Evolving with your customer has never been more important. As consumers become more willing to spend on brands they believe in and quicker to disengage from those they don’t, companies worldwide are heeding the call to evolve. For many of them, this comes in the form of a rebrand.
In our recent webinar, “The Power of Brand: Relevant, Authentic, Purpose-Driven,” senior marketing executives from three global companies, and one rebrand expert, discussed their reasons and processes for rebranding. And while each of these companies rebranded for different reasons, there was one resounding theme to their success: a successful brand evolution requires a strong entrepreneurial spirit and extensive planning for active internal engagement.
Read on for insights from panelists Dana Gandsman, Vice President, Brand Reputation at Pfizer, Kelly Vives, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Allspring Global Investments (formerly Wells Fargo Asset Management), Kristin Thompson Fallon, Head of Global Brand at GE Healthcare, and Philip Guiliano, Partner at BrandActive, on the importance of getting your organization on board and various approaches to effectively engaging your team.
Building that entrepreneurial spirit
In describing Allspring’s tight rebranding timeline combined with the opportunity to create a completely new brand identity, Kelly was the first to bring up the need for an “entrepreneurial mindset” when planning a rebrand, and the other panelists were quick to agree, regardless of the size of your company. When you’re facing such a large undertaking with so many moving parts and moments where things can go awry, it’s a huge help to see every unexpected setback or challenge as a learning opportunity that has the potential to make the end result even better.
There’s no one right time or reason for a rebrand. Every company’s evolution is different and is sparked by different events.
With all three organizations rebranding for different reasons and with unique challenges, that entrepreneurial spirit manifested differently. But no matter when the mindset took hold, it was helped along by optimism, flexibility, agility, transparency, collaboration, dedication to living the brand, and an overarching vision for “who you want your brand to be” and a clear roadmap of how you’re going to get there.
Setting the stage: when is the right time to rebrand?
There’s no one right time or reason for a rebrand. Every company’s evolution is different and is sparked by different events. For Pfizer, Dana noted that while many people thought their rebrand was a result of the pandemic, the real reason for change was the appointment of their new CEO in 2019. And as many marketers know, “with a new CEO, you have a new company purpose, a new company narrative.” As Dana’s Brand Reputation team evaluated their old logo, they realized that it didn’t speak to their purpose, “breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” or their commitment to science and innovation.
Allspring Global Investments was born out of Wells Fargo selling its asset management division, so their rebrand wasn’t exactly a choice. But in addition to the legal necessity to rebrand, Kelly noted that needing to shed the Wells Fargo name provided a great opportunity to “become our own entity, a new story, and chart a new path as an independent firm.”
For GE Health, their in-progress rebrand was brought about by the announcement that GE is splitting up its 130-year-old conglomerate. Kristin remarked that even before the breakup was announced, her team at GE Health had already begun to consider “evolving the identity of the healthcare business” because they saw a “disconnect between who we are and where we’re headed with how we’re showing up in market.” The news of the split was a “eureka” moment that presented the perfect chance to rebrand and “close that gap.”
In addition to Pfizer’s, Allspring’s, and GE Health’s reasons for rebranding, Philip commented that the need to clearly communicate competitive differentiation and category definition, re-examining and integrating various aspects of one’s brand architecture, as well as mergers and acquisitions, are also common reasons for a “capital R rebrand.”
Invoking an internal evolution
Once a company has made the decision to evolve its brand identity, the critical next step that can make or break a rebrand is creating and rolling out a communications plan to engage your employees. And it is critical for this to happen early.
Employee engagement must go beyond the C-suite because rebranding is ultimately an exercise in change management.
Philip noted that some rebrands go wrong because the company sees the task as a linear process where the brand development and creative work all occur before you need to think about implementation or even engaging your team. But all four panelists agreed that not only should these steps work in parallel, but that engaging your team especially should occur near the beginning, even if you’re not in a position to disclose any details.
“You don’t need to divulge that you’re rebranding, you don’t need to divulge what the brand’s going to be,” Philip said, “but you can engage operational leaders in the process so that you’re representing their reality and not making commitments for them that they can’t live up to.”
For all three of our panelist’s companies, their C-suite was on board from the start, but Kristin noted the importance of keeping them engaged and “with you for the whole process.” However, employee engagement must also go beyond the C-suite because rebranding is ultimately an exercise in change management. As Kelly said, “no matter how or why you’re rebranding, it’s a huge missed opportunity not to involve all the employees as stakeholders in this journey. If you’re going to have a new mission, vision, values, a new narrative, a new story, employees need to be excited and feel part of it.”
Philip added that for any company, setting employee expectations for the rollout is a “critical key first communication.” Whenever you make first rebrand announcement, employees should know from the start what they can expect to happen over the next three months, six months, 12 months, 18 months, etc. based on your rollout strategy. This level of transparency is an integral step of not only allowing the rebrand to run smoothly but laying a foundation on which excitement and team comradery can be built.
Who to involve, and when, and how
Each panelist had a different communications strategy for their employees that they catered to their unique situation and overall launch plan.
Allspring, whose new identity had to be built from scratch, started by engaging the whole company to crowdsource ideas for the new name. While the naming suggestions greatly varied, and some were “very interesting,” the exercise provided their brand firm with valuable themes that helped them understand the organization’s DNA. And it served the integral function of having every employee feel that they were an important part of the journey.
From there, Kelly was able to tighten the overall strategy and more integral decision-making to a small key group. As the launch date got closer, she engaged the other departments and divisions who would play a part in the rebrand implementation.
But they always kept the rest of the company in the loop using a detailed strategy on what to reveal and when. “We treated it like a chapter book where we would unveil a chapter at a time to our employees ahead of the outside world, so they felt part of it, living the new brand and amplifying it wherever they went.” By the time they launched, the whole company had gone through training on the brand values, mission and vision, with specific sessions for content creators about the new templates and tone of voice. And everyone had access to a brand hub where all the new information is available.
Like Allspring, Kristin decided to reach out beyond the core rebranding team at GE Health to engage and rally support from the “frontline teams really early.” Because their launch date is set in stone, they’ve been able to work backwards to determine the best milestones and pieces of brand to reveal and when in order to get the employees involved, excited, and ready to live the brand and activate it in their own way.
They revealed their name early because they knew their employees were anxiously wondering, “are we going to stay GE or not?” They recently revealed their purpose because it “feeds into our identity” and will help get their employees to buy into the new brand. In terms of major decision making, Kristin also has a smaller team, but she noted that as they get closer to launch, she’ll engage more employees with the right skillsets for day-to-day data gathering and tactical rollout tasks. By the time they launch, she envisions that everyone will be collaborating as they go public.
Unlike Allspring and GE Health, Dana’s team at Pfizer opted to keep the rebrand quiet because “we wanted to surprise and delight colleagues when we launched.” With over 90,000 employees and over 100 sites to rebrand, this was no easy task, but she noted that with BrandActive’s help, they were able to keep it within the c-suite and other colleagues on a need-to-know basis. Even though they weren’t doing day-to-day progress updates, they still engaged over 200 employees from every region around the world with focus groups to rank the top five logo options.
When the time arrived for the new brand to launch, they did it with a splash and with everything loaded and ready to go to rally the employees. In addition to a brand training program, they used their internal internet to share a video from their CEO explaining the why of the rebrand as well as the how, with easy access to the brand ID center. Every employee also received a swag box within the first week of launch and there was palpable excitement around the new brand as employees were able to experience it. It even led to the launch of an external store that sells Pfizer apparel. In Pfizer’s case, the surprise approach worked especially well to rally pride amongst employees.
These were just some of our highlights our panelists shared about their unique brand journeys in our webinar, The Power of Brand: Relevant, Authentic, Purpose-Driven. To hear more valuable insights and nuggets of wisdom from our panelists, watch the full recording.