Buy, sell, merge, ally … the pace of change today within professional services firms is unprecedented in the industry. While this is clearly beneficial to these organisations in that it quickly helps tap into new skills, new clients and new markets, change is not easy. The potential benefits of realigning organisations are at risk if corresponding brand migration is not handled extremely carefully.
While the importance of strong branding is rationally understood, it is difficult to put into practice, especially in the context of migrating brands toward a single offer. What will be the core brand offer of the new entity? How will the cultures of two different organisations come together? How should clients be involved? How can we ensure that change is not just superficial? Can we do this in one go, or is a staged migration approach better?
The first thing the organisation must do is recognise the concerns of all stakeholders and potential roadblocks to successful integration. Clients may have concerns over changed service quality, changes in key contact personnel, or the possibility of fee increases. Employees will have many concerns – job security, reward structures, client ownership, promotion prospects and cultural integration. Partners will want to maintain profits per partner and the level of performance standards, and retain the loyalty of top professionals.
It is important to recognise employees are the most important stakeholder group in the process of brand migration. In professional service organisations, the people are the brand. They deliver the ‘product’ or service, maintain relationships with clients, and demonstrate the brand in all they do.
The first and most important step is therefore ensuring employee buy-in and support for the migration process.
Communication is also vital to addressing concerns. Speculation and mis-information breeds anxiety and harmful rumours. A well-organised communications plan is needed to inform stakeholders of the benefits of brand migration, and also of the implications and the role they will play. This communication should be two-way, offering the opportunity for employees to question, and make suggestions, and help to develop the brand collaboratively.
The success of brand migration depends upon key professionals remaining and co-operating. People will be the champions of brand migration and also serve as obstacles to it. The key is to identify and enlist the help of brand ‘disciples’. Equally important is identifying potential problem children and converting them to ‘believers’, or at the very least minimising the potential damage they can inflict on the brand migration process.
In cross-border situations it is important to recognise national sensitivities, but with the emphasis on celebrating similarities, not seeking out differences.
The creation of a new brand and organisation, need not be a time of anxiety, if done well, it is an opportunity to enthuse and inspire people and renew commitment to the organisation. But do not underestimate the investment of time, energy and resources required to merge or change brands. It is estimated that Andersen Consulting spent over £70m and two years interviewing all partners around the world for the launch of the new global brand, Accenture.
A new brand may involve developing a new set of values, in service organisations where the people are the brand, it is vital to align personal values with brand values. In this way, employees naturally ‘live the brand’, or exhibit the corporate brand values. Not everyone in the organisation will want to, or be able to, change and employees may not all have the necessary set of values. The implication of this is changes to HR policies, including losses and new hires.
Do not assume the acquirer brand is always the right one to use as the new merged brand. There are many different strategies that can be employed.
Using the brand marque as an indication of change, the classical strategy is a dual branding strategy where both names are used as a staging post.
Relative sizes and the order of these names are sensitive issues. Alternatively, as in the case of British Steel and Hoogovens, a new name and identity was created signalling a whole new beginning, in this case, Corus. In other cases a brand icon is used to link a family of brands.
Different strategies are needed for different situations and each case needs to be carefully considered. The starting point of this evaluation process should be to undertake a brand audit to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences of the global and local brands.
The choice of a brand name is only one aspect of a branding. Brand migration offers a wonderful opportunity to develop an aspirational, motivating and stretching brand vision for the future. This vision, if executed well, can serve to inspire and enthuse employees who are, after all, the primary manifestation of the brand in accountancy firms. Externally, a renewed brand positioning can prompt re-assessment of the brand and business by the market and clients.
Unfortunately, all too often a brand migration programme that does not include the development of a relevant brand positioning and identity, results in an uninspiring lowest common denominator compromise. It is worth the investment of time and money to ensure the new brand is relevant and differentiated, and stands out in a noisy and changing market.
In addition to being a good example of how to undertake a brand migration programme, Vodafone is also a best practice case in developing a strong brand and identity, which is now being used to maximum effect.
It is important to recognise that any brand and identity does not work in isolation, it works with the brand user experience, advertising, PR, and more. A powerful corporate identity is just that, an identity. A brand needs to express its values and meaning but if it doesn’t stay true to those values then all a good identity will do is show up its faults.
– Fiona Gilmore is CEO and joint founding partner at Springpoint, a leading brand and corporate design consultancy
ACHIEVE BRAND MIGRATION NIRVANA
Vodafone’s acquisition strategy has contributed to Vodafone becoming the largest mobile telecommunications company in the world. However, this achievement does not come without significant challenges.
Besides the need to integrate companies like AirTouch, Mannesmann and Airtel, it now needs to manage an international network of 29 countries with 83 million proportionate customers.
Vodafone is moving towards a monolithic brand architecture which will establish it as the single global brand. However, the starting point is a complex one of converging different brands, different levels of local brand share and control, different company histories and cultures, and different levels of the stake Vodafone has in these companies.
The telecoms giant is investigating if and how it can move towards a single brand in all these markets. It is a case history in best practice, and provides concrete examples of what companies can do to progress down the road to ‘brand migration nirvana’.
10 STEPS TO BRAND MIGRATION NIRVANA: VODAFONE AS AN EXAMPLE OF BEST PRACTICE
1. Establish a formalised brand migration team, including representatives from all key audiences
A project team was established whose members came from a variety of businesses and countries
2. Assess relative brand strengths locally and internationally
Brand equities were assessed through a major research programme in the brands’ respective markets, both externally and internally, to identify areas of synergy, and of potential conflict or confusion.
3. Consider all options – a single global brand is not always the best option
An objective assessment of the alternative brand architecture options was undertaken. Barriers and sensitivities to any move were identified and strategies considered to address them.
4. Agree a migration endpoint – you’ll never get there if you don’t know where you’re heading
Vodafone’s ultimate goal is to move towards a single global brand in all markets.
5. Develop a brand positioning which leverages existing brand equities and builds relevant new ones
It was agreed that while Vodafone would be the brand name, a new global brand positioning would be developed. This would draw on the international research and encompass some of the best brand equities from different countries
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate – to all audiences and in every single channel
Chris Gent, Vodafone’s chief executive, has been intimately involved throughout the process. He and his team have led from the front, keeping the city and employees informed.
7. Top management must lead and also inspire
But remember professionals cannot be forced to co-operate
8. Align brand values and employee values – this will involve changes in human resources policy
New business structures have been established, and new people brought in including a new global brand director.
9. Ensure the organisation can deliver the new brand promise
Remove structural impediments to change
10. Develop and follow a detailed plan for implementing the visual migration strategy – consider a staged approach
It was identified that it may be dangerous for a number of the businesses if the move to a global brand was made in one step, and so a migration strategy was adopted.
A MIGRATION SUCCESS STORY
HSBC is a good example of a thoughtful and organised rollout of a global brand and its new identity. HSBC was chosen as the global brand because it was considered to have more existing global presence and better capability to embody global values than any of the local brands in its portfolio.
Long before any visible demonstrations of brand migration were evident, HSBC and member companies communicated clearly to all stakeholders – internal and external – the intended change, relevant benefits and implications for them.
They then gradually migrated the visual identities of local brands to the global HSBC brand, by aligning the typeface and colour scheme, then by incorporating the hexagon logo alongside the local brand, and then finally to the HSBC standalone brand. This transformation was supported by substantial advertising and PR efforts.
HSBC was aware of areas where using a single global brand would be detrimental to existing businesses. The best example of this is First Direct in the UK. Its proposition is not in keeping with that of HSBC’s for the global mass market. First Direct targets young, upwardly mobile consumers who embrace new technology as a means to organising their finances. When evaluating brand strengths, it was determined the First Direct brand added more to the developing HSBC brand in the UK than vice versa. First Direct is now ‘a member of the HSBC group’.
The challenge for HSBC now the identity migration is complete, is to deliver a banking service to customers in keeping with the global banking expectations the new identity has shaped.
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