How a software company solved for 'bland brand syndrome'
The essence of brand is differentiation. It is how Egyptian ranchers claimed cows 4,000 years ago and how shoppers find favorite products today. Yet differentiation is often lost in the lookalike land of B2B marketing. Language, imagery, color palettes, personality and websites all seem to blend together. This was the challenge for Paz Macdonald when she became chief marketing officer of Software AG in January 2019.
Describing that brand as “still water, hold the ice,” Macdonald began the process of discovery and reinvention with a brand audit. It pointed to the need for a makeover from the ground up, including a new identity, a new website and a new promise: “Living connections.” As a result of these efforts, launched in May 2020, Macdonald now describes the brand as “a sensible but a nice cocktail,” one that is fueling engagement across the company’s newly invigorated communications channels.
Where did you start with the brand transformation?
One of the first things we did was to take the emotion away. Let's get a brand audit done. What do people actually think when they hear the word “Software AG?” We asked our customers. We asked people that were potential prospects, Gartner, Forrester, our board, our sales organization. We asked the entire field organization. We did a very detailed audit and the feedback, actually, it's like it held a mirror up to us. It was like, “We've got a problem; we need to fix this.”
What did you discover in the brand audit?
Some of the imagery we were using was with millennials doing handstands and things. That's not the audience we're going after. We also saw our language was dated. We just needed to talk in a very, very different way. One of the questions I ask about brands is, “If this brand walked into a bar and ordered a drink, what drink would it order?” I think the brand that we had at the time when I joined was probably a still water. Hold the ice.
How did you synthesize the audit's findings?
There were three threads that we had to bring together. One was a brand audit, which led the direction of everything that we had to do. One was a decision that the website, which is our shop front, which was doing us a disservice, had to change. We had to change the platform; we decided to go with Adobe. And then the last thing was actually writing the content, the words and pictures, and the design.
What was the solution?
We are primarily an Enterprise Integration, an IoT platform. What that means is that there's so much that we do in the background and you can't see and touch what we do. That's how we came up with “living connections,” the messaging that united everything we do, because we decided that our essential role in the world was the pulse that keeps the world living and thriving.
That was the thread, and everything fell into place. We simplified the homepage to help people find us and we focused on customer journeys. At the end of the day, we wanted to make it as simple as possible for somebody to find what they were looking for on our site, rather than this mass encyclopedia of absolutely everything we've done over 50 years.
How long did it take to get to the website launch?
Software AG also had lots of disparate sites as well. We had the main site. We'd made acquisitions [and] some of them kept their own sites. Some products had several websites. We had to bring 15 disparate websites onto the new platform. We connected Adobe with our external agency, and everybody worked together. The audit was done in May 2019 and then the website was launched May 15 of this year.
Did COVID affect your brand messaging?
Never. We thought, if anything, we needed to have more of that language than ever before, because it still is the values of who we are. The audit helped us define the main characters and what products we should be focusing on so that people got what we did.
How did you educate employees?
If I could do this again, I’d bring the employees on the journey with you. Big lesson learned. Even now, we still need to educate people by doing a series of explainer videos. We're going to do these short little videos just to make sure people understand and see the full picture. All of those things just help make them feel part of the process, because it's easy for marketing to forget about the people that are your biggest champions, which are your employees.
What are signs the rebrand was successful?
There was a point where we were getting about 1,000 net new followers on LinkedIn a week. In 21 months, we had about 67,000 followers on LinkedIn. We crossed the 100,000 mark about a month ago, which is phenomenal. That pace was incredible. People were doing a double take. We walk into a bar now; we're going to order a sensible but a nice cocktail. This is a brand now that fits our age and our stature. There was more engagement, more likes, more comments, people commenting more as well.
People started to notice us and that, for us, started to translate to more marketing qualified leads with all the other changes we made as well. We're seeing better engagement of mobile users, up by 400% from the year before. More people are hanging around, sessions are improving, all the metrics are going in the right direction. We just need to build on that now and check whether the journeys are working, that we're converting.