Well connected

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Transforming Telstra from a disenfranchised company that didn’t care into one that truly puts customers first was at the heart of the telco’s rebrand. One year on, Lucy Clark talks to marketing director Inese Kingsmill

Three years ago, there wasn’t a lot of love out there for Telstra. It was perceived as a telco that didn’t care.

And it was at that time that Inese Kingsmill joined as corporate marketing director. She took on the challenge of reconnecting the brand with Aussies and proving to the cynical public that Telstra had turned over a new leaf and really was putting customers first, as the then-new CEO David Thodey was publicly promising.

It didn’t take Kingsmill long to become a self-confessed “passionate Telstran”.

“The opportunity to be able to revitalise and reposition such a significant iconic Australian brand was a privilege,” she recalls. “What excited me was that the transformation David Thodey was driving to become a far more customer-centric business was very real. It was not lip service being paid – you could already see and feel that this was a company that was starting to change.”

What followed for Kingsmill was almost a year working on the Telstra rebrand, which launched in September 2011.

“The timing of that launch was important – the conditions were right,” she says. “We noticed that sentiment towards Telstra was becoming more positive, in terms of customer satisfaction, media coverage and brand health. So the relaunch was not met with cynicism.”

But the journey wasn’t easy and Tesltra had a lot of bridges to build.

“It was a brand that, over time, had disenfranchised itself with the Australian people for various reasons,” explains Kingsmill. “But now, Telstra has an absolute determination to get it right for the customer. That’s not to say that the company didn’t care about customers before – it did. But what’s changed is this obsession with getting it right for the customer and recognising that we have got a lot of work to do.”

On top of this, Telstra was lumbered with a very corporate brand identity. “Even the corporate palette was blue and white with a bit of orange,” remembers Kingsmill. “Creative agencies felt that the brand was a bit of a straightjacket, which resulted in them trying to break out of that straightjacket – and that meant a fragmented image for Telstra in the marketplace.

“One of the things we have been able to do with the new brand is to create principles and a brand ecosystem that’s more flexible.”

The new brand is all about ‘connection’.

“Connection is a fundamental human right,” says Kingsmill. “Our leadership position and heritage in this country gives us that ownership position around enabling connection.”

That hard work has paid off. “Today, our brand health is the strongest that it’s ever been, in traditional brand measures but also our share price outpaced the ASX200 by over 30% in the last financial year,” explains Kingsmill. “And customer satisfaction measures are the strongest they have ever been.”

Sydney born and bred and married to Mambo managing director Angus Kingsmill, she has worked in marketing throughout her career – at Microsoft for 16 years before joining Telstra – but believes current times are the toughest.

“As marketers, we are living through the digital equivalent of the industrial revolution,” she says. “The biggest challenge that we face is the rapid rate of change that technology is enabling. We are always on.

“We have got to appreciate that we operate in a four-screen society, and we need to be able to create engaging and compelling content for each of these. We have got to get a whole lot more agile, so experiment more as well.”

Kingsmill cites Tesltra’s Sportsfan app and its loyalty program, Thanks, as innovative work from the telco, and says Telstra is finding its feet when it comes to content marketing.

“We are still testing and learning what content is relevant, engaging and entertaining, what is it in long and short form, and what the mechanisms for distributing it are,” she says. 

Another string to Kingsmill’s bow is her role as chairman of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA). The association has had a busy year, appointing new CEO Sunita Gloster and reflecting on its role in the industry.

Kingsmill says: “One thing we need to address is the rapid rate of change that marketers are dealing with, and helping marketers deal with that change. Another area is the issue of marketing as a respected profession. We are drastically under-represented as a profession at CEO and board level – that’s something the AANA wants to address.”

As for Telstra, customer service remains the number one priority. “I would like to see Telstra get a lot further in our ambition to provide a brilliant consumer experience,” says Kingsmill. “This is our number one priority.”

And she has ambitions that stretch far beyond that: “We have a clearly stated ambition to be Australia’s most loved brand. We know we have got a lot of work to do, but it has to be our ambition.”

With all that on her plate, the mum of two teenagers says she loves nothing more than a schedule-free weekend when she can enjoy her “sanity release” – her weekend run around her Northern Beaches neighbourhood.

“I am a homebody at weekends because Monday to Friday is always a bit nuts,” she concludes.

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