Virgin Media’s Bradshaw Drives And Defines The Role Of Digital
“Digital is a whole new way of thinking,” says Rhona Bradshaw, director of digital at Virgin Media, who will also be speaking at this week’s Adobe EMEA Summit.
Fluidity is core to Virgin Media’s digital transformation as it breaks away from traditional channel thinking.
Since joining UPC Ireland—now Virgin Media Ireland—as head of marketing in 2006, Rhona Bradshaw has seen the telecoms industry transformed by digital technology, prompting huge changes in the way the organisation operates.
Now director of digital at Virgin Media, Bradshaw is a speaker at this week’s Adobe EMEA Summit in a session called “Marketing Cloud—Becoming an Experience Led Business—a True Story.”
Prior to this session, she outlines the impact a dedicated digital transformation division has had on the company, and how its aim to make digital its number-one commercial channel must remain fluid. We began by asking her about her role at the company.
Bradshaw: My remit is to effectively drive and define the role of digital. This means managing efficiencies, driving sales, and enabling the platforms to support the business in achieving its goals. I am also responsible for defining the overall digital transformation programme within the whole business. So how do we move as an organisation culturally and strategically into being a 21stst-century business? How do we start to really think about the way in which we service customers as their needs and behaviours change?
I straddle both worlds—on the one hand, I am responsible for the platforms as a whole and making sure they stay live, managing the customer experience and the online journey. But I am also the person who is trying to evangelise the role of digital and the importance of thinking differently to allow the organisation to be more customer-centric.
CMO.com:How have Virgin Media’s marketing challenges changed as the industry has changed?
Bradshaw: I grew up with traditional ATL (Above the Line) and BTL (Below the Line) brand activity, and while we used customer behaviour insight, we used it in a much more reactive way to help us determine where we should be heard the most. The idea of customer behaviour driving your decision making or defining your planning wasn’t at the centre of the conversation. As the digital revolution started to take hold, customers became much more engaged and it has given them power—it has flipped things on its head and a dialogue with brands has developed. The arrival of social media has also meant that customers want to play a role in defining the outcome of a service or product.
We started to try and figure out what the data was telling us to enable us to be more proactive and pre-empt customer demands. That has been the biggest change from a marketing perspective—the role of customer data, how it feeds into our decision making, and how we let that define the areas we decide to advertise in, the products we create, and the conversations we have.
CMO.com:What lessons have you learnt as digital has evolved?
**Bradshaw:**I think our biggest learning was that while we started to quickly realise that we had to have that dialogue with customers, we were still constrained by the need to operate in a traditional world and in some ways we were pulling against each other. Customers were looking for us to be more active, and vocal, and aware of their needs, and as a business we weren’t ready or capable of responding to those. We weren’t changing quickly enough to demonstrate that we were listening. Only now are we getting to grips with the role of social and digital and how we use it—before we weren’t necessarily ready to release the parachute and free fall. We learnt that sometimes you have to have the courage to jump.
CMO.com: **Virgin Media launched its dedicated digital transformation department in 2013. Was this relatively late? **
** Bradshaw:** From a Liberty Global [Virgin Media’s parent company] perspective, we had always placed online in the marketing world or sales world, and that was because we were still thinking of it as a channel, as part of the distribution plan for marketing and sales. Only in the last four years have we started to think differently about the role of digital. When Dana Strong came onboard [as COO in 2013], we focused on the new role of Virgin Media, the importance of being at the forefront of the digital conversation, and recognised that it is not just about putting more money into digital or enabling new sales channels—it is actually a whole new way of thinking.
While I think, in some ways, we were a little bit late to the party, I think it was the right time for us as an organisation to step into that new way of thinking. I don’t think we could have done it earlier from a psychological perspective. Since then we have been very focused in accelerating our journey.
CMO.com: **What impact has the launch of a dedicated digital department had? **
** Bradshaw:** We are a different company. We spent the first two years of our life really trying to demonstrate our value, and show that we are a horizontal business division and not a vertical channel in the way people thought of it previously. Customers don’t play within the rules of the game and don’t just colour within the lines—they are fluid. As an organization, we had to find a way of providing that seamless customer experience, so organisationally we have evolved and matured significantly in our thinking around the role digital plays and the importance of our platforms. We have spent the last couple of years making sure that the business understands that value and incubating that thinking, so we can start demonstrating to the organisation how agile we are, that we can turn around projects quickly, and that not everything has to be 100% perfect. It is OK to be iterative because that is what is happening in digital.
We also try to challenge the business to embrace failing fast and learning quickly, and that approach has been successful in really starting to make people think differently. We have done a lot more than we would have done if we had stuck with different functions, but, on the flip side, we were probably naive in not necessarily truly understanding the genuine cultural change that had to take place in order to start to embed digital thinking. A lot of people automatically think of channels when they talk digital—they think sales, marketing, and PR, for example—but it is much more about understanding the customer. We have a few more years to go before we, like many others, genuinely realise the full potential that exists.
**CMO.com:How is your marketing department set up? **
** Bradshaw:** Gregor McNeil, managing director of consumer, oversees marketing, product, and commercial, and our CMO, Kerris Bright, reports into him, while I report into our COO, Paul Buttery. The digital and marketing team operates a hub-and-spoke model, so from a hub perspective, the digital division defines the strategy. The three main spokes are marketing, care, and sales, and the hub-and-spoke model allows us to embed that digital thinking within the business as opposed to keeping it separate. So we inform the digital marketing team and the overall marketing group, led by Kerris, about the digital transformation agenda and strategy, ensuring they know what tools they have at their disposal and how best to drive value and get the output they need. We effectively try to create a digital road map and programme of activity that is very cognitive of what the three teams are trying to achieve—such as how they can use social and how they can get more out of the data management platform, for example—while their strategies are very reflective of the organisation’s digital ambition. We work very closely to ensure that the output is right for the business.
We thought long and hard about the hub-and-spoke model and that structure. We felt that it would enable us to work more collaboratively, and that the role of digital could ultimately be much more operational and play a bigger part in decisions.
**CMO.com: Can you share any examples of your recent digital activity or campaigns? **
** Bradshaw:** The marketing team stepped into the world of Virtual Reality (VR) to support our most recent campaign, “The Vivid House Party,” which supports our ultra-fast broadband product, Vivid. The VR film invites consumers to step inside a Virgin Media party, and uses narrative techniques to involve the viewer as they move through the crowd. It has been produced for use with Samsung Gear but can also be experienced using Google Cardboard as a 360 extension within YouTube. The team is always looking at the latest technology, so they can understand how they can incorporate it into their marketing activity, ensuring they stay relevant and lead the charge.
CMO.com: **You have previously stated your aim to make digital Virgin Media’s “number-one commercial channel.” What are the challenges in doing this? **
** Bradshaw:** The biggest challenge is this whole idea of omni-channel and the role that changing customer behaviour is playing in both the acceleration of omni-channel and the proliferation of mobile and other platforms. Omni-channel is all about delivering a seamless customer experience, regardless of how a customer chooses to interact with you. It has digital at its centre, because we know customers are interacting at the beginning, middle, and end of their journey. So our ambition to have digital as our “main commercial channel” starts to erode a little, but that’s not to say that the ideal of digital being the driving force and playing a central role to our overall growth doesn’t remain the thing we are trying to realise. It just means that as we evolve, as is the nature of digital, so do our measurement tools and success factors. Digital is a moving target, so we would be doing ourselves a disservice to be too rigid.
**CMO.com: You will be talking at the Adobe Summit EMEA this week. What can attendees expect to hear? **
** Bradshaw:** At the Summit I will be talking about our use of personalisation and the role of the cloud within that. We started on our personalisation journey shortly after we created the digital team, as we believed it to be the driving force behind true digitalisation, both within Virgin Media and for consumers. After two years of testing and integrating the tools to support us, our personalisation journey is only now beginning in its truest sense. We are very sure that it is the right path to be on due to the early indicators: 6% uplift in conversion on average due to continued optimisation, 14% increase in conversion from using more targeted information about consumers to support their purchase journey, and 7% increase in orders due to the relevant content we can now present to our visitors.
Our next steps are to roll out personalisation across all of our platforms to create a seamless experience for consumers, as well as bringing us closer to our ultimate goal of making digital an integral part of our business.
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