CMO interview: How Amaysim built its customer credentials as a challenger brand

Chief marketing officer at the Australian mobile telco provider, Christian Magel, shares the brand and customer data lessons that help this startup succeed

Amaysim CMO, Christian Magel
Amaysim CMO, Christian Magel

Having built his CMO credentials in startups across Australia and Europe, Amaysim’s Christian Magel has a wealth of knowledge about building brands, consumer experiences and a customer base. But he’s also one of the first to point out a modern marketing leader can’t sit in their silo and expect to succeed.

“While all the founders of this business work well in our respective areas of expertise, we also have to have a really good understanding of each of the other areas too,” he tells CMO. “We all have a say and share ideas about how things should work.

“As much as I am a CMO covering things like branding, marketing as a practice starts from a core premise: Understanding the consumer and building the product.”

Magel has spent the past four years as chief marketing officer at Amaysim, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that launched in Australia in 2010. The business was founded by a team of German entrepreneurs, flushed with the success of a similar mobile phone service startup in Europe, called simyo.

As well as Magel, the Amaysim founding management team includes CEO, Rolf Hansen; CFO, Thomas Enge; and local telecoms investor and chairman, Peter O’Connell.

Magel says the Amaysim business met with initial scepticism in its first year of operation, partly due to the demise of companies such as One.Tel, as well as Virgin Mobile’s strong position as Australia’s leading MVNO. Australians were also paying some of the highest telco fees globally and had a higher level of mistrust towards telco providers than in European countries.

“Today, we have 600,000 customers, with a Net Promoter Score of 64, and we just won telco of the year,” he says. “And all that with a condensed team working for a challenger that is trying to innovate a market where people said we shouldn’t do things.”

So how did Amaysim do it, and what role has Magel’s business and startup-focused approach played in getting there?

Always the challenger

Magel has a business background, and studied economics at an international school in his native Germany. During and after university he worked as a production assistant at a startup pay TV station and discovered a strong interest in communications. After the business was swallowed up by a larger TV station, he switched to publishing and came into contact with the burgeoning Internet.

The rise of the Web took Magel through several startups before he returned to another TV station in Germany in 1998 to oversee the Internet department. He was promoted to marketing director early on and says the role was one of opportunity and transition.

“I experienced the conflict between the emerging digital communications space and performance-based marketing, and the old regime, which was classic above-the-line advertising,” he comments.

In 1999, Magel met Rolf Hansen at Swedish-based ecommerce startup, Let’s Buy. The company was rolling out its group buying website for physical goods in German-speaking markets.

“It was a rollercoaster ride in that dotcom environment,” Magel recalls. “Let’s Buy developed into a company with close to 500 people, did an IPO and things were really exciting. But then the downturn occurred and we had to let people go, downsizing from 14 countries to four. We probably wouldn’t be here without that experience though, as it taught us so much.”

During his three years at Let’s Buy, Magel tookover all marketing responsibility, a position he’s held at each company he’s worked for ever since. He says he learnt two key marketing lessons from his experiences at the ecommerce player. The first was that digital would enable marketers to be measurable and performance-oriented.

“The second lesson was to be customer-centric,” he says. “It was a great business model, with a great team and experience, but we failed on one thing: Focusing on the customer. If you don’t focus on the customer benefits and solving a problem, there’s no reason for being there.”

Startup mentality

Magel joined Hansen at another startup, simyo, in 2005. Simyo is a low-cost mobile phone offering over the Internet, which partnered with a second-tier telco to change the landscape for consumers. It became one of the world’s largest mobile MVNOs. As CMO, he took care of brand building through to campaigns, website design and customer experience.

One of the great things about working for startups is the lack of brand baggage, Magel says. Given startups are often bootstrapped in terms of cash, it also forces you as a marketer to try new things.

“The big guys are already so if you try and do things the same way they do them, then it’s not worth starting,” he claims. “You want to reinvent the market.”

Magel is also a great believer in marketing sitting at the centre of product development, although he admits this is much easier in a startup environment that a legacy operation.

“How can you infuse that brand in a product, your branding, your call centre, technology and the people you hire? That was one of the first priorities for me,” he says. “A brand is not just what you’re communicating; it’s what you do with your shareholders, partners, staff and consumers.”

Building Amaysim

Amaysim launched in Australia in 2010. Magel says the team left the old brand image and perspective behind and started with a fresh canvas. One of his first jobs was crafting the new brand. Magel notes the Amaysim logo is Uluru orange, a colour that reflects its Australian brand values and spirit.

“With brand development, you often look at what you’d be if you were a sport. With us, beach volleyball is our sport because it’s agile, nimble, active and out there,” he explains. “We brought in Australian culture, then infused that into our campaigns. We started by advertising products then moved to a consumer story with real Aussie types. The PR team also did a great job of positioning us as the alternative; the new kid on the block.”

Amaysim had the advantage of being a customer-oriented challenger brand in an industry where people criticised their current solutions, Magel claims. Another key component of growing the business has been word of mouth.

Magel admits brands don’t always do everything right from scratch and that it’s more important than ever for marketers to adapt their formula as they better understand the market circumstances and customers.

“It’s also about test and learn – if something works well, then we push forward with it; if something doesn’t work, we try to be very nimble and change,” he says.

One business learning Magel took from his time at simyo was that a hybrid sales model of both Web-based transactions and retail distribution was the best way forward for Amaysim.

“Today, a lot of interactions with customers happen on the Web and through all the channels we provide, but they still like to pick up a SIM card at a 7-11 or Woolworths,” he says. “That was a major change to the business.”

Data strategy

Amaysim is also a data-led operation, and recently set up screens around the office to surround staff with analytics and customer data.

Magel says the way Amaysim ensures data is utilised and acted on is to narrow things down to a couple of KPIs. On a macro level, these include Net Promoter Score and cost per acquisition. Further measurement and data utilisation is broken down into different areas and based on meaningful data for that function.

“You will have different data used in the call centre for example, around how many calls we’re fielding, first call resolution, and how we shift into different channels,” Magel says. “So there’s first-level data; then the important KPIs that are the business drivers; then there’s the speciality data in your area of expertise that five people would know, but all makes a contribution.”

Every week, all employees meet to share first and second-level data. “It’s having the feelers out and seeing what’s moving, happening and new, and if we need to change something,” he says.

In addition, key projects at Amaysim are driven by data and layered like a sandwich, with one director responsible for one of those layers and taskforces created to manage that task against value objectives, Magel says.

“It’s vital to drive through the whole organisation, not just bits and pieces,” he adds.

If the only contract we have with a customer is their happiness, how do we make sure they’re constantly happy?

Marketing and customer service link

As Amaysim matures, Magel says a key focus is how to ensure both the marketing teams and the wider business retain their customer focus. He notes the blurring line between marketing and customer service, and the complementary dynamic between the two teams in his company.

“The marketing department is shouting out what we want to be; then there’s customer care providing input around how people react and what view they have of the company. So how do I ensure our own view of ourselves and the public view is actually aligned and where does it fall apart?” he asks.

“I’m constantly looking at where we do deliver our promise and where we don’t. Getting that together with CRM and great tools is one thing; but there is so much more to come.”

Whatever insights gleaned today, Magel is well aware consumer behaviour will continue to evolve.

“As marketers, we always have to think ahead and look at what will come,” he says. The key is to stay customer focused.

“If the only contract we have with a customer is their happiness, how do we make sure they’re constantly happy?”

Christian Magel’s top 3 CMO attributes

  1. Teamwork: Magel believes all success starts and ends with the team CMOs surround themselves with. “You can have so many things that are right or wrong, but the team will make it right when it’s not right,” he says. “You need to start by hiring the right people and having common values within the team so everyone knows they make a difference and count. The recruiting and mentoring part is super important.”
  2. Product ownership: “If you look into what makes your company successful, it comes down to trying to provide a great service and make a difference,” Magel comments. “You as a customer will only buy in if this is a benefit. So everything starts with the product. To disguise it with layers of advertising can be cool, but without a good product, it’s not successful.”
    CMOs must have an eye on what factors actually influence the success of your product, he says. “Of course there are good campaigns and communications, but it starts with the price point, proposition, customer service, website and channels being up to scratch,” Magel says.
  3. Brand and corporate alignment: Modern marketing teams must be highly conscious of what their brand does but also what it doesn’t, Magel says. “Saying no is just as important as saying yes,” he advises. “Nurturing your brand, understanding the business and making good decisions on what to do, and what to leave, based on data is critical.”

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