Back in 1999, UK-based Hanson Brick bought seven US
and Canadian brick manufacturers. Merged they formed North
America's largest brick company - selling 1.6 billion
bricks a year.
The only problem was, they were seven very different companies --
each with unique customers who were loyal to the particular
company and brand that had been around for up to 100 years.
These customers were building contractors, architects, tract
housing builders … the kind of businesses who trust established
suppliers far more than any new brand.
"Studies on major reorganizations in business show for virtually
every single one you see a temporary downturn in sales for at
least one-to-three years," says US Commercial President Simon
Bates wasn't sure Hanson could beat the odds, but everyone agreed
to give it their best shot.CAMPAIGN
Initial planning started in early 2002 and took more
than a year to complete. Too much was at stake to make sudden
moves. The integration committee included execs from every
aspect of Hanson's business.
-> Step one: Inventing a new brand
After surveying customers, surveying employees, reviewing the
seven brands closely, and brainstorming, the project team
distilled what they'd learned - and a new brand was born.
Because seven companies were spread across five different areas
of North America, the project team felt this keeping this
regional identity would help customers and employees weather the
change more easily. So, the companies were renamed Hanson
Brick, and their unique bricks were identified as a
- Canada Collection (mainly English-speaking Canada)
- St Laurent Collection(mainly French-speaking Canada)
- Carolina Collection (Southeastern US)
- Texas Collection
- Heartland Collection (rest of US)
Each collection received its own graphic logo featuring the image
of a leaf native to the region. For example, a sweet gum leaf
for the Carolinas. "The leaf was an example of trying to keep
the best things in the company heritage, keeping the integrity of
the good things."
The new branding launch date was April 2003. But there was still
a lot of marketing work to prepare the ground.
-> Step two: Marketing the brand to 2,000 employees internally
To keep morale high, the project team decided that the brand
change news would be kept top secret - not revealed to customers
or press - until every single employee had been thoroughly
From February-March 2003, President Richard Manning together with
his management team, went on a road show, traveling to 40+ plants
and sales offices to deliver an hour-long presentation to as many
employees as possible.
Long speeches can be pretty boring, so to maximize impact,
Manning included a new corporate video "Great Products - Great
People" featuring footage of employees from every division.
Plus, he made his speech short so there'd be more time to do Q&A
with the audience.
The marketing team observed which Q&As really seemed to involve
attendees' passions the most, and featured this content in the
next employee newsletter. "That went down extremely well."
Let's face it - your peers' questions are always more interesting
than formal letter from the president.
Plus, a 'Brand Ambassador' was appointed at each location and
armed with the video and information so he or she could give the
presentation to and answer questions from any staff who couldn't
make it to the road show meeting. Only a few staff couldn't make
it, but these appreciated the gesture.
-> Step three: Marketing the change to customers
Meanwhile, the marketing team was conducting a huge amount of
behind-the-scenes prep. Everything from letterheads to point of
sale materials had to be recreated. And this included merging
seven Web sites into a single, re-branded one.
The various companies had previously invested in consumer
advertising and untargeted sponsorships such as supporting local
symphonies. Now, Hanson decided to let the brick trade
association shoulder the burden of mass marketing, so Hanson's
marketing team could focus all energies on making current
business customers feel as comfortable with the change as
o To underscore Hanson's commitment to the region, the marketing
department commissioned a local artist in each area to paint a
beautiful picture of a local brick landmark. For example, in
Montreal it was the famous old fire station.
Hanson printed high-quality posters of the painting to give to
that region's key customers. (Top customers got pre-framed
copies, leading customers got regular copies, and all other
customers and prospects got art post-cards.)
The posters were very classy - there was no sales pitch, just a
simple Hanson regional logo and quiet slogan. They were
definitely something you would hang in an executive office or
home. (Link to samples below.)
o The new site included a cool "pick your brick" tool that
visitors could use to see what a typical house would look like
using different Hanson brick varieties in the collections.
However, the marketing team knew this wasn't enough. "You always
find they want to go look at a house already built with that
brick. They really want to see the brick and touch it."
So, the marketing department coordinated with distributors and
regional IT departments to create a vast database of buildings
across North America using any Hanson-sold brick. The goal was
for any visitor to find a structure within 20-miles of their
This demonstrated "we are already an established company in your
region" better than any new branding slogan could.
o On March 28th Hanson announced the changes to the press at the
annual Brick Show in Orlando - however, every single key customer
had been informed of the change personally by their account rep
at least a week before. The key goal was that no customer would
be shocked or surprised by the public announcement.
o The Company immediately followed up the official announcement
with a series of regional events for key customers. Again, to
show a commitment to and understanding of each region's
uniqueness, these were not cookie-cutter events.
Instead Texas customers were treated to a BBQ at a dude ranch,
Carolinas clients had a "NASCAR Driving Experience." At a
gourmet dinner in Quebec, customers were entertained by a popular
Quebecois comedian. In Kentucky, everyone enjoyed a day at the
races. And, in Ontario, guests dined at a local art gallery
together with hockey star Darryl Sittler.
Aside from great food and entertainment, each event also featured
a president's speech and a new corporate video.
o Key customers who couldn't make the event, and those whose
accounts were smaller, each received a personal visit from their
account rep who also presented the new corporate video.
o After reviewing all the PR conducted in the past, Hanson chose
the firm that historically had gotten the best results. Then
that firm swung into action, convincing both mainstream and trade journalists to cover the Company.
Due to the carefully orchestrated campaign, Hanson
Brick is projected to make better sales in 2003 than it did as
seven separately branded companies in 2002.
Bates says, "Our sales volumes are higher this year than the
previous year, despite the huge traumatic upheaval. Our profit
is also up this year."
His advice for other marketers leading a rebranding effort,
"Plan, plan, plan and communicate times three."
Useful links related to this story:
Art from two of the posters Hanson created for regional
marketplaces -- Texas and Canada
PR firm chosen to handle Hanson's new combined account
Hanson Brick's new North America site