Transferring a service brand - Strategic Brand Management

Services need to be analysed separately. On the one hand, unlike product brands, service brands have nothing to show: they are intangible. Their name is the proof of their existence. Brand awareness and saliency is of vital importance. On the other hand, their nature can make brand transfers easier, because they are often tied to a place (the specific geographical location of service delivery, of ‘servuction’).

In addition, the driver of loyalty is the direct relation with the salesperson, agent or staff. This is not too say that the brand is of no importance: when BP and Shell took over two German networks of petrol distribution, much care was taken in handling the situation. Not recognising the name and visual identity of the gas station they have historically, if not ritually, used acts as a deterrent for many German consumers.

However, global brands are created by replacing local leaders by global names. This is how Axa built its global worldwide brand recognition, acquiring local leaders and instantaneously moving them to Axa, as a way of immediately indicating internally what the strategy was, namely to become the local arm of the first worldwide insurance brand.

In the service business, hesitations and dual brandings may create some internal doubts about the future strategy, and lead people to defend their former identity instead of thinking of the new future. As a result, the internal phase comes first and foremost in service brand transfers.

A lot of discussion groups must be created, for the sake of communication and release of tensions, whereby all parts of the company that has been taken over can express how they see the future and concretely build the pathways to become the quality arm of the new global brand. Two recent cases are interesting in that respect, Accenture and Orange.

The Accenture case

On 7 August 2000 the International Arbitrage Court, in the case between Andersen Consulting (AC) and Arthur Andersen and Andersen Worldwide, ruled that among others things, AC would not be allowed to use its existing name after 1 January 2001. It had less than 145 days to transfer its intellectual, technological and reputational capital to a new brand.

The first step in this process consisted of an internal wide-scale and in-depth interrogation on what was expected from the new brand:

  • What new values should it foster?
  • It should attract what types of new consultants?
  • How could it contribute to the development of business?
  • How could it reinforce differentiation?
  • What changes could be suggested?

The process of name choice was also internally managed by means of a ‘brandstorming’ process. All employees were asked to participate. On 1 September 2000 various names were proposed by Landor, a globally known design agency. On 21 September, 2,677 proposals were made internally, for such names as Future Creation Group, Global Already, Deep Thought, Mind Rocket and Global Curves.

On 5 October, 68 names were screened for legal registrability, international semantic connotations, availability of the domain name and so on. On 12 October, 29 finalists were submitted to a vote at the firm’s Miami Congress, and 10 of these were discussed by a brand steering committee on 23 October.

Finally, on 25 October, Accenture was selected. This name had been proposed by the Norwegian senior manager, to convey putting the accent on the future. To help fulfil the mission (reinventing the business to win in the new economic context), the key words linked to this brand would be agile, visionary, well connected and passionate.

As a rule, communicating a new brand aims at creating an immediate boost of unaided awareness and suggesting the new values of the brand. To regain its status within the very closed club of the big five accountancy/ consulting firms, a blitz communication strategy was chosen in this case. US $175 million was budgeted to reach these two objectives worldwide, and the goal was to reach 30 per cent awareness in three months.

Here again, the emphasis of service brands is on employees. For the sake of an efficient brand alignment, 50 work groups were created to manage the name change in 137 countries. This involved creating a new internet site, internal communication kits, communication with 20,000 managers in client companies, communication with thousands of potential candidates, and of course communication for introducing the name on stock exchanges. As the global campaign put it, the company was renamed, redefined, reborn.

Moving to Orange

On 30 May 2000 the UK’s third largest mobile phone operator, Orange, was acquired by FT, the incumbent national French operator. As with all former monopolies, FT needed a commercial brand to carry its offer and eventually extend it to other services internationally. British Gas had created a precedent with the creation of a commercial brand to offer services to households, including its traditional utilities but also insurance and financial services. The goal of FT was to make Orange the second largest operator in Europe, after Vodafone. In 2005, the objective was to be present in 50 countries.

In each country, the strategy was to rename the local operating company as Orange, exploiting this opportunity to capture the high-consumption-rate young consumers segment. Up to then the former monopoly telecomms organisations had not looked very attractive to them. The success of Orange in the UK had been based on a disruptive approach to the mobile phone business, epitomised by the simplicity of its name.

In fact, its six brand values were dynamism, modernity, simplicity, transparency, proximity and responsibility. These values contrasted strongly with those of the UK’s former monopoly telecoms company, BT. Orange in the UK had been a challenger brand, proposing a true relationship with consumers, an innovation after decades of monopoly offerings.

In the countries in which Orange would now operate, the challenge became to make a local former monopoly, often still the market leader, acquire the brand and adopt its values. The goal of the brand transfer was first and foremost to get across the ‘Orange attitude’. The difficulty was to align the company itself, the employees and the newly acquired brand values in each country.

The process was divided into three steps: ‘Let’s build Orange’ (defining the brand’s values, and understanding them), ‘Let’s live Orange’ (understanding how to put these values into action), and ‘Let’s launch Orange’ (the communication launch itself).

The second phase involved an in-depth immersion of each employee in the new values, both individually and within his/her functional team. Scores of focus groups, internal meetings, and global sessions would slowly build up that understanding over a period of one year.

The director of human resources would naturally be part of the process of ‘Let’s live Orange’. For instance, an evaluation grid was created, to help measure how each participant stood in achieving the brand values. In addition, to foster group adhesion, this form was to be completed by all the members of the individual’s team, as a measure of how others saw each person’s performance. Two other regular features, ‘all in store’ and ‘all on line’ were intended to help employees understand in practice the challenges of selling the Orange way.

The ‘Let’s launch Orange’ phase was designed to provide the opportunity to make a strong impression, accentuating the idea that a radical new offer was now present in the marketplace. The media were key in conveying this impression and helping to immediately capture new consumers. Employees were also involved, and each one was sent a cassette and CD-ROM outlining the full launch process. Finally, all existing clients were to be contacted individually to tell them about the name change and what it would mean for them.

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