Extending the gift of control

Personal control and connectivity, the principle tenets of O2 mobile, have powered the brand’s successful crossover into financial services

Money talks, so they say. But mobile network operator O2 claims that the real key to getting people talking is innovation. With most people in the UK already owning phones, operators must look for new ways to get more out of customers. O2 UK marketing director Sally Cowdry reveals: “Our core market is a mature one so we are always looking for opportunities to increase our revenue.”

Last year, the brand launched the UK’s first mobile-meets-finance product to an audience of O2 customers. Its fee-free Visa pre-pay cards established O2 firmly in a new category and proved the most successful UK financial card launch ever.

The innovation, a collaboration with NatWest, took the form of two cards: the Cash Manager card geared at getting people to take greater control of their money, an especially relevant need in these economically challenging times; and the Load & Go, designed for O2’s 13- to 18-year-old customers, but marketed to 16- to 18-year-old customers unable to attain a Visa payment card.

“We identified two groups within the O2 customer base whose needs weren’t being met by any of the current financial products on offer and we realised that the balance of control and flexibility, which worked so well for our customers in their mobile spending, could be applied to help them in their broader spending behaviour,” says Cowdry.

“Our belief was that we could help people spend their money more smartly, through exploiting some of the features of the mobile market including maximum spend limits and instant text balance updates.”

By creating a card that reflected their familiar mobile spending habits – topping up a set amount and then learning to keep within that limit – O2 could help them form responsible and controlled spending. The Load & Go card can be used most places that take Visa, including the online sphere.

Cowdry says that one of the most important factors in instigating and stimulating brand development is the existence of a culture and spirit of innovation within a business. By successfully moving beyond its mobile heritage and launching O2 as an innovative player in the financial sector, the card launch has served to increase awareness of the brand and build its credibility as a newcomer to the personal finance sector which can bring a fresh approach.

“We understand what our customers want not just in the mobile context but in their wider lives,” says Cowdry. “This is the right time to do this: people are looking for a brand they can trust and which offers certainty.”

Not only is O2 Money a cost effective way to get a bridgehead in personal finance, this innovation signals the potential for further brand extensions that leverage its reputation for excellent connectivity. Establishing its credibility in the new market of finance is an important first step in O2’s future diversification plans, including moving into areas such as education and health.

The brand aimed to acquire 100,000 customers by the end of 2009 and to reduce the amount of customer churn that is the bain of the mobile network sector. The cards were offered only to O2 customers so as to heighten a sense of brand loyalty.

With the concept of responsible spending behind it, the media strategy for the launch of O2 Money’s Load & Go card focused on two bespoke partnerships with teen show Hollyoaks and social networking site Bebo to deliver contextually relevant communication. Digital advertising and in-store marketing were also used to drive applications.

For the launch of the Cash Manager card, aimed at an older demographic, O2 used TV advertising to create an aspirational feel for the product.

The ads celebrated a sense of empowerment and people being in total control of their spending through their mobile.

The end result of the O2 campaign was a flourishing card, which smashed the brand’s targets by achieving 100,000 applications in the first seven weeks. “We believe this is the most successful card ever launched in the UK,” says O2 UK customer director Tim Sefton. “For comparison, Egg achieved 85,000 accounts in its first two months.”

The goal of achieving greater brand awareness and credibility in the personal finance sector was proven by the results of a Millward Brown survey. Awareness of O2 Money more than quadrupled with the launch of the TV advertising; 24% of those aware of O2 Money claimed they were likely to find out more about the card; 52% of 18- to 24-year-olds said that O2 having a financial product made them feel more positive towards the brand, with brand consideration rising so that those claiming O2 was the only brand they would consider rose three points to 33%.

For the mobile operator, the talk-time generated by it first foray into financial services is paying off, with the commercial value of that rise in brand consideration significantly outstripping the cost of the campaign.

“We want to add value to our customers by adding more things that they love,” says Cowdry. “Most important of all, the launch firmly established O2 as a credible player in personal finance, bringing fresh insight and ambition from outside the category, and opening up vital new sources of revenue for the business.”




We had a very successful few years as a mobile operator and that was on the strength of the brand we created around delivering the best customer service. Last year, against the background of a recessionary climate, we were looking for a proposition that would bring our brand to life.

We have done a first step in a journey of how people manage their mobile and how they manage their wallet. We see mobile and financial services as areas that can complement each other and the great potential of financial services was that it was a sector that had not really been exploited by mobile operators.

Mobile became a successful product when O2 enabled people to control what they spent through pre-pay. Budgeting like this was one of the key insights for the development of the card product. Because we wanted to go in with a fresh approach to the personal finance sector, our partnership with NatWest focused on a card where there were no fees and no hidden costs.

For any new category that O2 enters, we want a clear differentiator from other companies that operate there. It is essential that we don’t appear like a “me too” brand. O2 Money has given us the foundation to go on being innovative and, taking our customer base with us, extending our brand offering into new areas.

Highlighted innovators: Sally Cowdry, marketing director of O2 UK, and Tim Sefton, UK customer director of O2


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