EE's top marketer on the brand's new concept stores, Apple, Bacon and Ofcom

Campaign met Max Taylor, managing director of marketing at EE, at the mobile network's revamped "Showcase" store on Tottenham Court Road, central London, to find out why the brand wants to be a destination for shoppers, and why Apple's latest launches are a game-changer for the mobile industry.

Mobile network retail stores aren’t always known for being the most inspiring of environments, but EE is trying to change that with a new "Showcase" store format billed as offering "the most personal and immersive experience on the high street."

"We’re trying new things to engage more effectively with our customers and we’ve set up a number of new and exciting initiatives to do just that," Taylor says.

They include highlight stages at which shoppers can try out the latest tech being offered by EE, including Google Home and Samsung’s VR headsets; large touchscreens in which they can browse visualised information about 4G connections in their area; a huge TV screen showing content from EE’s TV service; and the ability to video-call specialised product and service experts at EE’s contact centre in south Wales.

But the big story, from the Friday, will be the arrival of Apple’s slate of new devices: the iPhone X and 8, and the third generation Apple Watch, which for the first time has a built-in 4G connection. This model is exclusive to EE, and can be used with the same number as an iPhone 6 or newer.

The new products are "game-changers", according to Taylor, both as consumer products and for the marketing industry.

He insists that the Apple Watch has so far been "incredibly successful" for the tech company, pointing to its claim that it is now the world’s best-selling model of watch, smart or otherwise. But he tacitly acknowledges that the device – often ridiculed for its perceived lack of usefulness – has not come into its own without the ability to use the watch while not also carrying a phone.

"It has been successful as a category, but connecting it over 4G really takes the category on," says Taylor. "Being able to upload that data in real time, back to doctors or hospitals, that’s really important.

"And from a consumer media perspective, being able to not take your phone out when you’re going for a run or cycling, and then leave your phone at home when you’re out with your friends in the evening  – I genuinely think this is groundbreaking."

When it comes to the iPhone X, Taylor sees its AR capabilities as the most exciting development, with big potential in "all sorts of things from business, to education, to gaming applications". It is something EE is working on from a marketing standpoint at present, he adds.

As for VR, Taylor believes the potential of the technology will depend on content providers driving more engaging content. "The hardware is really strong already," he says. "But in the long term I think AR is probably a technology with more wide reaching ramifications than VR."

Bacon is back

EE will return to TV this Friday with a new campaign for the new iPhones from Saatchi & Saatchi, once again featuring brand mascot Kevin Bacon.

Bacon has starred in the brand’s ads since it was launched in 2012, but Taylor says he very much remains part of the plans for the foreseeable future.

"We continue to be excited about working with Kevin – he continues to research well with our key audiences, and he’s great to work with," Taylor says. "The relationship that’s been built up over time; when we go through the creative process; getting him to understand who we are as a brand - he really hits the nail on the head."

While EE was among the brands that pulled advertising from YouTube earlier this year, Taylor says it is increasing its spend in digital across the board, and that he’s happy with the response from Facebook and Google to the industry’s concerns around safety and viewability.

But there is one change of policy he’s like to see from the tech giants.

"From my perspective, one challenge to them is to bring their beta testing and their innovation to the UK," he says. "We’ve got such a big mobile consumer base and I’d like to see some of the technology and innovation they have over in the US come to the UK first. From a 4G network perspective, we’re one of the best networks in the world."

Spectrum wars

While Taylor would clearly prefer to focus his energy on the exciting potential of the new mobile tech emerging every week, the issue set to dominate the UK industry in the coming months is the war of the networks over Ofcom’s proposed caps to the ownership of 5G spectrum.

After the regulator announced it planned to cap the amount any one network could hold at 37%, Three – which wants that amount set at 30% – announced it would take legal action.

In response to this, EE, which currently has 43% of the spectrum in use, said it would take action to stop Ofcom imposing a limit at all.

EE had been "forced into this situation by Three", Taylor says – but given that Ofcom was caught between challenges from both directions, does that suggest it had got it about right?

"We don’t agree with capping," Taylor states firmly. "We need spectrum at all levels – we need access to all of this spectrum."

When it came to the amount of spectrum per subscriber, he says, the four networks were broadly similar – EE’s greater share came about because it was willing to invest to attract a larger consumer base. What it was looking was "a level playing field in spectrum per subscriber".

An EE spokesman said that the auction system should reward the "appetite for investment" from the companies willing to spend: "We have aggressively bid for and paid for spectrum throughout the years, and we’ve rolled that out non-stop. We've got the biggest network, the fastest network, more customers and better speeds."

When 4G rolled out, Taylor says, EE "put the investment down and rolled it out faster than many companies – we shouldn’t be penalised for that position.

"We want 5G to come on as quickly as possible," he adds. "The most important thing is how fast we can get the technology in the hands of our customers and innovate. And that’s the grounding for our position around the spectrum."

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