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Telstra CMO backs 'economic patriotism': Business and government must walk the talk so Australia emerges stronger

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

7 June 2020 5min read

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

7 June 2020 5min read

“Economic patriotism” is what Australia needs from its corporates right now, says Telstra's CMO, Jeremy Nicholas, in the latest Reset Now episode from the Australian Association of National Advertisers, Nine and Mi3. Telstra maintained all its sponsorships across sport, the arts and communities despite no activity through COVID-19. Leadership from business and government, says Nicholas, is required to ensure positive coronavirus behaviour changes become permanent - and that Australia emerges stronger from the crisis. Warm words won't cut it. 
 
Don't say, do

If we’ve learnt anything from Covid-19, it’s that all brands are there for us. They care. Even that hotel you stayed in once two years ago.

But Telstra is walking the talk. According to CMO Jeremy Nicholas, it has brought forward £800m of spend from 2021 to 2020. It’s kept all of its sponsorship money flowing, even though doors and venues have been shut. It has renewed all sponsorship contracts set to expire this year so partners don’t have to worry.

For customers, the Big T has given household and business users plenty of slack in terms of contract pauses and late payments. It has lifted limits on broadband data and given out bucket loads of mobile data via its new app, fortuitously overhauled just before Covid hit.

“Economic patriotism” is what Australia needs from its corporates right now, says Nicholas. Leadership from both business and government is required to ensure positive coronavirus behaviour changes become permanent - and that Australia emerges stronger from the crisis.

 

“If we want servicing through apps or e-commerce sales to continue, then we need to create incentives for people and to encourage that behaviour change in the long term. I think that's really what businesses will be looking to do.”

- Jeremy Nicholas, CMO, Telstra

Incentivise behaviour change

Telstra, says Nicholas, will not waste the opportunity presented by the unprecedented.

“We're looking to come out of this really strongly. We're certainly using it as an opportunity to evolve and to change.”

Coming out of Covid, he thinks business and government must incentivise positive change.

“For example, everyone is riding their bikes more. Specialised, Trek, all these brands are sold out of bikes,” says Nicholas. “But if we don’t actually create more bike lanes and make it easier for people to ride bikes, then they are not going to continue to do that. If we do, and encourage them, that behaviour is more likely to stick.”

Nicholas says the same applies to business, particularly those keen to encourage greater digital commerce becomes the new normal.

If we want servicing through apps or e-commerce sales to continue, then we need to create incentives for people and to encourage that behaviour change in the long term. I think that's really what businesses will be looking to do.

 

“We do see the new app taking volume out of the call centres. Customers can get access to us easily, in a format that they actually enjoy, and it's just a lot more convenient for them. If they've seen that value through this process, or through the last couple of months, they will continue to do it.”

- Jeremy Nicholas, CMO, Telstra

Digital shift

Telstra managed to land “a complete overhaul” of its 24/7 app, bringing in its replacement, the My Telstra app, just before Covid-19 hit.

It has since been driving usage by offering customers 25GB of free data. Nicholas admits the timing was fortuitous, but hopes its benefits will be mutual: Customers can use two-way messaging functionality “to have a conversation with a real person” through the app, and can avoid call centres and going into stores. They can also conduct some e-commerce through it, says Nicholas. Since Covid, uptake has been “huge”, he adds, with “millions of customers” using the app every day.

“We expect to continue that in the future, and our job is to reinforce that behaviour in the long-term,” says Nicholas. “We do see the new app taking volume out of the call centres. Customers can get access to us easily, in a format that they actually enjoy, and it's just a lot more convenient for them. If they've seen that value through this process, or through the last couple of months, they will continue to do it.”

 

“We did a couple things really early on with our sponsorships, which was important. The CEO announced the commitment to renew any of the sponsorships that came due this year, so that sponsors didn't have to worry about that.”

- Jeremy Nicholas, CMO, Telstra

“Economic patriotism”

If Telstra is benefiting from an accelerated shift to a digitised economy, it is also giving back, says Nicholas, demonstrating to partners and society more broadly it ‘is there for you’ with significant financial commitment.

“We did a couple things really early on with our sponsorships, which was important. The CEO announced the commitment to renew any of the sponsorships that came due this year, so that sponsors didn't have to worry about that. And then, absolutely, regardless of whether the galleries have been open - be that the National Gallery of Victoria or the art gallery in the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Museum and Art gallery of the Northern Territory, or the sports [codes] - we were committed to paying all our fees for the year, supporting those sponsorships, because we saw that as essential,” says Nicholas. “We want to make sure that they're there for everybody.”

Nicholas says there wasn’t even any debate internally about taking that approach.

“I think the CEO used the term ‘economic patriotism’. I think that goes to the charter, and then maybe about what Telstra sees as its identity and its role in Australian society. Our purpose is to create a connection, to connect to the future, so everyone can thrive.

“And ‘everyone’ is really important here,” says Nicholas. “We’re here not just supporting our staff through this, our customers through this - but all of society. There's a role we have to play, and supporting sponsorships and the partnerships is a really important part of that. I think when you follow that purpose, it leads you to those decisions, and if you like, those decisions become really easy, and there wasn't any debate.

 

“You can say all the things you want about caring for your customers, and how we are all in this together, all of the platitudes. But until you actually do things or change your product or service proposition to actually help people, I don’t think those words really matter.”

- Jeremy Nicholas, CMO, Telstra

Actions not words

Since coronavirus hit, the CEO of pretty much every brand in Australia, and the world, has been busy telling customers they are ‘there for them during these unprecedented times’. But saying and doing are two different things, says Nicholas, crisis or otherwise.

“You can say all the things you want about caring for your customers, and how we are all in this together, all of the platitudes. But until you actually do things or change your product or service proposition to actually help people, I don’t think those words really matter.

“What we wanted to do was take a position where we actually knew that people and businesses were suffering, that things weren't well in society, and we need to actually do something about it, not just say that we care for everybody,” says Nicholas.

“So things like the sponsorships were part of that. Pulling forward $800 million of capital expenditure into 2020 calendar year out of 2021 is important in terms of helping the economy and stimulate jobs. Providing extra data in your mobile plan, unlimited data in your home internet, for all our customers; allowing small businesses to put their accounts on hold; for people to actually put a promise to pay when they can't pay; to actually have discounted plans for people who are on unemployment benefits or JobKeeper benefits as well… They cost the company money, but they are the right thing to do, and they’re there to help our customers through this.”

Nicholas believes that approach will ultimately prove beneficial to Telstra’s brand, its longer-term revenues – and to the broader economy.

“We’re helping people get through this, helping them stay our customers, maybe keep their business afloat through this so that they can come out the other side and we can get back to a country which is economically thriving, as well as being a healthy one – which has been really important through this.”

 

Check out last week's episode with recently appointed Arnott's CMO Jenni Dill below:

 

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

7 June 2020 5min read

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