The Marketing Profile: Olivia Streatfeild of TalkTalk

Olivia Streatfeild, TalkTalk
Olivia Streatfeild, TalkTalk

LONDON - TalkTalk's marketing director, Olivia Streatfeild, should be feeling the pressure. After all, even company insiders admit that the Carphone Warehouse-owned home phone and broadband company is having to face up to 'significant challenges'.

Not least among these are consumer concerns over its acquisition of Tiscali UK earlier this month, which rivals have been quick to seize upon. One BT print ad encouraged the 1.5m Tiscali customers 'forced to move to Carphone Warehouse' to 'make a choice' and switch to it instead.

Streatfeild seems unfazed. She bounces into the boardroom at TalkTalk's bright offices in Acton, West London, with an all-American girl-next-door enthusiasm and launches straight into her plans to 'pull a tremendous amount of share from BT'.

The 31-year-old's previous marketing experience is not vast; for the five years prior to taking up her TalkTalk role she was a consultant at McKinsey & Co. Perhaps sensitive to charges that she seems a little wet behind the ears, she is quick to insist that 'age is not a factor' for her employer.

In any case, some observers suggest that Streatfeild's role at McKinsey, advising retailers on marketing and strategy issues, makes her the ideal person to handle the integration of Tiscali.

The marketing director role at TalkTalk, which brings together customer insight, brand, communications and online, is a new one for the company. It was created following the exit of senior marketers Dominic Stinton and David Pagliari in February, after AOL UK had been integrated into the main business.

Streatfeild is not entirely unfamiliar with TalkTalk, though, having previously worked as a consultant on a 'customer experience project' for the brand. She also worked under TalkTalk's managing director, Wendy Becker, at McKinsey.

In addition, Streatfeild says the analytical skills she developed earlier in her career will stand her in good stead and she clearly relishes the entrepreneurial atmosphere at Talk-Talk. 'There is very little process here,' she says. 'I feel so free.'

With her feet under the table, Streatfeild cites her most important goal as helping 'customers to rediscover what is great about TalkTalk'. The communication brand's USP is 'fighting the consumer's corner', with low-cost broadband and home phonecalls.

The introduction of free broadband three years ago by Carphone Warehouse chief executive Charles Dunstone has been joined this month by the launch of free local calls. 'It is an ethos of doing everything we can to help the customer save money,' says Streatfeild. 'In addition to value, the brand means transparency.'

In this spirit of transparency, Streatfeild does not shrink from addressing TalkTalk's well-publicised difficulties. Following its 'broadband for free' campaign in 2006, the company was inundated with complaints about poor service.

The same year, Carphone Warehouse bought AOL UK for £370m and, with it, the ISP's 1.5m broadband and 600,000 dial-up customers. The acquisition was slated by some as a costly way of 'buying in' users rather than generating growth organically.

Despite this criticism, TalkTalk is now treading a similar path by buying Tiscali's debt-ridden UK business for £236m.

The purchase will bring the company's customer base up to 4.25m, accounting
for more than 25% of the total UK residential market.

The TalkTalk blog has been filled with queries from Tiscali customers about the future of Tiscali TV, and plans to improve its uneven customer service. The enquiries remain unanswered, as do those about plans for the Tiscali brand, which is likely to be dropped so TalkTalk can concentrate its marketing efforts on the main brand.

The Tiscali deal has made TalkTalk the UK's biggest home broadband provider. However, it is still fighting hard for market share against BT, Virgin Media and Sky. These rivals wield huge marketing resources, something of which Streatfeild is acutely aware. 'We are up against some of the biggest brands in the UK, so everything we do has to be communicated on-message,' she says.

Steps are therefore being taken to ensure that Streatfeild's marketing budgets are allocated effectively. An overhaul of TalkTalk's brand positioning is planned, and spend on brand marketing is to be increased by about 50%. Following a review of creative plans for advertising with agency CHI & Partners, brand-focused radio spots and TV ads will be rolled out introducing a fresh strapline, although the TalkTalk logo will remain unchanged.

Streatfeild is also in discussions about TV tie-ins. 'Sponsorship can drive great awareness and warmth,' she says. 'This year we want a sustained level of brand investment throughout the year. If you do bursts, then customers forget.'

'Goal number one' in TalkTalk's repositioning is helping customers to 'rediscover the warmth' of the brand, according to Streatfeild. Its new customer communications will also be more benefits-oriented. 'We have a slightly more complicated product than tomato sauce, but we can go back to being simple in how we communicate with customers,' she says.

TalkTalk's online activities will also be overhauled in the coming months, making its website more relevant to potential customers as well as providing an effective service for existing subscribers. 'The ultimate impact for our customers will be huge,' adds Streatfeild.

However, for all the marketing director's positive messages about the  'unique' positioning of TalkTalk, it will be difficult for the company to achieve brand differentiation. This is because broadband is seen by consumers as a utility rather than a lifestyle accessory.

Streatfeild argues that her lack of experience in the sector helps her to question the messages in TalkTalk's customer communications. 'What does eight-meg broadband actually mean?' she asks. 'We should be translating that into an actual benefit for the consumer, such as how many movies they can download.'

She dismisses Virgin Media's high-speed broadband campaign last year as 'random numbers'. As is demonstrated by Virgin's own change of tack on marketing its 50MB broadband, it is difficult to portray telecoms as simple, sexy services. However, Streatfeild says there is an opportunity to be had. 'There is huge scope to demystify things for the customer. That is the trick and it might be as simple as that,' she adds.

TalkTalk must be hoping this is a trick its marketing director can pull off.


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