Hans-Christian Schwingen, the man responsible for turning the Deutsche Telekom brand into the most valuable in Europe, was Head of Marketing at Audi when headhunters working on behalf of DT first came knocking a decade ago.
It proved to be a difficult sell for the recruiters given Schwingen, a former advertising man, didn’t view the telecoms industry in the best of lights.
He tells European Communications: “It wasn’t attractive to me at all. I couldn’t imagine changing from car manufacturing to telecoms – I thought it was boring.”
It was Rene Obermann, the former Chief Executive of DT, who helped him to change his mind.
“I read a lot about Rene and what he intended to do,” Schwingen says, referring to the wider company transformation that was to be set in train.
Schwingen signed on the dotted line in 2007 and is now the operator’s Chief Brand Officer.
“I met the management board and we decided to try to transform the brand from a tech brand into an experience brand,” he says.
It helped that DT’s brand reputation was, as Schwingen puts it, “quite down” at that time.
“There were more opportunities than risks,” Schwingen admits. “At Audi, everything was done in terms of brand and marketing. I needed a new challenge.”
Schwingen has revelled in the “much harder job” he has at DT where the “intangibility” of what all telcos have to sell means it is “much more complicated” to make customers understand what they stand for.
One of his key decisions was to base DT’s brand strategy on the theme of sharing.
“The digital age has become the age of sharing,” he explains.
“Regarded as a basic human need, sharing is becoming more than probably ever before the guiding theme behind our thoughts and actions.
“Our T brand strategy exemplifies the fact that ‘Life is for sharing’.
“We believe in the power of this idea, and it´s how we differentiate ourselves in a competitive environment.”
This overarching strategy is backed up by three brand values: innovation, competence and simplicity.
“Ultimately, these values are what the T brand is all about,” Schwingen says.
“They provide guidelines for how the employees conduct themselves and their business, at every contact point along the entire value chain.”
In turn, these values define the way the brand aims to presents itself to its customers: as reliable, authentic, approachable, sociable and inspiring.
“These attributes set the tone for the entire brand identity,” Schwingen says.
A key part of the operator’s success has been its ability to extend the T brand beyond its home market to countries over the last few years.
Schwingen says such rebranding projects are some of the most difficult parts of his job.
The 2014 launch of converged offerings under the Magenta banner has followed, with DT going as far as making it a registered trademark in the markets it operates in.
Perhaps the most recognised outpost is the US, where CEO and former marketing exec John Legere is the living embodiment of all things Magenta, even if his public trolling of other CEOs might struggle to fit into the sharing mantra.
Schwingen admits the US is treated a little differently.
“In terms of style and graphics, the brands are quite close,” he says.
“But the positioning is different – we are a challenger in the US and had nothing to lose.
“It’s a different game, it’s mobile only so less complex than in Europe.”
Nevertheless, Schwingen says they have copied some of what T-Mo US has done in other markets.
“You cannot copy John Legere but we have adopted his boldness,” he says.
“For example, in Austria we’ve been very strict in relaying certain messages, focusing on the individuality of customers.”
Currently, Schwingen is engaged in talks with BT about the future of the EE brand.
On 1 February BT, in which DT now owns a 12 percent stake, revealed EE would remain one of three brands the operator was managing.
“The merger of two companies seeks to bring brand assets together, to find a common portfolio strategy and to create a common culture and values shared by all employees,” says Schwingen.
“The brand is the most appropriate tool to convincingly tell the story of the new company, both outwardly and inwardly, and to portray the shared vision in an inspiring and motivating way.”
Schwingen, who is heading to London next week to discuss this topic, understandably remained tight lipped on how things might change in the future.
This is an extract of an interview that will appear in the Q1 issue of European Communications magazine, published later this month. Click here to subscribe.