The New EE Posters

Anatomy Of A Transformation

The New EE: How Marketing Reengineered BT Group

EE marketing chief Peter Jeavons, Publicis Groupe's CCO Ben Mooge and Saatchi's CSO Richard Huntington on why transformation is a marketing issue

By Creative Salon

No judgement, but some CMOs flit from job to job, beauty-parading new agencies at each gig, making cosmetic changes then jumping to the next higher-paid role before the results begin to show.

Then there are CMOs like Pete Jeavons.

Jeavons joined the mobile phone company Orange back in 2009 as a brand planner and when Orange was merged with T Mobile to form EE he became head of brand strategy at the new brand. He’s been with EE for a dozen years now, rising to become director of marketing at EE and BT. And for all of those dozen years he’s worked closely with EE’s ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi in the sort of client/agency partnership that is also an unfortunately rare phenomenon.

For the last three years client and agency have been in lockstep on a once-in-a-career journey together, re-imagining and then completely rearchitecting the EE and BT businesses, creating a reshaped consumer brand under the new EE banner and switching BT to become a business brand. They were joined on the journey by a suite of sibling Publicis Groupe companies such as Digitas, Zag, Publicis.Poke, as well as the media agency EssenceMediacomX and Havas’ Cake, all together forming a tight-knit strategic unit to steer through the entire project.

The new EE launched to consumers last autumn with one of the biggest marketing campaigns in BT’s history, but really this is a story of how marketing and marketers led one of the boldest business transformations in UK corporate annals. On a mission to be the UK’s most personal, customer focused brand, EE has transformed from being simply a mobile services provider to a retail platform that aims to streamline all of our digital requirements onto one platform that services the digital needs of all aspects of our lives, from the home, to learning, working, and entertainment/gaming. And the new suite of products is open to all UK consumers, not just EE customers.

But how exactly – and why – did the marketing department push through such a fundamental reorganisation of the entire business? How did EE’s CMO corral the right team of agency specialists? What practical structures did they adopt to stay on track?

To try to capture the scale of the challenge, we sat down with Jeavons, the CCO of Publicis Groupe Ben Mooge, and the CSO of Saatchi & Saatchi Richard Huntington to talk through the thought processes, action points, lessons learnt and advice for other marketers facing transformation. And we make no apologies for the length of this piece. It took the EE marketing team three years to develop the strategy and drive the transformation; it takes us several thousand words to even scratch the surface of the process.

Where did the decision to focus on EE and switch to being a platform come from?

Jeavons: It was always an unhelpful distraction for us that BT and EE were essentially two premium brands. They were very defined, in that BT was about broadband and EE was about mobile. But I think we were very clear that the world of convergence was going to be upon us very quickly and trying to navigate that with two separate brands was going to be very, very difficult.

And so that kick started a bit of work to go, ‘Okay, well, what does the brand portfolio look like going forward?’ which led us to do a massive piece of work looking at what the opportunities are, the strengths and weaknesses of each of the brands. We quickly got to ‘actually, the world is changing rapidly around us from a connectivity point of view and we need to be this thing that isn't just defined by connectivity’. It was liberating to discover we could be selling anything and having a relationship with customers about whatever we wanted to be.

So then we got to the idea of a platform business and then that brought us back round to ‘well which brand is going to be the best product to carry that forward?’, which is where we got to some really interesting conversations and insights about the different brands and which was the best one to carry that vision forward.

BT is very, very, very firmly rooted in the home and connectivity within the home. EE is much more fluid, and much more about mobile and connectivity on the go. And when you look at the people who were attracted to the two brands, they're actually almost inverted; the BT base is skewed to the much older audiences. I can't remember the exact stats but they’re fairly startling, something like 85 per cent of the BT customer base is aged 65 or over, whereas the EE base is almost completely different. So again, we look at that and go okay, well in terms of this platform business that we're trying to create, and who are the audiences that we're going to want to attract to that, well there was a big tick in the box for EE on that.

Just to be provocative for a moment, then, is there some implied criticism there of how BT has marketed itself over the years - in that it hasn't managed to appeal to younger consumers?

Mooge: Possibly. It’s very hard to fight against 30 years of legacy marketing. Like everyone has grown up with Bob Hoskins or [Maureen Lipman’s] Beattie, you’ve known that since you were a kid. I think all of the work that the guys have done with BT is dynamic and interesting - the sponsorship of the England team and Hope United was a BT idea. I just think when you're looking forward where's the competition against Amazon and Apple? …Now the new EE campaign is live you go ‘of course, it had to be EE’ – and it definitely has the muscle to be as national provider-y as BT was.

Jeavons: I think it's a great question. But certainly on our watch when we’ve been custodians of it, I'm not sure what more we could have done. A lot of the BT work is some of the work that I'm most proud of - the Tech Tip stuff, Hope United and the sponsorship of the England team, the Northern Ireland team, and the Welsh and Scottish teams. It's the same brains that have been on both brands, so I'm not sure what more we could have done. I think it's an historic thing that goes further back than what we can necessarily influence.

Still, it’s a massive stretch for EE. Does it feel risky?

Jeavons: I think you’d be an idiot to say it's not a risk, clearly, because it's a big, big decision. And we've put a lot of confidence in the fact that the EE brand can evolve and stretch, much more than EE is today. So it's a risk to a degree, but I think we based it on all the facts that we could possibly base it upon. What's really exciting is, even before we'd launched new EE, some of our audience-based thinking was put into practice to test and learn. And our first toe into gaming came pre the EE launch and that gave us even more confidence because it delivered amazing growth in a very, very short period of time. And that’s without pulling all the levers that we're pulling now.

So sure, there's a big risk, it’s a massive call. But every indicator that we look at, suggests it's the right decision. Hard, but right.

Obviously, EE has worked with Saatchi since it launched back in 2012. What was the process to bring the other Publicis Groupe and external agencies in?

Huntington: If we go back to the spring of 2021, we were sitting in a completely cleared floor up on the sixth floor of Chancery Lane. But right from the beginning this wasn’t about agencies, it was about a group of individuals who were just the right brains to apply to the challenge. So right from the beginning we had Neil Cummings from Zag, not because Zag was going to be doing anything specific necessarily but because Neil's been so important to the creation of the original EE and we wanted Neil’s brain from the beginning. I was there. And we had people like Matt Holt from Digitas. I think it was much more about the people that have worked with Pete to begin with, who coincidentally happened to work for Publicis Groupe.

Jeavons: It definitely happened organically. We didn't start with a brief in a traditional sense. Once the decision was made to go, the question was ‘well what does it need to be and who's it for?’ and all those sorts of things. And so, actually, a lot of it was just talking for a long time, just sort of getting things clear, dismissing things, agreeing things. So it was more about bringing a group of smart people together.

Huntington: And subsequently then we had to go, obviously, ‘media is gonna be a huge part of this so we need Essence Mediacom X round the table’, ‘we need to expand out the social team’ and so on. It was much more intimate and it's one of the values that comes from this business being so personal for all of us: Pete’s worked with Mags (Magnus Djaba, Publicis Groupe’s chief client officer) since Orange was a Fallon client. And I’ve worked with Kelly (Engstrom, Brand & Demand Generation Communications Director at EE) since T Mobile. We did EE with Marc (Allera CEO of EE and Consumer Division at BT Group) when he came in from 3 to do the stores. So there's just very high levels of trust.

So how did you scope out the extent of this project?

Jeavons: Well it was incredibly complex. Essentially we had two different tech stacks - we had a BT tech stack and the EE tech stack. Both were sort of creaking, held together with sort of sticky tape. And then over the years, other things had been plugged in. So the decision was made to just go, okay, get rid of those and build an entirely new tech stack. And then at the same time as building the new tech stack, we were also then trying to build products to sit on the tech stack at the same time. And I think in truth that probably was far more complex than anybody thought it would be.

So we sort of had an original timeline of when we thought this thing was going to be ready from a technology point of view, which was based on driving our thinking, which we thought was about roughly 12 months. And the reality was it's probably taken 12 months longer again.

Huntington: Once the decision was made to back EE as the principal consumer brand we got together to say ‘what is this thing? What do we want to build?’ and we were really clear, this wasn't EE any longer. And it wasn't EE merging with BT. It needed to be the child of the two brands. Then it genuinely was very simply, you know, ‘Who are we going to serve? How will we serve them? And therefore what do we need to build?’ And that, for me, is a brand-led conversation. And when people say, well, it's quite a long time for an agency to be working on a launch, well that's because you set out a vision, then then the whole business had to go and build that vision that we’d architected two years ago.

How important was it to have the CEO – Marc Allera – involved fundamentally and right from the start? It's very rare to get that level of access to a CEO isnt it. Agencies – and even CMOs – don’t usually have that access do they?

Huntington: No they don’t. And that's not okay. True transformation means that you have that level of access. Brand-led business transformation cannot be done by the CMO alone. I think it also requires the organisation to buy into the idea of the role of a brand as something that is fundamentally attractive to people and brings them into your business. And when boards and CEOs regard brands as purely ornamental, it's very difficult to say ‘no, I'm going to start with what this brand is going to do for people, how it's going to serve them’ and then work from there.

At EE we started with ‘who are going to serve and how are we going to serve them’. It didn't start with ‘we are going to be a convergent connectivity company’. And because it's so much more fundamental than what we've traditionally done it takes very, very close contact with the CEO, though not side-stepping the CMO. For the last three years, we've met every Friday morning with Marc Allera to drive this project forward, and when you’re working within an organisation at that level you really have to be on it every Friday morning. But that’s also the way that an agency understands what that CEO’s agenda is, and can spot problems along the way that are getting in the way of delivery and get the organisation to resolve them.

It's absolutely mandatory to have that connection with the CEO because they hold the vision that you've articulated in the brand strategy you've built, and they're the person that can knock down the barriers internally, when the CMO is coming up against them and they're the person that keeps the momentum going in lots of ways.

What does the whole process you’ve been through tell the marketing industry – and CEOs – about the power of marketing to drive business transformation?

Huntington: The reason I think there’s valuable insight here for marketers, and the reason I do think that marketers need to look at what we've been doing, is because it’s only marketers and agencies that have the mental capacity to be truly imaginative about what a business could be.

You know, a lot of our colleagues across these businesses are really good at iterating, and best practice. and looking at a competitive and comparative set, and understanding what UX needs to be. But there's a group of people who are built to go, ‘I wonder if we could create a business that did this to these people’…and then follow through to see whether you actually could.

The people at Accenture can't really do this, you know; it's a reason to have faith in marketing and the creative industries and the sort of weird people that end up doing our job. That’s what I’m now so totally re-energised about.

Is there a message in this for CEOs generally about the licence that they should give to their marketing chiefs?

Huntington: The message for CEOs is ‘your CMO and your CMO’s agencies can create far better value for your organisation than you think they can’. At EE that’s always been acknowledged because we'd all built this brand together. But in other businesses, I see CEOs damaging the commercial performance of their organisation by curtailing the influence and power of their CMO.

What do all these changes you’ve driven through mean for the wider mobile market?

Huntington: We think of this sector as being relatively young, but actually it's a very old business now and it's developed a series of highly orthodox ways of doing things, and a cadre of marketers and business people who know how to do telco really, really well. And it's escaping now from the gravitational pull of all of that, which is one of the challenges we face: how do you unthink this category? Now we’re not going to just be selling air, we are going to do substantial things for people's lives, and you are going to have a difference between O2 and EE, and between Sky and EE, and maybe those other brands are going to respond. And that's going to make this category richer, and more rewarding, for everybody.

So that brings us on to how you have actually marketed the new EE to consumers. The launch campaign and follow-through is a real creative achievement. Talk us through the creative thinking

Mooge: The need states were the point of entry for everything: there's a life problem and we have a very good solution. What are these services doing for people's lives, how will they improve their lives with technology? That’s the beat into all of the ads. And then the other thing we had to think about carefully was that if EE is going to replace BT and bear the weight of this national brand, then the new EE has to represent the cultural weight of BT as well as all the new technology being unleashed. The decision was pretty quickly made then that the vehicle needed to be the consumers themselves, the real British people and those universal moments where these products and these need states intersect with their lives.

Something like Wi Fi controls could be a fairly dry, functional benefit of having really good broadband for a home. So the first thing we did was look for that universal moment when being able to pause the Wi Fi in certain rooms to certain devices makes such a difference for people. And you go okay, ‘Battle for Bedtime’, there's a universal insight. And then in telling that story, we wanted to be able to tell everyone's story and one story all at the same time. So you look at that film and you go ‘oh, that's my bedtime, those are my kids’ or actually ‘that's everyone’. So the way we constructed it and the way we shot it was with that edit in mind.

Huntington: One of my favourite responses on the bedtime ad was when someone just posted on social media ‘hard relate’. That’s exactly what we were trying to achieve. Because theoretically, we know that vignette style advertising is an absolute nightmare - to attribute, to track, to build a clear creative voice and vehicle from.

The music is pretty important to pulling the campaign together isn’t it?

Mooge: I want this to be a universal rallying cry of letting your soundtrack be a storytelling vehicle; the emotion of the music drives the story on. So we had a kind of mixtape for modern Britain.

We did these meetings on Friday mornings with Marc (Allera) and I'd be playing Insomnia in the boardroom at 9am. That would wake everybody up.

The other thing I think is really, really important is the way we brand upfront and across all of the touch points. So the way the brand operates, the smart dots that appear are a storytelling device. In the films, they're there to introduce the moment and the dots become the timestamp. So you know, ‘oh, it's half several a night and it's bedtime’ or ‘it's four o'clock and school's out’. But then we use them across everything so you go ‘oh, it’s one of those moments’. We desperately wanted to avoid heavy handed branding, but make it elegantly unmissable.

What was the strategy behind the human stories creative approach?

Huntington: It came down to ‘if we’re going to be about the everyday, then we’re going to be passionate about 3.30 in the afternoon, or a wet Sunday. And we started to realise that the marketing industry had become obsessed with affinity, like ‘here are my values as a brand, are they your values?’. But instead we wanted to lead a crusade around relevance, not at a personalisation level, but to say ‘we are going to tell stories that are so incredibly relevant to you and then we are going to solve that problem for you’. And I think that's why we’ve got such a great response back from people - which isn't really about ‘great ad!’ it’s more personal than that, it’s about feeling seen.

Jeavons: What was always niggling in my mind was how we were going to avoid a contrived view of what people think life is. That was my worry. And then as soon as we saw the work, it's just so powerful and it massively resonates with people, it feels so real.

Huntington: The people in the ads, they’re real people but they’re being paid to perform. But the director has captured it so beautifully that it all feels so real. How do you do that and create work that cuts through, especially on the ground? That's come off ten years of Kevin Bacon and the incredible brand attribution he gave us. As a planner, I’m sort of slightly blown away - I don't really know you did it Ben.

Mooge: I think a lot of it is being unafraid. And actually it's a privilege to trust your director so much that you’re not worrying too much about it. It's brilliantly directed and set designed, but they’re all real houses.

What about the rest of the marketing mix, because taking this to market is not just about some great ads is it?

Jeavons: Bear in mind that the EE brand identity was probably the most recognisable in the industry, and possibly one of the most recognised brands in the country. But we went through the entire brand identity system, and we changed fonts, we created the symbol - which is the outline of the logo - because we were confident people would recognise it as EE, we changed colours, had a completely different approach to photography and the people we use in the photography.

And because of all the thinking we've done around the audiences and the need states, that completely changed how we decided to go and target the people we wanted to talk to. We’ve completely changed our media thinking and our media planning about how much addressable we use versus traditional broadcast. So we changed that mix, we're now like 60/40 addressable versus we were like something like 20 /80 previously. So we've literally flipped that whole model.

And because we’ve made that change we don't face the same challenges from a media perspective in terms of the decline of linear TV and all that sort of stuff, that's not what we're about anymore. We can go and find those people, wherever they are, whether it's YouTube, whether it's VoD, whether it’s TikTok, whether it's Snap, we can go find them.

What have been the big lessons for you all from this?

Mooge: A part of it is trusting instincts. Despite not having all of the products aligned when we were creating the ads, we knew in our guts that we needed to do something for teenage kids. So we made the call, yeah let's do that and we can fill out the need states when get there. That was a big moment, learning to trust the instincts once you've laid out the plan and it seems solid.

Jeavons: This is a massive all-encompassing one for me, but I think it's about seizing the opportunity you've got to change everything that needs to change. You don't get the opportunity very often to throw everything up in the air and go, ‘let's just do it completely differently’. We've completely changed the strategic framework of the EE brand in terms of what its purpose is, what its mission is, what it stands for, the audiences that we chase. I genuinely think if we'd only changed one or two of those things, I don't think it would have worked.

Mooge: The other learning is about just keeping yourself honest to the end. This was two and a half year process, there were a lot of those Friday morning conversations. Just being honest and sticking to the plan was so important.

Jeavons: Part of the reason why I think we all got through it is because we were surrounded by good, good people, and people who are all aligned and have a common goal. And I think that's been brilliant. And I don't just mean that at our level, I mean right across the team as well. One of the tricky parts for us was going from this senior bunch of people who were sat in a room up here in Chancery Lane for weeks and weeks and then suddenly you have to bring the teams in. And then you suddenly realise you can't just assume that they're all in the same place as you. So that was that was massive in terms of making sure that all the people we were bringing in were as clear as us on what it was we were trying to do and why. That was hard.

What about lessons from working with your other stakeholders back at BT/EE HQ?

Jeavons: I think that the biggest thing is never assume that people understand what role they need to play. Never assume that they get that. Early on you need to spend proper time with other teams that you're reliant upon so that they get it and I think we didn't do that until quite late in the day in this process, which meant that things we thought were going to be aligned and integrated weren't aligned and integrated. And so we spent the last three weeks before launch trying to change this and tweak that; we'd assumed things that we shouldn't have assumed. So don't just assume that people get it as well as you do. And make sure that you do everything you possibly can to make sure they're clear about what it is that they've got to do as part of it.

It’s nearly six months since launch, what’s the next phase?

Jeavons: At the moment, the mix of broadband acquisition skews massively towards BT versus EE, as you'd expect, but addressing that mix and transitioning to EE is task number one. That’s the commercial lifeblood of the business in the here-and-now, so I think if we crack that, then that settles nerves and it means that we're on the right trajectory.

Then I think what gets really exciting is you can start to look at some of the new verticals that we've got, like gaming, and what that can do from a revenue perspective. In terms of new revenue streams and reducing our reliance upon traditional connectivity, those new verticals are massive

Overall we have a number of brand metrics that we’re chasing but with a different competitive set from what we've traditionally looked at from an EE point of view. So I think that's gonna be really interesting to see how we start to see those metrics shift.

What advice would you give to a marketer thinking ‘this is exactly what I need to do for my business’?

Huntington: There are two mantras as much as anything. We talked a lot about a move from share of market to share of life. We can no longer have dogfight battles for a share of the broadband market or a share of the mobile market against well funded and well loved competitors. We have to try and find growth elsewhere, or at least talk about something else that drives growth in the connectivity heartland. So I think that's a big lesson for marketers: start thinking about how you can take a greater share of people's lives and what services and tools and ultimately categories you can operate in.

So with EE we're now in home security and that makes obvious sense to me, because we we've got the connectivity that makes sure that your monitored home security is absolutely bulletproof. And it's opening up a completely new vertical for EE.

And – though it's more tentative - I wonder whether we are moving from an era of affinity-based marketing, to one of relevance-based marketing, from ‘here are my values, do you like them’ to trying to figure out how best to serve your customers. Like ‘what is it that you really need from me? How can I help? What is it my duty to serve you?’ And I think you see that in the work from EE, a brand trying to be empathetic, and then relevant in the product that it’s delivering.

So if I was writing a little playbook, I’d say it’s about moving from share of market to share of life and then from affinity to relevance.


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