Boys+Girls’ Patrick Meade gives insight into Three’s long-term commitment to an ecosystem for growth with The Island, which won Silver at the 2022 Creative Effectiveness Lions.

Prove don’t promise

For a long time Three Mobile was a challenger in the Irish Telco market. All that changed with their acquisition of the O2 brand in 2014. On paper, the two businesses complemented each other very well. Three had a youthful, data-orientated customer base. O2 brought more mature customers and a market-leading B2B offering. It was in this business segment, however, that Three would face its most serious challenges post acquisition.

Trust is a major factor for the B2B market when it comes to Telecoms and broader ICT partners, regardless of the size of the business. From small owner/manager business to enterprise clients, businesses can’t afford to take risks with their connectivity or IT infrastructure. The Three brand didn’t have a significant reputation in the B2B space; in order to sustain their growth plans, they needed to quickly convince existing customers transferring from O2 to give them the opportunity to prove themselves as well as attract new business customers.

The key to unlocking that growth was understanding that trust isn’t a given. It’s earned. Three would need to find a way to prove they could deliver for this cynical segment, not just promise that they could. That mantra of ‘prove don’t promise’ would become the most important motivator for us to take a creative leap that moved beyond the traditional testimonial-type work dominating B2B communications.

Building a community

Key to the ultimate success of this brief were two transformative insights. Firstly, we knew from our research that the vast majority of our B2B target customers weren’t in technical roles, so we needed to build trust beyond tech, through emotional storytelling that spoke to both the head and the heart. A totally different approach for this category.

Secondly, every business is like a community. An ecosystem of different functions working towards a common goal. The most challenging aspect of this project was trying to communicate the wealth of products, services and solutions within the Three Business portfolio. We know that every business is different and has varying needs. There wasn’t an existing customer that used all of Three’s services that we could use to deliver the breadth of message and relevance required. That’s why the ecosystem insight transformed our thinking. Instead of trying to find one business that used all of Three’s products, why not build a community of them that showcased each service or benefit as part of the whole ecosystem? But this posed a significant question – where would we find a community like this?

Discovering Arranmore

Creative Director on the project, Kris Clarkin, had recently read an article about a former Arranmore islander who couldn’t relocate his London based e-gaming business back to his home, a remote island off the north west coast of Ireland because of connectivity issues there. Immediately, he recognised the potential of this island community to help us achieve our aim.

The stakes were high for Arranmore. Islands of its kind were dying out, constantly overlooked by government strategy. The decision to exclude Arranmore from the National Broadband Scheme was another in a long line of blows suffered by this island community. Leaving communities like this behind is akin to condemning them into decline. Especially when over 90% of modern jobs require reliable connectivity.

A digital transformation project on an island community like Arranmore could provide us with the ecosystem we needed to prove the quality and diversity of Three’s services and genuinely demonstrate how better connectivity and ICT solutions can benefit not just businesses, but entire communities.

The weight of this challenge meant that our digital transformation of Arranmore couldn’t be just a marketing exercise. It had to be a long-term platform of continual investment. If we were to truly transform the connectivity infrastructure of the island, we would need the whole of the Three organisation to get involved. Thankfully, Three recognised the significance of this opportunity and this ‘extra mile’ that they would need to go resonated with one of their key points of difference, which, according to independent research, was their ‘personal touch’. Three Business representatives had the reputation of literally going to the ends of the earth for their customers. For this project we would need them to go a little further.

The Ecosystem

What followed was a complete overhaul of the connectivity infrastructure of Arranmore. From high-speed internet that delivered the fastest connection possible to a brand-new Digital Hub from which new and existing businesses could work remotely into global markets. Three also provided ICT solutions to the school, medical centre and many other businesses on the Island.

This wasn’t just a short-term campaign, a lick of paint here and there. It was, and still is, a long-term commitment from Three to prove their fundamental belief of a better connected life. The island community of Arranmore, with its diverse range of businesses, gave Three the perfect platform to prove to its customers that they could be trusted to provide world-class connectivity solutions to its clients. In return, Three gave Arranmore a new lease of life. Literally.

An all-round transformation

Since the campaign began, the island has witnessed an 11% population increase reversing decades of decline. Authorities have received over 3,500 enquiries about moving to the island and tourism is up by 84%. In a recent interview, the council on Arranmore said that they have begun an audit of all the properties on the island to see how they can meet the immigration demand. Now that’s a thriving ecosystem.

In return, The Island became Three’s most successful campaign ever. It directly contributed to an increase in market share at the expense of its largest B2B competitor. New B2B leads increased by 18%. The corporate base increased by 203% and Three witnessed a 153% growth year on year for Three Business as a whole. For the first time, Three Business was seen as a serious player in the market.

Three soon started winning tenders from large organisations who wouldn't have engaged in the past, many of whom cited The Island as a key reason for considering Three Business in the first place.

This ‘prove don’t promise’ campaign that went beyond the traditional testimonial-type advertising familiar in B2B, developed into a long-term ecosystem campaign and helped to transform Three Business’ results while critically transforming life on the island of Arranmore. So much so that it was presented at the European Parliament as a case study on how to rejuvenate Island communities. It is as clear a demonstration of the impact of long-term thinking in creating as much long-term effect as you could ever hope for.

An abridged version of this article appears in the WARC Creative report, Insights from the 2022 Creative Effectiveness Lions winners.