Getting support from your own employees is critical when you’re trying to rebrand your company in the marketplace. All team members need to understand the strategy and embrace the company’s new identity.
Two years ago, Elisa Steele, SVP, Corporate Marketing, NetApp, began a research project to help develop new marketing strategies for the company previously known as Network Appliance. As the results came in, Steele realized they faced marketing hurdles that new campaigns alone wouldn’t solve.
The data management company was still considered a niche player in its market. And, its overall brand awareness was relatively low, despite being highly regarded and respected by technical users.
“We were allowing our competitors to create the perception of who we were, rather than taking the lead,” says Steele. “We really needed to have leadership around branding and leadership around what our company is, so we could take action ourselves.”
At the same time, the marketing team knew that creating awareness of a new brand needed to involve the company’s own employees. They had to understand the business reasons for the rebranding so they could embrace the new image and join the marketing department in consistently delivering the company’s rebranded message.
Steele and the marketing team embarked on a wide-ranging 18-month external and internal rebranding process.
The overall plan included:
o Live and virtual meetings with the company’s worldwide offices
o Outreach to influential corporate members to help spread the word
o Online resources to help speed adoption of new brand elements
o Surveys following key events to track acceptance of the rebranding
External rebranding strategy included the following specific elements:
o New corporate name - NetApp, rather than Network Appliance
o New corporate logo - stylized blue “n” that resembles an arch
o New tagline - “Go Further, Faster”
o New website design
o New advertising strategy involving a global search marketing campaign and a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal
Here are the six major internal communication steps they took:
-> Step #1. Use teleconferences to reach managers
The first phase of the strategy was to use teleconferences to reach out to frontline managers and ranking VPs, because they are the top sources of information for most employees. Getting them involved early in the process was critical.
“We absolutely knew that to have our employees believe in the process, their own frontline managers had to be informed and briefed to be brand champions,” says Eric Brown, Senior Director, Corporate Relations.
Two worldwide leadership teleconferences were held for approximately 200 of the company’s top leaders -- typically at the VP level or higher. The interactive sessions featured an online slide presentation and a live conference-call line to take questions from participants.
Invitations were sent from the CEO’s email address. “When you see his name in your inbox, it tends to be the first email you read in the morning,” Brown says.
The presentation was divided into two sessions:
Session #1. The first part outlined the market research that inspired the new branding strategy. Among the points: data on market share and awareness; nature of the different audiences (technical vs. strategic) that the company needed to reach; and how awareness levels affect the company’s growth goals.
“We presented the issue as a business strategy to make it compelling to the company’s leaders,” says Francesca Karpel, Senior Manager, Internal Communications.
Session #2. The second part outlined key elements of the branding strategy, including: brand drivers and milestones for the brand launch, outlined in the same manner as a new product development project.
Each leadership teleconference was delivered twice: in the morning for eastern US and European offices and in the afternoon for western US and Asia-Pacific offices.
The team encouraged dialogue and questions by limiting the formal presentation to 20 minutes and 10 slides. The remainder of the hour-long session fielded questions from company managers either by phone, email or instant message. Moderators read the questions aloud.
They also handed out educational collateral that managers could use as an aid in their discussion with the team about the rebranding. Elements included: answered FAQs regarding the project; slide decks detailing the market research and brand analysis; and staff meeting guides outlining techniques that managers could use to discuss the project with their teams.
-> Step #2. Create brand ambassadors
The team also enlisted a group of influential employees from all divisions, geographic regions and job levels to be brand ambassadors. Their jobs: to communicate the business strategy and milestones to their peers.
Certain managers, VPs and non-managers, who typically play important roles in corporate communications, assumed the roles of ambassadors. They exemplified such diverse personality traits as positive, enthusiastic supporters of company initiatives and skeptics who are difficult to win over for new initiatives.
“When people are skeptical or are naysayers, they can be one of your most valuable internal resources,” Karpel says. “They’re going to tell you early on if there are any holes or any inconsistencies in your plan and point out vulnerabilities before you present the plan to a larger internal or external audience.”
Brand ambassadors also came from all of the company’s international offices and from every job level.
The team solicited feedback in several ways:
o Attendance at brand rollout and strategy meetings
o Internal peer network (members of the marketing and human resources teams)
o Comments on presentations
o Informal one-on-one meetings, such as private lunches
-> Step #3. Produce road show for sales staff and engineers
One month before the launch of the new brand, the team took off on a three-week “road show” for the sales staff, engineers and other employees at 18 offices around the world.
The meetings featured a 45-minute presentation from company leaders. It involved:
- Market research that inspired the rebranding initiative.
- Data, such as awareness levels, localized according to each country.
- Discussion of the business consequences of those statistics.
- High-level discussion of the rebranding strategy, outlining the drivers they had identified through research. (Specific brand elements, such as the new logo, tagline and other marketing creative, were not discussed; they were saved for an internal rollout closer to the launch.)
- Introduction of what they had identified as the company’s two primary brand platforms -- their unique products and technology and their unique corporate culture exemplified by Fortune magazine’s repeated inclusion of the company in its listing of top 50 companies to work for.
A 45-minute Q&A period followed each presentation for employees to ask questions or critique the branding strategy. For countries where English was not the first language, the team accepted written questions translated by a moderator.
For the London meeting, the local team also streamed the meeting over the Web to include sales staff in other locations, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.
-> Step #4. Reveal new brand creative at annual meeting
The company’s annual senior leadership meeting took place one month before the public launch of the new brand.
Steele and the marketing team used the event to unveil the final details and visual assets of the brand, including:
o New logo
o New tagline
o Previews of a new advertising campaign
o New website
-> Step #5. Company “all-hands” meeting for internal brand launch
In March, just before the public brand launch, the team hosted a special internal “all-hands” company meeting to launch the new brand. While the meeting was held at company headquarters, it was also streamed live on the Web so employees from international offices were included, too.
The meeting featured the CEO, two of the three company founders, the CFO and other company leaders. It was the team’s last chance to reiterate the business reasons behind the rebranding. The new visual elements and tagline and the marketing and advertising strategy to promote the new brand were explained.
Employees could ask questions using microphones in the meeting room, email and instant message. Eight hours after the end of the live meeting, the team made an online recording available for employees who had missed it.
->Step #6. Create internal brand site
To continue the brand education process after launch, the team created an internal brand site and online community. The site featured interactive forums and downloadable tools to assist employees in their use of new brand elements.
The brand website included:
o FAQs about the brand strategy
o Message board to ask questions about the project
o Archived videos of the road show meeting in London and the “all-hands” launch meeting
o Brand training and guidelines for editorial and artistic use of the new brand elements
o Downloadable brand assets, such as logos, for use in marketing collateral
o Wallpaper featuring new brand imagery employees could download to their computers
o PowerPoint templates reflecting the new brand imagery
o New email signature
“This is what we gave employees to really prepare them to use the brand in their day-to-day work,” says Karpel.
Because of marketing team’s hard work, the entire company was prepared to back the new brand’s public launch. “The success of the effort, in terms of internal acceptance and brand rollout, was beyond my expectations,” says Steele. “Our CEO called it a zero-defect launch.”
Throughout the process, Steele and her team used a number of techniques to gauge the reach and effectiveness of their internal communication strategy. First, they tracked attendance at major in-person and virtual events.
For the road show events at 18 international cities:
o 13% of the company’s total worldwide staff attended a meeting
o 78% of the company’s Asia-Pacific employees attended a meeting
o 61% of the company’s Europe and Middle East employees attended a meeting
o 28% of the company’s East Coast engineering site employees attended a meeting
For the special “all-hands” meeting:
o More than 3,940 employees attended
o 683 employees attended the live event
o 106 employees listened to the conference call
o 1,151 watched the streaming webcast
o 1,657 watched the archived webcast
Second, the team used surveys after major events to assess the level of acceptance and understanding of the branding strategy. The initial survey, conducted after the worldwide leadership teleconferences, revealed that nearly 70% said they agreed/strongly agreed with the sentence that stated that they understood the NetApp brand voice.
A subsequent survey, fielded after the all-hands meeting, revealed that more than 90% said they agreed/strongly agreed with the sentence that stated that they understood the NetApp brand voice. “We saw an ongoing increase of understanding of the brand voice,” Karpel says.
The team also surveyed salespeople who attended road show meetings. One question asked them whether they would use the new brand guidelines in their job. More than 60% said they would use the new guidelines within one day, and
approximately 30% said they would use the new brand guidelines within a week.
The survey also asked salespeople if they thought the new brand would have an impact on NetApp’s sales potential. 75% said yes, and 25% said they were unsure. “Almost none said ‘no,’ ” says Steele.
Third, the team tracked activity on the internal brand website to determine whether employees were using the tools and resources available to them.
Here is what they learned:
o Within one week, approximately 50% of employees visited the new brand site
o Visitors spent an average of 10 minutes on the site
o Five weeks after the public brand rollout, the site averaged 1,000 unique visitors a week
o More than 500 employees registered to participate in the online brand community
o Site logged more than 2,700 brand wallpaper downloads
o Site logged more than 6,000 downloads of the new PowerPoint template
o 1 in 7 employees downloaded marketing assets, such as the new logo
“What we can see is that our employees have embraced brand and are using the assets we gave them, so we know we will have greater consistency in they way they are presenting themselves to the public very quickly,” says Karpel.
The success of the internal communication strategy was only part of the company’s larger goal – to increase NetApp’s brand recognition and sales potential. That’s the goal the team is still tracking.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from NetApp's rebranding campaign:
Past Sherpa articles on rebranding -
How to Effectively Rebrand - Before & After Looks at 5 Award-Winning Rebranding Efforts:
How Pitney Bowes Targeted C-Level Execs in its Successful Rebranding Campaign:
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