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O2 vows to grow Weve 10-fold in wake of EE & Vodafone exit

By Jessica Davies | News Editor

May 5, 2015 | 7 min read

O2 has unveiled details of its road map for mobile marketing proposition Weve, having severed its ties with former shareholders EE and Vodafone, which will see it introduce more flexible product solutions and bolster its customer database to 31 million.

The mobile operator confirmed it has taken Weve in-house earlier today, and has now revealed an ambitious growth strategy which will see it grow the business ten-fold in the coming years.

It will now enter a 30-day period of consultation while it assesses potential redunancies, with O2 digital director David Plumb conceding that some jobs will be “at risk”.

He praised the current Weve workforce but added that there will inevitably be “duplications” of roles, and decisions will be made regarding those over the next month. He added that all Weve employees will be treated as any other O2 staff member would be, and that where possible anyone whose role is deemed redundant under the new ownership will be redeployed across O2.

The disbandment of the three shareholders, which set up the business for a combined £38m pot three years ago, was prompted by a strategic review undertaken but its interim chief executive Tim Hipperson, and comes ahead of the proposed sale of O2 to Hutchison Whampoa.

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Speaking to The Drum, Plumb said said the changes were made independently, and had no correlation to the proposed O2 acquisition of Hutchison Whampoa. “It had nothing to do with the proposed transaction, but very much a BAU [business as usual] decision within the O2 business.

"Tim Hipperson was brought in and did a fantastic job of conducting a strategic review, and presented this to the shareholders with a range of options. We saw huge value in the business and saw how we could grow it from this, which is how it has led to this decision,” said Plumb. He also confirmed that there will be no standalone Weve CEO appointment to follow Hipperson, as Weve will be completely integrated into the business.

The Weve brand will remain for the short term, but once other O2 digital assets such as Wifi and Priority are integrated it may warrant a rebrand further down the line, according to Plumb.

He moved to reassure all existing Weve clients that all current campaigns will be unaffected by the changes. “There is absolute continuity for existing clients – any campaign in flight will be continued – we will ensure we don’t miss a heartbeat,” he added.

Meanwhile, from this week onwards O2 will begin to ramp up the current 20 million-strong customer opt-in database to 30 million – which it will draw from its Wifi and Priority customer databases.

Although he would not reveal specific targets Plumb said the plan is to grow the business ten-fold over the next few years and added that it has “investment plans” in the pipeline.

This will include expanding its product portfolio with particular focus on integrating other O2 assets and using the combined data to tie together on and offline customer insights via Weve’s technology.

“We think we can grow the scale of Weve dramatically – by bringing in our WiFi and Priority bases we will grow the overall audience base from 21 million opted-in adults to 31 million – which is 50 per cent growth in terms of scale of the business. We also think that by including things like wifi you can do more personalisation with ads.

“For example you could tell what kind of people are walking into McDonald’s from the wifi and browsing data – and from that we can work through Weve to be able to serve ads to those people – perhaps identify if they haven’t been into the store for a few weeks – to help drive footfall and business. What we will see moving forward is much more around solutions for organisations – less about simple SMS-type products.

“From things like that you can start to see the online and offline world coming together in a way we have never had before. So we are quite excited about how we take this business forward. So rather than having the three shareholders and the separate board – we are excited about how a lot of this can now be sped up. The opportunity is there to make it even better and stronger,” he said.

Meanwhile Weve commercial director Nigel Clarkson admitted that over the last three years it has been “tough” for the business to drive forward while having to answer to three, fiercely competitive shareholders.

“We want to get our teeth into this next phase now and this gives us the ability to turbocharge the plan we always had for Weve but with more customers. We are confident its new capabilities will make it much more compelling for clients.”

Clarkson stressed that rich media advertising on mobile remains an untapped opportunity, and one upon which Weve can still capitalise. “The challenge currently is we talk about this concept of ‘accidental mobile’ – where if you’re buying ads on Google, Facebook or Twitter and you’re probably having more delivered on mobile devices than ever before simply because more people are accessing those platforms on a mobile phone.

“The challenge is in that other space – around display video, rich content, banners, publishing, SMS, location based marketing – that is the sort of territory that should be flying. And while it is flying in some of those areas the challenge is really around data. Who owns the data and how portable is that data?”

He referenced the ongoing issue of publishers struggling to understand who their mobile audiences are due to the fact they can only identity a “40 digit anonymised ID” – an area Weve looks to unpick and provide visibility around mobile audiences.

“It’s not around guesswork it’s about real people – so there is still huge potential for Weve. Everything I signed up for magnifies with this deal because it gives us the ability to deliver on all we were trying to – scale, data, speed and the ability to cross target via video , SMS , display,” he added.

Although payment products could be in the pipeline, both Plumb and Clarkson stressed that there would be no plans to resurrect its mobile wallet proposition.

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