How David Thodey helped restore Telstra’s brand

Richard CurtisToday David Thodey announced he is retiring as CEO of Telstra after five years in the role. Richard Curtis who worked with the telco during his time with Interbrand, explains Thodey’s role in rebuilding one of Australia’s biggest brands. 

Two experiences bookend recollections of my time working with Telstra, over a seven-year period in which I worked with three different marketing teams.

“Didn’t we do the brand last year?” was how one Telstra executive put it, somewhat taken aback by the idea that the Telstra brand might evolve, let alone have implications for his own business unit’s activities.

Contrast that with the Telstra brand today: its multi-faceted identity brings life, colour and meaning to every part of its myriad offer.

And for the organisation that embraced it, the brand stands proud as a symbol of change, not just another change of symbol.

The uniform that had dressed the Telstra business for so many years had become a straightjacket, its monotonous consistency at odds with a sector that invited you to discover a world of information, connection and entertainment. A legacy brand for what was fast becoming a legacy business, in danger of being left behind by the new brands on the block, Bigpond, NextG and Spread The Good Stuff – each valiant attempts to broaden appeal to online, mobile and youth, respectively, but perhaps to the detriment of the Telstra brand itself.

Nowadays, Telstra’s brand has evolved not only in terms of its breadth of appeal, but also its depth of impact.

Thodey’s commitment to transforming the company from its engineering focus to one where customers were at the heart of every decision created a new and exciting context in which to connect the brand to the business.

This in turn fostered the opportunity to make the Telstra brand so much more than a graphic device, undergoing its own transformation into an operational platform.

In late 2011, Telstra opened its doors to a world of colour, with customers at its core.telstra_colour_logos-468x52

But it didn’t just happen overnight. It was the result of many months planning and a significant investment not only to align the organisation but also get it ready to go to market with a new brand that would set new expectations and demand a new level of customer service.

So unwavering was the commitment that I have nothing but absolute respect for the rare ability that Telstra showed in turning the brand into a compelling reality for so many millions of customers.

Rare in so far as there are very few companies of Telstra’s scale– if any – that have implemented its brand so completely, showing both the cohesion and the flexibility to ensure it made a meaningful connection at so many individual points of contact and interaction.

I was there for the ride, and I’m still not quite sure how they managed it! Suffice to say, the results speak for themselves.

Yes, I’m sure there will be the naysayers among us with very valid complaints about specific circumstances, but zoom out and you’ll see the bigger picture.

How did they do it? For me, it comes down to utility.

The Telstra brand had become a straightjacket, difficult to use and subsequently relegated in favour of the Bigponds in the portfolio.

Conversely, the new Telstra brand was built for people to use: to connect, to share, to learn, to play, to enjoy.

It could flex but still feel familiar, it could be fun one day, formal the next, it could be professional yet personal.

It put customers at the heart of everything Telstra does, but it also gave employees the understanding and the tools to do it.

Ultimately, the Telstra brand was high on Thodey’s agenda, and the organisation has shown its appetite and ability for using the brand as platform for connecting myriad customers, products and services, emotions and experiences.

Whether it now becomes a springboard for even greater things in Australia and further afield in Asia, well you’ll just have to ask Andy Penn.

Richard Curtis is the CEO of FutureBrand and was previously managing director of Interbrand which is an agency of Telstra’s. 


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