Lefar's resignation comes at a critical time for AT&T. It has actively been rebranding its wireless division, having abandoned the Cingular name after its merger in favor of the AT&T name--a widely criticized move, given the time and money spent to brand Cingular in the first place.
In fact, one brand expert believes that perhaps frustration over seeing so much excellent branding work undone could be one reason behind Lefar's departure.
"[At Cingular] they essentially created a powerful national brand from scratch and along the way spent $1 billion doing so ... to undo that, on a personal level, would be difficult," opines Michael Megalli, partner, Group 1066.
"Of course, that's conjecture as to why Lefar left, but it seems obvious that [the rebranding] would be the kind of thing that would cause some kind of turmoil within the group," Megalli told Marketing Daily. While Megalli concurs that the unbranding of Cingular was an unwise decision from a marketing perspective, he does think that the way in which AT&T has gone about reintroducing its brand has been handled relatively smoothly, mostly regarding what he calls its "trophy marketing asset," its sponsorship of "American Idol."
"AT&T has done a good job of reintroducing its brand. Cingular will take a while to get rid of. They're at the middle of transition that just has to be done, and it's like pulling off the Band-Aid--you just have to do it," he says.
One thing that might really help customers forget all about Cingular--and enforce the fact that the AT&T Wireless they are now customers of is a far cry from the technologically inferior one of the late 1990s--may be the iPhone, which hits AT&T stores in June.
"There's no question that the iPhone will be a big marketing boon for AT&T," Megalli says. "It's an interesting example of selling a service by selling a product."
"The iPhone is the ax between the past and the future for AT&T," Megalli says. "It will sever the brand connection to Cingular in consumers' minds, and it's a perfect opportunity to get customers to make the transition back over to AT&T."
What customers will find, he says, is a very different AT&T Wireless than what once was. "They had a very big market lead that they lost readily because their technology lagged and there were a lot of problems from a customer experience standpoint. But people will have forgotten all about it--memories are short for these things and [the introduction of the iPhone] is the perfect example of that," Megalli says.