AT&T’s Catherine Borda Spills the Secrets to Millennial Marketing

Decoding how they use smartphones

Catherine Borda is director of youth marketing at AT&T. Photo: Fernando Decillis

Who Catherine Borda
Current gig Director of youth marketing at AT&T
Previous gig Brand manager at Georgia-Pacific
Twitter: @CatherineBorda
Age 36

You're responsible for spearheading AT&T's millennial efforts. What have you learned that works with this demographic?
I call them universal millennial truths: being transparent, authentic, immediate and versatile. Everything that we do really has to deliver on those. Something we've seen as effective is highlighting their mobile life and everyday moments. For example, we had the No. 1 post on Tumblr last year, something to the effect of, "When you know what you want, call me." We've all had a relationship where we were a little bit more into the person than they're into us. I think it's so much more powerful to go after those moments as opposed to the traditional, national celebratory types of events when we're talking about millennials.

AT&T is one of the first brands to launch a Web series on Snapchat dubbed SnapperHero. What's so appealing about the app?
Snapchat targets what I'm starting to hear called a centennial, the generation after millennials. Those consumers are still pretty far away before they're going to make an actual mobile purchase of their own, but we definitely want to start conveying what our network can do in a platform that's relevant to them.

And you've also got a team of millennials helping you at AT&T too, right?
I have a team internally, and they're all millennials. I definitely push them to make decisions based on data and not just focus group [learnings]. We are all constantly reading and digesting information, sending articles to each other and learning. The fact that they have [a millennial] perspective helps.

Do those kinds of ads actually get them to sign up for a new phone plan?
It depends on the tactic—we have a large overarching program and some things are very specific about changing brand perception. So that [Tumblr] example absolutely changes their brand perception, and quite frankly, it surprises them in a very positive way that AT&T gets how they're using their phones. And then there are other tactics and programs where we want to obviously sell our services, but the authenticity and transparency never disappears.

To pull off some of these programs, AT&T has worked with Vice's in-house agency Virtue. Why go that route versus a traditional agency?
Their overall insights in terms of millennials and their capability to build content that is loved by them has already been developed as opposed to going with a traditional agency that might still be learning those steps. When I'm trying to meet my business objectives, I can't wait to have an agency learn its way.

Any favorite campaigns that you've worked on?
This platform is my baby. When I started at AT&T two years ago, the goal was a very simple one: Our CMO David Christopher wanted a millennial strategy. So, developing the insights, the learnings that led to the strategy that [then] led to the platform has been like a labor of love.

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