How De Beers united 20,000 employees by overhauling its corporate identity

De Beers has overhauled its corporate identity and how it communicates internally in an attempt to find a common purpose across the business, which stretches from diamond mining to selling luxury jewellery.

Diamond sorting in Botswana.

Finding a common thread that engages both miners working in Africa and retail staff in a high-end London store may sound like an impossible task but that was the mission for diamond business De Beers Group.

The change was needed after the De Beers Group of Companies – as it was formerly known – acquired LVMH’s 50% shareholding of De Beers Jewellers, meaning for the first time it had full ownership of the entire operation.

The newly-formed business wanted to unite all aspects of the brand with a common goal and purpose but with 20,000 employees across five continents it has not been an easy task.

Working with design consultancy Pope + Wainwright, De Beers began by creating a new visual identity that, for the first time, connects all aspects of the business. But that was just the beginning.

“Like most international companies with a large employee base made up of several wholly owned business units and joint ventures we have a challenges when it comes to communication dissemination,” admits Matt Crabb, senior manager of group brand communications, speaking to Marketing Week.

“But we now have a singular approach; we’re developing our purpose and our brand strategy. We have the channels in place, it’s just making sure we’re clear in what we’re saying and we’re clear in our vision for the various initiatives we’re working on.”

Ensuring the message lands

While the brand’s approach is now unified, knowing when and by which channel to communicate with employees is crucial to making sure the message lands.

De Beers has a 50/50 joint venture with the Botswana government, for example, so has to ensure the message it wants to share is in line with what is happening at a local level.

“We can’t expect to push out content, initiatives and news and just expect it to land and see engagement through that,” says Crabb.

“It’s a constant conversation with the teams locally to make sure the things that are important to us are also important to people locally. It’s about ensuring we’re talking with our teams locally to make sure they understand what we’re intending to do and that we’re aware and cognisant of what their priorities are as well.”

Employees working in the plant at Jwaneng Mine in Botswana.

While the message is consistent, Crabb is also mindful of the fact teams in different parts of the business and different parts of the world will have different priorities.

“We have certain priorities when it comes to communication and obviously a lot of those priorities ripple across all the business but equally, if you look at where our mines are in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia or Canada, [staff there] are much more operationally focused so you have to take that into account,” he says.

“It’s about ensuring the work they’re doing is done safely. They have targets to meet and we can’t assume that people are waiting to hear communications from the group, we’ve got to be mature in understanding that there are different priorities across the business. Where we can we have to make sure we’re aligned and that those interests that are most important to the group are planned well in advance to make sure they get cut through locally.”

We know consumers place a particular emotional value on diamonds but I think what’s less known is the value that diamonds have to our producer countries and the communities where we operate.

Matt Crabb, De Beers

The way messages are distributed also differ. The business relies heavily on its global intranet and email for much of its communication, but channels become much more fragmented in its local business units.

“If you go more locally you’ll see the break down of channels differs somewhat. We have visual screens in some of the prep areas before people go to work, for example, and text messaging is used a fair bit as well. Likewise radio is a massive communications channel in Southern Africa particularly, both for internal and external communication. We do a lot in Botswana through the local radio stations, so we sponsor weekly programmes where we can talk about what De Beers is involved in. That obviously has relevance and impact on the broader Botswana community.”

More than brand purpose

Key to getting employees across the business on board is “demonstrating we’re not a company that is just focused on the bottom line”, says Crabb.

De Beers has two key brand pillars: standing with women and girls on gender equality “to help create a fair and more equal society because we know that not only is that going to be of benefit to us within the business but it will also benefit the countries we operate in and society as a whole”, and protecting the natural world.

“We know consumers place a particular emotional value on diamonds but I think what’s less known is the value that diamonds have to our producer countries and the communities where we operate,” he adds.

He again uses the joint venture it has with the Botswana government, which has been in place  for around 50 years.

“It has gone from being one of the least developed countries in Africa to one of the fastest growing, with an economy that you could say has really been built on diamonds. That’s largely as a result of careful stewardship of the government and its natural resource and then the role De Beers has played in helping bring those diamonds to the fore,” he explains.

“[The business] ensures not only that Botswana’s diamonds are made available around the world but also that the value generated from those diamonds is passed back into the communities around where we have operations.”

Crabb says the brand has a duty of care to ensure business is done in the correct way. The Botswana government is a 15% shareholder of De Beers, for example. “We are accountable to Botswana and its people. In terms of getting employees on board with the direction we’re heading in, we find that on a local level we have employees doing good on a day-to-day basis, they’re going out they’re volunteering, they’re passionate… we see tangible value being delivered on a very local level for people around the world in the countries we operate”