The emotional edge: NTT’s global CMO rates global rebrand efforts 6 months on

ICT services giant's global marketing chief gives us her scorecard and shares the surprising elements to global rebranding


It was while auditing NTT’s newly combined marketing function’s capabilities that its global CMO, Ruth Rowan, found 147 distinct technologies in use.

“Frankly I think we probably need 10,” she told CMO.

Clearly, it’s not possible to turn off all systems overnight. So martech consolidation remains one of things Rowan continues to battle six months on from officially rebranding NTT’s 28 businesses under one brand umbrella.

Well, 31 brands, actually. Since global rebranding efforts first kicked off 12 months ago, the ICT services provider has acquired an additional three businesses.

“No business stands still and certainly not in the technology industry,” Rowan commented. “That was a good lesson in itself: It’s not just executing what you see in front of you now, you have to create a blueprint so as the company continues to work and acquire, rebranding continues.”  

From this came recognition that marketing should get involved with NTT’s mergers and acquisitions team much earlier in the process.

“The reason we had 31 different brands was because branding had quite often never been on the table during acquisition discussions and completion. Or it had been there too late, after all other things had been discussed,” Rowan said.

“We don’t want to do all this work rebranding 31 companies - and all the money we’ve spent to do it – and recreate the problem. We said let’s get ahead of that curve as a marketing community, and at the start of the acquisition cycle talk about this being no-negotiable. We have a masterbrand for a reason, and part of acquiring the company will mean rebranding.”  

A year later, Rowan said buy-in from NTT’s M&A team is much easier and rebranding is now non-negotiable. “It’s easier to have the business conversation when you’ve done the work and they can understand it. If we’d tried to have that conversation a year ago, it would have been very different,” she said.

“Branding has to be at the beginning of the conversation; it can’t be something that gets taken out or added in once the deal is done. We have so much passion and power now behind the NTT brand and the team recognises it.”

Brand unification: The 6-month verdict

On 1 July 2019, NTT officially unified its owned companies globally, a list including iconic B2B brands such as Dimension Data, NTT Communications and Arkadin. It’s resulted in an $11 billion + business with over 40,000 staff operating in 73 countries and territories.

While change is a constant for tech providers, the first marketing phase has been done, with the rebrand visually complete. Launch day was the first demonstrable evidence of change as the obvious things - website, social media handles, new brand and value proposition – ticked over, Rowan said.

Four days later, NTT utilised its hefty partnership with the Tour De France to debut the new branding globally.

“Two billion people watch the Tour De France globally, so we knew if we changed that, it ticked the box of eyeballs. But we had to make sure people realised it wasn’t just a new partnership, it was a change from Dimension Data to NTT,” Rowan said. That’s where a fully integrated communications program came in.

“That was quite a blunt instrument. After six months of planning, the pride from all sides to see everything go from green to blue on sides of the road and via TV coverage was high,” Rowan said.

The next milestone was achieved on 1 October, when NTT’s rebrand launched in all countries and local executive teams were announced. Rowan said the wave across 57 major offices began starting New Zealand through Australia into Japan, Asia, the Middle East and Europe then South and North American offices, finishing in San Francisco.

“I woke to more than 100 WhatsApp photos of office parties and branding changing in our buildings,” Rowan said. “We didn’t have a template of how to run an office or client party, we just shared the brand stuff and told staff to do what’s right for their country.  

“What surprised me was pretty much every country had branded cupcakes. I’m not sure whether it’s our logo, which is circular, or something else, but I did wake up to blue cupcakes everywhere,” she added.  

Fun aside, such consistency of execution makes incredible impact, Rowan said, who noted no money was spent on paid content. “It also makes you realise you don’t need to have all the ideas at the centre. There are cool, creative people at the edge who will do the right thing,” she said.

Towards the end of 2019, NTT rebranded the cycling team it partners with, kicking off the new-look at the Tour Down in South Australia. This was complemented by significant advertising across Qantas inflight entertainment and Adelaide airport billboards.

Getting such a vast amount of work done and change required upfront staff engagement, as well as education and a sense of empowerment.

Marketing goes first

“When I think about what I have learnt in the last year, it’s that marketing had to go first,” Rowan said. “One thing I’ve always said is there is a functional role of marketing around the CXO table – the stuff we do – but then there’s the cultural role.

“Often we’re seen as the division that helps set the tone on how we as a business execute. And we have done a lot as a marketing community around NTT in the last year.

“Suddenly, every marketer was on the same brand, saying the same message, and we were very consistent with the way we took our message out. It’s given other parts of the business confidence that we can come together. Pride and confidence in execution follows.”

According to Rowan, marketers too often underplay their roles as agents of change.

“Really important for the businesses is that we demonstrate execution,” she continued. “I spent a lot of time last year saying to people, just be brave and do it. I know it’s not been approved by everyone who might possibly want to approve it or see it before it happens, but just get it done. If you wait until it’s all lined up, it’ll take two years.

“That courage and execution has been a big learning.”

Even more fundamental has been grasping the legacy role marketing played across each company. In some instances, marketing was a mature, sophisticated function, while in others, it’s been a communications or hospitality function.

“What we have had to do is not just level-set within the marketing community around what our role is and what the business expects us to do, but also with all those business stakeholders regarding what we’re going to do for them,” Rowan explained.

“For example, I was talking to a senior stakeholder about the common insights engine we now have, looking at what’s happening in the market, our competitors, what are clients saying, and what we’re good versus not so good at. He asked where this was coming from, and I said it’s coming from our client experience insights team, which sits with me. He then asked: ‘This sits with marketing?’

“You could see recognition that firstly, it’s an amazing capability that with have… but also that wasn’t necessarily what his previous organisation had marketing doing. So it’s not just bringing 31 marketing teams together, but also understanding their role in the business, and ensuring the business understands what we do.”

Up next: Why B2B marketing is so emotional, plus the difficulties of measuring success

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