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The Telecom CMOs: AlcaLu's Stephen Carter

4:45 PM -- The closest thing to a “star” telecom CMO would be Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)’s Stephen Carter, whose high-profile government service included running the U.K. telecom regulator Oftel from 2002 to 2006, serving briefly as a technology minister in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet and authoring the Digital Britain Report. After getting through multiple waves of security in the A-L booth at MWC, including several ladies whose dresses were inspired by Bjork, we caught up with Carter in a room filled with cubes (you’ll see why below).

What is your core message here at MWC?
The cube works. [Ed. note: Carter is referring to Alcalu’s small-cell product set.] LightRadio is here, it works, it’s scalable, we won “Infrastructure of the Year Award” here at the show and Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) just went live with the service on Sunday. [Carter said the lightRadio strategy demonstrated thought leadership and was brought to market in collaboration with Telefonica.] 4G is coming, and for Alcatel-Lucent while we weren’t on top of the tree with 3G, we’re demonstrating leadership in LTE and lightRadio.

What’s the tie-in to the core Alcatel-Lucent brand?
Speed and velocity is the tie back to the brand. It’s amazing the speed that things are changing. Two years ago hardly anybody had tablets. At this show this week you are the first media person I’ve seen with a laptop not a tablet. [Ed. note: Sorry, I don’t like the tablet keypad.] We’re all having to deal with this reality.

How much of your marketing budget tied up with MWC?
This is by far and away the most significant trade event in the year. I’m going to Cebit next week, but we don’t have a booth, or maybe it’s just below my radar screen. We’ve concentrated our focus here and it shows in our physical size, scale and quality. For industry it’s a really convenient time, coming a couple of weeks after the close-out of last year’s results. And I’m delighted they kept it in Barcelona. I like Spain in February with a bit of sunshine.

Is your marketing budget up, flat or down this year?
I’m pretty sure our marketing budget is down year on year, although the absolute number is less of the question. Like many businesses, we’re becoming much more focused and have a much tighter rationale about the way we are spending our money.

How do you measure telecom marketing effectiveness?
We do customer satisfaction surveys, heat maps, account plans, all the business systems you’d expect to be in place in a company like ours. Ultimately what it boils down to is big numbers from big product launches. Last year we made four choices. Our lightRadio, vectoring, the FP3 launch and 100G announcements were the headlines. We’re doing very well all those businesses. When you make narrow choices, effectiveness becomes pretty transparent in terms of customer interest, orders, sales and deployment.

What was your best marketing program in last six months?
LightRadio, it ticked all the boxes. We were coming from behind. Our challenge was that people didn’t associate Alcatel-Lucent with wireless leadership because of what happened with 3G. The market was focused on macrocells and we found a different leadership position.

Best marketing program from competitor in last 12 months?
I never comment on competitors.

Is social media actually driving marketing, or still in the experimental phase?
It’s not driving it yet in B2B marketing. We use it extensively internally as a company. We’ve really embraced it a huge scale, [CEO] Ben [Verwaayen] uses it and everybody uses it. [Ed. note: Alcatel-Lucent does have gated sales portals, dedicated customer information sites and shared technical communities.] But you have to remember that the heart of our business is intellectual property. Social media opens the sandbox. It’s still business and people are competitive. We work with every telecom company and they compete with each other. Discretion is the better part of valor and value.

What are you personally doing to blog, tweet, video blog or market your brand?
I don’t.

How does Alcatel-Lucent tie in marketing programs with service provider marketing aims?
Increasingly we’re making our marketing choices aligning to where customers are making choices, but generally we’re not doing co-marketing on any significant scale.

What is the key issue facing the telecom industry?
We have not been successful as an industry, including vendors, operators, regulators and users, dealing with the two guide wires that control our industry: policy and regulation, and spectrum. What is the right control environment to make our industry flourish, but in flourishing, not make hay at everybody’s expense? Most regulatory control environments are ex-post, or after the fact. We need an enabling environment that is more proactive.

— Joe Braue, Group Director and SVP, Light Reading

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