We all know combinations that go well together: peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, pizza and beer...
For our team at Overture Networks, the challenge was to create another great combination when our company merged with long-time complementary competitor Hatteras Networks. Though each company was a market leader in its respective segment of the telecommunications equipment market, the merger brought about changes in scale.
Operating under the name Overture, the combined company now had an expanded product portfolio, an extended sales footprint, and an even more capable technology team, all of which translated to a company better positioned for continued growth.
Nonetheless, the merger presented challenges. To maintain a top spot with our customers, industry analysts, and key stakeholders, the company had to quickly unite around a set of shared values.
To help avert an identity crisis, Overture initiated a rebranding exercise to align individual employees and teams and to develop a shared culture. Working through a six-month branding effort, we learned seven key lessons we deemed worth sharing, in the hope they can help others who might face similar challenges.
1. Executive buy-in is critical
Our newly merged executive team, like the rest of us, needed to quickly get on the same page. They recognized that our rebranding project had the power to help grow the business and change buying behavior. And, if done correctly, it would unify everything from our messages to our product road map to our logo and even our teams. Their support validated the project and our process.
With the CEO's support, every executive leader, a member of our board of directors, and other company leaders became involved. Vested in the project's success and expecting measurable results, they all cleared their calendars to participate.
2. Set internal and external goals
The merger brought together two companies with complementary products, but different operating cultures. Though every detail of our business would ultimately go through our "new brand" filter, we had to first identify what we really wanted to achieve with this exercise. Our leadership team needed to first set some baseline expectations. But, we also realized that working in a vacuum would only get us so far. We needed to test our assumptions and refine goals with real-world research.
By marrying the objectives of our rebranding work with the company's strategic business and growth goals, we helped ensure that everything we did drove business value and focused on growing the bottom line. We learned to be realistic with our timing, knowing that ships don't turn on a dime, and gave ourselves time to define and then "live" our new brand.
3. Research can inform and guide
There's tremendous power in asking questions—and in listening. Diving deep, we asked everyone—customers, analysts, internal stakeholders—what they thought we did, how we did it, how we could do it better (or different or easier or with more impact), what they wish we did, how they prefer to work with... you get the idea. After we created a safe forum to receive candid, useful responses, the input poured in.
In any such exercise, you must be prepared to get quality feedback; you must listen carefully, evaluate honestly, and decide what really matters.
We uncovered common themes that, surprisingly, stood out with each group. That information intersection helped refine and affirm shared values. It also identified three specific attributes on which we ultimately built "the New Overture" brand.
4. Collaboration (and outside experts) can bring you together
Involving a broad cross-section of the leadership team, especially in the case of a newly merged business, is critical. An experienced branding partner can help you quickly gain and sustain momentum. By leading the process, but also being one step removed from the day-to-day, such brand experts can engage everyone in ongoing collaborative exercises.
A valued and trusted partner will use your research, extract ideas from the entire team, and empower key leadership to make quality decisions. And just because you've expanded the circle of collaboration doesn't mean you make decisions by committee. With everyone invested (and involved) in the process, our leadership made decisions that the other collaborators readily accepted.
Our branding partner combined in-person with virtual sessions to gather free-form responses on topics and concepts that ultimately resulted in refined language, color choices, our new logo, and our own stories—all of which still serve as building blocks for Overture's brand. This collaborative process proved that input from all voices has merit.
At the company, this process and its results are a point of pride.
5. Establish a foundation, then build on it
Wanting to start sprinting as soon as the finish line is in sight is natural. However, you must maintain your reserve and not forget all of the hard work that got you here.
Before beginning any creative exercise—from your new logo to a datasheet—your team needs to have agreed on all the elements that define you as a company. Armed with those foundational brand elements, you can effectively build out the language, design elements, stories, and guidelines that allow your brand to grow in the direction you desire.
Once our leadership team identified—and our research confirmed—"who we are," then we could focus on how we look, sound, and act. Our branding partner, again, played an important role leading us through collaborative, creative exercises that shaped our key language, a new logo, a brand video and book, and a new website. The "New Overture's" values and brand attributes literally came to life in those creative pieces.
6. Convert collaborators to evangelists
Keep your collaborators on the "brand payroll" as you roll out the newly rebranded company. Executives and other leaders have a unique role in sharing your brand story with customers, analysts, employees, and key stakeholders. Ideally, they will transition from collaborators to evangelists. Also, to support such evangelists, it's important to demonstrate the new brand in a public and highly visible way: Consider a dramatic makeover of your facilities—or vehicles.
A carefully orchestrated launch plan enabled Overture to recruit the collaboration team for the work of introducing the new branding. Executives sent letters to customers and personally called key accounts. They were instrumental in explaining our brand position and reassuring customers that changes were positive—and made with them in mind. Other leaders hosted internal information meetings, complete with a video that told our brand story. And, of course, there were new promotional items—swag: We rallied our troops (the new T-shirts, coffee mugs, and cool stickers helped) and successfully flooded the market. The "New Overture" got noticed.
7. Keep walking the walk: You have to live the brand
Once the launch party fades, the hard work begins. Hopefully, by now, your entire company agrees that your brand consists of everything that has anything to do with your company, and that your brand goes everywhere. Your stated values must become reality. Anyone who interacts with your people or your products, receives an invoice, or sees your logo—really anyone in any circumstance—expects an experience that aligns with your brand attributes. That's not to say you shouldn't test, test and retest to see what's working. Constant learning helps your make slight course corrections as you build out your messages, stories, website, image library, and other business resources.
Rebranding isn't a one and done project. We're constantly building on our key attributes and testing new language. Overture has embraced and internalized the brand, and we are developing new proof points that support our key attributes. For example, we hang our hat on being a reliable partner and building reliable equipment; since Overture launched its new brand, therefore, we've improved the overall quality of our products, with field failure rates dropping down to industry-leading levels. And this year's strategic plan embraces another key attribute—identifying ways to make it even easier for customers to do business with us.
We are preparing to survey both our customers and industry analysts for the first time since we unveiled our new brand. Their responses will be the true test of how well we did and how well we are doing.
Internal response is still positive, and we consider that a major win. From our executive team to our development engineers, our people have adopted our three core attributes. Collectively, we're representing shared values around how Overture sounds, looks, and acts, and we're building a stronger, more successful company together.
Identity and culture crisis averted. We hope our lessons learned can help you do the same.
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