Vodafone Group brand director on becoming known as a ‘firsts’ company

Vodafone announced a new global brand engagement strategy today (9 December), shifting away from its approach of using sponsorship to badge major events to celebrating individuals’ achievements through a “Vodafone Firsts” platform. Marketing Week asked Vodafone Group’s brand director Barbara Haase what the company hopes the new strategy will achieve for the business.

Barbara Haase
Vodafone Group brand director Barbara Haase

Marketing Week (MW): Sponsorship strategies are often about raising awareness, but with the move away from major properties like Formula One, what is the job of Vodafone Firsts?

Barbara Haase (BH): The job very clearly is to engage on a much more deep and emotional level with consumers rather than just being seen. We want to enter into a dialogue with consumers and create something ourselves that is completely ownable as opposed to sharing a property.

Being part of the pride of achievement can be very positive for the relationship between a brand and consumers. On a global level there’s an opportunity to create something where there can be mass participation and a first theme and that can help us become famous, or known and liked as a ‘firsts’ company.

(MW) Are you looking to become more of a media owner, like Red Bull?

(BH) I don’t think so. Red Bull has a very specific model that is unique to its market. We are trying to look at what others have done, [like] Nike+ and BMW’s MiniSpace.com, in trying to use a different set of media. Social media and digital in particular are interesting for us to have more of a direct and targeted conversation with consumers.

The big advantage we have over Red Bull is we already have much more direct access as we own the medium of connectivity: mobile. There are all these moments around tech and connectivity that can help you do things for the first time [such as using the phone’s map and orienteering yourself around a new city]. 

We have always been a very consumer centric company. We have enabled a consumers to do a lot of things without necessarily talking about them, like allowing people [in Africa] to use money transfer systems for the first time with MPesa.

(MW) Now Vodafone will not be spending as much on the up-front costs associated with major sponsorships like Formula One, will more be invested in activation and advertising?

Vodafone fireworks
Vodafone will be creating an augmented reality app to accompany the fireworks in London on New Year’s Eve as part of the Vodafone Firsts push.

(BH) There is that assumption on Formula One [that we will be spending less] but Firsts is a long term commitment with a complex infrastructure. It’s a different approach and not quite as straightforward. We are not just re-using funds or investing less. We are investing as much as is required.

We have always spent money on activation but this is not as comparable as straightforward media spend as we will be investing a lot in the infrastructure, content production and event production. It’s more comparable with broadcast because we are creating an entire programme.

If you look at a more regional and local level and with our partners we do have a number of sponsorship properties that go beyond Formula One. If we manage to turn this into something that is centred around firsts, this can be a very powerful tool to become known for something and be liked for something. Some of those properties will be easy to do that with and some will be more difficult to turn into firsts, so we may let go of some of them at a local level.

(MW) Vodafone rolled out its first new global brand identity since 2005 [”Power of Red”, supported by Vodafone Red tariffs] in September this year. How is the new identity working for the business and what has the feedback been like from consumers?

(BH) Our Brand identity has been received well across the company.  It launched in 21 markets within eight weeks. The first consumer feedback has been positive, referring to the Power of Red as “eye catching”, “fresh” and “dynamic”. The new brand identity works well with Firsts, as it is about confident energy and ensuring that our technology empowers everyone who uses it.

We’re [also] really happy with Vodafone Red [the tariffs launched in the summer ahead of the brand refresh]. From our perspective, Red is about emotionally engaging more deeply with customers. We are seeing customers on our Red tariffs being much more engaged with the brand emotionally than those who are not on Red. 



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