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Smaller firms tackle rebranding

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Midmarket companies strive to stand out in face of growing competition, commoditization

While b-to-b giants such as General Electric Co., United Parcel Service of America and DuPont have received recognition over the past few years for major rebranding efforts, smaller b-to-b marketers have also launched rebranding campaigns to reposition themselves in the face of increased competition.

Prominent among these smaller marketers are manufacturers that decided to redefine their businesses in response to downward price pressures.

"Companies in more traditional businesses are seeing their product lines become commodities, and they have to compete on price when they are used to competing on quality. They have to reinvent their value proposition," said Randy Burge, VP-management supervisor at Media Logic, an Albany, N.Y.-based branding consultancy that recently handled rebranding efforts for Applied Robotics and Marley Cooling Technologies.

"When we were founded in 1983, we had very little competition in tool changing," said Tom Petronis, CEO-vice chairman of Applied Robotics, a robotic automation equipment manufacturer based in Glenville, N.Y. "Now, our competition has caught up with us. We recognized we needed a rebranding effort that would make us stand out from our competition."

To communicate a new image to the market, Applied Robotics hired Media Logic about a year ago to design a new brochure. After conducting initial brand image research with Applied Robotics' customers, Media Logic concluded the company needed more than just a new brochure; it needed a major rebranding effort.

"It wasn't obvious to us," Petronis said. "We knew we were providing more than just products; but Media Logic, by being able to stand back and look at the situation, realized we were really providing solutions to our customers."

So Applied Robotics hired Media Logic to create a new image. The rebranding included a new tagline-"Solutions in reach"-logo, colors, collateral, Web site, advertising, PR and an event presence. Applied Robotics unveiled the new brand in June at the Automatica robotics trade show in Munich, and an ad campaign will roll out in October.

In addition to establishing a new identity, Applied Robotics narrowed its marketing focus to a few specific industries, including automotive, life sciences and industrial manufacturing.

Petronis said a major factor in the success of the rebranding effort was an internal launch prior to the external relaunch, to get its employees on board.

"Everyone has to have a desire to build the brand," Petronis said. "If we as a company don't support that, our effort has been wasted."

A room with a view

Applied Robotics did internal research and learned that its employees were dissatisfied that its headquarters building had no windows. So the weekend prior to the internal launch party, management secretly installed two 5 ft.-by-6 ft. windows in the break room, which it unveiled the following Monday at a relaunch party.

The week prior to the party, management teased the event with gifts left on all employees' desks, including a backscratcher with a note that said, "Let's reach for more," and a bottle of Windex with a card reading, "Let's get ready for a shiny new outlook."

Burge said this kind of senior management support is crucial to the success of rebranding campaigns. "You have to get internal stakeholders to buy into the brand," Burge said.

"The client has to be integral to the process," he added. "You can't create a brand in a vacuum then force it on the client's culture."

Petronis said that while it's too early to gauge the success of the relaunch, the reaction from customers and employees has been positive.

Burge said a key to success in rebranding efforts is conducting research with existing customers to see how far a company can go in reinventing its image.

"Especially for old-line companies, it is important to understand what the marketplace will allow in terms of stretching into new areas," Burge said.

That was an important consideration in a rebranding campaign for Marley Cooling Technologies, an 82-year-old cooling tower manufacturer based in Overland Park, Kan.

"They needed to reinvent who they are and what they provide to put value back into the product," said Burge, noting that customers weren't aware of many of the services Marley provided, such as cold water outsourcing-in which customers buy cold water from Marley instead of owning their own cold water tower-and financing.

After conducting extensive research with Marley's target audience, Media Logic created a new tagline, "Beyond cool," and launched an integrated rebranding campaign in June that included print, collateral, direct, Web and PR.

Carmen Walsh, director of marketing at Hanson Brick, a Charlotte, N.C., brick manufacturer that launched a rebranding campaign in July, agreed that extensive research with existing customers is crucial to a rebranding campaign.

"It's important to listen to customers," she said. "We are very close to what we do, and sometimes we think we are far better than we really are."

Hanson acquired seven major brick companies in 1999 and needed to position itself as an innovative leader in brick manufacturing. "We wanted to have something totally different," Walsh said. "We really wanted to shake up the industry so we could stand out from the rest of the crowd."

So Hanson hired Argyle Rowland Communications, Toronto, to develop a new image. As part of their market research, Hanson and the agency presented five different creative concepts to focus groups of builders and developers.

"The concept they really liked was one that showed the company had a lot of innovation and came across as having the guts to think outside the box," Walsh said.

The result was a rebranding campaign that was launched July 1 with the tagline "Fashioning brick." The campaign, which shows brick as a fashion accessory rather than just a building material, is aimed at builders and developers, and designed to change the perception of brick from commodity to couture.

Spending for the Applied Robotics, Marley Cooling Technologies and Hanson Brick rebrandings was not disclosed.

John Osborn, president-CEO of BBDO New York, which created the successful "Imagination at Work" rebranding campaign for General Electric Co. last year, said the recent surge of rebranding is partly a result of companies that are in growth mode, developing new products and services, as well as acquiring other companies.

Osborn said that when launching any type of branding campaign, whether it is a rebranding or a brand extension, "You have to have a clear understanding of the essence of the brand. It is incredibly easy to tear down a brand in a nanosecond."

Consistency is one of the keys to success in any branding campaign, Osborn said.

"The brand experience can offer various dimensions in various environments, but at the end of the day, it has to represent a common understanding across all stakeholders," he said.

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