Companies need to sell steak with the sizzle when rebranding

If we are to believe William Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, however, a rose doesn’t have a trademark, nor does it have a client base or a large number of people on its payroll.

In this age of mergers and acquisitions, well-established companies with logos, products and customers are increasingly faced with the task of corporate rebranding. According to Jim Bliwas, president of Toronto-based The Group Orion Inc., changing business cards is the least of a company’s concerns.

“It’s a combination of selling the steak as well as the sizzle,” he said. “I have a client that is going through the rebranding exercise right now. They have an ad agency not only working on what face the rebrand will put out to the public, but on what will be rolled out internally.”

Communicating with staff is critical because they are the points of contact with the customer and will be the people who eventually sell the steak, Bliwas said.

Allison Seymour, director of marketing and communications at Qunara Inc. agreed that communication was the key to her company’s rebranding initiative.

Exocom Group Inc. officially rebranded itself early this year, after the Ottawa-based company was acquired by Winnipeg-based Qunara.

Because Exocom had operated successfully for 18 years and had a solid customer base, the rebranding process involved preserving the value of the Exocom name once it became Qunara.

“We didn’t want to lose the good will and the brand equity of Exocom by forcing a name change right away, so we managed the rebranding very carefully,” Seymour said. “From an employee perspective, we didn’t want to lose anyone because they’re the bread and butter of the company. We really thought about a lot of our rebranding efforts in terms of how they would be perceived from our employees. We wanted to provide encouragement so that people would see the rebranding as a way to be a part of a new and exciting company that would help enhance their careers.”

Part of this effort involved a bit of a personal touch by Qunara’s president and COO, Jeffrey Rohne, who visited each of Exocom’s five offices and met with employees individually. When the new brand was finally launched in February, Rohne personally gave every employee a gift pack filled with promotional items bearing the Qunara name.

“We treated it as a very important event,” Rohne said. “We presented our new brand to our employees with the same enthusiasm, creativity and excitement as we would if it were a group of customers, and it went quite well from an internal perspective.”

Eric Morgan, president and CEO of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Canada, found that their rebranding process was smooth for core clients and employees, but has caused some confusion in the general public. In a concerted effort to separate Ernst & Young’s accounting and consulting practices, Cap Gemini, a European giant, bought Ernst & Young’s consulting side in May 2000.

“For our people it was a non-event,” Morgan said. “Cap Gemini had very few people in Canada, so for our employees it simply meant a name change plus some stock. By and large it was extremely well received.”

Part of this success, Morgan said, was that a significant effort was put into explaining the upsides and downsides of the transaction.

“The work didn’t change, the bosses didn’t change, the relationships didn’t change – the skill sets that both firms brought to the table were complimentary, so it was not a difficult transition for us.”

The biggest challenge for the company has been a certain amount of confusion with the public who haven’t yet differentiated Cap Gemini Ernst & Young from Ernst & Young, despite the fact that they are now two completely separate entities.

“As part of the agreement, Cap Gemini can use the Ernst & Young name for up to five years. We combined the two names because Ernst & Young is a well known brand name in North America, while Cap Gemini is well known in Europe,” Morgan said. “But at some point we’re going to have to go through a whole new rebranding process.”

According to Rohne, the work doesn’t stop even once the official rebranding has been completed.

“Brand repositioning is a journey without an end,” he said. “One must continuously reintroduce support and re-emphasize what a brand means and what’s behind the brand. I don’t think we’ll ever be done, both internally and externally. You can’t just rest on your laurels.”