Xerox's Brand Repositioning Challenge

Does acknowledging a legacy business give it too much visibility?

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I'm a bit of a media junkie. I watch, read and listen to business news with an eye toward what's breaking and with an interest in how other brands are marketing. My media habits also give me a different perspective on the marketing I lead at Xerox. When our spots appear on CNBC's Squawk Box, I'm watching like any other business person. It's part of my daily morning routine, and depending on other distractions (like my 9-year-old daughter asking if she can wear lipstick to school. That would be a "No."), I'm making mental notes of what I'm seeing. It was that real-time perspective that convinced me it was time to change the creative approach to our advertising.

Two and a half years ago, we launched a campaign that put our customers front and center, giving us the opportunity to talk about how we're behind the scenes helping them be successful. It was well-regarded creative, featuring P&G's Mr. Clean, the Target dog, the Michelin Man, the New York Mets' Mr. Met, as well as bellmen from Marriott and flight attendants from Virgin America. Many other clients reached out asking if they could be in the campaign. It was award-winning, clever, memorable creative that cut-through traditionally stale B2B marketing. But it was a story told in chapters. And to get the entire plot, you really needed to absorb the entire book.

You see, Xerox is going through a huge transformation. After acquiring Affiliated Computer Services -- the largest diversified outsourcing company in the world and likely one of the biggest companies you've never heard of -- in 2010, we quickly shifted from the document company to one that generates more than half its revenue from business services, like operating call centers, processing insurance claims, handling automated toll payments, like EZ Pass, and more. To start challenging the perception of Xerox as just a printer and copier company, we dialed up the messaging on all the phenomenal clients who outsource their back-office functions to us.

There's a spot about how Virgin America trusts Xerox to manage its call center operations, another about how Michelin depends on Xerox for assistance with finance processing. Solid messages delivered through clever creative, garnering high recall rates. But as our media budgets came under pressure, so too did our ability to deliver a steady cadence of all the chapters that told one big transformation story.

As I watched each morning through the lens of a harried professional with one ear on CNBC and another listening to the woes of a tween, I couldn't quite make sense of why Xerox -- a brand we all think we know so well -- was talking about call centers. It became clear that we needed to draw the connection between who we were and who we are. We needed to get back to the basics of explaining our purpose and giving people a reason to believe that the copier company could stand for so much more than copies.

That's why our latest campaign, which broke in February, acknowledges our past, even embraces it, while helping people connect the dots to today's Xerox. It's a no-nonsense, straight-talk effort. One 30-second spot from Young & Rubicam opens with a woman standing in front of -- yes! -- a copying machine. "When I say Xerox, I know what you're thinking," she says, then prints an image of a transit map. "Transit fares, as in the 37 billion transit fares we help collect each year." Another commercial features the same woman proclaiming that revolutionizing an industry is a hard act to follow, and then explaining some of the breadth and scale of services offered by Xerox.

Our new approach didn't come without some internal frustration and healthy debate. Is acknowledging the deep perception around our legacy business giving it too much visibility when we're trying to shift those perceptions? Ultimately, we stopped resisting it, started embracing it and -- through our latest ads -- started leading with it.

Chester Carlson, the patent attorney who invented the first Xerox Model A photocopier, did so because he wanted to make the laborious task of filling out patent applications easier. The connective tissue between Xerox then and Xerox now is simplicity -- making complicated processes easier. We're just getting started, but our creative is working much harder than before to share the big picture in simple, believable ways.

The lesson for us -- now featured in our storytelling -- is that acknowledging our purpose makes it OK to give a nod to our heritage even as we grow beyond it.

Christa Carone joined Xerox in 1996. She has been the company's chief marketing officer since September 2008.
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