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

Back-end integration work

Well before rebrand work commenced, NTT had been building group-wide blueprints and preferred vendor relationships to achieve alignment and consistency around platforms. But again, things can switch overnight.

“Some things take a long time – the contracts in place with legacy vendors can run for up to three years. It’s sadly not as simple as just turning the switch on 1 October; it’ll take 2-3 years in some instances to finish the integration,” Rowan comments.  

“A great example is the websites. We have 28 different businesses using websites for very different things. Sometimes it’s just an online library of what the company does with some nurturing capability; some websites are very transactional and feeding the majority of leads going into the business. Making sure we migrate in a way that maintains existing business, builds equity but enables us to migrate 28 different Web platforms, will take 2-3 years.”

What’s more, while some businesses in the family are managed services and derive revenue from annuity streams; some are counter opposite.

“That’s why the principle of do not harm is so important. Our intention is to grow our business as we do this and make it easier for clients to do business with us as a company,” Rowan says.  

“We have great best practices around the organisation and we’re trying to adopt those across the new company, and we’ve also identified some ways of working that do need to change. We are quickly standing up a common blueprint, not just for technology but an operating model on how we work, standards we sign up to and how we want to operate in terms of client and employee experience.”  

Marketing playbook

On the marketing execution front, meanwhile, keeping everything switched on while the rebrand rolls out and is embedded is vital. One thing Rowan describes as “lucky” was following up official news of the global rebrand on 1 July by rebranding Dimension Data’s existing Tour de France sponsorship and technology partnership to NTT, kicking off five days later.

“It was the fifth year of that partnership, and that gave us the platform to quickly communicate with all the market but also many clients and people, that the brand had changed,” Rowan says.

This was supported by advertising in media such as The Economist and microsite explaining what NTT was, as well as an ebook on the technology NTT supplied around Tour de France.

“It was a simple, quick way of communicating the launch of NTT internationally and in this case, the migration of DiData to NTT as a brand. We used that sponsorship as well to engage a lot of our employees to do client engagement work over July and August to communicate the change,” Rowan says.  

For the next six months, the emphasis is on increasing visibility. Rowan says the market will see the NTT brand everywhere, all aimed at articulating NTT’s global proposition in areas of the market it plays in.

“We are in an unusual position in that NTT has been around for 120 years and in its current form for the last 35. It’s not a new brand and depending on which tally you look at, it’s in the top 50 technology brands globally,” she says.  

“But one of the challenges is where NTT is known outside of Japan, it’s known as a Japanese telco. Our business proposition is not that – we’re a global tech services provider. So we have to make sure we’re not only building the brand, but building it for what we want to be famous for and the attributes such a brand needs to have – the impact on society, fact we’re very client-centric, and are innovative.”  

Fortunately, existing activity globally can help communicate the brand ‘launch’. Rowan notes the recent ‘hello’ campaign as another way of introducing the market to group NTT.

“As we balance with our long-term objectives, very quickly you’ll start to see a stable of stories that represent the brand we are trying to build, against those core pillars of our framework,” she says. “We all know content is king, and brands are built on stories and by people.”

Green shoots

Seven weeks after launch, NTT has seen a huge amount of interest, led by the Tour de France activation, and Rowan sites increases in traffic to website and microsite.

“Early indications certainly indicate it’s being received positively,” she says. “We are also obsessively monitoring employee satisfaction – we do a pulse survey daily monitoring how engaged people are, how they are feeling, and what they are worrying about. And we’re having regular client conversations to test the messaging, understand what we need to explain, reprioritise what messages we put forward to better engage and in our campaigns.”

From 1 October, all countries will be rebranding, and full leadership appointments will be announced.

“Then we’ll ramp up client-facing activity to make sure all clients understand what is changing but importantly, what’s not changing,” Rowan says. “We often get that balance wrong as marketers – we get so excited about the new things, we forget to focus on the things that fundamentally stay the same.”

Leadership lessons

Through the work so far, Rowan says one lesson she’s learnt is around the importance of people.

“The strength and ability of any organisation to get things done is your people,” she says. “If you can be transparent about what you’re trying to achieve, and clear on what you can be clear on, bringing people together and empowering them to do the world and input, is the most powerful thing you can do.”   

The second lesson is you can never communicate enough. “In marketing and communications, we often get a bit bored with our own message and like to move on quickly,” Rowan admits.

“One thing I’ve seen, particularly when you’re dealing with a complex integration like this one, is it takes time for a message to be heard, and to be understood. Then it takes time for you to listen to the answer.

“There is always that slight disconnect when you say something to someone – as simple as migrating a website means different things to different people. You need to understand what’s been understood.”

But equally, you have to be ambitious. “If you don’t have ambition, you’ll end up compromising too much - whether it’s on a deadline for launch, or clarity of the message you think is important,” Rowan concludes.

“People need to be heard, but as a leader, you have to have that ambition. Otherwise the compromise ultimately won’t work for the company.”

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