Vodafone: How a brand changed its culture and changed a category

Go big or go home

When Vodafone acquired Bell South in New Zealand, Bell South was a B2B operation in a market dominated by the national Telco. In the weeks and months leading up to the deal, staff went through a horrendous experience of market speculation, and an unsure future. Things had reached a pretty low point. When the deal was announced, Vodafone had just 6 weeks to re-launch and re-build the business.

Not only did they achieve this, it was a resounding success, with Vodafone surpassing the big-spending competitor in brand awareness, and market share. Vodafone became the brand everyone wanted to be with, and work for. The culture at Vodafone New Zealand set a new standard, influencing Vodafone HQ in London and inspired the shift to a values-based culture for the brand globally.

The key to this remarkable success: Brave, uncompromising thinking applied to people and change by bringing brand and culture together to shape a new way of thinking and working, where values mattered most. A joint effort between the senior agency lead and the client sponsor, its design and deployment was owned and championed by both teams. As Vodafone made key acquisitions in new territories, this brilliant approach proved its durability and value when exported to Australia, Sweden, Dubai and Egypt.

Vodafone put our name in lights, and it’s an experience we continue to iterate off, especially as the need is greater than ever for many organisations worldwide. We taken that inspiration inspired and applied the insights for a new context; that of the disrupted economy, radical advances in technology and a disillusioned and passive workforce. Welcome to people and culture 3.0

Why it worked fast
and continues to prove its value.
The disruptive idea at the heart of change:
we are ‘not a telco’.

This thought created the space to challenge the conventions of the sector, to think / talk and behave like a consumer brand, not an engineering company. The idea’s time was right.

We said to the business, “You can’t be defined by the category, no one loves their telco provider, you can’t solve that problem at the level it’s created, instead you need a view that’s predicated on ‘why not’, and bring in thinkers from other industries to build a new way”.

Interestingly, many of the leadership team were engineers, yet they embraced the opportunity to be demonstrably different in every aspect of the business. That was a big call, and not without challenges.

Get high on the Bravery Scale.

It’s all about owning the values. When Vodafone decided to become a values-based company, it meant defining the company/brand values and ensuring staff values were aligned. Every single person, including the leadership, went through the values workshops. It takes bravery to give priority to values over skills alone as a criteria for employment But that’s what happened, and the result speaks for itself.

Holding the line pays off.

When you’re half way through something big, it’s tough and people will start wavering if you don’t hold the line with a clear and consistent view on the importance of ‘what we’re doing and why’. And you can do that, because intent-based change is delivering what the business needs – with outcomes that are highly commercial and tangible: customer growth, market share, employee passion, business innovation, and people queuing up to join.

Bring a Real-World attitude to how we communicate

To live the values, you have to bring them to life and reflect them in everything you do. That means no BS, no corporate speak or defaulting to ‘fine print’. We were thinking and acting way ahead of the trend curve, living the UX before the term was even invented. From staff to consumers and business partners, new relationships were created because the reason to engage was clear, direct and highly beneficial: for society, individuals and the enterprise.

Nothing else will work as well as this

We’ll boldly state (from deep experience) that nothing else will have the same impact. If transformation of the culture is key to commercial outcome (and it usually is) there’s no point tinkering around the edges, diluting the message, pandering to political correctness, or giving way to fear and expedience.

Our ability to see into the situation and know how to immediately respond created a positive, action-oriented dynamic for decision-makers, and a network of people who achieved in 6 weeks what would normally take months.

This outside-in view enabled everyone to push the boundaries of what was possible. People do want to believe in something, if they see it as a truth, and know it to be right, then they will be that change.

Since Adrienne Bateup-Carlson and I came together to deliver globally recognised results for Vodafone I’ve worked with some very clever people around the globe, but I’ve never found anyone who comes close to Adrienne or the Now Protocol Team.

They live and breathe brands – but not just in the stereotypical external sense. They have a passion for engaging organisations around their strategy, brand and commercial imperatives. It’s rare to find a company so accomplished in branding and communications with such a passion for the internal dynamic of organisations.

We needed a brave-thinking partner, who could deliver a disruptive idea that would change the company for the better. ‘We are not a Telco’ was it. Clearly articulating the commercial imperative and business case allowed the Executive Team to engage with, and endorse the mindset shift. Encouraging leaders to hold the line in the face of objection, and inspiring them to find their ‘brave’ was a delicate balancing act, requiring empathy for the enormity of the change, and a robust process to support the change.

The Now Protocol have a unique ability to develop a communications platform which is real, accessible to staff and completely inspiring.

“Transforming cultures is core to the Now Protocol’s DNA; they are unrelenting in searching for disruptive ideas that have a big impact, and translates into commercial success.”

Whilst I was ‘the client’ I always felt totally connected to the process and energised by the opportunity.

The Now Protocol are one-of-a-kind. This is why I’m so excited to be working with them to deliver the brave, mindset-shifting ideas that people and culture need to thrive in the Post-Machine Age.

Melanie Gleeson

Change Lead, Vodafone