City & Guilds, one of the country’s longest-established education institutes, is not just implementing a new brand identity. It’s undergoing a complete culture change, says head of group marketing Joanna Causon.
For Causon, who is spearheading the project, it’s a democratic process. Any change of brand identity must be understood by every single employee – or, at the very least, explained clearly to them – for such a change to work, she believes.
‘It’s no good saying to people who work in the postroom, “here are your new brand values, aren’t they nice?”. That just gives them the opportunity to say they don’t understand,’ she says.
The seriousness with which Causon has undertaken the rebranding of City & Guilds, which provides vocational qualifications, is clear from her measured, thoughtful answers. Further evidence, if needed, lies in the fact she appointed two, rather than the standard one, consultancies. Brandsmiths was appointed 18 months ago to evaluate where the brand was and work out where it should be heading.
Research kicked off almost immediately, and revealed a complex market and myriad messages being sent out by City & Guilds. It’s not surprising, given that its audience ranges from 14-year-olds to those old enough to have received a birthday letter from the Queen. ‘We do have a hugely wide-ranging audience, but they are being addressed through different media,’ she says. ‘That said, the message must still be consistent.’
Part of the battle has been working out how to explain to the outside world the breadth and depth of the over 500 vocational qualifications offered by City & Guilds. ‘I’m not sure younger people understand what we do,’ Causon says. ‘They receive mixed messages about us at school or at further education colleges.’ Whether they’re mixed or not, the messages have clearly been getting through: one in five households has a City & Guilds qualification, says Causon.
Gradually, Brandsmiths, ‘hand in hand’ with City & Guilds, started to develop a branding strategy and vision. Together they appointed 45 internal brand champions to ensure fellow employees started to ‘live and breathe’ the brand at work.
I suggest this might lead to animosity, with the brand champions becoming the office pariahs. Causon admits that, ‘if you’re not careful, [the champions] could get a bit like the brand police’. But, she adds, that’s why it’s so important they communicate what they’re doing and why, and that other employees understand it.
She knows all about brand champions – she was one herself at CGU, as head of brand when it merged with Norwich Union. ‘I encountered cynicism, and had to learn to understand other people’s issues and concerns.’
Despite the obvious importance of understanding and communicating a brand strategy, a rebranding exercise has its visual manifestation. CDT Design was hired in June to revamp the marque and create guidelines for its use, as well as design signage, marketing literature and stationery.
The group also had some fun. Marketing material includes promotional items with visual puns, playing on the type of qualification being promoted. Thus a National Vocational Qualification in oral health care is promoted on a tin full of teeth-rotting sweets; and a chocolate bar promoting a demolition NVQ features a typographical play on the word chocolate that appears to have been demolished.
CDT Design has developed imagery that will appear across stationery and booklets, such as cups of coffee and flowers for business cards, six different key rings for the key skills brochure and a compass for City & Guilds’ qualifications guide.
The consultancy’s job was to interpret Brandsmiths’ findings. Did the two groups work well together? ‘There was no room for egos,’ Causon says. ‘Both had to be sympathetic to what the other was doing and work well together, which they did.’
All redesigned identity work was unveiled to employees first, rather than the public, at the end of September. Causon organised a party at the CafÃ© Royal in central London for all 550-plus employees, and director general Chris Humphries came along to reinforce the brand values. ‘[The brand] had to be real for people at all levels,’ Causon says.
The work is being rolled out gradually. Stationery, in particular, is being replaced as the old runs out, to keep costs under control.
Was it a huge responsibility for Causon, given City & Guilds’ 125-year-old history? ‘I didn’t want to throw away our heritage, but I was determined to make us more contemporary,’ she says.
The most important thing she has taken from time working at CGU was that large branding exercises take a long time because it’s important to embed values thoroughly and make them real for staff. ‘It’s never a quick fix, but it’s fantastically rewarding when it all comes together,’ she says.
Joanna Causon’s CV
1989-1991: Joined Commercial Union as a management trainee, and is promoted to a series of positions, including account executive and national sales and marketing executive
1999: Becomes CGU marketing consultancy manager
2000: Promoted to head of brand at CGU as it began the merger with Norwich Union
Nov 2000: Head of group marketing at City & Guilds, responsible for the strategic development of marketing