This article originally appeared in Forbes.
The landscape for merger and acquisitions, and spin-off and divestiture is heating up in virtually every sector, and that brings the brand to the forefront of many executives’ minds. Aligning sales and marketing and keeping the customer at the center of the enterprise can be a challenge in static environments, but it is even more challenging amid a rebrand when the very moniker to which you refer to the company and which employees work for is changing. Here is some practical advice on how to make sure your rebrand is leveraged for maximum growth and cooperative productivity.
1. Rebrands are Catalyst for Change
Margaret Molloy is the chief marketing officer of Siegel + Gale, the global firm headquartered in New York City whose clients include rebranded CVS Health, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Motorola Solutions, Novartis, DaVita Inc, Radial, and Hightail. They are the strategists and designers behind iconic brands like SAP, 3M, Cummins, United Airlines, AARP, the IRS, Penske, KeyBank, Pfizer, Allstate, Rotary International, the Grammys, the YMCA, and many more. When talking about rebranding she was quick to note that “a rebrand can be a catalyst to reform a business, presenting an opportunity to sharpen a company’s story and signal and direction to the market.” Rebrands don’t happen every day. “It is a watershed moment,” she said. “Rebranding is a great chance to reframe company positioning, product architecture, and product portfolio. It gives companies a chance to revisit and rethink products and go-to markets, allowing companies to articulate a new frame.”
It also allows companies to reset the dynamic between sales and marketing. “A rebrand is often spurred by mergers, spinoffs, a change in leadership, or updated company ambitions, giving sales and marketing the chance to get a fresh start,” Molloy added. “It’s a new chapter that provides a clean slate to produce a new level of engagement and alignment.”
Advice You Can Use: Think of a rebrand as a chance think big. What she called a “precious opportunity” that “should not be wasted.” Take advantage of that not only in your corporate strategies but in your cross-functional partnerships across the organization.
2. Rebrands are a Team Sport
“One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is shortchanging the employee engagement portion of their rebrand roll-out,” Molloy noted. It is easy to become absorbed by the strategy, research, and design, and overlook employee activation. “To change a brand requires a commitment from the top to include the organization.” And that extends down and through the organization. Rachelle Kuramoto from Watchword Brand, a boutique agency in Atlanta, said it well when she noted that “every person, whether they be a customer or employee, has both rational and emotional drivers of their work and branding is personal. If they resist the new brand and aren’t behind the message, they are not going to do their best work.” In order to align early and often, Kuramoto suggests that “everyone should have objectives tied to the successful roll-out and what it looks like for their function. If you have asked for input during the discovery and research phase, employees are more likely to see their feedback in the plans and alignment is easier.”
Advice You Can Use: Before the budget is exhausted on other things, be sure to have a robust plan for employee engagement and communication. Tie metrics across the company to the successful brand roll-out.
3. Customers Experience Brands through People
“Employees are at the forefront of a brand,” Molloy continued, “and this is brought into high relief during ‘moments of truth’ for the customer. For example, when a customer walks into a store or calls up a service line, it’s during this interaction when the customer experiences the brand.” Even digital native companies without showrooms or sales, still have customers interacting with the work product of their employees. “This is why dedicating enough time and resources to employee engagement is such a necessity. Keep it open, keep it clear, and keep it simple in order to eliminate any potential barriers of communication,” she said. “Dedicating enough time and resources to employee engagement is a must.”
Advice You Can Use: Think about the “moments of truth” and customer interactions that are critical for you to establish your new brands and work backward from those into your processes to ensure a great experience every time.
4. Be Practical and Actionable with Employees (learn from sales)
“Sales is an important subpopulation of employees. It is vital to understand the psychology of salespeople, their incentives, and the dynamics of the sales organization, as they are a constituency that tends to be practical,” she offered. “At the risk of generalizing, sales professionals are motivated by personal performance and have a good filter for anything that will help them sell more, faster.” Not all functions within the company work on the same horizons. Executives and brand leaders might be looking at long-term views and investments, while others with quotas to fulfill tend to be focused on this month, quarter, or year. “As a result, salespeople can be viewed as skeptical and transactional. This inherent tension is inevitable, but not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when an understanding is found between brand and sales it can lead to a harmonious working relationship that facilitates alignment.”
Advice You Can Use: Leverage the practical and actionable tendencies of your sales team to help you filter and prioritize what is most critical in the time of transition. And provide turn-key solutions, sales enablement tools, and easy-to-deploy communications to make it easy for everyone to stay on message.
5. Use Transparency to Socialize Change
“Some brands make the mistake of waiting until everything is pristine and perfect to announce their intentions to a wider audience,” Molloy observed. Similar to the big reveal at the end of the episode of a home improvement television show, those designing new brands can often keep the stakeholders out of the house until the work is complete. Instead, she advised that “communication should be early and consistent. Otherwise, employees are left in a vacuum where imagination and presumption reign, filling the space with negative assumptions that can impact morale.” This can take the form of listening sessions, updates on the brand work or stakeholder interviews, or opportunities for people to provide input. You can still plan a big brand reveal party, but make sure that you minimize surprises to maximize long-term impact.
Advice You Can Use: Don’t fear transparency. Use feedback sessions and preview to get feedback and to socialize change.
6. Leverage Sales Leadership to Keep Competitors at Bay (and to Keep Your Sellers)
“An important consideration during a rebranding, especially in a B2B business, is competitor response,” she said. Competitors use the opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD), possibly going as far as making attempts to lure key customers or high-caliber sales talent away. “The loss of this sales talent can be a great cost to a company both financially and culturally, reinforcing the need for employee engagement programs that could mitigate the risk.” This is where sales leadership matters. Molloy encourages companies to make sure “sales leaders have a voice at the table in strategic conversations around brand and play a key role in every phase of the rebrand rollout.”
Advice You Can Use: In every good rebranding engagement, there is a discovery process where employees and other stakeholders are interviewed. Molloy has observed that some brands “dismiss the inclusion of sales during the discovery phase of branding engagement. However, the most pragmatic insight is oftentimes articulated the best by sales due to their day-to-day relationship with customers.” Involve them.
7. Remember that Brands, like Sales and Marketing Alignment, is About Relationships
“Sales and marketing alignment isn’t one thing,” Kuramoto observed. “It has many pieces and each piece is held by a person who has trusted relationships with others in the company and with external stakeholders. To maintain and strengthen alignment during a rebrand is to bring every relationship through the process.” Even if the strategic catalyst which prompted the rebrand is positive and exciting to employees and customers, that doesn’t make the change easy. It can be threatening and confusing. And that emotion comes like waves through the planning and implementation of the brand and beyond. “Roll-outs of brands are not complete without a monitoring and optimization process,” Kuramoto suggested. “The work of branding, like sales and marketing alignment, is never done.”
Advice You Can Use: Put success measures in place, across the company, and set up a monitoring process. Remember that change is a process and takes time (and that the brand marketers in the company have had many more months to warm up the idea of change than other employees or customers they serve). Communicate and over communicate (and then communicate again).