BT marketing boss says it will continue to take risks in brand strategy

BT has been strategically bold with some degree of success in recent years, be it the launch of BT Sport two years ago, its recent talks surrounding an acquisition of EE or its sponsorship assets. Now, its marketing director says it will continue taking risks.

The brand’s latest “bold bet” is its appointment as the official principal and communications partner of GB Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR), an effort to drive levels of engagement with the sport.

The three-year deal is part of the company’s commitment to support disability sport, having become the first commercial partner of the British Paralympic Association (BPA) in 1989 and backed the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

Suzi Williams, global brand and marketing director for BT, told Marketing Week: “While the partnership is consistent with our strategy, I don’t think people would have predicted it, which makes it exciting.”

The partnership, which will involve team and wheelchair branding, is part of an effort to help the sport gain a following in the UK.

“We’re already seeing a real energy on Twitter, and we’re hoping the media and general public will shine a light on GBWR and increase their profile,” Williams says.

In October, the company will host the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge at Olympic Park’s Copper Box Arena at the same time as the 2015 Rugby World Cup is underway.

“We’re trying to tap into the synergy of this in a rugby year,” Williams says.

“People can watch the rugby, and in the middle pop down and see that BT Wheelchair Rugby is just as, if not more, exciting.”

BT will also support GBWR community initiatives, such as the development of the first wheelchair rugby national youth programme, in a bid to help GBWR meet its goal of enabling 400 young people between the ages of eight to 18 take part in a six-week introduction to the sport by 2018.

Brand perceptions mixed

Despite its financial success (BT Group reported revenue of £18.3m for the year ending 31 March 2014, with a profit before taxation of £2.3m), brand perceptions of BT remain mixed.

While YouGov’s BrandIndex data showed that BT’s Index score had fallen by four points in the year to December 2014, the brand remains one of the top three in broadband behind Virgin and Sky.

In December, Peter Walshe, global strategy director for Millward Brown’s BrandZ, said that BT showed a weak point when looking at its future potential.

Using BrandZ’s Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands in 2014 list, he argued that the brand struggled when looking at future sales that would be purely driven from the attractiveness of the brand.

However, BT was the third highest climber on the list, with brand power increasing by 61% to a value of over $15.4bn in 2014 as the brand was regarded as “in control”, “trustworthy” and “straightforward” according to Walshe.

Williams says sticking to a long-term plan through difficult economic times has led to success for BT, with the strategy of “taking the right risks”, such as the launch of BT Sport in 2013, integral to the process.

“Ten years ago BT might have looked like a company that didn’t take risks, but since we’ve signed up to the Olympics and Paralympics we’ve made bold bets and will continue to make them. This is paying off and has been transformational for us,” Williams says.

“We knew what we were going to do and executed brilliantly. As a business we’re very marketing driven now.”

Talks continue over EE deal

The partnership comes as BT continues talks to buy EE for £12.5 billion as a part of a debt/cash deal. Under the proposed deal, current EE owners Deutsche Telekom and Orange would hold 12% and 4% of BT’s shares.

BT has a history of trying to break into the mobile market. In 1999 the company rebranded when it partnered with Securicor to become BT Cellnet, a combined telephone and mobile service which was re-launched in June 2002 as O2 and ultimately purchased by Telefonica.

Williams says the purchase of EE could be an opportunity to help move BT into the mobile category in a bigger way.

“It would provide opportunities for a single bill that covers all communications needs, and the news is already making the marketing industry more competitive and exciting,” Williams says.

“EE has some very exciting marketing assets and it would be exciting if we were to do it, but it’s by no means a done deal.”

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