-determined time and the rest is up to you. Other extras include exclusive MTV content, Comedy Central content, games, screensavers and exclusive ring tones.
"We're trying to have fun with mobile content," said Handler.
Aside from the hip, edgy content, it is the company's reputation in customer care that Handler says is most important. According to a recent J.D. Power survey, 91 percent of customers would recommend Virgin Mobile to a friend. He also explained how Virgin Mobile's point of view is not "tech for tech's sake" but that they take emerging technology into careful consideration.
As for what keeps him and his colleagues up at night"remaining forever and staying true to the Virgin brand," he said. "We have to be enduring, not a flash in the pan. It's not easy."
Handler has served in a variety of top marketing positions for such brands as the National Football League, MTV, Saturday Night Live and Quaker Oats. His youth marketing expertise can be attributed to his roles in the launch of MTV's "Beavis & Butt-head," "The Real World" and the award-winning "Choose or Lose" voter awareness campaign.
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