Why the pandemic didn't stop a global tech company's rebrand
When Amy Messano joined Altair as CMO in early 2019, the global tech company was in the middle of an acquisition spree that radically reshaped it. With 30 or so new companies merged into one, Messano had to make sure it became a cohesive branded house and not a chaotic house of brands. To do that, Messano and her team spent close to a year conducting research among their 3,300 employees and hundreds of customers, ultimately developing a new vision for the brand. Then the pandemic struck.
Not wanting to appear tone deaf, Messano considered holding off on the launch. But a bit more research with employees and customers revealed that their new rallying cry, #OnlyForward, was actually a welcome message of positivity in a time of uncertainty. Messano discusses how the rebranding came into being, how the team gained employee and customer buy-in and how they knew their efforts were indeed well-timed.
Why did Altair decide to rebrand in the first place?
As a B2B software company 35 years and growing, Altair’s roots are very much in engineering software, but we have expanded over the years into high-performance computing and cloud and data analytics. We were going from a house of brands to a branded house and it was the time, as we were growing, for a brand refresh. We had put in a ton of work because we really knew that this brand had to be worthy of the history of the company. Altair has a very sticky special culture that people don't leave, an unprecedentedly low turnover rate, very high customer loyalty and satisfaction.
What is the mantra behind your new brand identity?
We had a responsibility to keep moving ahead and creating a path for the future. You know a brand is more than a logo—it's the essence of who you are, the visual verbal articulation of the DNA of a company. For us, we came up with a mantra of "Only Forward." For us, that's the reaffirmation of our mission, which is helping people accelerate the pace of innovation and driving human progress. That really struck a chord in this particular juncture in time. It's what people wanted to hear.
How did you get to this purpose and how was it received?
When we did all this ethnographic research, it was very clear that Altair was a place where people wanted to work and also where customers wanted to get their technology. Normally, you usually get different variations of who you are as a company and what you stand for, but we found a very rare gift. Employees and customers were both saying, "Find that tough problem and we'll figure it out." It was a way to say, "We're moving forward."
When we rolled it out, it was overwhelmingly positive from employees and customers and, because of the juncture, it became a rallying cry, not so much as a mantra. Every email people end it with, the social posts are way more than I thought they would be. People even say it at the end of conference calls now.
Did COVID affect your relaunch plans?
We’d spent a year preparing for this massive brand relaunch, so when COVID-19 hit and we were in the middle of this global health crisis, we had this very real question: Do we proceed, do we halt or do we pivot? Over about two weeks, we talked with our C-Team and our CEO and we really came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to appear to be anything other than focused on helping keep our employees safe and productive, and still provide this great level of service for our customers by showing that we are continuing to invest in the business and drive it forward even during this uncertain time.
How did you introduce the idea to employees?
We had a town hall. Altair has about 3,300 people globally, and we had 1,800 people attend the call, which exceeded my expectations, quite frankly, knowing time zones. Our employee base is basically split up pretty evenly around the super regions. My CEO, Jim Scapa, kicked it off. We had a PowerPoint presentation that walked through everything. We had created a wonderful animation video. Then we had questions at the end and immediately followed that with an email with links to all the new assets. We did the best we could with everybody being at home, so it worked out really well.
How did you involve employees in the rebrand process?
Employees are hands-down your best brand ambassadors. We surveyed every single employee, we had lengthy hour-long calls with groups of employees. We had daylong workshops, two-day workshops. We took the time to encourage across every function, doesn't matter where you worked, to really gather their feedback, so they felt like they were part of the process. It wasn't something that was just being thrown at them. It was something that had been their time, and their thoughts were valued and appreciated and part of the process.
What are some signs that the rebrand has been successful?
We are not a name brand in most households, but we got 85 media placements globally. We had pretty fantastic stats on LinkedIn, so the engagement rate for the organic posts was over 6.5 percent and I think it's usually 2 percent on LinkedIn. For our animation video that explained the metamorphosis and the transition, the last count was around 45,000 views on LinkedIn. The Facebook engagement rate was 8 percent and I think the average Facebook engagement per post is 3.2 percent, so we were exceeding industry averages.
Have you made "Only Forward” real for customers during COVID?
Our marketing team out of the gate pivoted in reaction to COVID, especially the folks in Asia-Pacific as they were the first impacted. Globally then it went through Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the Americas. We reached out to people and had maybe even more success than we would have had in person. Over the past couple of months, we've had 20,000 people attend webinars, which is a huge deal for us. Our teams are encouraged to be nimble, to respond very quickly, and they've done just an incredible job of pivoting super-fast and bring everything online. That, I think, is a good manifestation of "This happened. We're going forward. What do we do?"