Lessons in building a brand from the former CEO of EE
Changing a brand or introducing a new brand can be an expensive and risky adventure. It’s an area where the success stories are sparse.
I was lucky enough to lead a team through one of them; the launch of EE.
Some of the decisions we took go against the stated rules. I challenge you to find a business book – apart from maybe my own – that advises you to invest in a new brand and a product that no-one knows they want, when you already have two highly successful brands with fiercely loyal customers in the market.
However, that’s exactly what we did.
It’s a story with a lot of detail and many moving parts. I won’t talk about all of it here – but in my mind, the one thing you must have at the outset of a project like this is a clear and compelling rationale for change. This is about the rationale to create EE.
A changing landscape
The starting point was the merger of Orange and T-Mobile in 2010. Both companies had been successfully operating since the early 1990s. But the UK mobile market had stagnated, with relatively little investment.
Forming a joint venture was the catalyst to change that. It was named Everything Everywhere.
The environment was by then completely different from when T-Mobile and Orange started out. The Internet had been around for twenty years, and the smartphone market had really been booming since 2007, catapulting “anytime, anywhere” online access (and expectations) into our pockets.
The pace of technology change was also getting faster. Despite this, Britain’s digital infrastructure had fallen behind those of many other countries around the world – despite Britons commuting more, using the Internet more and growing their mobile subscriptions at a faster rate.
Creating a new brand
Creating a new brand was one element of a four-part plan to move Everything Everywhere from a position of stability to one of disruption and leadership within the industry. Another was to launch a 4G network, two years ahead of the government’s existing timeline.
We believed that our network plan was crucial for our customers, our company and our people – but most importantly for UK society.
If you have ever been involved in the creation or evolution of a brand, you will be familiar with the mountains of research that are generally involved. In our case, we found that, while each of the existing brands had its own strong and distinctive credentials, neither of them was noted for network innovation.
Needless to say, there were many hours locked in meeting rooms looking at, debating, getting emotional about and rejecting various scenarios
We also had other considerations. I wanted to create a fresh, modern company culture. Of course, there were many positive elements in the existing cultures, but some of them created an environment that was not set up to succeed.
The company name had also become a burden. Representative of a bigger, better, stronger network from which you can access 'everything' you want 'everywhere' you go, it had been launched when the network was not performing well enough to make that claim.
All the evidence pointed towards the need for a new brand.
Say hello to EE
I am not going to describe how the EE brand architecture was created. There are plenty of highly paid consultancies out there who could talk about the process far more eloquently than me.
Needless to say, there were many hours locked in meeting rooms looking at, debating, getting emotional about and rejecting various scenarios.
But ultimately we were guided towards a solution that worked. Key to it was a sense of humour. We were introducing something new into a mature market, where customers were knowledgeable and – sometimes – cynical. So we wanted it to be both purposeful, focused on the useful things that matter every day and also playful; we would never take ourselves too seriously.
EE was brought into the world on 30th October 2012, along with Britain’s first 4G network and a clutch of shiny new products and services.
I do not mean to give the impression that any decisions were taken lightly, or that introducing the brand was a piece of cake. Not at all. It was particularly challenging, not least because we had 27 million customers and 15,000 employees who had previously wedded themselves to a particular brand for a reason.
On the part of our customers, they voted for Orange and T-Mobile with their wallets on a monthly basis. For our employees, they had applied for jobs at the company of their choice because something about it spoke to them personally.
How we brought our employees and customers on board is a whole other part of the story
I’m often asked about my time at EE. Ultimately, we took two businesses that were worth a combined £8.5bn, created a new company and sold it five years later for more than £12.5billion – and brand transformation was at the heart of that success.
The 4G Mobile Revolution – Creation, innovation and transformation at EE is published by Kogan Page.