Women In Comms

NTT CMO: Rebranding a telco requires cultural sensitivity

Rebranding one company is never an easy challenge, and NTT CMO Ruth Rowan was recently tasked with rebranding more than 30 companies within the Japanese telco.

In this Women in Comms mentor spotlight, Rowan shares the challenges and lessons learned as she led the charge in rebranding dozens of tech companies across multiple countries. In case that wasn't daunting enough, NTT also acquired three new companies midway through the rebranding process.

In part one of this series, Rowan explains how the marketing team navigated the rebranding process by addressing cultural differences, and by establishing communications processes between engineering, networking and IT teams, which are often siloed in the telecommunications industry. Stay tuned for part two where Rowan discusses how the operator kept customer experience front and center while NTT's internal culture shifted.

Ruth Rowan is CMO for NTT Ltd.
Ruth Rowan is CMO for NTT Ltd.

Women in Comms: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at NTT.

Ruth Rowan: I'm currently the chief marketing officer globally for NTT Limited. I look after all of our marketing and communications responsibilities from the center and have the accountability for our reputation, both in terms of our company, who we are, how we work and then obviously what we do.

I think one of the challenges we have across the board is that companies like NTT do so much in the technology services world and actually have a very broad range of different types of people that we work with and for around the world in different companies, across industries and, increasingly, the people within those companies that we work with is changing.

It's building that relationship with those people around the world and building trust, which is increasingly important in the relationships that we have with our clients. And of course, just making sure that we are proactively maintaining our reputation around risk.

One of the challenges we have, as all technology companies have, is making sure that we can recruit, attract and retain the best possible talent in our industry. And when you've got something that is creating as much disruption, anxiety and uncertainty as the virus at the moment , how we look after our employees is really important and so is clear and transparent communication.

WiC: You led a rebranding effort of about 30 companies, which is quite a few. What were some of the challenges as part of that process?

RR: We've certainly been through a huge amount of change in the last year. In the course of integrating 28 businesses, the company bought three more, so it turned into 31. It's been a lot of work and I think a real privilege to help lead some of that work.

There have been so many challenges on so many different levels. For most of us who have been involved in this project, and continue to be involved, we've never really been through anything like this before. I think very few business leaders or marketers get a chance to lead and to work within this kind of integration. It really does feel like a privilege, albeit quite a challenging privilege, but we've learned a lot.

At a people level, you're bringing 31 different companies together with 31 different cultures. We did a cultural audit at the beginning and we saw that we had more similarities across the businesses than we had differences, and that also gives you great foundations to build on when you bring businesses together.

What each of those businesses expected of marketing was slightly different. The definition of the responsibilities and remit of marketing was quite different. We had to address that while figuring out what the new organization design needs to be and what the operating model units are.

A brand change across 31 companies, pretty much all at the same time, is quite challenging. But when you when you look at what needs to change, to change a brand, you realize it's not something as simple as it just being about the website or the building, all the social media handles, the look and feel of a PowerPoint presentation, the logo, or the look and feel of a brochure. There's a lot of detail underneath that around what we call things – the type of language we use or tone of voice.

Even something as simple as a business cards or being able to give somebody a new email address, for example, because an email address is informed by the HR system and you're migrating 31 different HR systems together. Also, on a business card you've got something as simple as a job title. When you're bringing 31 companies together, you have 31 slightly different job titles, frameworks or approaches to how we call each other. You have to get that sorted before you can actually give somebody a business card with a job title on it.

We have the accountability of the deliverable of the business card, but a lot of what needs to happen to be able to give somebody that card is actually not in our control. We really learned the power of teamwork and understanding the interdependency on your colleagues to perform other business functions. We really had to interlock on timing before we commit to getting something done by a certain time. Lessons all over the place.

One of the very simple lessons I've learned in the last year is just to communicate because you're dealing with cultures that span over 50 different countries.

Next page: Rethinking interdepartmental communication and culture

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