Ericsson's CMO explains how integrated comms is changing the company

Helena Norrman, chief marketing and comms officer, Ericsson, talks to Lindsay Stein about brand visibility and refocusing PR on its core business efforts.

Your background is in PR and, as of last October, you began leading marketing and comms. How does your PR experience benefit this integrated role?
Quite a lot because it is important for the company to have a multi-stakeholder approach through communications, brand, and marketing.

The world we’re going into is complex. All the different stakeholders around you influence each other and you need to engage them in different ways, and maybe on the same topic. It makes a lot of sense to add a customer dimension to the multi-stakeholder approach in the communications work we already had for a long time.

Why did Ericsson merge the functions?
It all started with a shift we saw in the industry and how information and communications technology drives transformation.

It is not only changing our reality and that of our current customers, but also the realities of other industries and society at large. It is great – it holds a lot of opportunities for us, as well as a lot of challenges.

We’ve been thinking heavily about this for a couple of years. We’ve studied the evolution of technology and noticed that if technology is deployed over a period of several years, you come to an inflection point. You start using tech for things it wasn’t originally intended for and it brings new benefits, ecosystems, and businesses. And that’s great, but the successful companies in the first phase seldom win in the second phase, because you have a new set of companies that bring innovation and new ways of thinking. They understand because they don’t have a legacy.

We are working hard to make sure Ericsson stays relevant, and continues to lead this industry and development, even though it’s going to be a different game. We need to strengthen the brand, our visibility, and presence in certain discussions and engagement.

How are you going to do that?
We will change the need for brand recognition and visibility. Since our customers are changing, we are addressing a broader customer base than before. It is opening up opportunities.

With our current consumer base, we don’t need a lot of brand visibility because we have some 200 customers [major organizations] around the world and the most effective way of engaging them is to build personal relationships and go meet with them.

But when you start to address new customer types or interfaces within existing consumer bases or in a new industry, the people need to know who you are. Otherwise, why would they talk to you in the first place? Another important shift is how networks become the infrastructure of modern society and it’s a matter of trust. It’s good for our business and good for us as a company if people know who we are, what we do, and what we stand for, because these matters are complex.

We work hard with the ethical side of things and we’re trying to do the right things with security and transparency and all the things we know matter to people.

Talent is another part. It is incredibly important when you go through a transition like this that you can attract the best people and they want to come and work for you. If you are an unknown, that is hard.

Some people still think of the company as Sony Ericsson from its former joint venture, which provided phones. How are you breaking away from that?
We’re not looking to become a consumer brand because we’re not aiming to sell anything to customers. We are focused on becoming more visible and relevant to people because they are all potential customers, employees, partners, or citizens in countries that invest in infrastructure and technology.

In a way it’s difficult to be without the phones because you get much less visibility when you don’t have consumer products in your portfolio.

On the other hand, by not having phones, we create a small possibility to help people understand what we do. As long as we had the phones, no one bothered to try to understand us. It forces us to explain to people what we do, what we enable, and who we are, which is not easy when you’re a tech company that works with everything you cannot see. We are only at the beginning of the journey. We have a lot of work to do, but this is forcing us to bring forward the core business.

Are you explaining this via social media?
Yes and we do it in many ways. Social media is an important part of the mix. Everything that is digital will grow in importance because everything is going digital. But it is a combination of digital and trust.

With all the information out there, you need trusted voices, the leaders on the internal side, executives, specialists, and faces of people who represent the company. It’s a combination of the fact that everything has changed and nothing has changed.

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