CMO50 2020 #5: Jeremy Nicholas

  • Name Jeremy Nicholas
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Telstra
  • Commenced role August 2018
  • Reporting Line Group executive, consumer and small business
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 193 staff, 14 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Telecommunications
  • 2019 ranking 5
  • Related

    Brand Post

    There have been several significant learnings for Telstra’s CMO, Jeremy Nicholas, from the past seven months of crisis he sees influencing the way customers view and respond to the telco brand into the future.  

    The first is the need for more modular, adaptable product and services propositions. “We were on this product construct path already, but that level of flexibility and making the propositions we put to market more modular and flexible has been a good learning,” he says.  

    “It’s been important to not have lock-in contracts, and to be able to add and remove features according to the customer’s preferences. Because with so much uncertainty this year and in many people’s futures, that idea of flexibility is important. It gives people peace of mind. In a weird way, they give you more loyalty by you giving them that flexibility. As this uncertainty continues, that element is going to continue to be important.”  

    Internally, that puts even more onus on Telstra’s teams to be able to add and remove stuff digitally in an agile, responsive way based on consumer behaviour and market changes. “Again, we have had this agility and pace in train, but it’s put even more of a spotlight on it,” Nicholas says.  

    “When you get it right, you get rewarded, when you don’t, you’re not.”    

    But arguably the most profound learning for Nicholas from the COVID-19 crisis is the critical focus Telstra must have on its responsibilities as a corporate and national critical services provider. “You do have a responsibility to Australia as well as your customers and your people. Trying to do the right thing by people is something we have been super mindful of,” he says.  

    “Telstra’s purpose is to ‘build a future so everyone can thrive’. That means everyone can thrive, not some people just getting by, or some people thriving. To try and live up to our purpose has changed the way we think about things during this time, like looking after vulnerable customers. It’s been a profound learning for the whole company, not just marketing. It was always there, but it’s so pronounced now.”  


    During the COVID-19 crisis, Nicholas points to seven key marketing initiatives introduced to drive Telstra’s growth and support customers, employees and the country.  

    In terms of brand leadership and network superiority for example, his team increased focus on communications demonstrating superiority of home Wi-Fi and mobile networks and importance in working from home, streaming, gaming and being connected to friends and family. New propositions and service initiatives which really mattered to customers were also made available, including unlimited home Internet for all, 25Gb extra mobile data a month, support for low income families, special debt relief and support programs for small business.  

    “We reinforced the flexibility and utility of our service proposition to give people peace of mind - no lock in contracts, no data overages, change plans at any time,” he says.  

    To do the right thing by the country and its partners, marketing paid every sponsorship in full and renewed any sponsorship. It also got creative and resourceful in the face of the lockdowns, shut down of sports and changing consumer and business behaviours.  

    Executions Nicholas points to include creating a whole new ‘sport’ called Dice Footy to leverage Telstra’s AFL sponsorship when there were no games. Dice Footy was broadcast online and featured comedian, Andy Lee, and famous AFL players playing from home lockdown and brought cheer to millions of fans. Telstra also planned and replanned marketing communications in response to the changing societal mood, restrictions, media environment, supply chain and service restrictions.  

    “But not everything has to be advertised. We led with corporate communications and PR in the crisis rather than try to advertise everything,” says Nicholas. “Here we could be CEO led, nimble in our message and responsive to the changing environment.”  

    Nicholas plans to take forward the focus on the utility of new services and products to demonstrate how Telstra is changing and supporting the customers. This is the focus of a major new product proposition and communications program currently live. Support for vulnerable and low-income customer services and support plus continued large-scale investment on brand and home and mobile network superiority messaging also continue.  

    “We’ve redoubled our focus on delivering growth through continually demonstrating our company purpose, ‘to build a connected future where everyone can thrive’,” Nicholas adds.  

    While volume was down, Telstra won share over the quarter and stayed within guidance for its 30 June result, with brand consideration lifting and strategic NPS holding firm across the general customer base. Employee Engagement grew too.  

    Innovative marketing  

    A longer-term program of work for Nicholas and his team have been working on is Telstra’s 5G offering. The 5G network build is a multibillion-dollar, multi-year capital investment for Telstra and therefore of the highest strategic priority.

    But there are number of customer challenges to overcome, including education on the benefits of 5G. Equally, however, Nicholas sees 5G driving brand and future sales as a result of the network superiority positioning 5G brings with it. This will further embed Telstra’s technology leadership and premium quality position, which contributes to brand consideration overall, he says.  

    Nicholas and his team have developed a three-pronged approach to Telstra's 5G program. The first step is building scale and familiarity to make 5G part of our everyday lives not far off in the future. To do this, Telstra has concentrated its AFL and NRL sponsorship assets around 5G, using every contracted AFL player to promote 5G and network superiority. Telstra is also using advertising to highlight 5G use cases, from downloading movies faster to superior streaming. Finally, it’s been building 5G handset manufacturer partnerships to further market presence.  

    The second pillar is using data to target customers with 5G access to convert leadership to sales. One of the best examples of this saw Telstra’s marketing team partnering with network and data engineering teams to plumb anonymised mobile cell tower data into customer decisioning engine. This aimed to deliver more targeted 5G prospect engagement and communications across both owned and paid media programs of work.  

    The third pillar is showcasing world firsts and demonstrating network speed through social and digital video and large format out-of-home, reinforcing the telco’s ‘Australia’s best 5G’ messaging.  

    To date, the efforts are paying dividends, with Telstra ahead on 5G association and a lift in customers who know a little to a lot about 5G. Telstra also chalked up triple-digital uplift in 5G device sales over the campaign period.

    Data-driven approach  

    Meanwhile, work done over the past couple of years to build an agile approach to work within Telstra has been progressing apace, again with key input from Nicholas. A recent example in action was the ‘Prospect Personalisation Team’, a persistent, agile team comprising media, digital marketers, analytics and marketing automation practitioners aimed at improving how first-party data is used in paid media programs.  

    The program brought together Telstra’s Salesforce implementation, Adobe Audience Manager and in-house trading desk to drive new levels of effectiveness, Nicholas says. Four primary programs were created, the first to drive media efficiency through suppression across both the core Telstra brand and its Belong offering. This involved removing existing customers from acquisition campaigns to reduce wastage across mobile channels.  

    A second program was about using new data sources in marketing. The best example of this was mobile phone cell tower data used to determine if a customer is a more likely 5G convert. “We would then create a dynamic audience pool and deliver appropriate 5G network or 5G device messaging,” he says.  

    The third program was using data to solve service and risk. This culminated in the ‘Doing Good Business Responsibly’ suppression strategy to improve outcomes for Telstra’s most vulnerable customers. Cohorts included those who were bushfire affected. “We could then solely focus on support and service messages aimed at helping these people,” says Nicholas.  

    More broadly, the team also looked to supporting the Telstra multi-brand strategy by using customer behaviours and offers to drive upsell for Belong.  

    Team commercial outcomes included 17 per cent annualised media efficiency gains in digital performance and a 53 per cent decrease in cost per order.

    Customer-led thinking  

    One of the pillars behind this increasingly personalised approach is adoption of Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC), which Nicholas describes as the single biggest marketing technology change in Telstra’s history. Marketing partnered with IT and data and key external partners, Deloitte, Clemenger Proximity and Salesforce, on the technology project, about 100 team members were involved.  

    In nine months, all the data and IP was moved to Marketing Cloud, with legacy solution decommission, retraining and creating a new operating model for one-to-one marketing all achieved during this time.  

    This has introduced fresh machine learning capability to deliver repeatable programs, reducing marketing campaign build times significantly and ushering in cost savings. Nicholas also highlighted a 360-degree customer view connecting both the offline and online experience a customer as having been achieved in near real time.  

    “All our data is now in one environment, managed by one marketing technology platform, across the entirety of our ecosystem. It has enabled increased relevance of messaging and offers providing greater utility and satisfaction from our product and services,” Nicholas says.  “The customer-led, real-time event driven nature of the data enables even greater sensitivity and timeliness of messaging.”  

    Cross-functional collaboration is again shining through here, adds Nicholas. For example, it was only by having a strong relationship with the networks that marketing was able to harness the cell phone tower data to create impactful marketing.  

    “Having those relationships and connections in the company is important. You get those questions around marketing’s influence in other parts of the organisation, but it’s equally about having partnerships with these people and functions,” Nicholas says. “In this case, it was the network leader saying we could do something with this, approaching us as marketing and suggesting it, then others recognising its value and helping us do it.”   

    Tenure has a big part to play here, Nicholas agrees. “I’ve been here four-and-a-half years. You do need that time to get some of these things done, and to build that trust,” he says.  

    “You don’t set out to earn trust, what happens is over time you recognise that person has done a good job, and there is a level of stability in the company on key roles which helps facilitate some of these things to happen.”

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