A Q&A with Mint Mobile SVP Andrew Fried

By Mike Kaufman

Andrew Fried, SVP of Mint Mobile, is presenting a session entitled "Mint Mobile: Stretching the Limits of Media for Hypergrowth" at the ANA 2023 Brand Masters Conference from April 26 to 28 in Bonita Springs, Florida. ANA's Mike Kaufman, SVP of brand and media, recently interviewed him for a pre-conference discussion.

Mint Mobile has some of the most talked-about creative in marketing these days, yet your focus has been on how your media choices have been the brand's centerpiece for growth. Obviously both must work hand-in-hand, but how does the work drive, or inform the media choices? Which is driving the bus?

Everything we do is about getting wireless subscriptions in the hands of consumers at a disruptively low price. So, our growth strategy hinges on being hyper efficient with our marketing so we can pass the savings on to our customers. To grow quickly, you need the right creative, on the right media platforms, driving to the right site experience. As we've entered hypergrowth, we have two not-so-secret weapons to drive our marketing efficiency Ryan Reynolds (the best creative in the game) and a fiercely analytical team driving smarter buying decisions.

Media and creative have gone together since the inception of the brand and have a symbiotic relationship. The better the creative, the better the performance. The better the media decision-making, the more optimized the creative.

How this looks in practice:

Media driving the creative choices. We measure everything. Creative executions. Channels working together. Page performance. And we have years of data to draw on. The data drives the insights. The insights drive the briefs. The briefs drive the creative. Sometimes, our best performing ads are the least expected. A simple ad of Ryan talking to one of our first customers is one of our best performing on TV.

Creative driving the media choice. Often, a good creative idea will dictate where we buy media. After being Super Bowl advertisers in 2019, we didn't believe the ROI would be there to run another ad in 2020. We had the idea to give back the ad spend ($5.5 million) to consumers, by giving the most aggressive free trial promotion in Mint's history. We decided to buy a $130,000 Wall Street Journal print ad that Ryan amplified, and ultimately, the campaign performed two times better than when we bought a Super Bowl placement.

When it comes to those media choices, what drives those decisions, and how do you decide what to prioritize?

Each year, we set our guiding principles and goals across the marketing org. Every team member has at least one specific, measurable KPI that ladders up to our overarching goals (and a corresponding Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG). This empowers each team member to understand their contribution, while driving toward bigger, better results.

Each quarter, we co-create priorities – for the team and for individuals. And each week, we look at progress toward goals and how we're performing on a scorecard. This keeps our weekly priorities always tied to our bigger goals.

When planning, it's as important – often more important – to intentionally decide the things we're not focused on  the platforms, campaigns, partnerships, etc.

Now to your specific question, we nail the fundamentals. First and foremost, we focus on getting the little things right. We constantly drive toward getting one percent better each day, which leads to better CPAs, higher conversion rates, and lower churn in the long run, [such as] constant website improvements, SEO tweaks, copy and creative testing, etc.

We try the untested. This has been Mint Mobile CMO Aron North's battle-cry from the outset. We're actively trying the untested - whether it be new media platforms, innovative partnerships, or disruptive offers. We aim to spend 10 percent of media on experiments, and we're constantly A/B(C/D) testing across all platforms.

We also flip the script. As a challenger brand, Mint Mobile takes what's wrong with wireless and makes it right. This has been infused in all our marketing messages and value propositions.

Other wireless companies give away "free" or heavily discounted phones to lure in customers so they can trap them into lengthy contracts where they get stuck paying for expensive service. We don't have contracts and we encourage people to bring their own phones.

Other wireless providers increased their prices due to deflation, so we ran a deflation campaign, and then partnered with the ultimate anti-inflation partner: forever-priced-99-cent Arizona Iced Tea.

Other wireless companies [also] play off people's fear of not having enough data and push their unlimited plans to everyone, even though the typical American only uses about 6GB of data per month. We do the opposite. We educate consumers about how much data they use and get them into the plan that fits their needs. If they choose our unlimiNted plan, we will show them exactly how much data they are using and if they can save money by moving to a lower data plan, we recommend that.

You talk about leveraging the industry's current darlings such as search and SM but seem equally excited by less traditional platforms. What is the strategy behind those choices, and how do you avoid the allure of "shiny objects"?

We believe that everything is media. Of course the greatest hits (e.g., TV, paid search, paid social, etc.) remain hits for a reason, but we're also continuously trying new things like voicemails (from Ryan, delivered directly to Mint users' phones) and holiday cards (or in last year's case, tattoos).

We always start with the objective in mind – whether building brand love and loyalty, or driving customer acquisition – and we stick to that objective. When the goal is centered around surprising and delighting our customers, we don't get greedy with sales CTAs or asks. And, given we allocate 10 percent of spend to trying the untested, we look for the best of the best opportunities to test into. That's where marketer's intuition comes into play - choosing shiny objects that may actually end up working, but not betting too big on it.

Taking on "big wireless" and "disrupting the telecom industry" is the tough talk of a classic challenger brand. Price is certainly a powerful motivator but there's so much more going on here. What role does brand purpose, brand character and personality play in your success? Any insights you can share?

Purpose, character and personality are key. Our purpose is to "right the wrongs of big wireless." As a brand, we fundamentally believe our customers are smart and human. So, we treat them that way. They're smart. They want premium wireless for less money, with no hidden fees, and with an easier, faster process. So, we're transparent and we share how we do it; we limit overhead with no stores, customers buy in bulk (3, 6, or 12 months), and we don't spend money on expensive sponsorships.

And they're human. We connect with our customers and treat them like humans, from our tone to our media campaigns. We are fully aware that customers don't want to hear from their wireless services provider on the daily. So, we make sure communications are special, worthwhile, and not overly promotional.

You're rightly proud of an in-house shop that's doing some remarkable work. What do you think the pros and cons are, and how do you keep it fresh? Any lessons to share with our members who are bringing more and more of their own work in-house?

People make a company, and our people are our secret sauce. By having all in-house teams – across media, e-commerce, and creative – we're able to create the right creative for the right platform with the right digital buying experience.

The pros include having a singular focus and brand passion. Our teams wake up thinking about the brand and go to sleep thinking about the brand. [They have] deep knowledge on the brand strategy, products, and character.

[There is also] internal coordination across teams. Especially important when we're moving at light speed, and an org structure that is built to handle this.

The challenges include avoiding groupthink. [We] push teammates to think outside the box and without limitations [and] create a culture where it's safe to push back.

All kidding aside, Ryan Reynolds is more than your typical celebrity spokesperson, and far from the stereotypical owner that decides he should be in his own ads! Can you give us a peek behind the curtain on the process?

Ryan is the best marketer I've ever seen. His creative is flawless. He moves quickly. He has built the best creative agency in the game, and George Dewey, the Max E president, is unparalleled. You're right, he's not a typical celebrity spokesperson. He truly is an owner. Ryan and George understand the business inside and out. They're not just creating creatives for creative sake, they're building creatives that drive the business.

Ryan's the best in the business at tapping into social consciousness and creating work that reflects the cultural zeitgeist, and we trust his creative hooks. As they said, they move "at the speed of culture."

The problem (or opportunity) is the formality of a "meeting" just doesn't fly when you are operating at lightning speed. You also need a high degree of trust with your partners. That trust removes additional and material barriers.

Aron tells the story of Dave Foley (of News Radio) who tweeted he loved the Mint Ads and wanted to be in one. Aron had no idea the tweet was out (he's not a Twitter guy) but received a text from George explaining the scenario... as George was on his way to a set to film Dave. (Aron was briefed after the production was already set.) Through text and a quick call, Aron and George aligned on a script and the ad was shot. The spot was edited that day and released within 24-hours.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.