In light of internal, market-driven or global factors such as product-fit, market shift or crisis, the degree of uncertainty about future economic outcomes means today’s organizations need to be more adaptive than ever before. What’s more, they need to build an intrinsic ability to change and to be able to do so repeatedly in a rapid, agile manner.
To stay in sync, the major elements of these changes need to be clearly communicated in the organization’s messaging and value proposition for its customers. In certain cases, whether product or market-driven, this may even necessitate a rebranding.
To find out more about the latest techniques and approaches to rebranding, we caught up with Cuneyt Buyukbezci, Chief Marketing Officer, Appnomic, pioneers in self-healing solutions and autonomous IT operation. Cuneyt brings two decades of experience as an enterprise software and SaaS executive.
Prior to joining Appnomic, Cuneyt held marketing, product strategy, and sales leadership roles at Hortonworks, HP Software, Sun Microsystems, and CA Technologies. He is active in the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, advising early and growth-stage startups to overcome product strategy, and growth barriers. Cuneyt holds an MBA in strategy and marketing, MSc. in computational fluid dynamics and BSc. in mechanical engineering.
Thinkers360: Firstly, why rebrand? When should a brand consider rebranding and for what reasons?
CB: Before answering the question, I want to define the brand and what a brand represents.
A brand is the combination of name, symbol, design, slogan that identifies the company, product, or service. A brand represents the values and messages that it is expected to convey. A brand should represent the value of a company or a product in a distinguishable way to make a memorable impression on the stakeholders (whether it is consumer, client, community, or business customer). The brand should also define what the stakeholders should expect from the company or offer.
A brand should be an accurate representation of the business or offering and define how a company or product should be perceived. When this accurate representation is altered, it’s time to consider a re-brand. Some events may disconnect the brand from the values when re-branding is necessary. Such activities are mergers, acquisitions, change in product and service offerings, a shift in the stakeholder’s expectations; an entity is associated with actions that are not perceived well by the stakeholders.
A brand should be an accurate representation of the business or offering and define how a company or product should be perceived. When this accurate representation is altered, it’s time to consider a re-brand.
In the case of business, a merger, acquisition, or divestiture may trigger a need for re-branding. If the value or message of the resulting entity to its stakeholders is mostly different from the previous state, then re-branding is necessary. Another driver for company re-branding is when brand and reputation are slandered if the business is associated with misconduct, failures in delivering service or offering, activities that are harmful to people and the environment. Product innovation or new service offerings often lead to re-branding if such innovations alter the business value perception. Another reason for re-branding is when stakeholders value “perception”. Social values change over time, and this changes the way buyers perceive value.
Thinkers360: When we think of rebranding, we often think of B2C companies investing millions in a new name or logo, so how is this different for B2B?
CB: B2C companies are transactional with high sales volumes and more extensive product portfolios. The proposition is often about benefits and basic needs. Sales cycles are short, and brand relationships are direct with a consumer who tends to also be a buyer. B2B relations are with other organizations, and sales cycles tend to be longer. In B2B, there is more than one person involved in buying activity. Purchase is not need-based but based on many factors. The brand stickiness is warranted by performance rather than fulfilling a basic feature-based need.
These differences affect the re-branding requirements and budgets. However, there are changing trends in some B2B sectors because of digital transformation and the Internet. Internet, marketplaces, and applications changed the way buyers became informed and transacted; therefore, B2B buying became more like the B2C experience. This shift in the B2B buying process is a critical driver for B2B companies to consider re-branding.
Thinkers360: When should an organization think of a rebrand when compared to a pivot or a shift in strategy?
CB: Re-branding, or at least consideration of such, should be an integral part of a pivot or strategic shift process. Any pivot or strategy change may reconfigure the value proposition, target market, and offering fit. The brand has to reflect the new offering and value proposition.
Thinkers360: What do you see as the fundamental difference between rebranding and pivots?
CB: Brand, Target Markets, Route to Market (Channel), and Product are the four primary anchor points to design the right pivot. At any given point, the brand has to stay in alignment with Target Markets and Product. For example, if a company picked the product as the pivot point, then brand, must align very quickly behind the new value proposition of the product. In the case of the target market pivot, the brand has to align with the value perception and positioning inside that new market.
Thinkers360: Once an organization decides to rebrand, what leaders should be involved and what are the key activities and deliverables?
CB: Branding is a marketing-led effort, but it is a cross-functional exercise where marketing owns the execution and process. At some point, product, finance, legal, sales functions, and the leadership of these functions are all involved in this process. Since the brand has to align with product and target markets tightly, the brand exercise should follow the company or product strategy, value definition, and target market identification.
The first stage is when marketing ensures that the value proposition and differentiation are agreed upon by all the key stakeholders. The competitive analysis is an essential activity in this stage to uncover what competing brands stand for and the value propositions of each. The personas or target definition is also a critical step in the first stage. In B2B, this part is more complicated since there are multiple personas involved in the buying process as a decision-maker, buyer, influencer. The output of this stage is the brand promise and positioning.
In the second stage, some brand options are created. Each option is a different representation of the brand. Each representation is a combination of brand voice, personality, message, tagline, and logo.
The third stage is the decision, and this is where the executive team picks the option from the options that are provided. At this stage, marketing also provides a preferred order of choice. There might be varying methods and inclusion at this stage, depending on the company’s preferred method of decision making.
Thinkers360: Tell us about the Appnomic rebranding. What were the key outcomes you were aiming for and how did you measure success?
CB: Our product evolved and gained some differentiated capabilities, which were setting us apart from the competition. Our positioning and brand, however, was not reflecting the differentiation. Our brand was not memorable and differentiable in a crowded marketplace. This realization drove us first to revise our positioning to reflect the differentiated value proposition better. Once we arrived at an appropriate proposition, the next step was re-branding to reflect the value proposition. Our crucial success measure is marketing traction in terms of leads and sales traction in terms of pipeline. We saw a significant increase in conversion at the top of the funnel and also traction in terms of PR coverage.
Thinkers360: In any marketing exercise, there’s usually a ton of ideas and opinions. How did you reach consensus as a management team?
CB: There were two milestones in the re-branding process where our executive team’s consensus was necessary.
The first one was the value proposition and differentiation. Most companies may think this is in place until a lack of consensus manifests itself into disconnects in significant initiatives such as re-branding. In our case, the executive team was in agreement that we had to revise the value proposition, so marketing did a positioning project first. Aligning the executive team around value proposition took multiple iterations of revision, test, and review. For testing the value proposition, we relied on the advisory board and customer feedback. This feedback represented the “market opinion” and carried a heavy weight over any other opinion. As the executive team, we all respected the market opinion, in essence, drove this and consensus.
The second consensus point was the decision about what re-brand option we would pick. Getting through the first alignment point was halfway through securing consensus on re-branding since the value proposition was foundational for the brand. Marketing brought five brand options, where we requested two choices from the advisory board and executive team. Eventually, the option we picked was the one which 80% of the team members had on their list.
Thinkers360: What were some of the key learnings from the rebranding?
CB: My key learning is that the process, culture and inclusion are critical.
Define process upfront. Who is involved? What decisions are needed? Who needs to decide? How much freedom in building options? Roles and responsibilities in re-branding. Marketing should be leading the effort and has to be empowered so that there is no limits or bounds around ideation and creativity. This does not mean that marketing works in isolation, but just the opposite, marketing should include key stakeholders while being not limited by preconceived ideas or opinions of these stakeholders. Legal is critical and should be part of the process upfront to eliminate trademark and copyright infringement risks. The development process is iterative where testing is a very important step; therefore, allocating sufficient time for such iterations is important.
Agency does matter and creative capacity and engagement makes a big difference. Do not treat agencies as a vendor, but consider them as part of the company. One last point is about the communication aspect; it is OK to use emotion in branding because this is an unexplored territory in B2B, particularly for high-tech.
Thinkers360: What advice do you have for other organizations considering a rebrand?
CB: I believe four principles are key for success in re-branding and my advice for organizations would be to not compromise on these:
- Have a mechanism to continuously evaluate brand alignment to product and market
- Have executive and cross-functional commitment to the process
- Make re-branding a critical element of strategy exercises and pivot
- Find a way to measure good vs bad or effective vs ineffective
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