Brand new world

Corporate branding has hit boom time, with many businesses repositioning. Caitlin Thomas describes Barclays’ rebranding process, and Clare Dowdy looks at what clients really want from an identity change

Going through a corporate rebranding is a bit like moving house. For most people it’s the most expensive thing they buy, it’s years between one purchase and the next, and both can be pretty stressful experiences.

Identity specialists are constantly honing their offer to help clients maximise the effectiveness of such an exercise. Introducing a new corporate brand, for whatever type or size of company, is inevitably a costly exercise, and for many clients identity programmes are uncharted, or at least unfamiliar, territory. Sainsbury’s, for example, last went through a fundamental rebrand in the Seventies.

But with more and more companies launching, merging, acquiring or just repositioning, an identity specialist’s strongest skill is likely to be the experience it has built up.

Every sector is booming at the moment, from telecommunications to hotels, pharmaceuticals to financial services. Retailers Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s are revamping – M&S’s identity review is being carried out by Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, while Sainsbury’s new identity by 20/20 Design & Strategy Consultants, after two years in the making, introduces the new colour: Living Orange.

In the banking sector, Barclays and Lloyds TSB have new looks, created by INS and Wolff Olins respectively.

Charities, some of which are relatively new to branding, are taking repositioning very seriously to boost both awareness and funds. Oxfam introduced a simplified marque in May by INS, and Spencer Landor has redesigned the identity for The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

In the pharmaceuticals industry a new name and logo was launched for merged giant AstraZeneca Group, created by INS, and animal pharmaceutical company Grampian was given a new name and identity, Vericore, by Ergo.

Identity consultancies of every size are enjoying a run that is reminiscent of the late-Eighties boom; corporations are desperate to leverage their brands. With the increasing power of e-commerce, branding is becoming more and more important, says John Grace, chief executive of Interbrand in New York.

He says: “We continue to evolve into a parity universe of products and services… [This is the] hey-day for brand consultancies… There is an ever increasing view [among clients] of ‘help me understand why brands are so important’.”

But how are clients’ needs really changing, and are consultancies adapting their offers to accommodate them, or just to sound more like proper grown-up businesses?

“They are not talking about creativity, which is what clients want,” says Richard Watson, partner at Global Design Register, who accuses some design groups of trying to be business consultants. “Clients want ideas about how to solve a problem or change their business… It’s important that groups understand strategy, but some seem to think they are appointed solely for that. Strategy is not a point of difference,” he stresses. “The one thing clients can’t do themselves is creativity, and neither can Andersen Consulting.”

Sue Whitehead, director of marketing at Regal Hotel Group, also has evidence to back up this scenario. The Partners was chosen to rebrand the group as Corus, because it is “a highly creative consultancy… We worked with other strategy consultants [alongside The Partners].” The new name was generated by the Brandnaming Company.

Sainsbury’s had the strategy in place, and wanted 20/20’s creative approach to reinforce this plan and “challenge us as a business”, says brand design manager Clare Thacker.

Kieran Murphy, chief executive of animal pharmaceuticals group Vericore, says creativity was the reason for hiring Ergo: “Creativity is their differentiator. If I wanted a strategic consultant I would hire a strategic consultant.”

This attitude could be evidence of what Watson at GDR sees as a move away from the bigger consultancies to smaller groups, although he admits: “People like to play safe with corporate identity.” This, along with clients’ creative needs, may account for INS’s current success.

The fit with the consultancy is also important. “All five consultancies we saw were comparable, chosen on track record, recommendation and similarity of type,” says James Weekley, communications and brand manager of Waste solutions group Shanks. “We wanted to meet them and find out whether we could work closely with them… The people aspect was very important. We wanted people who weren’t going to scare us too much, and designers who would speak our language.” Weekley appointed Bamber Forsyth to carry out the rebranding, which was launched last month.

Murphy at Vericore had already worked with Simon John, a partner at Ergo. “I always believe in the devil you know and I felt very comfortable working with them.”

Mike Hounsell, marketing director at cable group NTL, oversaw the merger of disparate brands under one new identity, designed by Basten Greenhill Andrews last month. He gives equal weighting to BGA’s strong strategic approach, cultural fit with NTL and design flair, commenting, “They had a fantastic process.”

Despite the buoyancy of the market, value for money is still a major consideration. Weekley at Shanks spoke to five consultancies “to find out what we could get for what money. I didn’t want employees to think that the company was spending buckets of money that they wouldn’t see the immediate benefit from. In Bamber Forsyth we saw value for money and inherent understanding.” The process has already brought about potential cost savings, he says. “It has focused people’s attention on opportunities to change the way we buy.”

Vericore’s Murphy says that “value for money was a major consideration. The change won’t save us money but the value comes from having a stronger brand.”

Cost was less of a concern for Hounsell, whose company NTL is spending a total of £40m on its communications programme.

Getting and keeping staff on board is another big issue for anyone rebranding, and companies now routinely set up internal teams to “advise” on the identity, and carry out internal communications programmes. “Our main concern was that we had full internal support and involved our employees. Eighty-five of our 2000 employees were involved at some stage,” explains Weekley. “Our brand makes a promise, but if we don’t live up to that internally, it’s simply a paint job.” Bamber Forsyth offered Shanks validation exercises through an independent consultant to test concepts with employees.

“A lot of work with The Partners was on internal communications,” says Whitehead. The consultancy put together audiovisual presentations which she presented to management teams, and every member of staff received an explanation booklet, also by The Partners.

South African mining and natural resources corporation Anglo American, which has just merged with UK-based Minorco, did not go to such lengths to involve employees – a mistake, in retrospect, according to Nick von Shirnding, senior vice-president of investor and corporate affairs. “If we had to do it again we would involve mainstream employees more,” he says.

The Partners, which designed the company’s new identity, created a booklet on the marque for internal use, called Discover.

Von Shirnding is upbeat about the experience of rebranding. “In many respects, it’s been easier than we thought,” he says. However, one thing which did complicate matters was choosing to appoint a different consultancy, Trade Mark, to implement the identity. He would advise anyone else to stick to one consultancy. “Implementation has been much more complicated than we thought,” he adds.

It is clear that corporate identity is now just one part of a rebranding exercise. “It’s not just a new identity, but a rebrand and rethink of how the company does business,” says Whitehead.

“We have sold it as a name change, business repositioning and cultural change,” says Vericore’s Murphy.

Thacker’s concern for Sainsbury’s was to ensure that the strategy was fully embraced by 20/20, “and that it was not seen as a paint job”.

“We are no longer in the identity business but the brand business,” says Grace at Interbrand. As the economy grows, branding specialists are sitting pretty. “Only a recession will shake out the wheat from the chaff,” says Grace.

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