Horse’s Mouth: Sarah Williams, Spark

In the wake of Spark securing the rights to bring New Zealanders the Rugby World Cup 2019 with TVNZ, head of brand, communications and experience Sarah Williams fills us in how the telco has evolved into more than a broadband, landline and mobile services provider through its investments in music, entertainment, video and customer experiences.

On how Spark sees itself
The way I see it is we are not just a provider of broadband, landline and mobile services anymore. That’s our foundation and we will absolutely continue to do that as well, but we also want to be in a position where we can provide great entertainment and services over the connectivity we provide, and both of those examples are extensions of that.

On its investment in music
The investment in music is a big focus for Spark and something we know our customers really love and value – it’s really central to emotional moments of connection that we share with loved ones.

Bringing Spark mobile and Spotify together fuses music and technology, which is really important as technology is our core offering. We focus on using technology to bring customers closer to amazing music experiences. We also work really closely with Live Nation and some of the labels to deliver exclusive customer opportunities and they come in the form of meet and greets, private concerts and live streaming of events.

I think the reason we do this is we believe we really need to earn the privilege of being in a space like music that our customers really care about. That means you can’t just benefit from the music industry, you’ve also got to be very much in there and supporting it as well.

On creating Spark Arena
It was an interesting one for us. As an iconic Kiwi brand, we were really excited to partner with what we saw as being an iconic Kiwi music venue – it’s a great way for us to show our commitment to the music industry.

We’re really proud to have our name on the side of that venue but also our technology inside it, starting with the free WiFi for all visitors. We are looking to do even more in that space with the launch of things like the customer space that Spark customers can get access to.

On winning the Rugby World Cup rights with TVNZ
Winning the Rugby World Cup rights is definitely an extension of our goal to provide New Zealanders with the best entertainment – we know how much Kiwis love their sport so it’s very much a natural expansion for us.

Spark is going to be offering New Zealanders a choice about which games they watch, how they watch them, and where or when they watch them. Options will include everything from full tournament passes and passes for individual games, and there will be packages we will find out about in due time.

You won’t have to be a Spark customer to watch the World Cup, we will be streaming games over an app which will be available to all New Zealanders and compatible with a range of devices. What it allows us to provide is a lot more flexibility in terms of people being able to turn up and watch what they want and when they want to watch it, as opposed to falling in line with one person’s idea of programming. Watch this space for more to come.

On offering both Netflix and Lightbox
We see the two services as very much complimentary in that both offer exclusive content. I think the days are long gone where we can chose one way to watch content or even one platform to watch it on.

These days many people subscribe to a real range of different entertainment services and I think the reality is that no one content provider can capture all the content available today. By bringing Netflix and Lightbox under the same roof, we are trying to make it easier for our customers to access the content that they really want to watch and when they want to watch it.

On partnering up
When any company wants to extend into new areas of business they have the choice to build, buy or partner. In our case, we are moving away from being a traditional provider of telephone lines and broadband connection alone to becoming a business that brings New Zealanders the best content in the world and as a result, we’ve decided to partner with some of the best entertainment brands in the world.

It’s a real win-win for us and the partner. We get to have a much deeper relationship with our customers and the partner also gets to have a deeper relationship with the local New Zealand market, especially when you are partnering with these bigger offshore brands – Spotify is a really good example of this.

On making the commitment
I don’t know plain sailing ever exists in the world we live in. I think when you go into partnership with these other brands you have to go in knowing that there are always going to be bumps in the road and there are always going to be points of negotiation, but you go into it as a partner.

If you are committed to a long-term partnership, then you nd your way around these things and I think we’ve been really successful in that we’ve committed to some really big and some long-term partnerships which are really paying o for Spark customers.

On standing out in the market
Differentiation is great, that’s what we seek to get. You can start to see other traditional telcos and media companies are looking to change things as well as in other sectors, like energy.

You start to see a lot more the line between how a traditional media company is being eroded in all kinds of directions and I guess an example is Facebook – is it a channel or a media company? I’m not sure we can make those clear distinctions any more.

For me it makes it more critical to be a liked and trusted brand so you have more chance of being accepted with these new offerings.

On translating the journey in its marketing
We have a three layered approach to what we do which all springboards of our ‘Little Can Be Huge’ brand platform.

The first layer of what we do is around storytelling around emotional moments, while the second layer is around creating amazing brand experiences through technology, and the third and final layer is around winning the battle ground – which is where our core offering really comes into play.

What you can see from our partnership and entertainment activity is that our marketing extends across all three of those layers. For example, for emotional storytelling the ‘Little Can Be Huge’ campaign sees an older couple dancing to the Spotify music and taking themselves back in time, and when you move into brand experience it’s things like the arena. More recently we were doing a disco light up dance floor with Spotify at the Bright Nights Festival.

Then you get into the third layer, which is what we call ‘winning the battleground’. It’s where it all comes together in terms of comms that give you the reason to be with Spark – with Netflix, Spotify and our other partners.

On its audience
We certainly are a big company with a diverse range of offerings right through, from our landline customers to the very early adopters who are picking up all of our new partnerships. We have to reflect what New Zealand is because that’s the brand we are.

On listening to that audience
It’s hugely important. Nothing that we do is for Spark alone, it’s got to be for a customer outcome so you have to go into these things knowing ideally what it is customers are looking for.

You monitor in many ways – whether that’s through research, through connections or who is signing up for these things – and that gives you a fairly good indication of whether you are hitting the right marks or not. We are in constant contact with our customers and we are constantly looking to improve so we bring them into our conversation regularly and as early as we can.

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