How to Reinvent Your Brand

CMO Spotlight: Michael Mendenhall, Flex

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Fall is all about turning over a new leaf -- literally, but often metaphorically as well. This could mean a change of heart, a late sprint toward a New Year's resolution or the decision to rebrand oneself. So, as we approach a new season, it's only fitting that this week's CMO shares his experience with a total reinvention of his company brand.

Michael Mendenhall
Michael Mendenhall

Michael Mendenhall is the CMO of Flex, formerly Flextronics. Over the last 40 years, Flex moved from contract manufacturing to electronics to supply chain solutions, and now offers a full portfolio of design, engineering, software and commercialization services. However, customer perceptions of the brand hadn't kept pace with its evolved offerings. Reworking the company name was just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Mendenhall and his team.

The brand awakening

After the initial insight that, for consumers, the brand was lost in a fog, changing Flextronics's name was one of the first steps of the rebrand. Usually, a team will hem and haw over various options only after the brand architecture has been fully re-assembled, but for Mr. Mendenhall and his colleagues, it was a simple solution for at least one simple problem. "The market thought we were electronic manufacturers or contract manufacturers," he says. "In fact, we weren't. We were a very flexible, adaptive company that could commercialize your product from a sketch on a napkin, all the way up to full-scale global distribution, as well as logistics." Dropping "-tronics" from the name only made sense and helped align the brand with its new strategy.

What followed the new name was a recalibration of the Flex brand and a new "mission-value-mission" proposition for the company. Mr. Mendenhall and his team built out a strategy that aligned its communication architecture to the brand and corporate strategy. "This allowed us to build the mechanics in marketing around digital marketing, communication, brand, global citizenship, CSER and really go after what was going to drive customer and shareholder value," he says.

Springing into action

With a new name, new face, new walk and new talk, regaining credibility in the market required pulling some levers and reconnecting with established partners. But more than that, says Mr. Mendenhall, Flex treated its brand in the way that it would its customers' own startups by focusing on brand reputation. "We have extraordinary amounts of cumulative experience that could help brands eliminate startup mistakes, giving them velocity to market with quality and reliability," he says. "We spent time building that capability in addressing those initiatives that then would move the reputation of the company."

The effects of the rebrand, says Mr. Mendenhall, were "pretty extraordinary." Six months following the launch, the share value of Flex had increased 44%, much of which could be attributed to the strategic repositioning and new communications. "We also wound up bringing in a lot of new customers, both small startups and large enterprises," he says.

Storytelling anew

As any marketer might tell you, with a rebranding comes the importance of your brand story and the ability to tell it. This was no different for Flex, especially given that it spans multiple industries and if not properly recounted could become "very complex and sophisticated very quickly," says Mr. Mendenhall. "I wanted to build an approachable brand," he says, so his team crafted a specific, and very human, tone for its storytelling. "We have to be approachable, yet understandable, and simple in how we appeal to the market," says Mr. Mendenhall. "The narrative of your brand is incredibly important. It needs attention, discipline and focus."

Mr. Mendenhall also touts the importance of content as a means of not only storytelling but also lead generation, and says that b-to-b companies often ignore this point, but shouldn't. "Content in b-to-b is incredibly important, whether short form or long form, whether it's a sound bite or a two-hour documentary," he says. "Content is still king." At Flex, Mr. Mendenhall's team created a magazine called Intelligence, an industry publication with curated content on topics that interest Flex's customers, those working on smart connected products. "I believe the biggest lesson for marketers is to remember that storytelling is still very important," says Mr. Mendenhall. "Especially if you are b-to-b."

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