CMO50 2022 #4: Mel Hopkins

  • Name Mel Hopkins
  • Title Vice-president marketing
  • Company Optus
  • Commenced role November 2016
  • Reporting Line MD, consumer + MD, institutional
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 130 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Telecommunications
  • 2021 ranking 4
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Mel Hopkins hasn’t had a golden marketing moment as Optus marketing chief this past year. And she’s rather happy about it.

    “My entire past year and CMO50 submission has been about consistency throughout the year, not one shining moment,” she says. “This for me has been a major moment of maturity. It is not one major win, but all the little ones that build to greatness and deliver continuous results.”

    Reflecting on her third year as an entrant in the CMO50, Hopkins knows she’s not only bucking the trend in CMO tenure, but building a narrative of growth, focus and commitment.

    “It’s often the most unrewarded thing in the marketing industry: Sticking to the course,” she says. “We’ve not had pitches, nor chopped and changed our communications strategy as a result. We’ve delivered consistent and remarkable business growth coupled with consistent and remarkable marketing and creative. Steady and consistent has definitely won the race here.”

    Innovative marketing

    Optus kicked off the journey to drive business growth by imbuing ‘Yes’ with meaning and relevance for contemporary customers and employees in 2020. “The hardest thing often for a brand is to stick to its convictions, optimise versus reinvent and demonstrate continued growth and innovation year on year by not changing course,” Hopkins comments.

    “The simple fact is the scale, maturity and inertia of the Australian telco market meant moving the needle on business metrics such as value share would take time, commitment and investment.”

    Four key objectives provide guiding lights: Increase engagement of the internal Optus team; build understanding of what Optus means by ‘Yes’; increase Optus as a first choice with consumers and businesses; and deliver commercial impact.

    On the ‘Yes’ front, the past 12 months has seen Hopkins’ team double-down on delivering action, which research by Forethought indicates is what Australians value most in a post-Covid world. “Our core strategy of ‘Optimism in action’ not only reinforces that belief but was also the basis of demonstrating how we could take action with Australians authentically,” Hopkins says.  

    For example, with the launch of ‘Yule Glide’, an emotionally infused Christmas tale of a sugar glider who risks his life to prepare a surprise gift for his pregnant wife, Optus partnered with the AWC and donated funds to save the near instinct sugar gliders. The campaign was ranked number two in the YouTube leaderboard for engagement in 2021 and featured on Sunrise.

    “Our partnership with World Pride had its first run with Sydney Mardi Gras this year. This incorporated our own passionate LBGTIQA+ music artist, Eric Avery, ambassador, Ian Thorpe, and new recruit, Gladys Berejiklian, and was focused heavily on our diverse people,” Hopkins continues. “It became a beacon of diversity and inclusion throughout Optus - with our very own float, event and CEO KBR being the only Australian CEO to march.”

    The launch of the ‘Violinist’ campaign in February 2022, featuring an Indigenous steelworker and aspiring violinist taking the risk to follow his dream, was another authentic illustration of diversity. It also resulted in a world-first with Channel 7 and The Voice, with Avery integrated into programming and playing with one of the finalists.

    “We painted Melbourne Teal and Yellow in April with the Australian Grand Prix and amplified our partnerships with Daniel Riccardo, our chief of optimism, and Chaz Mostert. We went from advertising to demonstrating our 5G speeds via virtual reality at the event, ensuring over 100,000 spectators having a ‘Yes Optus’ on their caps, investing in high-end corporate hospitality, and having Daniel bomb our call centre staff to give them a dose of optimism,” Hopkins says.

    This saw Optus remaining a first choice telco in Australia at time of CMO50 judging, and Hopkins points to brand linkage climbing near universal levels. Research showed 89 per cent of Australians not only recognised the unpromoted campaign line, ‘It Starts with Yes’, but could unpack it.

    “And perhaps the hardest measure to shift in our category, ‘Pride’ experienced a 4 per cent jump to 3 per cent, in a category know for negative scores,” Hopkins adds.

    Data-driven maturity

    Behind the scenes, Hopkins is pushing Optus’ data ambitions further by firmly putting the focus on first-party data. As part of its partnership with Google, the telco has created bespoke integrations with its customer CDP (Lexer) and digital channels (Google and Meta) to unlock omnichannel optimisation and reporting capabilities.

    “We knew we must lessen reliance on third parties and build in-house capability. Our first-party data journey has been transformational, launching our ‘Propensity to Purchase’ machine learning model, all deployed in a cookie-less environment,” Hopkins says. “This is further bolstered with our multi-touch attribution solution, where we effectively understand the business impact of every media dollar spent.

    “We additionally took the leap and bought all biddable channel strategy and execution in-house, no longer needing to depend on agency partners.”

    This team of 15 people in-house has delivered in-year savings of $3 million. “But perhaps more so delivering huge results on digital marketing,” Hopkins says.

    Achievements include the highest ever quarter for Facebook's Optimal Buying, with a peak of +90 per cent from a low of 50 per cent, elevated Google Search Quality Scoring (from 54 per cent to 75 per cent), improved buying efficiency, a 17 per cent increase in monthly sales conversions on average through digital advertising, and stronger best practices and audience segmentation.

    In addition, Hopkins notes the APAC first launch of dynamic ads via automated product feed driving an additional 275 per cent in sessions and +299 per cent CTR. Optus has also debuted an Australian-first conversational ecommerce capability via Facebook Messenger, while a global-first integration with Shakr enables localisation at scale with tailored messaging.

    Commercial acumen

    Delivering commercial impact is core to the CMO’s role and Hopkins is no different in being expected by the Optus executive team to realise growth.

    “We are key contributors in sales forecasting, weekly trading, growing revenue, EBIT and market share,” she says. “Having our brand perform well and little to no movement commercially would have me quickly out of a job. In fact, part of our original strategic communication challenge was to drive business growth by imbuing ‘Yes’ with meaning and relevance for contemporary customers and employees.”

    Over the past year, her team has delivered a 67 per cent increase in marketing contribution to sales, with 36 per cent of all sales now directly attributable to marketing. Optus boasts of a direct ROI of $1.20 margin for every media dollar spent.

    “When global best practice is $0.80 from ME’s database this has resulted in our A&P spend never been challenged over the past two-and-a-half years,” Hopkins comments. “Our pricing strategy didn't become cheaper, but we demonstrated how the power of our marketing can still contribute to profitable growth.

    What’s more, average revenue per user had jumped by December 2021, the first growth seen in three years. Customer churn was in decline at the same time – “a key challenge for any telco in a market that competes on price,” Hopkins admits.

    “But perhaps the best example and result is our growth in market value share. For the first time in five years, we are EBIT positive. While marketing cannot take the full credit for this growth, it has been recognised both internally and from our investors that we have been a key contributor.”

    Leadership impact

    There’s no doubt many CMOs and their teams feel they have to constantly prove their worth to the executive committee. But thanks to its solid results, Hopkins says her team is firmly known as one of the most respected teams in Optus, valued for its opinion and subject matter expertise.

    “This has not just happened overnight, but by constantly demonstrating we are committed to growth for the business and understand how to drive,” she says.

    Keeping this high-performing marketing team aligned is a culture built on trust and respect. “We live and breathe radical candour; feedback always comes from a place of kindness and we are never too afraid to be critical in the moment,” Hopkins says. “Over the past three years, our staff churn from marketing sits at 8 per cent, which is remarkable.  

    “Our most recent engagement scores lifted 7 per cent year-on-year to 76 per cent, above global benchmarks. Our impact has also resulted in employer brand shifting out of its traditional home of HR to marketing - as we are seen as holistically driving the brand and business.”

    And as Hopkins and Optus work to try and find a way forward through the thick of the Optus cyberattack that saw the personal details of 9.8m customers compromised, leading from the front with authenticity and transparency as CMO are paramount.

    “I am currently having to demonstrate this very thing daily as we are in the thick of the Optus cyberattack,” Hopkins says. “But I am walking into the fire with a calm authority, confidence and assurance. In crisis, how you lead is more important than ever. Too often in tough times, marketers leave their post, concerned the criticism will damage their career.

    “I am having to have very broad shoulders at the moment. But the responsibility I have to our brand and our people at Optus along with our customers must come first.”  

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