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How to Successfully Brand or Rebrand a Company

Q/A with Pega CMO Grant Johnson, appearing on Rieches Baird’s “Branding Business” Radio Show

 

Ray Baird: Obviously you’ve built many successful brands and re-branded many companies over the years. What’s your secret and what can our listeners learn from your experience:

Grant  Johnson: Having done re-branding successfully for nearly two decades, the first key principle is to tightly define the drivers and key objectives.  Are we looking for a brand refresh or brand transformation?  When I arrived at a company named Big Fish, I needed to drive a transformation which included a new company name, logo, positioning, messaging and brand identity.  At FileNet, it was a refresh to build on earlier brand progress and help drive brand differentiation vs. the big guys we were competing against, including IBM, EMC and Oracle.   At Pega, it encompassed creating an entire brand system and architecture.   The company had grown to more than $200 million in sales when I arrived with almost no systematic approach to brand identity, architecture, or brand management.   Pega had a working logo, the symbol for Pegasus the flying horse, so I left that alone. Everything else, including color palette, graphic style,  naming conventions and brand personality, needed to be either created or changed.  We came up with a simple way to help our 2,000 employees relate to our brand personality.   Our four brand key personality attributes leverage our shorted name, PEGA and stand for: Passionate, Engaging, Genuine and Adaptive.  I created a video entitled, “How PEGA are you?” in which employees from different regions discuss how they embody those four brand personality traits, and this helped them become true brand ambassadors.  Together with online brand education and training, this really helped get our employees behind the new brand. When you get brand advocacy to become synonymous with company advocacy, you can really harness the power of your people to build brand momentum.

Ray Baird: What are the biggest challenges companies face when re-branding?

Grant Johnson:  Once you’ve got the first question I mentioned resolved, (the purpose for rebranding), you need to get agreement on how to approach it.  What is the scope?  Over what time and at what cost?  Who will make decisions besides the CMO?  I’ve found that having a simple three-phase process is something my executive peers can easily understand and support, so in my rebranding approach for Pega, I defined Phase 1 as Brand Assessment, Phase 2 as Brand Development and Phase 3 as Brand Execution.   Under each phase I defined what we would do, who would be involved – i.e. customer, partners, board members – how we would report on findings, and a process to make the important decisions. .

A second major challenge is developing consensus on what to change.  This can be somewhat controversial because after the brand assessment, obvious inconsistencies and variance in brand quality and standards will emerge, and sometimes you have to throw out what others have already created.  It’s like saying “your baby is ugly,” so it’s never easy to deliver a change message because after all, most of these decisions are subjective.

The biggest challenge, however, is getting agreement on specific changes.  In past practice, a lot of options that I’ve created around brand identity, personality, and promise were well received.  The hard part was getting agreement on which of the various desirable alternatives to choose.  At Pega, we came up with three alternatives for our brand promise:  “we help you drive continuous business improvement”; “we help you become more customer centric; “we transform the way your business works.” Our customer research and most of my team favored the transformative expression, also the most aspirational. However, many stakeholders thought such a brand promise would over-reach our ability to deliver.  So we landed on helping organizations become more customer centric.  This is working quite well for us, especially since we keep enhancing our product line to better deliver on this promise.

Ray Baird:  How do you manage the areas you don’t control on the brand, e.g. the touch points?

Grant Johnson: That’s a great question and something I’ve dialogued about with many of my CMO peers.  At most companies, B2B or B2C, the CMO doesn’t control all the touch points, such as Web, Storefront, Call Center, Services, Partner or others, which can lead to an inconsistent brand experience at best, and brand dilution at worse.   What works is for marketing, as the chief brand architect, to define what the brand and customer experience should be at each touch point.  That’s not enough, however.  Marketing needs to get feedback, reports and measures in either a systematic or ad hoc manner to determine if the brand vision is being delivered or if refinements or major changes are needed.   In today’s customer-driven world, none of us owns the brand. Our customers do.  The best we can do is shape it.  We can do a better job of shaping if we monitor all touch points, whether 1:1 interaction, via social media, or the Web, so we can continually reinforce what’s working and abandon what’s not.

Ray Baird: Technology companies bring a complexity to branding and create a plethora of products names, which can be overwhelming to prospective customers.  What’s the best way for B2B companies to have the right philosophy and brand architecture, especially in regards to brand naming?

Grant Johnson:The best way to deal with this is to create a coherent brand architecture that provides structure and consistency to the branding process   A company must first decide if they will adopt and perpetuate a master brand strategy (Lexus), a house of brands (P&G), or an endorsed approach (Microsoft).  Next, brand architecture is a useful metaphor because successful brand building requires some level of hierarchy to define the relationship between the company brand and all the product lines or sub-brands.  One key structural consideration is to not create too many levels in brand architecture.  Most people have difficulty keeping more than two levels in their heads, so it’s best to manage to a more streamlined brand structure.   After all, today’s consumer is more inundated than ever with information and thus their attention level to any piece of information is brief, so you want to make it easier for a customer to identify with and understand your brand.

A second and related issue is product naming.  If you’re P&G and you can afford to spend $100 million to launch a new product or brand, go ahead and create a proprietary name.  If you’re like most companies I’ve worked with, such an investment is inconceivable, so I recommend having either descriptive product names or perhaps suggestive ones.  This also supports brand or product extension goals because customers can more easily relate to an existing frame of reference than a new one.  Simplicity and customer understanding should be the driving force in naming decisions.

Ray Baird: If you had one critical piece of advice for companies going through the rebranding process, what would it be?

Grant Johnson: You should hire an outside branding firm to help.  I’ve done this five times and while I personally have the expertise to figure it all out myself, having senior level, independent and objective branding experts to help you shape, propose and close on brand changes helps enormously.  The way I see it, I can have someone like Ray Baird tell my detracting? peers, “you have to go this way if you really want to stand out from the competition,” or “your ideas won’t work and here’s why.”  If I say that same thing, I might put them on the defensive or disenfranchise them during the critical change process.   To riff on one of my favorite past taglines from American Express, the #1 service brand in the world, don’t go on this journey alone.


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More Stories By Grant Johnson

A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™

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