Google Fiber in Kansas City: 100 times the possibilities

What was the state of the brand’s business and the marketplace or category in which it competes before your effort began?

 

In 2012, Google set out to tackle an industry rigid in its ways. AT&T and Time Warner Cable reigned as kings of the monopolistic multiple service operator (MSO) landscape.

 

Google’s initiative would start by giving one city a fiber optic network that would reach every home. Fiber optic Internet would be one hundred times faster than regular average speeds. It was called Google Fiber, and it would open up shop in Kansas City.

 

Getting customers, however, would mean taking market share from the city’s large and successful MSOs. In particular, 76% of Kansas City was firmly held by the competition. Time Warner (45%) and AT&T (31%) both had robust market share.

 

What was the strategic communications challenge? Provide context on the degree of difficulty of this challenge and detail the business need the effort was meant to address.

 

The challenge was clear: get Kansas City residents to sign up for Google Fiber. We didn’t have the luxury of focusing on high-value targets like upscale neighborhoods or heavy internet/TV users. To establish a new infrastructure, an extremely large cost commitment, we needed to drive mass adoption. If we didn’t get at least 60% of neighborhoods to qualify for Fiber, the project would not be considered a success, and thus deemed unfit to expand to other cities.

 

It sounds like an easy proposition though, right? We were offering Internet speeds one hundred times faster than their existing service, and it was coming from one of the most well-liked and well-known brands on the planet.

 

On the contrary, there were significant obstacles to overcome.

 

This was Google Fiber’s maiden voyage. Not only was this Google’s first time playing Internet and TV provider, most people in Kansas City saw Google as merely a search engine. But would they trust a search engine to provide super-fast Internet?

 

Fiber also ran the risk of encountering an uninterested customer base. Never mind the fact that 76% of Kansas City residents were locked into 2-year contracts with their current provider. 86% of Kansas City had reported as being satisfied with their home Internet speeds.

 

On top of that, we were asking residents to pay a premium. Research revealed that the average monthly price of Internet for Kansas City was between $44.96-$49.50, and K.C. residents’ ideal price for Internet is between $24-$35. We were asking some residents to pay $200+ to break a contract as well as pay a premium for a promise of faster Internet.

 

The promise of faster Internet was a low-interest category and needed to be contextualized. Changing Internet providers was an onerous task and many Kansas Citians didn’t know what they could do with faster Internet access; education needed to be baked into the value proposition.

 

We knew we had a great product; we just had to position it in a way that got Kansas City thinking about the big picture. Specifically, we needed to convince enough of K.C.’s neighborhoods to sign up in a six-week window for Fiber to build out a fiber optic infrastructure in a cost-effective and efficient way.

What were your objectives? What were the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) against your objectives?

Though we were eager to generate awareness, there was an incredibly clear and tangible KPI attached to the project: conversions. If our efforts failed to get 60% of the neighborhoods in Kansas City to sign up for Fiber, the project wouldn’t be deemed a success, and it would likely mean that Fiber wouldn’t expand beyond Kansas City.

 

What was the insight that led to the big idea? How did you get to that insight?

Describe what led to your idea – e.g. a consumer or business insight, a channel insight, marketplace/brand opportunity, etc.? Explain how it originated and how the big idea addressed the challenge.

 

In primary research we fielded, we heard participants voice an intense pride for Kansas City. It was a market scarred by the recession, and its residents were eager to see it bounce back. We realized we needed to connect with the people of K.C. as citizens, not merely consumers. In order to break through, Google Fiber had to be about making their city better, not merely their household. That meant painting the picture for all the possibilities Fiber could bring for Kansas City’s art, entertainment, public safety and job market.

 

What was your big idea?  State in one sentence.

Rally Kansas City to sign up for Google Fiber by creating a social movement that would get every Kansas Citian talking.

 

How did you bring the idea to life?  Explain your communications strategy and the rationale behind your channel choices.

We had a high-end product that needed signups en masse and quick. A traditional advertising awareness approach was not enough. We needed to create a social movement that gained traction outside of conventional means.

 

We knew we had two objectives: 1) Drive awareness of the Google Fiber brand, the concept of “fast”, and why it matters 2) Get as many people signing up for Fiber as possible.

 

Broad reach communications like TV, newspaper, and OOH set out to position Google Fiber as the refreshing alternative to the incumbent competition. To do that, Fiber started with a launch video featuring a toy-like replica that contextualized what 100 times faster Internet meant.

 

We also needed to create a relevant raison d'être for Kansas Citians to get Google Fiber. So Fiber said “Thanks”: We launched an anthemic ode to Kansas City that highlighted its colorful history and thanked the people of Kansas City for welcoming Google Fiber into their community. A pair of television commercials followed, featuring real K.C. residents and their stories painting a picture of how Fiber could impact daily life.

 

To get users to sign up, we took a ground-up approach to media. Each Kansas City neighborhood needed to reach a certain percent of sign-ups to be considered for service installation. So a social activation initiative called “Let’s do this for Kansas City” was launched to rally the community to fight for getting Fiber in their neighborhood. Neighbors were encouraged to spread the word about Fiber. A local Kansas City brand team went from neighborhood to neighborhood handing out stickers, yard signs, flyers, door hangers, etc. to encourage sign-ups.

 

We also sent direct mail that counted down to the final sign-up date. Zip code targeted digital media was used to drive awareness around a neighborhood’s progress and get customers to sign up.