How this global CMO tackled bringing 28 companies under one brand

Global chief marketing officer of NTT, Ruth Rowan, details the brand strategy and framework she adopted to help bring NTT's portfolio of companies under one umbrella brand

Ruth Rowan
Ruth Rowan


If there’s one lesson NTT’s global CMO, Ruth Rowan, has learnt since being tasked with rebranding the group’s 28 businesses under one umbrella, it’s exceptions shouldn’t ever hold you back.

“There are always exceptions, but if you hold the rest of the business back because of them, it’s difficult to get anything done,” she tells CMO. “But exceptions are important. And when you have them, it’s vital you’re communicating clearly with people involved.”  

One small but significant example for NTT in becoming one branded entity has been migrating employee email addresses.

“Some parts of the business are not as straightforward, and some of that is linked to the existence or not of a central HR system,” Rowan says. “By just saying ‘we’d love to have migrated you by this date but we’re not able to and this is the reason and here’s the timeline’, people have generally been receptive. If you don’t communicate the reason, people can read all kinds of things into it.”  

Being transparent and overcommunicating why certain things happen at certain times is one of three key objectives established by Rowan and the NTT team as they strive to build one global brand. The others are a commitment to not damaging the business in any way, or that sees client relationships go backwards; and not breaking the law by ensuring integration is legally and regulatory compliant.

On 1 July, NTT officially unified the capabilities of its owned 28 companies, including Dimension Data, NTT Communications and Arkadin, under one brand, creating an $11 billion London-based business with 40,000 staff in 70 countries. The ambition is to make NTT one of the world’s top 20 brands, alongside other shining technology brands like Cisco and Oracle. The main driver for holistic integration was clients, Rowan says.

“Increasingly, clients were asking if can we make it easier to do business with the NTT family – can we start to provide more technology services but with one contract and one service desk, for example,” she says. “In any industry, you’re looking at how to increase share of wallet and build a client experience that is as optimal as possible across multiple parts of the business.

“When we you’re 28 companies with 28 different ways of engaging with clients, we were still different businesses - however much the largest clients doing multiple transactions saw us coming together.”

In integrating into one NTT, the first thing Rowan and her team did was work to understand current brand values and perceptions through copious amounts of research across clients, companies and markets.    

“We made the decision very early on that it made sense to bring together under the NTT brand, with the dynamic loop and that hero brand. That meant understanding the brand promise and framework of NTT, but also what the brand means and what is the experience,” Rowan explains.  

“All our businesses have different heritage and capability areas, with different geographies, markets and client groups. We have brands like Dimension Data, a global brand with a strong reputation in systems integration and managed services that’s seen as trusted and grounded in a South African heritage, but that’s also strong in markets like Australia. Then there’s NTT Communications, one of the brands outside Japan that has a strong Japanese heritage and is very strong in the telco market with a reputation for quality products.

“A smaller brand like Arkadin is well-regarded in the conferencing and cloud communications market but not really known outside of it. So it was a complicated process. We had to look at the legacy but also the future of the brand we wanted to build.”  

To go forwards on brand strategy, the team went backwards into the NTT archives. While NTT as a business has been around for about 120 years, the brand in its current guise was established in 1985 when the Japanese organisation was privatised.

“What we found was beautiful and as relevant today as it was 35 years previously,” Rowan says. “That brand work in 1985 was founded on three principles: Firstly, that the company would always listen to its clients. This is reflected in the visual NTT logo loop, with the centre loop representing the voice of the client.

“The second thing we stood for is constantly moving forward and being innovative. We want to also make sure we’re dynamic,” Rowan continues. “Innovation is at the heart of the company, and we’re one of the biggest investors in R&D in the IT&T industry. We again felt that was really relevant but needed to be expressed and explained.”

The third piece is NTT’s purpose of making a difference to communities it exists in by understanding how technology can make the world a better place. All of these values are now informing stories from across the company portfolio to bring this brand vision to life.

“We realised we stumbled on some magic with those insights and if we could connect our brand as we launched it to those, it’d be a solid strategy and great way to engage employees, articulate to clients what we are about, and give us great foundation to build a brand on,” Rowan says.

Alongside the strategic work was how to operationalise brand change. “You can do great strategic work but if it doesn’t execute, there’s no point,” Rowan says.

“Our CEO, Jason Goodall, said very early on he wanted to make sure we changed the brand in a way that’s not superficial. By that he meant don’t just take logos off buildings and put new ones on, or change business cards. It is about ensuring employee and client experiences at the point we change the brand are also noticeably different. Emails had to change, back-end systems branding had to change, and the integration needed to be there.

“Importantly for clients, the people talking to them across our company also needed to talk through them what this meant. We needed them to articulate why it was changing or at least explain the roadmap.”

Rowan’s team created an MVP for rebranding to help. “We stepped through and said by this date, will we be comfortable, or is it this date. That allowed us to see rough timing of brand change based on client and employee experience,” she says.  

“Increasingly for any CMO, but particularly for B2B, it’s critical everyone play a role. We don’t own the entirety of any experience – whether it’s client, employee, vendors or suppliers. It’s collaboration between multiple teams.”

This has seen Rowan working particularly closely with both NTT’s new HR lead and CIO to ensure alignment to the same plan around employee experience. As she points out, rebranding is also highly dependent on colleagues in all countries understanding what it means for them. This is where those three overarching principles come in.

Related: What it took to rebrand the Yahoo7 business

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“One thing that’s been very interesting for us is there are different requirements about what needs to be in place in that country before you can do something,” Rowan says. “In Switzerland, for instance, you can’t change business cards or a logo online until a new legal entity carrying that name is registered. But in other countries you can.

“We had to communicate very clearly that it may well be all companies are going to change their brand from 1 October, but in your country, if it’s illegal to do that, it’s important you don’t. You don’t want the first thing to happen with the new brand and company be that you’re seen to have affectively broken the law.”

Other elements in the change program include weekly meetings with colleagues across the business to ensure alignment.

“Having 40,000 colleagues migrating to the new company email isn’t something you do overnight. We’ve had to work closely with IT colleagues to understand the migration roadmap of certain teams email addresses, and the practicalities in some parts of the business of not being able to do that as easily as others,” Rowan says.  

Up next: The back-end integration work, what the marketing playbook is about, and the important leadership lessons Rowan learnt

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