100,000 Things That Could Go Wrong: Avoiding Missteps in a Global B2B Rebranding

Siemens Enterprise Communications Handles Relaunch Challenges

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Rebranding Siemens Enterprise Communications as Unify Inc. was a daunting task. The global effort was designed to introduce Unify, a joint venture of 165-year-old Siemens AG and private equity firm The Gores Group, created in 2008.

While the rebrand had been more than two years in the making, it wasn't until early 2013 that our top management finally opted to pull the trigger on Oct. 15.

The closer it got to the launch date, the more I started to realize that 100,000 things could go wrong.

The name Unify -- which precisely describes our unified communications and collaboration company -- was identified by McMillan, Ottawa, Ontario. McMillan also drove the integrated strategies behind developing our corporate identity and tagline, "Harmonize Your Enterprise." In addition, the agency produced leadership videos that were used to communicate these changes to customers and employees.

It was the latter audience that spurred my gravest concerns. How would this rebranding effort play in my native Germany, where the company was born and the bulk of its employees still worked? One of our dual headquarters is still located within a part of the massive Siemens corporate compound in Munich, which was the primary site of our rebrand reveal activity (Our other headquarters is in Reston, Va.). The culture of our company is steeped in the rich German engineering DNA of Siemens, so there was significant emotional and psychological consideration in making the name change. Yet in hindsight, much of my fear about potential German misperceptions proved unfounded.

It may also have helped that we looked for ways to allay any backlash -- for example with a video we developed paying homage to parent company founder Werner von Siemens.

In addition to the relaunch activities in Munich, we constructed a digital media hub in New York and hosted a panel of Unify executives, industry analysts, journalists and customers reacting to the unveiling of the Unify brand. These activities, which were connected to Munich via satellite, were also webcast live -- garnering an audience of more than 35,000 people worldwide. Social media also played a huge role in our unveiling. During two time periods on Oct. 15, Unify was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter. A strategic campaign driven by our current mantra, "A New Way to Work," lifted Twitter impressions to 36.8 million, up from a monthly average of only 2.0 million. Facebook impressions topped 25.7 million in October, up from 110,000 in September.

Not everything went without a hitch. An undertaking of such magnitude and complexity on a global scale is going to be susceptible to a few glitches, such as 10 to 15 minutes of choppy webcast streaming in certain locations. In addition, postal carriers delivered some media packets early to a handful of analysts. But it could have been worse. I remember a conference call two nights prior to the launch, during which we discussed contingency plans for the scenario of the CEO's plane crashing and other unlikely events.

Making this even more complicated was the fact that we staged a major sales meeting outside London just days before Oct. 15 to reveal the new brand to our most important constituents: our top sales managers from all over the world.

But we were confident that we would pull this off because we were well prepared. Many months of maniacal planning went into this endeavor, including several war room meetings held at offsite locations in England, suburban New York and Virginia, bringing together vendors from multiple disciplines recruited to participate in the effort. Event producers, social media experts, media buyers, creative advisers and our internal communications and marketing folks were flown in from different locations in systematic waves to ensure that we were all on the same page. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. Was it perfect? Perhaps not quite. But pretty darn close.

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