Former Optus CMO Michael Smith: ‘Our marketing was effective and efficient dribble’

Mike Smith talking at the APPIES in Singapore

Michael Smith talking at the APPIES in Singapore

The former CMO of Optus has said the telco’s marketing was “effective and efficient dribble” some years ago, and the brand is now attempting to reconnect with consumers through storytelling.

Michael Smith, who left Sydney for Singapore to move into the chief commercial officer role at Optus’ parent company SingTel almost two years ago, told the audience at the APPIES event in Singapore on Saturday that while Optus’ price-led marketing had been effective, it had pushed Australians away from the brand.

“Around the year 2010, we got into effective and efficient dribble. Of all of our advertising, it was the most effective. But it did nothing for the brand. Our messaging went through the floor,” Smith said.

“We played this sort of advertising through the night and day, and it drove results. We knew exactly how many calls and clicks we generated and we thought, wow, this is awesome,” he said.

A slide Smith presented showed the decline of Optus’ marketing budget from 2000 to 2013, and the decreasing use of traditional media in its communications. Ad spend on Optus has fallen from $120 million in 2000 to $80 million in 2013.

Optus advertising spend from 2008 to 2014

Optus advertising spend from 2008 to 2014

“But what happened at a brand level was that customers slowly became disengaged. They started to wander from the brand,” he said.

After a strategic rethink and the introduction of animals to give colour to the brand in its advertising, consumers started to re-connect, Smith said.

“As marketers our responsibility is to tell a story,” he said. “When you bring brand and story together, that’s where you find the magic. Those two things on their own are not enough. People are interested in stories.”

His comments came the day after Optus reported a 12.3 per cent increase in net profit after tax for the three months to the end of June, but a drop in revenue. Its owner, SingTel, saw its profit dip.

In his presentation, Smith went on to say how telcos provide poor customer service because of their inability to use data effectively.

“Services levels are not where they could be. And a lot of that is to do with an inability to mesh data perfectly together,” he said.

“The opportunity for marketers is to reconnect the dots and understand the consumer again; how he exists in all media,” Smith said.

SingTel wants to improve its targeting and customer service through a more rigorous use of customer data, but Smith said that privacy issues remain an obstacle.

“Telcos would love to have their customers love them, but few could claim to be loved. But most people trust telcos. We could do it [use customer data on a larger scale for tracking purposes] today, but we’re not. We’re not ready to jump there yet,” he said.

Smith has worked for SingTel for 14 years, first as consumer marketing director of Optus, then CMO, then managing director of consumer before moving to Singapore and the top commercial role at SingTel in January 2013.

Robin Hicks


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