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CMO50 2016 #26-50: Kent Heffernan, nbn

  • Name Kent Heffernan
  • Title Executive general manager, marketing and community affairs
  • Company nbn
  • Commenced role September 2015
  • Reporting Line Chief customer officer
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 92 staff, 8 direct reports
  • Industry Sector IT and telecommunications
  • 2015 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    The man leading nbn’s marketing and community affairs, Kent Heffernan, says he is most proud of the fact the team doubled its engagement score, putting the group within the top 20 per cent of most engaged teams in Australia.

    He is also proud of the innovative efforts that have helped the team reposition the brand.

    “The nbn was launched with a great vision for Australia. Over the last few years, nbn has been buffeted by politics, media and public opinion. To maximise the potential of our organisation, the clarity of our purpose and brand, our vision needed to be reset,” Heffernan explains.

    “Our challenge was we were just seen as a wholesaler or an infrastructure builder, with no direct retail contact. If we were a brand, what type of brand? After extensive research we concluded that nbn must be a visionary brand to inspire Australians about how their future will change through embracing nbn.

    “To do this, we took a modern masterbrand approach. This aligned the entire organisation behind a meaningful brand purpose, inspiring great customer delivery, and experience.

    The same purpose then informed external communications...reconnecting all Australians with the nbn promise, setting the agenda for a smooth rollout and alternately driving early take-up to maximise cash flow to fund the ongoing rollout.”

    From the CMO50 submission:

    Innovative thinking

    In repositioning the nbn, and demonstrating innovative thinking, Heffernan says the team developed a unique new brand voice, visual identity and logo.

    “We also delivered it through dynamic internal and external communications, HR policies, reward and recognition, service policies and training, organisational culture, infield fleet, uniform branding for 5,000 staff and employee engagement programs,” he says.

    “Our data proves that we are quickly taking back control of our brand, changing sentiment and driving significant sales growth, by inspiring all stakeholders with our visionary purpose and positioning. Externally our marketing programs have been rolling out to all states and cities excluding Sydney and Brisbane that will go live in February in line with the network rollout.”

    He also highlights a key initiative he led that is contributing to driving change in the organisation.

    In order to achieve nbn’s objective of eight million happy homes and businesses connected to the nbn network by 2020, he says the nbn marketing team has had to evolve from the traditional wholesaler role of ‘passive observer’ to ‘proactive participant’ in the marketing and sales process of our product.

    “As a wholesale organisation, our customers (telecommunications companies) are a critical channel to market. nbn has executed a number of marketing investment activities over the past few years in order to support our telecommunications partners. These activities were largely ad hoc, unstructured and achieved varying degrees of success. To achieve eight million connections we realised we needed to completely re-invent how we delivered investment - we needed to be truly innovative with our programs.”

    As a first step, he says the team looked at marketing investment programs global best practice, in particular how Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, Qantas, Nestle and SalesForce executed their marketing investment.

    “Global best practice programs shared three things in common including: their programs were flexible giving the partners creative control; the funding was discretionary with the rules simple - and the programs had clear accountabilities and success measures,” he says.

    In November 2015, in an Australian first for the communications industry, he says the team created a new Coop Marketing Development Fund (MDF) Program. At its core, MDF is a discretionary funding agreement between nbn and our customers for marketing activity promoting connections powered by nbn. MDF is customer agnostic, and all customers have an equal opportunity to participate.

    Data- and technology-driven approach

    He says no single customer touch point at nbn exists in isolation, whether it’s direct marketing, on-boarding a new customer, responding to an end user enquiry, providing service assurance or communicating with a customer over the length and breadth of their relationship with nbn.

    “Our challenge has been that many IT supporting capabilities have grown up in isolation, the systems are not connected, will not scale as nbn scales, and create widening gaps when it comes to customer engagement.

    In response, he says the marketing and community affairs team have reimagined how nbn connects departments managing customers with its audience and are now delivering to the enterprise a set of joined-up customer digital capabilities on a single IT platform sales force.

    The team now have “a single, flexible, scalable customer enterprise platform” that is: multi-channel and socially aware; rich in audience data; mobile enabled; designed for self-service; and able to orchestrate powerful customer journeys.

    “Armed with these joined-up capabilities, it’s really only up to the creativity of nbn to use them to improve all touch-points our audience has with us.”

    Empowered and strategic thinking

    He notes the nbn has undergone a very rapid evolution to move from a construction-focused start-up to now ensuring that end users are at the heart of its go-to- market strategy.

    “Over the last 12 months, nbn marketing has created a world class research and insights function to increase opportunities to engage with end users, gain feedback and better understand their needs. Unlike many other established corporations, the nbn CMO function has had to design the strategy, build the team, identify and launch the CRM platform, select suppliers and manage a governance model to deliver results and ensure actions are carried out throughout the entire organisation.”

    He says the activities create multiple touch points through which nbn can develop a richer, deeper view of end users. “We use this to inform all future GTM strategy and initiatives: over 65,000 experiential engagements in the past year, more than 50,000 participants in nbn’s structured research programs, and close to 4,200 interactions at community events, for example.”

    He says the team captures, analyses and tracks the insight in these myriad interactions to driveits marketing strategy and activities to deliver against the business goal of eight million happy homes and businesses.

    Fostering agility

    After internal research, he says it was revealed the marketing and community affairs team wanted an alternate style of working, one where technology and behaviours enable people to choose where, when and how they will work most effectively.

    “We have recently moved the entire marketing and community affairs to a new working environment with flexible seating arrangements, team working zones, space for agency partners and much closer proximity to our key internal stakeholders of a tangible way of providing the capability the team of over 100 needs,” he says.

    “Our flexibility transcends the physical and technological environment; we move individuals across teams and projects within marketing so that we focus on what’s needed now, up-resource projects that have demand, and continue to allow our people to grow, develop, learn, cross-pollinate, and get a deeper understanding of other functions within the group.”


    At its core, he says the nbn network is a large-scale infrastructure project with straightforward and functional benefits. “Given this, we have needed to wholeheartedly embrace creativity in order to increase positive sentiment, drive intent to connect, and rally the nation around the project.”

    He explains the marketing strategy is delivered through a campaign architecture that reflects the benefits delivered by the nbn network.

    “These benefits, whilst true and tangible, are very rational and at risk of being seen as dry or too factual to elicit an emotional response. In response to this, insightful creativity has a critical role to play in positioning these benefits in a way that is not only relatable and compelling to the general population, but also celebrated amongst staff.”

    Creativity and creative behaviours are also encouraged amongst the marketing team, he explains. “As with so many departments, the daily toil of ‘delivery’ can detract from what is great about our job. Encouraging collaborative ideation, workshops, and recognising team members who can get agencies to deliver more creative solutions - all build together to create an environment where creativity is a highly valued commodity.”

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