What BT's new consumer group mindset means for the BT, EE and Plusnet brands

How BT's brands will merge in retail

BT has brought its BT, EE and Plusnet businesses under a new consumer group built to offer seamless, next-generation broadband, mobile and wifi packages and services.

As a result of the restructure, the group's mobile, broadband and content strategies have shifted, as have its plans for smart homes, family plans, streaming partnerships and services - all of which has been in the works since BT snapped up EE for £12.5bn in 2015. Leading the news is the development of the BT Plus platform which will bring together the distinct bundles onto a single bill.

The Drum spoke to Pete Oliver, managing director of marketing and sales at BT, and Max Taylor, managing director of marketing at EE, to learn what the reboot of the BT business means for the future of the company. They were speaking just days after the company shed 13,000 of its 80,000 strong UK workforce and announced it was moving away from its London HQ.

The BT, EE and Plusnet brands were collectively brought under the auspices of Marc Allera, chief executive of BT consumer brands, last year as the first step towards a "convergence" of services.

Oliver said: "We've got three great marketing teams and we've seen that this is a great opportunity to improve the way people get connected to the internet." Each brand will remain a distinct entity, however. "We have seen that the customers of each brands want different things.

"You don't see this multiple brand approach in telecoms very often. BT customers are a little bit older, they want high quality and reliability, but don't need the latest thing; EE are more tech savvy and want the latest iPhone, and Plusnet's role is to attract value customers, without the bells and whistles."

Each group will retain their identities and the creative agencies that provide their individual tone of voice. There can be savings made in the media buying space, however. "It doesn't make sense to have the brands make their own media planning rule, we have one team that does that," said Oliver. All of the group's buying will continue to go through GroupM's Essence.

What will be communicated in three separate marketing campaigns will be the group's coming together and the resulting services and features.

A big pillar of the move is a renewed investment in customer services. Oliver said: "We recognise that BT customer service has not always been as good as it should have been." As a result, by 2020 all of the group's call centres will make a marked return to UK and Irish shores – something he noted consumers were hungry for.

EE's customer service solutions on the other hand are much more on the tech side. The company is introducing augmented reality assistance through its app. Customer service advisors will be able to assess and assist with broadband setup and trouble shooting without visiting the site. The app also features remote assistance so the individual can diagnose network problems.

Outside of the home, and away from the digital space, Oliver underlined proudly that BT is making its way back to the high street through EE which has around 620 stores across the UK. Following a pilot, the plan is to integrate the BT brand into these stores – much like Dixons Carphone or Curry's PC World have done.

Oliver said: "Customers don't find it confusing. They are quite used to seeing multiple brands in the store. BT customers, according to our research, value the option of going to speak to people face to face. People can come in and try all this stuff, which is quite new for home broadband and TV, no one is doing that at scale."

There is also space for other relevant brands to come into this retail space, he added.

On the content side, as BT is also a significant TV broadcaster as well as a telecoms firm, Oliver admitted there has been a disconnect between TV and digital platforms, something that has been a barrier to entry for some users. He claimed he would often use Now TV through his games console because he couldn't do it through BT's platform. "Why am I watching this through a games console?" With the new product he assured: "We will be the only people to solve that problem."

To that end, BT has bolstered its TV package by partnering with Amazon Prime Video and Now TV which will be available through BT's platform, a big coup after it many years ago became the first European broadcaster to put Netflix on a set top box.

On this hunger for content, Oliver said: "We recognise there are big channels some people want – like BT Sport – but we are embracing the fact that people want to watch shows on Netflix, people are talking about shows like Stranger Things, Narcos, Man in the High Castle, these are not on traditional channels and people want a way to view them."

Speaking at MWC in Barcelona, BT Sport managing director of strategy and content, consumer Andy Haworth revealed that content is vital to selling on the broadband and mobile products. "Half of our customers were buying TV and broadband together [so] as the number one broadband provider in the UK, not having access to or being credible [in TV] was going to create real structural challenges."

EE

Max Taylor, managing director, marketing at EE, remarked that the EE brand is only five years old but having grown to dominate the mobile market, it comes into this group convergence from a position of strength.

From day one, EE was tasked with innovating the market and targeting a different customer segment from BT, something it will continue to do. Chiefly, this will be through its new comms platform 'Who Says You Can't'. An ad coming out in June will feature brand ambassador Kevin Bacon, alongside comedian David Mitchell and a handful of monkeys.

Taylor said: "We will continue to use this playful but purposeful tone. We are innovating and creating a unique proposition that we will bring out to market in that typical EE way."

The drive will focus on EE's family mobile packs. Those on the package can elect to share data with each other, a dynamic that will most probably flow from parents to children. But the wider campaign is not just intent on influencing consumers, instead it is to signal internally that mobile is a thing of the past; the next battlefield will be the converged market of mobile, wifi and smart tech.

"This is a mindset shift in the whole organisation as we challenge ourself to do more across all these new categories," said Taylor. "It is an external and internal comms campaign."

On the media side, there will be changes too. It will still lean heavily on social – something that rivals Three and Vodafone are going doing. However, it is all happening below the line. As a mobile network, it makes sense for the company to "dial up" its personalised SMS or next-gen RCS messages – some of which will feature video.

"As we expand into multiple categories we face challenges with the most appropriate product or proposition to recommend to customers at any moment in time. So we have made a massive investment in our martech capability around CRM and digital deployment, we are one of the biggest below the line communicators in the UK.

"We currently have about half a billion messages being sent every year. We see that number increasing to a billion in the next few years."

This drive will help to deliver "personalised, relevant communications" about the many new products and services, most of which are documented below.

New products

At an event in London today (16 May), BT unveiled a whole new line of products. This comes in addition to launching BT Plus, which will offer all the services mentioned above in the one bill. The company is looking to make the move from mobile to wifi seamless and make both work with each other by 2022.

Whether that is free mobile data during a home move while waiting for broadband set up or unlimited mobile data during a broadband outage, or mobile working in tandem with broadband at peak times during sluggish service, BT has a whole suite of products coming. The third prong in this approach is that it will boost its public wifi spots to 12,000 units.

EE has made a marked move towards the smart home, for which it wants to be the retailer of choice. It boasts that it will be the first UK network to support all of the major smart home ecosystems across tech like smart cameras, thermostats, sensors and lighting – providing options for customers whether they prefer Hive, Google, Apple Homekit or Alexa smart home ecosystems.

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