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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Emotional B2B

It’s the cultural and emotional change that has taken the most time so far.

“As well as getting the energy going and change happening and leading the business into the future, we [as marketers] listen to who is saying what – whether it’s clients, employees or partners. And I’ve been surprised at the amount of emotion that comes out,” Rowan said.  

“A lot of changing brand, purpose and values has been led by our people and culture team. But as marketers we’re communicating a lot, and you get confronted with good and bad emotion. There’s a lot of anxiety. You just have to be patient with that emotion.

“One of my learnings is to not necessarily try and control that.”

Instead, Rowan is running sessions across local marketing teams in each country with no set agenda. The aim is to talk about what is and isn’t working, how staff feel post-rebrand, and help make change real.

“Really good teams are built on trust, and trust doesn’t happen on day one,” she continued. “It takes time to build those relationships, and for someone to pick you up off the floor or correct something you’ve done wrong without it becoming a massive or political issue.

“We’re not all magically going to do the right thing within this new way of working - you don’t necessarily know what the right thing is.”

Fostering resilience also comes back to empowering people to do the right thing most of the time and not getting too upset when things aren’t quite right, Rowan said. “Then you get near perfection everywhere and that’s how you make impact,” she said.

It’s for this reason one 2020 priority for Rowan is working through the detail of NTT’s new business context.

“We see a massive mountain to climb, which is landing this [rebrand] properly by helping people understand what the new company means, getting it right and empowering at the edge to do the right thing,” she said. “Just because you said something, doesn’t mean everyone heard it. That repetition, keeping the message consistent and moving is important.”

Connectivity plays a big part in NTT’s value proposition, and building awareness of NTT’s might, purpose-led approach and reliability across partners and clients is vital.

“That could through a digital journey, our social channels and websites, or through the opportunity to talk to us,” Rowan said. “That level of personalisation is important this year to make it easy for people to understand us and what it means for them, and hopefully create opportunity for everybody.

“Then it’s making sure the 40,000 people we have are comfortable to have that conversation: What does it mean for us, and how does it make us stronger or easier to work with and for.”   

Through it all, Rowan has also had to navigate the emotional attachment to NTT’s older brands, not least of which include Dimension Data in the Australian market.

“We knew this could go horribly wrong, as we’re bringing in a brand that doesn’t necessarily have emotion attached to it or awareness. And we’ve been ripping the plaster off,” she said. Marketing has even asked people to give back old DiData t-shirts to recycle the brand out of market.

“But I think we did a pretty good job in the build-up, explaining the why behind NTT. As soon as we talked about the heritage of the NTT brand, and what our dynamic loop logo stands for, everyone was buying into it. So you land that sense of purpose.”  

Rowan is also well aware emotional connection is far from secure. “We’ve done the superficial bit - the dynamic loop [of NTT’s logo] is everywhere,” she said. “Now, we need to build meaning and make it real in our sector. There’s a great opportunity and in any B2B company of bringing purpose to life.”  

NTT’s purpose is defined as enabling the connected future, and a belief that when things are connected by technology, the world becomes a better place. These are the stories Rowan’s team will be building upon and sharing.

“Over Christmas, for instance, we had employees involved in the volunteer fire fighting during this bushfire season. They’re great stories. It doesn’t mean they’re unique to us – I’m sure many companies have volunteers in their employee base – but what great stories to tell. And they resonate globally,” she said.  

“We have stories of how technology is helping Rhino conservation, helps cycling teams perform better, and is helping scientists in Southern American research the southern skies. The biggest trend we see globally, whether it’s political or social or business, is the need to be more accountable for the planet we live on. It’s a singular big trend. So we’re looking at how our brand can align to what we’re all interested in as employees, consumers and technology service providers.”  

2020 expectations

What’s more, 2020 is an extraordinary year for NTT. Not only are Japan and Japanese-based companies in the spotlight because of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, NTT is a local Olympic partner.

“Brand Japan is hugely positive in terms of quality, trust, reliability – all traits our technology partners and clients look for us to have,” Rowan said. “You don’t want fast moving, fly-by-night companies delivering your cybersecurity. You want innovation but ultimately trust and resilience. That’s at the heart of our corporate brand.”

She also noted a family of sports partnerships this year NTT will leverage such as the Tour de France, Major League Baseball and Indy Car in the US, and the British Open.

Meanwhile, with 31 companies coming together, Rowan is working to integrate 31 marketing scorecards and identify hero measures for combined teams to work towards. Her team has also written the first global marketing strategy and how it cascades into 2020 plans.  

“Normally we’d measure digital reach, impact, things around eyeballs and clickthrough rates, how well we nurture, marketing through to sales qualified leads, value of pipeline through to how much business we close. We’re not quite able to do all that yet, because of tech integration, to have a really accurate view of that in our new world. But everyone understands and leans into that process,” she said.   

There is nevertheless a current emphasis on brand awareness, client and employee satisfaction scores.

“We’re changing how easy it is to find information about us, processes and so on, so we need to understand are going well or not going well,” Rowan concluded. “Right now, I’m more worried that we understand it and action the insights we’re getting. But the business still needs to perform and we need to protect profitability, so we also have those metrics.”

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