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Why NTT looked to the past to unite 28 companies under one global brand

New global CMO Ruth Rowan tells Paul Snell how the global tech firm intends to drive international growth, put client-centricity at the heart of the organisation and its ambition to become one of the world's top 20 brands.

NTT has brought together 28 of its businesses, which include Dimension Data, NTT Communications and Arkadin, to create an $11 billion business with 40,000 staff across more than 70 countries (with a headquarters in London). 

The value of such a large integration project is to make it easier for clients to do business with the group globally, accelerating growth outside its home of Japan which still accounts for the majority of its revenue.

Ruth Rowan – who took over as CMO today (1 July) having previously led marketing at Dimension Data for just over four years – told B2B Marketing the move has put client-centricity at the heart of the organisation.

“What we consistently hear from clients across all our brands is that they want to work with fewer providers across the whole range of services we offer,” she says. “Our clients were telling us to make it easier to work with the NTT group, as they really like working with us.”

The appointment of Jun Sawada as president and CEO of NTT in August 2018 was the catalyst for this transformation, with international growth one of his strategic priorities – and a lofty ambition for marketing.

“He has given us clear direction to build the NTT brand to be one of the top 20 global brands in the future, so that’s now one of our marketing objectives for the next few years,” adds Ruth. “What do we need to do to make NTT and the dynamic loop logo as iconic as the Apple logo or the Nike swoosh?”

Back to brand fundamentals

NTT dynamic loop logo image

With such a mammoth challenge, it’s tough to know where to begin. For Ruth and the project team, they turned to the past.

“We went back to brand fundamentals,” Ruth says. NTT launched its existing brand when Nippon Telegraph and Telephone was privatised in 1985. “We went back to the archives, dug out that work, which was all in Japanese, and that insight told us three things.”

These were:

  1. The large loop in the logo is based on the Fibonacci sequence, which creates constant motion. This represents that the company is always moving forward, innovating and transforming.
  2. The small loop at the top of the logo represents that the company is listening. The company transforms based upon what customers think and are influenced by. 
  3. The third aspect is that the company makes sure it’s listening to the requirements of society. How does it make a positive impact on the world in which it exists?

The thing that struck Ruth most about these insights was that these principles wouldn’t look out of place at a modern tech start-up, but they have been in place since the mid-eighties.

“This sense of consistency and longevity has been at the heart of the NTT brand for the past 35 years, and is more relevant today than ever before,” she adds. “Looking backwards gave us the core foundations of the brand, and has informed everything we’re doing to form the brand.”

The core principles of brand integration

Work began in earnest on the integration around nine months ago. A working group was set up led by Ruth and the marketing leaders of NTT communications and NTT Security, who had equal responsibility for the project. Sub-groups were established to examine all aspects of marketing – brand, integrated comms, value proposition, digital, as well as budgets, martech, people, skills and content etc.

It was crucial work at the 28 brands didn’t grind to a halt as the transformation process began. “The worst thing you can do during any integration, particularly once it’s announced in the market, is to disappear from the market,” Ruth says. “One of our founding principles was that we’d be even more active in markets, but we also needed to say to our people that we needed them to help us work on this project and bring this integration to life.”

There were a number of core principles that guided the integration process:

  • We will do no harm. If something would harm someone or the business, it shouldn’t be done.
  • Don’t break the law. They needed to make sure no regulatory or legislative rules were broken while moving at speed.
  • Always put the client at the heart of the decision. 
  • Get things done. There’s a lot of decisions to make across 28 companies and hundreds of stakeholders, but if you’re empowered to do it, get it done.
  • The power of working together. Seek guidance from someone else who knows what they’re talking about.

In addition, Ruth highlights the value of communication during a project of this type and scale. “You can never overcommunicate, and communication is two-way. You may say something, but what’s heard is often quite different. You think you’re being clear at the centre, but it never hurts to say something 10 times and it never harms to check what’s been heard.

“If I had the opportunity to run an integration project again, I’d focus on the clarity of communication, opportunity to listen, and importance of taking time to make sure everyone has an opportunity to input,” she adds.

Ruth was informed she’d be taking over as global CMO during the process in March, and officially takes up the post today. “It didn’t matter who [of the three project leaders] was ultimately appointed, we felt equal accountability and responsibility for a positive outcome for the business and also our people.”

The final structure of marketing is still to be finalised, but the model will be an “intelligent centre and intelligent edge”, Ruth says.

“The concept of ‘and’ is important to us. We believe in a team of experts at the centre of the organisation, responsible for brand, core messaging, core content, core value proposition etc. And then people in countries and regions with the responsibility to make that relevant to their markets.”

Activating the new NTT brand

NTT Hello campaign image

The new company launched today, with a new website, advertising and press coverage.

The most high-profile example of the activation will come through Dimension Data’s partnership with cycling’s Tour de France, where it is the official technology partner.

With more than one billion people engaging with the annual three-week cycling race around France every year, “that gives us a great opportunity to shout to the world, that it’s a really simple way to tell the NTT story,” Ruth adds.

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