CMO50 2021 #4: Mel Hopkins

  • Name Mel Hopkins
  • Title VP marketing
  • Company Optus
  • Commenced role November 2016 (promoted to VP August 21)
  • Reporting Line Executive managing director
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 120 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Telecommunications
  • 2020 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    When Mel Hopkins met her new CEO, Kelly Rosmarin, for the first time, she posed a direct question: What’s one thing I can do to demonstrate I’m a key player on your management team? 

    “I didn’t go and say what’s good marketing look like to you, it was framing the question as a key member on the leadership team on what will make a difference,” Hopkins says. The CEO’s response was also to the point: Plenty of people around me talk about adding value, I want you to deliver it.

    Not only did Hopkins’ subsequent efforts to deliver impact and value earn her the respect of her CEO, it has also seen her recently promoted to VP marketing. It’s the first time Optus parent company, Singtel, has globally endorsed marketing to sit at VP level across the group.

    “To have my input recognised not only by our CEO, but indeed at the global level is perhaps the best indication of the impact marketing is having on our broader business,” Hopkins says.

    Demonstrating true enterprise leadership is vital to Hopkins. “By that, I mean leaning into the impact you make for the entire business, and being willing to have a perspective, ask questions and understand,” she says.

    “Far too many marketers whinge they don’t have a top seat, or that they’re not allowed to do something. Without doubt, there are always narcissistic CEOs out there that make life difficult. But actually, often the problem is you just keep working in the circle of marketing.

    “Part of the feedback that came back on my promotion is the skill I’ve shown driving forward what is right for the enterprise, and how I’m now bought into key sessions that have nothing to do with marketing to give perspective. In turn, this has risen the esteem of marketing.”  

    This isn’t about stepping into someone else’s lane however, Hopkins warns. “When you step into someone else’s lane, it starts getting congested. The greatest success I’ve had in my career is stepping into the lane where there is no one else. You end up being able to excel, and it’s where you can grow outside your own discipline,” she says.

    The funny thing is, Hopkins is ultimately doing what marketers do best: Exhibit curiosity. “If you’re not curious, you don’t deserve to be a marketer. It’s our DNA,” she adds.

    Innovative marketing

    This past 12 months straddles both the first and second year of a new corporate strategy at Optus aimed at becoming Australia’s most loved everyday brand with lasting customer relationships.

    “This strategy is aimed at shifting is from a revenue and volume play to building out value, ensuring the business is one that is EBIT positive and focused on profitability,” Hopkins explains. “Our new campaign platform, ‘It starts with yes’, was just one critical element in delivering this strategy and launched successfully last year.”  

    However, building a distinctive brand for Australia and becoming part of the fabric required a more radical approach than a fresh 60-second TVC.

    “Our platform 'It Starts with Yes' is based on a simple truth: ‘Great things in life come from having the commitment and optimism to say yes’. In order to cement this, we knew we needed to strengthen customers understanding of what we stand for by clear articulating our role, the benefit and why we are different,” Hopkins says.

    “The key thread of our vision and brand campaign is that of optimism. But for us, optimism cannot be passive. We made the choice to take real action to influence people’s lives, for the better. We want to do more than simply hope and dream. As a brand, it’s our job to ensure we step up and deliver on our brand strategy.”

    So Optus recruited Australian Formula One driver, Daniel Ricciardo, as its inaugural chief of optimism. His role first and foremost is internal, galvanising Optus employees to live the brand and embody optimism. In partnership with Ricciardo, the telco has developed a wealth of leadership and motivational programs.

    “He is a critical component to our Optus University program, where he focuses on high performance, he joins company wide meetings, participates across our internal social channels and regularly bombs meetings via Zoom to get a pulse check on everyone’s optimism,” Hopkins says.

    “The impact internally has been beyond expectations, even for those who are not F1 fans. Daniel’s storytelling and approachability has resulted in him being a much-loved member of our team. During a tough nine months with Covid, he has been instrumental in driving employee engagement, which last year increased.”

    Externally, Optus has also employed Ricciardo to articulate what ‘It Start with Yes’ means daily. This strong influencer strategy has delivered an always-on stream of optimism in action through PR, social and content, with a large portion curated by the man himself. Having then stepped into LinkedIn with an array of articles, posts and interactions, Optus and Ricciardo debuted a bespoke recommendation and endorsement tab for ‘Optimism’ on the platform, which he can exclusively use and where he endorses Aussies that he feels are demonstrating optimism.

    Business smarts

    In building the brand framework of ‘It starts with yes’, Hopkins was guided by a simple mantra: Business is brand and brand is business.

    “I don’t think you can separate them,” she says. This meant developing a tight brand framework based in rich data and insight was a critical component to delivering substance. A rigorous program of work with Forethought touching 10,000 Australians set about determining the emotional and rational drivers of choosing brands and then telco providers as a category.

    This work formed the basis of the ‘triple play’, a formula that determines the three key drivers of consideration for Optus. These are ‘pride’, or the feeling achieved by using an Optus product or service; ‘quality’, or how the group adapts seamlessly to customers’ needs and usage; and ‘value’, or how consumers perceive price being as important as price itself.

    An even wider brand framework was created to articulate how the Optus brand ladders up to the company’s vision and the steps required to deliver against it. This has been endorsed by the CEO and embedded across every single business unit and their leadership, including IT and finance.

    “The triple play is now integral into all product and service development - not a single product is approved unless it supports this framework,” Hopkins says. “To date, we have disregarded four products that do not fit the framework, no matter their commercial benefits, while recent launches reinforce our vision to perfection.”  

    The framework has led to lifts in NPS, up by double-digits year-on-year.

    “There are advertising and comms frameworks, then there is a brand framework, which is how we do things externally for every single customer. It’s a massive point of difference for us,” Hopkins continues. “It’s not me sharing with the IT department an advertising approach. If our brand’s vision is to be Australia’s most loved brand, and if we believe in order to do that is that our strategy is optimism in action, then how can we fully demonstrate that with everything we do, and filter through what we do underneath it?

    “Getting granular data that was able to demonstrate growth and opportunity on why we should do things differently meant it was easy to get buy in. After it was endorsed, I went to all leadership teams and presented it, and the IT team was the most engaged. They are the infrastructure that allows us to build the interaction we talk about. Without that, there is no optimism in action.”

    The triple play works in lock step with the three-year corporate strategy, brand purpose and organisational vision.

    “Everything is interlocked, which is really important. We worked very hard to make sure that detail was tight, removing as much marketing language as we could,” Hopkins says. “We also changed the whole way we do tracking, and how we are tracking the triple play. We are evolving and looking at different emotions. We always used to look at call to action as a measure but in a lot of branded work there is no CTA, it’s instead a cry to Australians as to whether this is a brand you consider first choice.”  

    People and capability

    The realisation a brand is what a brand does also led Hopkins and her team to evolve Optus’ media approach to keep up with the changing nature of media consumption. In partnership with McKinsey and UM, Optus reimagined its go-to-market strategy with a fresh media loop founded on five key consumer stages: Establish credibility; entice for consideration; convert; educate; and excite with moments of joy.

    The loop was the driver to a partnership with Hot Wheels, leading to more than 7000 families engaging with Optus at its Super Loopy Events. Results included a 15 per cent increase in sales over the period, not to mention 250,000 limited edition Optus Hot Wheels Cars.

    Another example Hopkins points to is Optus developing a heart-warming story around optimism in tough times. ‘BFF’ tells the of Kara and Nikita, two best friends and their support through cancer treatment. The campaign was created in partnership with the Leukemia Foundation and has driven both credibility and consideration.

    This new media loop was also critical to securing the FIFA Women's World Cup 23 rights. Overall, Hopkins points to a 13.4 per cent lift in brand health, significant non-customer brand consideration, a 12 per cent EBIT increase and more.

    “I am proud we are building a great deal of our capability by having an entrepreneurial spirt. The entire team is encouraged to ask why not, but how can we?” Hopkins says.  

    All this at a time when Covid has rapidly pushed marketers and CMOs right to the top table, Hopkins says.

    “The measurement and impact of the work we do is more critical than ever in a world where people are trying to drive EBIT,” she says. “But also because we have had to change how we market to people. A lot of things we’re doing we don’t yet have benchmarks for.”

    There’s no doubt Hopkins’ marketing function is directly quantifying the business impact of its media and marketing investment as much as possible via its marketing ROI project and partnership with Marketing Evolution (M.E.), a global leader in unified marketing measurement, combining aggregate and person-level insights into one holistic measurement.

    “There are arguments around people spending far too much time on measurement, data and ROI at the expense of creativity. But for me, having that data and ROI and adtech has allowed us to be more creative,” Hopkins adds.

    “It’s giving the business confidence we’re on track to do what we need to do from a brand and sales perspective, which means they’ve left us to our own devices to go and build what else we feel we need to innovate.”


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