Firm foundations give BT chance to broaden horizons

The first challenge facing BT Retail’s new marketing director will be to inject fresh energy into the telecoms giant’s multiple offerings, particularly its BT Vision service

Ringing the changes: BT’s Adam and Jane campaign gave the brand a family focus

The departure of BT Retail marketing director Matthew Dearden will see the telecoms giant ring the changes. His successor will find a host of challenges but should also find solid foundations on which to build.

Dearden is to become chief executive of Clear Channel Outdoor at the end of the month, having merged BT’s television, broadband, fixed line phones and devices under one marketing team last year.

BT is fighting for business on a number of fronts, including television, broadband, mobile and video-on-demand. His replacement needs to retain existing customers and lure back those who have switched to a competitor’s service.

The company has recently hit the headlines for announcing it was raising the cost of its payphone calls, minimum landline call charges and line rental fees.

But BT is still trusted more than its fixed line and broadband rivals, according to Millward Brown research from March 2010, and Dearden has successfully adapted its marketing over recent years, switching to a family focus under the current “Adam and Jane” sketches.

Recently, the company has used Facebook to debut its ads and it is now inviting the public to choose a conclusion for the Adam and Jane storyline.

Dearden says: “It’s essential that we get closer to the customer, aligning our resources to deliver increased brand perception and better integrated consumer campaigns. We’ve done this by focusing on consumer insight-led marketing and this will be pivotal in the future.”

He acknowledges that fixed lines are the company’s main brand asset and, according to its latest figures, BT has a 61% share of lines and 49% of calls.

But while the traditional fixed line services are buoyant, BT faces stiffer competition for its offerings from TV and mobile operators. Its broadband service seems to be gaining momentum but its BT Vision audiences – which are yet to break the 1 million mark – are tiny compared with its competitors.

Dearden admits that broadband and TV are areas where marketing remains a challenge. “On one side, you have rival media companies like Sky and Virgin Media looking to offer alluring bundles, and on the other you have mobile networks offering subsidised contract deals.

“We’re determined to continue to promote all the benefits of our service, not just speed. Our customers are our lifeline, so we must always service what they want to know as well as enhancing the performance of their broadband and offering better customer service and lower fees where possible.”

Observers have pointed out how BT Vision has so far failed to make a significant impact on its market. Dearden admits this has been difficult in the past, but new opportunities such as being able to offer BSkyB’s sports channels for a lower price than Sky will make the service more sellable and enable BT to be more aggressive in marketing the channels and promoting bundles.

Sport is also an area where the new marketing director will have more room to manoeuvre. The brand is a tier one sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics and is the official communications partner of the England 2018 World Cup bid.

Analysts say a new marketing approach could help increase the number of customers taking up BT’s various offerings, especially with its new sports and on-demand deals.

Ovum analyst Annelise Berendt explains: “The problem BT faces is that more people are interested in Freeview and only paying for internet services. However, the continued expansion of programme offerings and interactive services could help BT give its competition a run for its money.”

The big challenge for Dearden’s successor will be finding new ways to invigorate the brand, and add new fire to a fledgling TV service that is aboutto become more competitive.

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