June 14, 2012#

10 Essential Elements of a Successful Brand Transformation

There are few more difficult branding challenges than successfully orchestrating a brand transformation.   IBM did it when they moved from selling technology to selling solutions and services.  Xerox did it when they moved from selling printers and copiers to selling software and services.  And Dell is trying to do it by moving from selling low-cost computers to selling technology solutions to businesses, thus far with mixed results.

Some of the challenges of brand transformations are captured in a recent article by Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune.

After I was interviewed for this article, I got to thinking more about the essential elements of effective brand transformations.  As best as I can determine, it boils down to these:

1.  Lead from the top.  From the very top.  Gerster led IBM’s transformation.  Mulhahy led Xerox’s.  And Michael Dell is personally driving Dell’s.   There are two main reasons brand transformations fail—which happens all too often:  poor execution and lack of active and continuous leadership from the CEO.

2. Create a sense of urgency based on facts.  In some cases, like IBM’s, a clear sense of crisis already existed when Gerster took the helm.  But it’s not always so apparent, either because of lack of information or collective company-wide complacency or denial.  Like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water that is then slowly heated to a boil, most companies don’t see the seriousness of their predicament until the situation becomes desperate.  That’s why it’s essential to simply and starkly frame your company’s current and impending challenges, to articulate a clear vision, and to develop detailed transformation plans based on facts derived from objective quantitative and qualitative research. Neuroscientists have shown that new knowledge creates new circuits in our brains.   Convincing, insightful research will help to get everyone’s brains to fire in new sequences to move toward change.

3.  Align brand transformation objectives with the business objectives.   Hard business objectives, that is.   To be successful, a brand transformation requires significant monetary and human resources investments.  To rationalize this outlay, the company will naturally want to see a return.  When Samsung Life, the insurance arm of the enormous Korean conglomerate, set out to rejuvenate its brand due to lack of clarity for what it stood for and a lack of relevance to important segments, it found through research that a one-point lift in customer perception of professionalism correlated to a double-digit revenue increase.   Focusing on improving professionalism across the organization quickly became the essence of the brand transformation, supported with a simple but profound promise:  “A Partner for Life.”

4.  Redefine the brand positioning. The key is to identify a new idea of differentiated value that will set your brand apart from the competition.  Ideally, it will build off your brand heritage, if it still retains value. But make no mistake; you need to significantly evolve from your past.  IBM has evolved to creating computing solutions in service of creating better societies around the world; Xerox has evolved to providing enterprise-wide document technology, management and consulting services; and Dell is trying to evolve to help people and organizations do and achieve more through technology solutions.  These transformations build off the past, but position the brand well beyond the well-established historical product or service functionalities.  And they capture a higher order purpose that’s both ambitious and inspiring.  Here are a few other examples of brand’s that have been transforming before our very eyes.

Pampers:  Used to be positioned as keeping babies bottoms drier.  Today it’s larger purpose is to help parents care for babies and toddlers development.

Amazon:  Used to be positioned as the world’s largest bookseller.  Today its purpose is to enable freedom of choice, exploration and discovery.

Apple:  Used to be positioned as the computer that lets you do more. Today it’s purpose is to empower creative exploration and self-expression through a vast array of integrated technologies.

5.  Create a new tagline. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.  The best taglines clearly distill the brand positioning into a simple set of words and offer an inspiring snapshot into a brand’s new direction.  It’s also an important rallying call for employees and business partners.   As noted in the book Blue Ocean Strategy, creating taglines are also a great way to gauge if you have a strong positioning:  good taglines fall off of good brand positionings like ripe fruit from a branch.  When you struggle to find good taglines, it’s a likely indication your positioning lacks focus and resonance.  Taglines, especially during the early stages of a brand transformation, should err on the side of clarity over creativity.

Examples of Taglines Before and After Brand Transformations–Before and After

IBM                        Think                                               Let’s Build a Smarter Planet

Xerox                    The Document Company         Technology/Document Management/Consulting

Dell                        Easy as Dell/Be Direct               The Power to Do More

6.  Consider Refreshing Your Logo. This is not a must, but something to seriously consider. At best, it sends a tangible, visual signal that something new is afoot with your brand.   If you’re logo is iconic you’ll need to take great care in thinking this though, first by understanding your customers’ relationship with the current components of your brand identity.  Remember, your customers own your logo in their minds, as much as you do legally.  In general, people are more willing to accept evolutions of iconic brand symbols if they understand them to be emblematic of a fundamental and desirable change in the brand.  Xerox and State Farm are good examples of this.  On the other hand, if evolving your logo is an obvious attempt to refresh the look of your brand without any fundamental brand performance change, people may be less willing to support your effort.  Tropicana is a good example of what happens when a logo evolution results in outright consumer rejection.

7.  Rethink Product and Service Names. Many brand transformations are going to involve some degree of reorganization of company divisions, and re-architecting of products and services around new or different lines of business.  These re-organizations may be an opportunity to consider re-naming existing products and services, as well naming new ones, ideally in the spirit of your new positioning.    Evolved naming, like refreshed logos, is additional proof that your brand is moving in a new direction.

8.  Make it Real.  Branding is 95% walk and 5% talk.  In life, we judge people not by what they say, but what they do.  It’s the same with branding.   If you say you’re changing, but my experience with the brand is the same, you’ll lose my trust. That’s why it’s vital that your brand transformation offer products and services that reach out and touch every step of the customer experience in meaningful ways.  We call this Total Consistent Alignment (TCA):  every customer touch point needs to consistently align with the brand promise.

9.  Align Sales and Marketing.  Sadly, sales and marketing often don’t communicate well, even in the best of times.  For more on this, read David Aaker’s book Spanning Silos. Brand transformations are far more likely to succeed if these two vital functions are working together, and aligned on acquisition strategy, channel strategy, core messaging, etc.

10.  Tracking and Reporting. Once you’ve established your brand transformation objectives and goals upfront, be sure to periodically measure progress along the way, so you can course-correct if and as needed.  Also, it’s important to regularly update employees on progress to keep them motivated and engaged.