CMO50 2020 #3: Melissa Hopkins

  • Name Melissa Hopkins
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Optus
  • Commenced role November 2016
  • Reporting Line
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 4 direct reports; 98 staff
  • Industry Sector Telecommunications
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    In the telco world, you can't spend a dollar without a clear sales return. So taking a step back and seeing what Melissa Hopkins has achieved at Optus over the past three years, the telco CMO realised the major shifts and impacts marketing has had not only on the organisation, but on the brand in the wider marketplace - and the bottom line. 

    "We have made a number of strong ROI contributions to the company, including gross margin and profitability with direct causal links from our strategy and spend to sales," Hopkins said.

    Marketing effectiveness

    Optus is known well for its challenger brand status and in recent years has experienced rapid market share growth and success against its major competitor, Telstra. But the downside of this rapid growth was its dependency on short-term gains of volume and acquisition. Revenues were healthy, but gross margin less so. Incoming CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, could see the impact the marketing team had made to Optus over the past 3 years, and Hopkins was asked to be a critical partner in the development of the Optus three-year corporate strategy.

    One of the core streams to come out of this work was that in order to return to sustainable long-term growth, recognising that Optus needed to separate itself from a reasonably inert category. "We developed a new company-wide mission ‘Becoming one of Australia’s most loved everyday brands’. To deliver against this we need to shift from being seen as a utility, to being recognised as a true enabler," said Hopkins. The task was to transform Optus into a 'fabric brand', becoming an accepted, welcomed part of the fabric of everyday life in this country. July 2020 was planned as the time to begin to take this to market.   

    "There could be no greater recognition for the combined effect of the Marketing team’s impact on the wider business than Optus taking out number 1 in Brand Finance’s list of Australia’s strongest brands – up from position 4 the previous year, and knocking Qantas off the top spot," Hopkins said. The highest result ever for a telco in Australia. "This accolade has not only demonstrated the importance of brand to business growth across every corner of the organisation, but our brand strength positioning is now one of the organisational-wide KPIs held by every Optus staff member, alongside goals including EBITDA and NPS. No longer a cost centre but a clear growth driver," she noted.

    "We believe that one of the key contributors to this accolade is our 'OPTU5G' campaign. With Telstra stealing the narrative around owning 5G, we knew we had to work quickly to ensure that Optus was seen to be in the race. Our approach was not to compete with Telstra head on but to develop a narrative that put Optus in the front seat driving 5G," she explained.

    Research showed that Australians were confused about 5G, so Optus set out to drive awareness, debunk the myths and own the conversation. "Our platform 5G Explained was the perfect antidote. Boldly we even changed our corporate logo from Optus to 'OPTU5G'."

    In November 2019 Optus developed an Australian-first integrated 5G newsroom. "Our approach required thinking that went beyond a traditional media campaign, so we enlisted the help of to develop an editorially-driven awareness campaign, putting our brand front and centre of meaningful conversations about 5G," said Hopkins

    The 5G Newsroom enabled  journalists to take an investigative look into 5G technology - discovering, experimenting and applying real-life contexts to the tech to help reduce confusion. The initiative drove over 950K page views and delivered value worth 3x the media cost.

    Google search data shows that post launch, ‘Optus 5G’ is now more highly searched than ‘Telstra 5G’. Real Eyes testing showed a 3.42 per cent lift in Optus purchase intent among those who saw the campaign, with average brand recall at 84 per cent across the 4 ads (+32.1 per cent above norm). Sales of Optus 5G Home increased by 1237 per cent from November to December 2019 and continues to grow strongly. "Our creative campaign has additionally been internationally awarded and recognised," Hopkins said.

    Influencing change

    In line with its new strategy, the task was to make Australians understand why Optus says ‘Yes’, bringing new power and value to one of Australia’s most recognised brand assets. "We would achieve this by creating a long-term brand platform that re-engages our key segments emotionally, can be easily extended to targeted activity that, in turn, makes them more likely to consider and, ultimately, buy Optus products and services.

    The plan was a big bang brand refresh launching in July 2020 maximising its Olympic and Channel 7 partnership. It had a once-in-a-4-year opportunity to gain high engagement in a compressed time period. With the postponement of the Olympics on March and COVID hitting, however, a review of its approach was necessary. "Do we pause, do we pivot, or do we continue?," Hopkins said.

    "We conducted some super quick research and concluded that our impact could in some ways be more important if we followed three key filters: Be mindful of the mood of the nation – life will unpredictable for Australians over the coming months, but that does not preclude a role for ‘Optimism in Action’"

    "Launch with scale that is considered – we purposefully created a launch that does not ask too much of consumers, but uses mass scale to create a shared experience of our brand. Be a beacon for the power of putting optimism into action – we believe we stand to resonate with Australian’s if we act with ‘joyfulness’ and ‘optimism’ in a period of continued uncertainly for the nation."

    The full brand relaunch took place on 30 July 2020, with the same level of spend pre-COVID and the same plan to roll out a comprehensive campaign over the next 12 months, whether it radically changed its approach and go to market strategy.

    "Over and above the intense focus and pressure of developing a brand relaunch in COVID, the team demonstrated amazing ingenuity (local production for Amazing Race during lock down, the height of innovation). We also knew that we could not continue business as usual from a marketing perspective and a precursor to our brand campaign took the opportunity to pivot with a specific COVID approach," Hopkins said.

    "As a critical infrastructure in keeping Australia connected, we knew we had an opportunity to truly play a supporting role for all of our customers in keeping them not only connected, but spreading some dust of optimism. I initiated a full customer and comms programme, leading it across the entire organisation from service, to sales, to credit, CVM, product and comms."

    Within 48 hours, Optus had committed an extra 20GB of data for all of its mobile customers, halted late fees, built a dedicated response page on how it was helping its customers on its website and developed a Communication Triage where all service, corporate affairs, base, owned, earned and paid channels met daily to review any messaging in market and the tone of its customers.  

    "Our response to market was very action driven. Ads not only with messages of support, but also playing a key role in supporting neighbours and friends through the ads and targeted digital. A bespoke door drop was turned around in less than two weeks and hit 7.2 million letterboxes plus inserts in key metro mastheads with tips on how to work, school and stay active at home during lockdowns," Hopkins explained.

    "Finally, we developed a major social media campaign that focused on the importance of keeping connected and reaching out to friends and family to check in. G’Day a Day featured 25 celebrities from Daniel Riccardo to Michael Bolton reaching out to mates via a video call to check in on their friends. All talent did this free of charge demonstrating their connection to Australia and Optus. The results positive with a 15 per cent lift in NPS during the period," she said.

    "As a team we embraced the challenge, realising that brands can be built in a crisis and staying true to our ambition of becoming a fabric brand for Australia."

    Data-led marketing

    "Embracing adtech and martech to give us advantage when our biggest competitor outspends us 3 to 1 has been one of my proudest contributions," Hopkins said. "In a bid to kill the traditional MMM and MTA conundrum, I led a global search to find a unified data-led model to directly quantify the business impact of our media investment predicatively. Our marketing ROI project in partnership with Marketing Evolution (USA), a global leader in unified marketing measurement, combines aggregate and person-level insights into one holistic measurement. It is truly an Australian first," she said.

    The results show how marketing drove gross margin for paid media, improved demand into sales channels across digital, telesales and retail and has registered 6.5 million customers as considering Optus as a top choice for their next purchase. The tool also determines what messages in what markets drive the most consideration and sales, plus what's the best combination of products for advertising.

    "It was the power of this tool and the detailed analytics behind it that ensured that our budgets were inoculated when COVID hit and we are currently looking at rolling it our across all of Singtel. It has been recognised by McKinsey globally and I have travelled on their behalf to major cities in Europe to share the approach with leading global companies," she said.

    CX capability

    In a bid to develop a fabric brand, Optus needed to find alternate ways to connect and engage with its customers. Leading and driving via action has proven to be the most powerful outcome for the team over the past 12 months.

    Off the back of a widely successful Women’s World Cup where it gifted Optus Sport to every single school kid in the land to start to change the future they see, the embarked on its second engagement initiative – Donate your Data, where Optus customers can donate their unused data to kids who need it most.

    "We have built our partnership with 10 charity partners ranging from the Smith Family to the Sydney Children’s Hospital. Our media integrations at launch drove tangible impact, with a 330 per cent rise in donations following the December Sunrise segment compared to the previous day," Hopkins noted.

    Optus has  wound down its traditional Optus Perks loyalty program of prizes and vouchers, as Donate Your Data has demonstrated that enabling  customers to take real action for good is a stronger loyalty driver, with 47 per cent more donations made within seven months than the total 2019 Perks rewards redemptions/competition entries.

    "We have continued this approach throughout COVID. Optus was the first telco to give an extra 20GB of data for the month of June and provide health workers with three months free mobile services. "We're ensuring that  engagement programmes and approaches ladder back to what we provide at our core – connectivity is paying off in spades and no doubt a major contributor to our Strongest Brand accolade," she said.

    Commercial acumen

    In 2018 Optus started to build a demand model, a proxy for how many people would enter its retail stores, call for a sale or visit the website on a weekly basis. Several core data feeds into a model that has now become a core KPI for all of marketing. Fast forward to present and it is a critical tool in determining the entire retail operation. "We partner with sales to determine conversion rates, labour ratios and opex investment, new store locations and potential closures. It is a model that is now so robust, it predicts to a 5 per cent difference to target weekly. As a team we now hold the full accountability annually of 14,421, 000 footfall into our 352 stores, 35,362, 3000 online visits to our site and 1,404, 406 calls into telesales," said Hopkins.

    "We are critical to weekly trading, product launches and development and our annual financial forecasts, monthly and quarterly reviews. During COVID, we pivoted to weekly models and potential V- and U-shaped scenarios allowing the business to plot, resource and plan a full reforecast of sales," she said.

    "That we have been able to take a simple mantra and make it a reality for the organisation has been a game changer. And while advertising and marketing alone are not solely drivers for demand and sales, we are the first point of call for the entire organisation demonstrates our true commercial impact."

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