A company rebrand is a big deal. It's an experience replete with adrenaline highs, hair-tearing lows, and a huge feeling of accomplishment as you birth a new brand or nurture a revamped one. You'll grow as a marketer and as a manager as you exercise a wide spectrum of skills: co-creating logos and identities; persuading internal and external stakeholders to embrace change; coordinating with legal and administrative teams; executing the rebrand event; and writing reams of copy for the CEO, advertising, PR, and internal communication.
I've been fortunate to be associated with four rebrands. This is how they played out and here’s what I learned.
In the early 2000s, SSI was a rapidly growing mid-sized IT training and services company in Chennai. It had a 10-year old training division that was a cash cow, a much newer IT services division that had done exciting work for stock exchanges and counted Nasdaq as a customer, and a clutch of acquired brands in India and the US. SSI was listed in India and London and was (then) an investor darling.
It was also chaotic. My brief, as head of corporate branding and communication, was to work with all the different entities and create a cohesive umbrella corporate brand. There were ego clashes as business leaders butted heads, and there were culture clashes as Indian and US executives protected their brands and turfs. What helped was that I had the CEO behind me and he managed the balance between freedom of expression and control.
Creative agency: JWT, Chennai
PR agency: Ogilvy, Chennai
Progeon/ Infosys BPO
In the early 2000s, Progeon, the BPO arm of Infosys Technologies was a joint venture between Infosys and Citi Venture Capital.
Infy didn't really know too much about BPO then. So they hired a Citibank lifer to run Progeon. Over the next few years, the company built a highly successful business doing transaction and data related work. Revenue and profits grew handsomely. We were on a roll and looked forward to a killer IPO to encash our stock options.
Right. By 2006, the BPO industry had become respectable. Clients wanted to deal with one integrated brand for both IT and BPO services. Across the industry, the BPO arms of Satyam, TCS, Wipro, and others were being wrapped into the parent brand. Infy followed suit and decided to gather Progeon into itself.
As head of marketing, I led the rebrand from Progeon to Infosys BPO. Infy was a large organization and there were minor hassles of coping with their somewhat unwieldy culture. But the rebrand itself was a smooth affair as we subsumed the Progeon logo and identity into the much larger Infosys identity. Since much of our marketing effort was focused on analysts and the media, the makeover was more about one-to-one rather than mass communication. And migration of email, office templates, websites et al was that much smoother since we simply had to integrate with Infy's considerably larger infrastructure. The highlight of the rebrand for employees was an event where a pop singer from a then famous band grooved to a number modifying the lyrics of a popular hit to our rebrand message.
Creative agency: Contract, Bangalore
In 2013, I was hired as a consultant by SBL, a BPO in Kochi . The company had recently made a significant investment in building an IT product and wanted to refresh their marketing.
SBL used this opportunity to rethink and revamp their identity and positioning. We worked with internal and external teams and agencies to redesign the logo; create a tagline; build a brand book; and revamp the content to make it sharper, more professional, and way more consistent than before. SBL is now at the stage where the story is built and presented well. The next step is to get that story out to the world through marketing outreach campaigns.
Creative agency: Ideascape, Chennai
Content writing: TechWritingLabs, Bangalore
QuEST Global Manufacturing/ Aequs
QuEST Manufacturing, then a group company of QuEST Global, approached me in mid-2013 with an exciting proposition. They wanted to spin off and create a new brand.
Every marketer dreams of creating a new brand. In this case, the CEO was marketing savvy and he had a budget. What more could one ask for?
We invited pitches from several brand consultants and settled on one of the better known ones. Systematically and meticulously, they polled internal and external stakeholders to uncover a brand core for the company; created multiple options for the name, logo, and tagline; and put it all together in a brand book. Since the company's customers were all outside India and were large global firms, interviews took time to set up and validate, and the process took about six months from start to finish. At different points during the exercise, we brought the senior team together on email, on phone, at face-to-face meetings in Belgaum, Bangalore, and Goa, and spent the time necessary to include the main stakeholders in the exercise.
Creative agency: Chlorophyll, Mumbai
First, a caveat. These rebrands happened at different points in my career and I approached them with different levels of expertise and experience. Obviously, I'd find it easier to do my next rebrand compared to my first one. That said, I have three observations.
One, prepare. This means reading up on everything you can about how to go about a rebrand. There’s plenty of literature out there. Read as much of it as possible and focus on companies of your size to get a realistic feel for the operational issues. If you can, talk to people who've done this before. And having done all that, expect the unexpected -- there will always be issues specific to your company and culture.
Two, work through a committee. Rebrands involve the whole company and cost a helluva lot of time, effort, and money. So include every affected group from administration to HR to legal to IT to business leaders in your committee and get their inputs. But keep the decision group small. This is where your research will really pay off -- all these interests groups will have questions and you need credible answers to convince them that you know what you're doing.
Three, and most importantly, keep the CEO solidly behind you. A rebrand is a stressful affair and various interests groups will clash. The CEO needs to know that apart from all your person management skills, you have the domain knowledge to carry the project through. Again, this is where preparation counts.