SaskTel: in touch in the Great Outdoors

When Jamie Miley looked out into the big prairie sky one blustery January afternoon, he saw a warm and fuzzy blanket of comfort.The kind of comfort, that is, that comes from knowing that even if you are stranded in the middle...

When Jamie Miley looked out into the big prairie sky one blustery January afternoon, he saw a warm and fuzzy blanket of comfort.

The kind of comfort, that is, that comes from knowing that even if you are stranded in the middle of Nowhere, Saskatchewan, with nothing in sight but a horizon of grain elevators, help is on the way.

Marketing strategy

That seedling of an idea was soon cultivated by Miley, who is account supervisor for SaskTel at McKay Goettler & Associates, into what has become an effective marketing strategy for SaskTel Mobility Cellular.

Miley says the Saskatoon-based shop’s ‘Comfort Zone’ campaign, launched in early 1993, has been successful because it focusses on the needs of the Saskatchewan consumer rather than, say, the business client.

He says because the province’s residents are highly mobile – many farmers conduct business from their cars and trucks – and many rural residents have to travel between 20 kilometres and 30 kilometres for basic services – telecommunications coverage is the top concern for Saskatchewan cellular phone users.

The ‘Comfort Zone’ campaign trumpets SaskTel’s major competitive advantage: it offers a wider blanket of coverage than its leading competitor, Cantel.

‘What we are really selling is peace of mind,’ Miley says.

‘And when you’re in the middle of a severe weather spell, and it doesn’t get above 28 below [Celsius] for three weeks, being able to call for help is really important,’ he says.

The retooling of SaskTel’s marketing strategy began two years ago with a corporate name change.

A new logo was designed as part of the overall relaunch and branding of SaskTel Mobility Cellular – which is now part of a national system of wireless carriers, says Tony Coppola, director of marketing at SaskTel.

Teaser campaign

A teaser campaign began rolling out in the spring of 1993 featuring the ‘Ink Blot,’ or, ‘the Blob,’ as it has become affectionately known in SaskTel circles.

In the campaign, a mysterious blue shape superimposed on a yellow background began to appear on the sides of city buses, on billboards, in community newspapers as well as in city dailies, Regina’s The Leader-Post and The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon.

A major brouhaha ensued.

Both city papers and out-of-home media supplier Mediacom were deluged with calls from curious residents wondering what the ads were all about.

‘Obviously, it was exactly the kind of response we were hoping to get,’ Miley says.

The second stage of the campaign built on the momentum provided by the first, asking residents, ‘What do you see?’

Hundreds wrote in with responses which included everything from former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s chin to the Canary islands.

Finally, Saskatchewan residents got their answer – the Blob was the outline of SaskTel Mobility’s coverage area.

The SaskTel Mobility Cellular logo accompanied the ads, tagged with the message: ‘The Shape of SaskTel’s maximum cellular coverage.’

Miley says that from a straight advertising perspective, ‘it was a simple message that focussed on the benefit.’

Over the past year, SaskTel has continued to build on its initial campaign strategy.

It has also tried to build brand awareness through a direct mail campaign, radio advertising and point-of-purchase advertising.

While many other cellular phone companies were pitching their products and services to a blue-suited business clientele, SaskTel has targetted the typical family.

More recent ads have featured shots of trucks travelling through golden prairie rural scenes emblazoned with the corporate logo and map.

‘We are trying to introduce it to a different market segment,’ Miley says. ‘It’s not just for a snotty business elite. We are saying this is a tool that can be useful for your mom, or dad, or for the entire family.’

However, there are other significant differences in marketing to Saskatchewan residents, according to Miley.

He says the less glitz and glamor, the better.

‘Stubborn lot’

‘We’re a stubborn lot here in Saskatchewan,’ Miley says. ‘We are a little bit more skeptical about the hard sell here.

‘I think it goes all of the way back to the Depression, when the government came in to take over local farms,’ he says.

‘People want to buy things, they don’t want to be sold anything. They want to feel that they’re in control and that they made the decision.’