The decision to overhaul a company's brand is not without risk, but many WA businesses are reaping the rewards. Russell Quinn & Blake Wilshaw report.
The boss of arguably the world’s most valuable brand, Coca-Cola, reckons the company’s ubiquitous moniker is now the second-most universally recognised term on the planet.
“Only the term ‘okay’ is recognised by more people around the world,” the Coca-Cola Company chairman and chief executive Muhtar Kent told a Tel Aviv conference last year.
The popular brand name is but one of many powerful cogs in the beverage-maker’s enormous branding machine.
Yet despite the inherent strength of his company’s brand, Mr Kent warned that in today’s interwoven global economy and social networks any brand, even one with 123 years of credibility, can be discredited and even destroyed in a matter of 123 seconds.
That perceived vulnerability regularly leads brands (belonging to products, people or organisations) to be updated, refreshed, reinvigorated or revitalised – more to the point, they often undergo some form of rebranding to ensure their survival or assert their dominance over the competition.
So what motivates a successful organisation that has a well-respected brand to potentially alter their perception in the marketplace and risk permanent damage to their brand image from a poorly executed or misdirected rebranding campaign?
An array of responses were analysed as part of WA Business News’ wide-ranging annual survey of Western Australia’s branding doyens, as well as some of Australia’s major companies, in regards to the risks and rewards associated with organisational rebranding as well as discussing brands in general.
Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese was excited to see the miner’s new “joined-up” brand come to life in late 2008, consolidating the group’s diverse operating divisions under one banner following a strategic review recommending the company unite around one strong core brand name.
London-based brand specialist Interbrand helped update Rio’s visual identity before corporate “engagement workshops” were orchestrated worldwide, including Perth, to train the company’s own “brand guardians” who were enlisted to implement and guide the rebranding process.
Western Australia’s branding aficionados suggest such brand-guiding measures are vital to any corporate rebranding campaign, as they require consistent and controlled implementation across the entire organisation from the top down.
“It was time to revitalise the brand in a way that would reflect this modern, national company without losing the equity created by the company’s long history,” managing director Brendan Gore said.
The company expanded from its WA base into Victoria and Queensland and listed in 2004.
“The next strategic step was brand revitalisation,” Mr Gore said.
Four years on, the rebranding had been an “outstanding success”.
“Brand awareness from investors, other key stakeholders and the wider community across the country has increased considerably since that time,” he said.
Another company to consolidate under one master brand was global education provider Navitas (formerly IBT Education, and Institute of Business and Technology before that) after conducting a complete rebranding process in November 2007 to reflect a new scope and strategy for the firm, and to foster a corporate culture under a single brand.
One challenge was bringing staff on board to identify with a new master brand, where before they had an affinity with the subsidiary at which they worked.
“Branding is not just about the visual concept, it’s about everything that stands behind it.
Mr Cullen said recent market surveys indicated positive results in terms of brand awareness and accessibility albeit in a relative short time.
This point is particularly relevant considering Perth’s communications professionals believe branding and rebranding campaigns often require years to come to fruition.
In March last year engineering outfit and property developer Georgiou conducted a rebranding campaign after changing its logo and corporate identity to a more precise geometric shape as compared to the previous Georgiou Group.
Georgiou said in developing the new look the company wanted to convey a modern, confident and dynamic company that continues to move forward and advance its capabilities.
“While our image is changing, Georgiou’s commitment to delivering economic value, outstanding outcomes and being ‘the best people to work with’ remains the same,” the company’s 2009 annual report stated.
Meanwhile local lender Bankwest has notably transformed itself and its logo a number of times, shifting from the historic R&I (Rural & Industries) Bank to the corporate blue BankWest in 1994.
Later it moved to an orange-themed incarnation, which has been followed by the current ‘bankwest’ logo in lower case letters, stemming from its acquisition by The Commonwealth Bank of Australia a few years ago.
Bankwest head of marketing Paul Vivian said the current irreverent branding strategy sought to position the bank as the best option in the market for those rejecting the big four banks.
“The brand has been through a period of rapid change in the last five or six years as we’ve tried modernising the brand and giving it some reach across on the east coast,” Mr Vivian said.
Although Mr Vivian understands why local advertising and branding industry leaders’ opinions have been polarised in reaction to the changes to the Bankwest brand in recent years.
“To some extent we’ve probably not taken the WA public with us,” he said.
“So we’ve tried to address that principally in last 12 months by investing heavily in Western Australia.”
Despite the recent ‘period of rapid change’ Mr Vivian has faith (following extensive market research) that the organisation’s current rebranding phase, installing orange in all the bank’s retail outlets across the state, will give the impression of being happy and optimistic and will help move away from corporate blue and large ‘W’ featured in its previous branding efforts.
“We’re doing a complete refresh of our network in WA,” he said.
“We’re constantly looking to refresh and improve our overall proposition but the ‘happy banking’ message we’ve been pushing for the last four years, that’s still core to our overall strategy.
“The internal (fit out) has already been done in some locations and from mid-August you’ll see a different refreshed network across Western Australia.”
And he assured WA Business News that there will be no further tweaking to the brand.
“The direction of the Bankwest brand now is maintaining that ‘happy banking’ route so we’re not looking to divert away from that,” he said.
“We went through a radical shift before 2007 to what we are doing now.
“And in brand terms, four years is a very short life, it’s going to take some time for people to get used to it.”
Mr Vivian agrees his bank’s adoption of lower case letters is part of a wider branding trend across all industries towards softening the image of larger corporations and making them more appealing for consumers.
The trend is not brand new, with BHP Billiton launching its current logo almost 10 years ago, described by some in the industry as the ‘three blobs’ which represent the letters of b,h and p, as opposed to the previous ‘BHP’ logo with square capital letters.
It’s along the same lines as ANZ Banking Group’s recently launched logo featuring three similarly shaped blobs, which seem to resemble an abstract-shaped human.
National Australia Bank has rebadged as ‘nab’ and Woolworths has lost its all-capital letter offering preferring instead to combine upper and lower case letters as well as adding a green symbol akin to a small apple.
Closer to home and Woodside rebranded itself about 18 months ago, losing its capital letters and replacing them with lower case as well as dramatically changing the logo.
“I think everyone is recognising the trend towards softening,” Mr Vivian said.
“Big and bold and powerful is all well and good but with lower case it seems less aggressive.”
Woodside Petroleum said it commissioned Insight Communication and Design for assistance with designing the new rounded logo.
“The new logo better acknowledges Woodside’s emergence as a global leader in liquefied natural gas,” a Woodside spokesperson said.
“The new logo conveys a clean, modern image, while continuing to acknowledge our past and recognise the foundation projects that will support Woodside’s future growth.”
Over the last nine years, WA Business News has surveyed and analysed the responses from WA’s leading communications professionals in regards to branding in WA.
From this there have been a number of strong local brands that have consistently rated among the most recognisable brands in WA, namely Bunnings, RAC, Wesfarmers, Lotterywest, iiNet, HBF and even Bankwest.
Apart from Bankwest and its extensive rebranding campaigns, the others in this list have done very little to amend their brand in recent years.
Mr Vivian emphasised that it boiled down to a company’s position in the marketplace. Bunnings, for example, being market leaders would be unlikely to rock the branding boat too much.
“Where Bankwest is, we want to change, we want to grow, therefore we want to challenge people’s perception of the brand,” Mr Vivian said.
“There is definitely something to be said for stability and certainty and Wesfarmers, and Bunnings for that matter, are recognised as stable and sound, but also innovative and progressive businesses,” a Wesfarmers spokesperson said.
“It’s that edge of innovation and progressive outlook which mitigates against the brands becoming tired or stale.”
There has also been a large number of smaller WA organisations that have rebranded in recent times, particularly in the last 12 months.
Marine services company Neptune (formerly Neptune Marine Services) said its recent rebranding was subtle but very powerful after branding assistance from The Right Group allowed the company’s various operating subsidiaries (accumulated after 11 acquisitions in three years) to trade under the one name.
Ausclad Group of Companies became AGC in March to signal its evolution from a privately held insulation company to a fabrication, manufacturing and construction service provider to the resources industry.
And just eight weeks ago, marketing communications firm Image 7 Group became imageseven.
Managing director Brad Entwistle said the rebranding came about to make clients aware of the changes that had occurred at the firm since its inauguration in 1990.
All this rebranding work of late and some prudent advice from WA’s advertising and communications professionals has helped develop some tips to ponder when considering a rebranding campaign.
The Brand Agency strategic planning director, Paul Yole said there were four key attributes that a strong brand must consider: it should be true to the organisation’s beliefs and culture; differentiating from its competition; motivating to its customers and staff; and sustainable over a long period.
Ad agency 303 head of planning Derry Simpson believed developing a concise brand strategy to guide the rebranding process, while ensuring benchmark research was in place to evaluate the rebranding work against, was important.
However perhaps the best advice comes from the man at the helm of that most-recognised beverage brand.
Mr Kent said the strength, the resolve and the sustainability of the Coca-Cola brand is directly related to the social license that the company has earned from billions of consumers around the world over all these years.
“It's an honor and a responsibility we don't take lightly and which we will never take for granted,” he said.