How to give your image makeover mass appeal

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What’s in a name? Your brand’s reputation if a change in identity fails to win over consumers. Laura Snoad learns how marketers have successfully rebranded their companies and the pitfalls to avoid.

Rebranding may offer the carrot of greater recognition and new interest from customers, but its ability to cause anger as Royal Mail’s brief spell as Consignia or Airmiles’ rebrand as Avios this month demonstrate should not be overlooked.

Despite the dangers, some brands have successfully changed their identities, breathing new life into tired associations and helping to clarify new strategic directions. When 200-year-old Norwich Union rebranded as Aviva in 2009, the insurance group achieved a brand awareness of 80% just a few months after changing its name. Similarly, Age UK, the charity that came from the merger of Help the Aged and Age Concern, has a brand awareness of 65% just a year after the change of name.

So what techniques can ensure that customers engage with the new brand? Marketing Week spoke to marketers who have been through rebrands, to gather their insight on how to do it.

Know what your company is

When RNID rebranded as Action on Hearing Loss earlier this year, it was driven by the desire to expand its remit from “changing the world for deaf and hard of hearing people” to working with a wider population, such as young people with perfect hearing who frequently go to loud gigs or nightclubs, to encourage them to protect their ears.

Action on Hearing Loss director of public engagement Emma Harrison explains: “We worked with research consultancy NFP Synergy to benchmark our brand awareness and only 2% of people could name us. That insight came as a shock for a charity that’s been around for 100 years. We were all mortified.”

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According to LV= marketing director of general insurance Guy Hedger, a rebrand isn’t just a change of cosmetic packaging. “It has to be a cultural change, a change in philosophy, approach, structure, how a brand defines itself and how you think about your business. You must rethink your core mission,” he says.

Both Hedger and Adam Smith, marketing director at Yodel which rebranded from Home Delivery Network last year suggest that when the reasons for rebranding are based on robust foundations for a long-term strategy, then it is crucial to be able to consolidate what your brand is in a simple and clear positioning statement.

“This gives the brand credibility and a substance behind it,” says Smith. “It allows your customers and internal colleagues to buy into the brand. If you don’t buy into the brand positioning statement, you’re really going nowhere.”

Don’t ignore your heritage

Once you have established what the rebrand will mean for the business in terms of new direction, structure or approach, then it is important to work out which key assets to retain from the old brand.

Hedger at LV= says: “Consumers hate rebrands. They see them as gratuitous nonsense, so you need to take some heritage with you. Aviva kept the dominant yellow, and Snickers kept the same design element on the pack when it changed its name from Marathon in 1990, so you can look at it and know it’s the same product.”

Liverpool Victoria rebranded as LV= in March 2007 because it wanted to move away from any stuffiness associated with its previous brand image and to prevent it from being wrongly named London Victoria. Its strategy was one of gentle evolution, initially relaunching as LV= Liverpool Victoria, gradually minimising Liverpool Victoria before positioning it below the LV= branding. When market monitoring suggests it is the right time, the original name will eventually be dropped, says Hedger.

But what if evolution isn’t an option? Many commentators, including Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, have suggested that Avios may have avoided criticism if the brand had slowly evolved from Airmiles by Avios, to Avios Airmiles to just Avios over time. But Andrew Swaffield, managing director of The Mileage Company, which licenses the Airmiles/Avios brand in the UK, says this was not an option. “We don’t own the Airmiles brand, so we don’t have the luxury of a transition,” says Swaffield. “We had to make the change all in one go because of the terms of our licence with the brand’s owner.” (See Q&A, below)

Similarly, because Age UK came out of a merger of Age Concern and Help The Aged, it too had to make a clean break from its previous brands, both of which had brand awareness of between 90% and 95%. Age UK brand director Esther Jackson explains: “Talking about where we’ve come from has given us the opportunity to explain ourselves very quickly. But at the same time, brands should be bold, otherwise they risk confusing people, who could then doubt whether the brand is really serious about changing.”

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Involve customers in the process

One thing that both Jackson at Age UK and Harrison at Action on Hearing Loss feel that the commercial sector could learn from charities is to involve stakeholders and audiences more rigorously in the rebranding process. Action on Hearing Loss consulted all its staff about its new direction. It also reached out to MPs and local authorities, and held focus groups with deaf people and service users to work out whether the public felt the rebrand was necessary.

Harrison says: “If you are open and transparent, you get invaluable feedback really early on. Our members actually came up with the name Action on Hearing Loss. For us, it was a very inclusive approach to delivering the strategy.”

Listening to customers can also uncover unexpected insight and can allay assumed worries. Aviva chief marketing officer Amanda Mackenzie states: “We found that customers were not as worried as we had expected about losing the ’Britishness’ of the brand that ’flying the flag’ was less important to them because they understood the international strategy.”

Aviva also wanted to involve the city of Norwich, where it employs 6,700 staff, in the rebranding process and signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Norwich City Football Club and started a programme of engagement with local stakeholders, such as Norfolk MPs and those running the city’s cathedral. “It is not just about sponsorship, it is about supporting the local community,” adds Mackenzie.

Prepare your staff

Staff deliver the brand so getting them to understand it and bring it alive is absolutely crucial, according to Hedger. Before the launch of the new brand, LV= staff took part in workshops and brand experience days to get them excited about the new strategy and primed to answer customers’ questions.

Avios has also worked hard to empower staff to deal with difficult questions from customers, says Swaffield. Making information as relevant to customers as possible is key so Avios has created an intelligent software system that works out the most popular questions and reprioritises them. They are then fed into the call centre, into web chat team and onto the Facebook page, creating a constant loop of feedback based on what customers are actually asking.

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A quarter of Avios call centre agents currently talk to customers via webchat or social media, rather than on a telephone. Swaffield explains: “It’s about being where customers want to be. We need to make sure we’re talking to people in social media if they’re talking to us in social media and not trying to direct them into a call centre or onto a website because that’s not what they want.”

Action on Hearing Loss also used social media to answer questions and give users an opportunity to leave feedback. Chief executive Jackie Ballard did a series of question and answer sessions, via the charity’s website, Twitter page and YouTube especially important as many of its members use British Sign Language as their first language. Harrison says: “You should expect flack but the mitigation strategy for us was be open and listen to the criticism.”

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Andrew Swaffield, Managing director The Mileage Company, which licenses the Airmiles/Avios brand in the UK

Airmiles to Avios

Marketing Week (MW): What was the thinking behind the rebrand?

Andrew Swaffield (AS): To have a brand that we can use globally and fulfil the global ambitions of IAG the owner of British Airways and Iberia, which The Mileage Company is part of we needed to rebrand Airmiles. If you were to go into a room of relevant business people and ask them who collected Airmiles, most of the hands in the room will go up. If you then asked them what scheme they’re in, only one or two will be in the UK Airmiles scheme, the rest of them will be in Virgin Flying Club, the BA Executive Club or the British Midland Diamond club but they all call them Airmiles.

There’s a lot of confusion about Airmiles, and it’s also a brand we don’t own. Cutting through all of that noise and creating a unique brand that we can own globally and build over many years as IAG becomes a globally dominant player on the aviation front, is a sound business strategy for us. We’re very focused on the long term, not just on the short term.

MW: How did you decide on the name?

AS: We carried out quantitive and qualitative research in the UK, Spain and seven other key markets. Avios consistently appeared distinctive, appealing and fitted the concept in all the geographies, and critically it’s a brand that we can own. Any company that has a brand it doesn’t own needs to take a serious look at itself.

MW: Why have you chosen not to begin an advertising campaign until November?

AS: There’s a lot to communicate with customers. People need time to absorb those messages before we start bringing the brand to life above the line. If you were to tell people about the brand values of Avios now with a TV campaign, it would be lost in the noise of people trying to understand the changes. In a real world you have to tell people in advance and give them notice.

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