Integra's Electric Lightwave rebranding is all about establishing identity with business customers

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Integra has set itself on yet another new path to enhance its identity with large businesses by revamping the Electric Lightwave brand while creating another group dedicated to mid-market customers.

Electric Lightwave has a long heritage in the competitive service provider market, but after Integra bought it in 2006, its assets were mainly used for backhaul for small to medium business (SMB) traffic and as a vehicle for offering wholesale services to Integra's growing base of carrier customers, particularly wireless operators. Integra used the Eschelon properties it acquired in 2007 for a similar role.

This approach posed various challenges for Integra: It did not have a consistent fiber-based network strategy and it lacked a focused customer strategy that aligned sales and support teams with the specific needs of the medium and large business accounts.

Under the new two-tiered structure of Electric Lightwave and Integra Business, the service provider will now have dedicated teams that will focus on the particular needs of each customer base.

Electric Lightwave will support Integra's top 2 to 3 percent of customers--including data center and wholesale customers--which represent about 40 percent of its revenue today, while Integra Business will support the top 20 percent of its top customers, which represents about 40 percent of its core revenue.

Craig Clausen, EVP and principal analyst for New Paradigm Resources Group, told FierceTelecom in an e-mail that this move is centered around better positioning itself to target the more complex needs of large enterprise customers.

"Integra's move is more about understanding and positioning for enterprise accounts," Clausen said. "The Electric Lightwave name has been around for years, but over the most recent years, it had been relegated to wholesale (some large enterprise accounts as well)."

In announcing this new initiative, Integra said it will be able to provide an "enhanced and tailored customer service experience, with new dedicated resources" to enterprise mid-sized businesses.

Being able to tailor the customer experience for each segment will help Integra establish a greater bond and trust with mid-market and large enterprises because they will know that they will have expertise that can address each segment's specific needs. What a multi-location large enterprise with hundreds of locations needs is far different than a mid-sized company that may have only one location or just a few locations, but is looking to a service provider to handle technology and service functions it can't adequately support itself.

"Customer care and account management has been approached as a '1 size fits all' with mid-size accounts and enterprise accounts handled more or less the same way," Clausen said. "Integra's restructuring and bringing back the Electric Lightwave name is about putting a stronger focus on enterprise customers – with respect to both the sales approach (such as having dedicated teams that understand the entire Integra/ELI network and resources as opposed to just local pockets) as well as dedicated account management with a higher level of touch."

That's not to say that Integra hasn't tried to use the assets it acquired to target more business opportunities. Besides building out various long-haul fiber routes supporting 100G, the service provider began extending existing fiber routes in Montana to make its services more palatable with the state's booming utility provider segment, for example.  

This is also not the first rebranding effort Integra has embarked upon. In February 2013, the service provider dropped "Telecom" out of its name and became just Integra. Similar to the Electric Lightwave rebranding, Integra wanted to maintain the heritage of the brand equity it gained serving the SMB segment while defining its role as a broader solutions-based service provider.

But even with these branding efforts, the service provider still has some challenges to wade through in 2015 and beyond.

For one, it has not named who will head up the Integra Business unit. The company also still has yet to name a permanent replacement for former CEO Kevin O'Hara, who left the service provider abruptly last September. Whether Integra appoints an internal company veteran or an outsider to these roles, it will be important for Integra to get its leadership structure in place to show customers that it is a company that can meet their needs.

Regardless of the challenges it will face, it's clear that Integra has realized that competing in the larger business segment--where incumbent telcos like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and cable companies are competing--requires it to have two brands that provide a tailored customer experience.--Sean