Thinking of rebranding? Here's how to succeed
Good rebranding starts with employees but it's a start, not a finish
- By Todd Stottlemyer
- Oct 03, 2012
Just over a year ago, we formally announced the re-branding of our company from “ITSolutions” to “Acentia.” I know what you are thinking: With a name like ITSolutions, what took so long?
Shifting to Acentia (which comes from the root words ascend and essential) was not intended simply to be a fluffy branding exercise to conjure up a clever new name. Rather, it was a very deliberate outcome from an extensive organizational change management process. Our goal was to unify an organization thatt had been built from nine separate companies over the course of 10 years around a single brand that sought to embody our vision, core values and strategic objectives.
Mergers, acquisitions and spinoffs have always been a part of the federal IT community. One could argue moreso lately as government customers undergo dramatic budget and priority shifts. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen Unicom Global purchase GTSI, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. spin off its subsidiary Engility Holdings Inc., and IPWireless, purchased by General Dynamics Corp., re-branded as General Dynamics Broadband.
Preparing for, executing and delivering on a strategic re-branding and “change in mission” focus presents a heady challenge for federal IT companies. Based on Acentia’s experience, there are several key strategies and factors to consider to ensure a re-branding initiative delivers the desired results.
Gain internal buy-in first
Federal IT companies are rightly concerned about how customers and the market will perceive a planned shift in name, mission and focus, and how these changes will affect relationships. External communications certainly has its place in a re-brand, but the first critical step is to ensure full internal buy-in from your employees. After all, they are your No. 1 brand ambassadors.
Externally focused advertising and marketing campaigns designed to promote a re-brand lose their impact if employees don’t unify around the brand and understand what it means to embody it.
What must be communicated internally is that a re-brand isn’t just about a name change.
For Acentia, the process started months in advance with a management offsite where the executive team developed “five bold steps” to unify the company and a go-to-market strategy aligned with the new mission and vision. This was followed by opening a two-way communications channel with employees to receive feedback on strategies that would resonate with customers.
Use name re-brand as accelerator
Even in our acronym-filled industry, federal IT companies still spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and significant resources to rename their firms — sometimes even in the end selecting another acronym. An organization’s brand is important, but a new name should not drive the change management process. Instead, a new brand name should accelerate, not define, organizational change efforts and set an aspirational theme that employees and senior management can rally around.
For Acentia, an accelerator was important because we had made a pair of large acquisitions in the months prior to the re-brand. With these transactions came new employees and teams with their own cultures and ways of doing business. By unifying the brand around Acentia, we could accelerate the internal change management process and drive all employees in the direction of a single vision.
Leverage process to gain customer insight
Companies have an understandable fear when it comes to communicating change to customers. Customers place a premium on stability. They get used to people, processes and a particular way of doing business.
That's why companies often limit communication on a re-brand until the last possible moment, and then play it off as less significant than it really is. The re-brand can be an opportunity to have an open dialogue with customers and gain valuable insights on how they are being served and if challenges are being met. The desired outcome of our approach was to reinforce the depth and breadth of our capabilities and our commitment to building on them.
View re-brand launch as a mile marker, not a finish line
Companies are tempted to view the re-brand as a “one-time refresh” launch event when, in fact, the brand is a growing asset that requires constant care and feeding so that it gets stronger. Caring for and feeding the brand can benefit from internal efforts directed at employees to reinforce the new mission and values, such as the design of employee recognition programs specific to company goals.
The vision, mission statement, high-level strategic objectives and set of core values that were an outcome of Acentia’s re-brand process proved to be a valuable template to use for future initiatives. In fact, those core elements were effectively repurposed for an acquisition Acentia made in April of this year, allowing for a more seamless integration of new employees and a ready-made plan for communicating our mission, vision and values to them.
Re-branding is often thought of as a project with a firm begin and end date, but from our perspective, it is the product of a more substantive process designed to enable employees, executives, customers, partners and other stakeholders to understand and support changes made within an organization.
Todd Stottlemyer is the CEO of Acentia, a government IT services provider.