Superbrands case studies: BT

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.


The UK's telecommunications market is one of the most competitive in the world, with over 200 different operators vying for a slice of the residential and business sectors. In 2000, telecoms watchdog Oftel estimated the market to be worth around £28 billion.

BT has been providing the UK with telecommunications services since the mid twentieth century and today provides over 28 million lines to customers homes and businesses throughout the country.

BT is synonymous with phones and phone lines, and we all recognise BT Payphones in streets, stations and shopping centres. But people are less aware that BT is involved in such diverse activities as handling calls for the Nectar loyalty rewards scheme, providing transmission services for the broadcast of the US Open Tennis Championships, and distributing Reuters data to the African continent.

BT has a 73% share of the residential, fixed voice call market in the UK, and a 48% share of the business market. Despite stiff competition, the number of residential BT lines actually increased slightly over the 2001/02 period, as customers installed second lines and returned to BT from other operators.

In such a competitive market, BT has had to develop some innovative pricing packages to keep ahead of the pack. The company has developed its pioneering BT Together package which offers reduced call rates and other benefits for a fixed monthly fee. By the end of March 2002, more than ten million customers had signed up for the package, and 71% of residential customer call minutes were made by BT Together subscribers. Looking forward, BT predicts that broadband will be the future for the communications market. Broadband provides customers with always on, high-speed direct access to the internet over a single phone line. By November 2002, BT had connected over 400,000 people to ADSL, the technology behind broadband, and hopes to secure one million customers by summer 2003 and five million by 2006.


BT is one of the best known and most powerful brands in the UK. In research, the BT brand scores highly in terms of awareness, and has been one of the most consistently strong performers in Marketing magazines Adwatch survey.

But it isn't just BT's advertising which forms public perceptions of the company -- everything it does touches peoples lives. Each year, MORI conducts a public survey on corporate social responsibility. 2001 results showed that the importance of social responsibility continues to grow, and that BT is among the handful of responsible companies mentioned. BT was ranked ninth out of over 40 companies and was associated with helplines and prominent TV events -- Children in Need and Comic Relief, for example.

In September 2002, for the second year running, BT topped the Dow Jones Sustainability index for the telecoms sector worldwide. Earlier in the year, BT was rated number one in the private sector in Race for Opportunity's Benchmark Report on race and diversity in the UK. Race for Opportunity surveyed 99 private and public sector organisations covering 2.75 million workers in the UK, and BT was shown as the overall top performing company.

BTs innovative approach to flexible working won it the accolade of UK Employer of the Year 2001 in the Parents at Work/Lloyds TSB Employer of the Year Awards, supported by the DTI. The company was specifically rated for its policies and practices in helping employees achieve a work/life balance.

BT operates one of the most sophisticated and well-maintained networks anywhere in the globe. The company's UK network is the country's largest, with the greatest geographical reach and customer coverage. With 120 million copper pair kilometres and six million optical fibre kilometres, it has the ability to touch virtually every home and business in the country. Its 900 local and trunk exchanges handle an average of 300 million calls daily.


For many years, the UK's telephone service was provided by the General Post Office. In 1969, the Post Office became a state public corporation and was split into two separate entities. The corporation responsible for telecommunications took on the trading name British Telecommunications and, in 1984, British Telecom, as it was then popularly known, was privatised. British Telecommunications plc was the first privatised company of its kind in Europe.

In 1991, the company was restructured and relaunched as BT with new branding and a new logo. A clear mission of putting customers first was demonstrated by the introduction of the Customers Charter, and such advertising favourites as Busby and Beattie were introduced to the public.

Over the next ten years, BT established a number of joint ventures and alliances worldwide. With the liberalisation of the European telecoms market in 1998, BT was poised to take advantage of all the opportunities this market presented.

A radical restructuring in 2000 saw BT split into lines of business which are successfully in place today: BT Retail, BT Wholesale, BT Openworld and BT Ignite. Yell, the directories business, was sold in 2001 and BT Wireless, which incorporated mobile network BT Cellnet, was demerged in November 2001, and now trades wholly separately from BT under the name mmO2 plc. BT also exited a number of its worldwide ventures in order to focus on the UK market, and now trades under the name of BT Group plc.

Today, BT is a multi-billion pound company, with 104,000 staff generating an annual turnover in 2001/02 of £18.4 billion.


BT's principal activities include local, national and international telecommunications services, higher-value broadband and internet products and services, and IT solutions. The company also provides network services to other licensed operators.

Some of BT's customers communications needs are simple, and some complex. BTs job is to find the most effective way to meet those needs, no matter how diverse.

BTs Select Services have been around since the late 1990s, and originated with the eponymous 1471 service. They now include, for example: Call Diversion (r)¢ calls that can't get through to your home phone will still reach you on another fixed line or mobile of your choice; Call Minder -- a messaging service that takes your calls when you are surfing the net, on the phone, or unable to get to the phone; Ring Back -- which redials an engaged number; and BT Answer 1571, a free messaging service.

BT Openworld, the company's mass market internet division, is one of the UK's leading internet service providers (ISPs) and the UK's number one in unmetered access. It delivers broadband and narrowband services to more than 1.7 million business and residential customers in the UK. BT Openworld offers a wide range of internet access packages. Broadband packages include BT Openworld Home 500 Plug & Go and Business 500 Plug & Go, which are popular self-install broadband products. BT Openworld also provides broadband over satellite for business users.

Narrowband products include BT Openworld Anytime which provides unmetered access to the internet 24/7, and Pay-As-You-Go services.

BT also provides broadband services via its BT Broadband offering, launched in September 2002. BT Broadband is a revolutionary, Ôno frills product, leaving the user to decide on added services such as email or web space, and providing high speed access at low cost.

BT Ignite is BT's business services and solutions division, serving customers worldwide. As an information and communications technology service provider, BT Ignite provides integrated data and value-added services to meet the European needs of global multi-site corporates and the global needs of European corporates.

The BT Ignite portfolio ranges from desktop and network equipment and software, transport and connectivity, IP-based e-business solutions, managed network services and systems integration to consultancy for complex global requirements.

BT Wholesale manages BTs networks and has a turnover of around £12 billion a year. The division provides network services and solutions in the UK to communications companies, network operators and service providers.

Recent developments

Recently, both BT and its marketplace have transformed dramatically.

In the 2002 financial year, BT undertook the UKs largest ever Rights Issue, raising £5.9 billion from shareholders. In 2001, BT sought its shareholders approval to demerge its mobile operations, known as BT Wireless at the time. Shareholders unanimously agreed that BTs fixed and mobile operations would be better managed, and offer increased value, separately and, in November 2001, the business was demerged. This created two new companies (r)¢ BT Group plc and mmO2 plc. Trading as O2, mmO2 plc now operates completely separately from BT, although the two companies do work together on certain mobile offerings for customers.

Having purchased the assets of Scoot, BT announced plans to re-enter the directories market in 2002. Using the new number 118 500 or the web, customers can get directory enquiries, classified listings and information ranging from weather forecasts to share prices.

In summer 2001, BT made public wireless LAN broadband a reality with the launch of BT Openzone. Hilton Hotels, Bluewater and Earl's Court Olympia became the first site partners for the BT Openzone hotspots. BT aims to run more than 4,000 in the future to give business travellers the chance to experience the flexibility of mobile working combined with the power and speed of BT's broadband network.

For the first time ever, BT changed the colour of thousands of its high street phone boxes from red to bright blue in autumn 2002. All 1,000 of BTs modern phone boxes fitted with new public internet terminals were given the blue makeover, and this will increase to 8,000 blue boxes by the time the programme is completed in 2007. A further 20,000 e-payphones are planned in locations such as shopping centres, airports, rail, tube and bus stations, creating the world's largest network of public internet kiosks.


Since privatisation, BT has maintained a high profile in marketing communications and, in recent years, has regularly been one of the highest spending advertisers in the UK. Its two lead agencies in 2002 were Abbott Mead Vickers and St Luke's.

In 1999, Abbott Mead Vickers developed a campaign for BT introducing the theme "Stay in touch", using ET as the central character. Unlike the previous "Its good to talk" campaign, it featured email and internet call stimulations.

The strapline "Bringing people together" was introduced in 2001. Advertising focused on using ordinary people and BTs ability to bring them together -- achieving connectedness. A brand campaign, "More connections. More possibilities" launched in September 2001 with the "stadium" execution, which was hugely popular, projecting BT's stature and forward thinking at the same time.

Using the same strapline, BT launched the UK's most intensive television campaign to help double broadband connections in September 2002. The company spent £10 million over ten days between September 22nd and October 2nd to advertise the potential of broadband. The campaign, called "Broadband has landed", featured singer Jarvis Cocker, cartoon pigs on motor bikes and a giant rhino.

Brand values

The beginnings of the now familiar BT identity and the first steps towards establishing a BT brand were taken in 1988. Since then, the brand has been carefully developed and, in 1997, was valued for the first time. A value of £5.7 billion was ascribed to the BT brand and, when undertaken again in 2000, the brand was valued at a staggering £9.4 billion. BT runs a brand web site at www.btbrand.bt.com, as well as a freefone Brand Helpdesk, to help ensure that the value of its brand is maintained.

A second brand valuation followed a major project to redefine BTs core brand proposition in the UK. The brand proposition developed was "BT is your guide to the potential of communications, today and for the future, wherever you are, whatever you need".

The fundamental human need that the new brand proposition sought to address was connectedness meaning both the functional connectedness which BTs network offers, and emotional connectedness which enables people to enrich their lives and achieve their goals.

By autumn 2002, the brand proposition had evolved to "BT's purpose is to co-create and host the new communicating society, stimulating participation at every level."

Things you didn't know

  • During the 2002 financial year, BT connected a UK business to the internet on average every five minutes.

  • www.bt.com is one of the largest sites of its type in the UK, with 2.5 million registered users at the end of March 2002.

  • Orders for more than £71 million worth of products and services were made or initiated through bt.com during the 2002 financial year.

  • BT's European network covers 56,000 kilometres, linking 300 large towns and cities, with twenty hosting centres spanning the continent and Europes largest IP virtual private network capability.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd