Dialling up a transformation: Vodafone NZ’s journey to One NZ

Despite only shedding five letters of its name, Vodafone NZ’s metamorphosis into One NZ represents a complete brand transformation from international brand to local and signals a new beginning for the telco.

With plans remaining shrouded in secrecy for almost a year, the marketing and branding team at Vodafone NZ were finally able to reveal the company’s intention to undergo a significant rebranding in October 2022, beginning the transition from Vodafone NZ to One New Zealand.

The final steps of the transformation took place in early 2023, marking a new chapter for the company following the change of ownership from Vodafone Group to new owners Infratil and Brookfield in 2019.

Jason Paris, Vodafone New Zealand CEO, explained the name change was the logical next step in its ongoing transformation.

“We are proud to announce this decision to change our name,” he was quoted as saying. “This move means we will have even more money to invest into our networks, onshore service, and technology solutions for our customers in New Zealand. We think One New Zealand better reflects our deep connections and legacy in New Zealand, as well as our future ambitions.”

Instead of trying to change things overnight, the new branding was announced months before the licensing of the name Vodafone NZ ran out and as Jason said in a press release that went out with the announcement “This is much more than just a name change; it is the icing on the cake”.

“Three years ago, we moved from global to local to focus 100 percent on New Zealand, and since then we have been laying the foundations to serve Aotearoa long into the future. Now, it is time to take the next step. To become One New Zealand. One team of over 3,000 employees, with one focus on one country and on one goal, to unlock the magic of technology to create an awesome Aotearoa.”

Starting almost two years ago at Vodafone NZ, Susannah Winger, Brand & Loyalty Manager, was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement on her first day for “a new project” which turned out to be the beginning of the work that produced One New Zealand.

Susannah Winger.

Along with the usual excitement and nerves of starting a new role, Susannah also had the added challenge of having to keep a pretty big secret from some of her colleagues.

“Not a way to make friends,” she laughs.

Georgia Mahaffie, Head of Brand and Marketing at One NZ, joined in January 2022 and had been working in the US and the UK for around 14 years.

In New Zealand on her maternity leave, the opportunity to take on this role came to her at the stage of new parenthood, where everything was a bit of a blur.

“I had a meeting with Jason Paris, who said the opportunity was to rebrand Vodafone to be a New Zealand company.”

Despite the fog of sleep deprivation and general exhaustion of having a newborn, she recognised this was a challenge she’d love to take on. Now, eighteen months in, she says it still “feels like I hit the jackpot”.

The goal was to create a brand that truly represented New Zealand, one with a local identity, that New Zealander’s could be proud of.

To achieve this, the company underwent significant investments in its network, customer service, people, culture, products, and partnerships, leading to considerable improvements in metrics and services over two to three years. However, the brand’s perception still lagged behind its actual performance.

Georgia says research had found that approximately one million New Zealanders were reluctant to consider Vodafone, regardless of any claims like having the finest network, call centres, service, stores, or staff.

Georgia Mahaffie.

These individuals had negative perceptions due to past bad experiences with Vodafone, which had become deeply ingrained in their minds. In order to really take advantage of all the internal changes that had happened there needed to be a “jolt in perception so there was a moment for everyone to reconsider”, she adds.

Typically, people tend to be somewhat resistant to change initially. During this transitional phase, individuals were gradually getting accustomed to the idea of the new name.

And while it’s great to be talked about, Georgia says, when a brand name is new it doesn’t mean anything.

“When you come out with a new name, it means nothing to anyone,” Georgia says. Naming a product is an opportunity, naming a company is a responsibility, but the team went through the same process.  What do we want to say, how will this be useful, where will we take it?

“In this particular instance, the opportunity was to have a name that also drove a business transformation.”

The One NZ brand name was purposefully crafted to carry ambiguity in its meaning for customers, allowing meaning to be injected into the name as the company found its true identity.

The name was also easy to work in to other business initiatives like One Good Kiwi – a philanthropic initiative,  or service aspirations like ‘One Click’, ‘One Call’, ‘One Minute’ and so on.

“When you turn that name back into the business, it drives simplicity, it drives ease, it forces the business to simplify.”

Georgia says one of the reasons why they love the name is because it works for the team internally as well.

“The name is just the name. It’s what the name represents in two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years.”

An added bonus was One being the last three letters of Vodafone as an acknowledgement of the company’s history.

“As much as it was the right time for us to leave, there was huge benefits that we’ve all gained from being Vodafone,” Susannah says. “And they’re still an incredibly big partner for us. So it was an acknowledgement of our history, a new chapter and a new beginning for us as well.”

As for the decision to gradually roll out the new name and branding, Georgia says it all comes back to why they were doing it – for New Zealand and their New Zealand customers.

“Having them feel a part of it is super important the whole way through. Sometimes we have to make decisions on behalf of everyone, but feeling like its everyone’s brand, feeling like it’s something that people have a real say in was something that Vodafone didn’t have.”

This mission to make New Zealanders feel that sense of ownership spills over into the brand’s social media presence as well. In fact One NZ was the first New Zealand telco to use entertainment platform TikTok in its media strategy and became well known for its take on the famous Jimmy Kimmel Live segment called Mean Tweets where celebrities read disparaging and often humorous tweets about themselves. One NZ took this format and made its own version with real One NZ team members reading unhappy social media comments about the brand.

Kimberley Harcombe, One NZ Social Media Lead, says at first the team were simply placing static ads for products they felt would be relatable to this younger audience, and over time began to work with influencers, in Kimberley’s words to “boost our coolness”.

Kimberley Harcombe.

Working with the social media specialist agency The Attention Seeker, One NZ wanted to bring customers along on the journey with them.

Instead of trying to push sales messages to their audiences, there was discussion around how to humanise the brand and how to put the social back into social media, a platform that was supposed to be about fostering community in the first place.

With the monetisation and introduction of ads on social media, Kimberley says businesses can often overlook its original purpose as a two-way communication platform. Distracted by the increased reach for their content, it can be easy to forget that social media was originally designed for meaningful interactions and building communities.

Instead of engaging in conversations and listening to what users care about, businesses tend to flood social media with retail ads and irrelevant posts. As a result, users express their frustrations, and complain about their issues while businesses are left wondering why their content receives such negative feedback.

“They’re talking to us about the stuff they care about that they want us to listen to, and we’re telling them stuff we want them to listen to, and they really don’t care,” she says.

“A lot of the time we couldn’t even tell if the content we were putting out there was any good, because it’s not relevant conversation.”

Kimberley says part of the conversation she had with The Attention Seeker was that if content is enjoyable or entertaining, then it doesn’t matter what customers are wanting to say to a company because they will be distracted by the fact that it’s “good, entertaining content”.

And through the TikTok platform, it worked. A Meta brand lift study saw a 4.1 point up lift in Affinity. This was a huge success as the Telecom norm is 0.9 points and the Regional norm is 1.1 points.

The highest lift came from One NZ’s youngest audience, however there was also lift in the age categories of 35-44 and 45-54.

But despite this dramatic lift, Kimberley is pragmatic, saying it is important to remember that brand transformations and marketing can only take a business so far. Ultimately it’s delivering on promises and products that really make a solid brand.

Vodafone NZ’s brand transformation to One NZ marks a significant shift from being an international entity to a locally oriented company committed to serving New Zealanders.

Through this transformation, One NZ aimed to establish a more relatable and approachable identity. By emphasising its dedication to Aotearoa and tailoring its services to meet the specific needs of its customers, the company aspired to create a new chapter – one that embodies a positive and genuine connection with New Zealanders.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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