EE's Spencer McHugh on a summer of fibreglass-cow 4G hotspots and techy tea parties

Spencer McHugh, EE's marketing director, on a period that has taken him from fibreglass-cow 4G Wi-Fi hotspots at Glastonbury to helping a grandmother Skype and send texts for the first time.

Summer is one of the busiest times in my work calendar – and I love it. It’s a time to work hard, get inspired and spend as much time out and about as possible.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the past month – meeting customers and partners and observing first-hand how our products and services are affecting people’s day-to-day lives. It’s clear that the introduction of 4G to the UK has triggered a revolution in customer behaviour – it’s also reminded me that it is a challenging but incredibly exciting time to be a marketer.

Off to Glasto

First off was a trip to Glastonbury – we’ve been involved with the festival for more than 16 years, initially through Orange and now with EE – and it’s astounding how the appetite for technology there has evolved during this time. Staying connected has become an essential part of the experience and we knew that this year’s festival would be the most connected ever.

We were only too happy to play our part, providing a bespoke 4GEE network across the site allowing festival-goers to benefit from superfast wi-fi for free, all thanks to a herd of 4G cows.

The life-size fibreglass cows, installed across the site, had been converted into 4G Wi-Fi hotspots. Decorated by festival artist Hank "the bin-painter" Kruger – to ensure that Glastonbury’s heritage was integral to the idea – they proved a huge hit.

With an increased desire for connectivity comes a need for more battery power – no mean feat in the middle of a farm in Somerset.

All this connectivity on site resulted in some interesting stats. Most surprising to me was that we didn’t see people just accessing our Glastonbury app, uploading photos and sharing updates on social media, we also witnessed huge numbers downloading and streaming video and songs. In fact, customers downloaded a whopping 2.49 terabytes of data over the weekend, the equivalent of roughly 650,000 Dolly Parton songs.

That’s something that simply didn’t happen a couple of years ago, and 4G has played a huge part in these changing habits: our 4G customers have increased their data use by 66% in the past year.

With an increased desire for connectivity comes a need for more battery power – no mean feat in the middle of a farm in Somerset. So this year we launched the EE Festival Power Bar, a £20 portable phone charger that could be swapped for another one at no additional cost on site once it ran out of juice.

The reaction was amazing. The Festival Power Bar sold out well in advance of the festival and we handled more than 30,000 swaps over the weekend, demonstrating people’s desire to stay connected at all times.

All in all it was a stellar festival and, if I’m honest, it wasn’t all about work. Norman Jay’s brilliant DJ set in the glorious sunshine will live long in the memory, as will a storming end to proceedings from Disclosure.

Wembley partnership

Continuing the theme of getting out and about this summer, I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a series of great events at Wembley Stadium. We recently announced our lead partnership of Wembley and are proud to be working closely together to make the national stadium the most connected in the world.

I’m a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur FC fan and over the years have enjoyed some fantastic moments at Wembley. However, as we appear to be going through one of our "rebuilding" phases, sadly there was no Spurs at Wembley this year.

However, all was not lost, as Wembley is famous for its fantastic summer schedule, and this year has been no exception, with a range of events from the FA Cup final, to gigs by One Direction and Eminem and the Froch vs Groves boxing match.

The thing that struck me most when I spoke to customers was how important technology has become to people when attending live events. It’s affecting every part of that live experience from planning through to complementing and enhancing the event itself – and, of course, capturing and sharing the excitement of attending. It presents great opportunities for brands to really own and enhance these magic moments.

While I wasn’t lucky enough to get out to Brazil this summer for the World Cup, it was another event that clearly marked a watershed moment in terms of mobile use and the shift in consumers’ media habits.

I’m an avid football fan at the best of times, but it felt like I literally didn’t miss a kick of this particular World Cup, whether via live streaming, catch-up or social media.

With many of the games kicking off at 5pm and lots of people still at work and unable to watch the matches live on television, we saw huge numbers watching on mobiles and tablets – in fact we smashed records on the EE network for the amount of traffic generated by streaming online video.

We reached our peak during the Costa Rica vs Italy match on Friday 20 June as many England fans (including me) tuned in to watch the result of this crucial game.

Tea party

And finally, over the past few weeks we’ve been busy putting the finishing touches to our first ever National Techy Tea Party Day, in partnership with the charity Age UK, which is set to take place on 9 September. We launched in July with support from the fabulous actress June Whitfield CBE – an Age UK ambassador and massive supporter of being online, no matter your age.

Technology truly enhances our lives, but we can’t take it for granted: there are still people who don’t have the skills they need when it comes to everyday tech.

Our Techy Tea Party initiative, which runs all year round, gives us great insight into the other end of the spectrum. Despite a hunger in this country for increased mobile data use, for lots of people the idea of going digital is still a daunting prospect. Research shows that one in five people in the UK lacks the basic online skills they need to carry out everyday tasks and, shockingly, more than six million adults have never been online.

Technology truly enhances our lives, but we can’t take it for granted: there are still people who don’t have the skills they need when it comes to everyday tech. This might be because they didn’t grow up with it and lack confidence, or they don’t have the necessary equipment and connectivity.

At one of our recent local Techy Tea Party events I met the wonderful Betty, who simply wanted to use technology to stay in touch with her family more. We spent an hour together, during which she quickly managed to master the art of text messaging.

We then moved on to video calling, and it was a really special moment when she managed to Skype her daughter and grandson from Scotland.

Meeting Betty was a fantastic reminder that our products and services touch the lives of tens of millions of people every day – across a broad demographic – and that as a brand we need to continue to innovate, ensuring we place the magic of technology at the heart of everything we do.