SBI recently spoke with Michael Speranza, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy & Marketing for IPC. Michael recently executed a complex brand assignment within his company to successfully navigate the integration of a major acquisition. Today’s topic is Brand Strategy and Planning for the purpose of building brand preference.
This article is a must read for executives executing an inorganic growth strategy trying to navigate the waters of acquired brands. IPC is a global B2B provider of technology solutions for the financial service markets. IPC provides communication, networking, and information governance solutions in the FinTech space. After IPC acquired their top competitor, Michael navigated his company through the brand evolution to help make this M&A investment pay off.
Why this topic today? Your competitors are making the same claims and promises as you. They are even using the same words. Brands that are built on “who you are” and “what you do” do not result in above average revenue growth. Your brand impacts revenue growth when it gets activated by the sales force and becomes uniquely relevant to your customer and prospects.
It’s difficult to grow revenue faster than your industry’s growth rate and faster than your competitors. The Revenue Growth Diagnostic interactive tool will help you determine if you are likely or unlikely to make your number.
Read the full transcript of my interview with Michael. If you prefer to watch the full interview on high definition video, click here.
Let’s begin by getting an understanding of your brand in a 360-degree view. This will help us understand where your brand lives and acts in. Please describe that for the audience please?
Our brand exists in probably one of the most demanding B2B technology buyers in the world. We cater to some of the largest financial institutions in the world. What we do for our clients can be viewed as very niche. It’s very specific. It’s also highly critical to their business. So, the services and products that we provide are front and center in their ability to generate revenue, create alpha and really drive the economics of their businesses.
It comes with an expansive global reach for a company of our size. So, we operate on a global basis in about 60 countries throughout the world but we’ve only got 1,400 employees. Which may sound like a lot but we’re a mid-size company with an expansive global reach. And those 1,400 employees exist in about 40 offices throughout the world.
So, with all of that, we also focus on a very diverse set of customers within financial services. So, while we are 100% focused on that market, we could have one client who’s one of the largest, well-known investment banks in the world, and we could also be serving a client which is a hedge fund that has one employee, that no one’s ever heard of. And our brand needs to speak to and address and talk to all those constituents.
Very interesting answer, and a very great illustrative example. For our audience members, you must be able to answer this question as thoroughly that Michael just answered the question. Understanding where your brand lives and how your audience might engage with your brand is central to going through any type of rebranding effort, and certainly central to telling your strategic story.
Michael, let me go to my last question in this segment, and then we’ll take a break, which is, as you embarked on this journey and for all the valid reasons that you did, I’m imagining you did some type of brand audit and if you could describe that process and maybe a little bit about what you learned during that process, that would be great.
Yes. That’s a great question and I think we had a really interesting dimension to our brand audit in that one of the compelling events for us to embark on this, was us acquiring a European competitor of ours. There was an element of sensitivity that we had to include in our brand audit. But we did launch a full brand audit. We conducted in depth interviews with not only customers, employees, stakeholders, we did discovery workshops with many constituents as well, to really identify key brand attributes of both organizations. Not only our own, but the acquired company stakeholders, customers, and employees we were acquiring at that point in time.
We identified what we thought were the aspirational elements of the brand, and we really made sure that we incorporated that cultural component to embody and create a brand that was going to be embraced by not only the joint set of employees, but the joint set of customers that we’re bringing together. So, the brand audit covered pretty much every aspect that you’d expect: visual identity, brand, logo, content, web, print, and advertising. It was an end to end program that touched every campaign. And what’s interesting is that we’re able to do this quite quickly, really in less than three months from start to finish.
So that was a comprehensive brand audit, just rattled off a few things that were included in that. You got all that done in three months?
Yes, it was. It was an effort, but both organizations were completely focused on it.
Today we’re demonstrating how to create an inspiring brand that tells your strategic story. Michael, I was fascinated with what you shared with us in the first segment. The next question I probably should have asked in segment one, but let me ask it now. Who is the audience of the brand and what does your brand do for them?
We had a wide-ranging set of constituents in the audience. The first was really some of our existing customers as well as new customers that were the targets of some of our growth investments. We were aspiring to enter new market segments as well as new departments within our existing customers, and we needed to make sure that the brand spoke to them. Those are some of the external targets.
On the internal side, we had our global base of employees. As I mentioned, we were just going through a cultural marriage with the European company that we had competed with for over 30 years, and it was important that the brand embodied those elements, spoke to them, and didn’t create any divisive elements within the culture of the company.
Externally we also had the influencers, the press, the media, the analyst community as well as the investor community.
I can only imagine what it’s like to try to speak to somebody who you’ve been competing with in the trenches for 30 years. That must have been a difficult challenge, so what’s some of the attributes or the messaging you used in that context?
Yes that’s a great question, we did spend a lot of time on this and made sure that we were being equitable across every element of feedback that we were getting from the brand. Although we were a larger company, we made sure to make sure that we were incorporating the characteristics, products, and services that we acquired into our strategy going forward. And the way we addressed this was that we created a unifying mission statement across the entire organization, and used that as one of the core brand pillars and attributes to make sure that we were communicating that to the staff internally as well as the customers externally. And that mission was all about being a technology and service leader, power in the global financial markets and really delivering a connected, secure, and compliant community.
If you talk to our customers, our staff, and our employees hopefully that will roll off their tongues, as we’ve been communicating that to them for the better half of 12 months now. And that’s really what we use to galvanize everyone together.
Normally with a branding effort like the one you’re describing today, you develop a brand promise and some people also take it to the step of developing a brand promise guarantee. Did you do that or take another approach?
What we did was actually develop our mission statement which we view as our brand promise both to our staff and to our customers. And then what we did was support it at one level. We have the benefit of being able to brand at a corporate level, and have that brand be 100% focused on the financial markets. We believe that’s a major differentiator for our company and we wanted to make sure we captured that.
What we did was create four brand pillars that we believe resonate with our employees. The first was being at the heart of the market to be able to tirelessly anticipate change in these markets, and secondly to show that we are innovators.
The third brand pillar was that we wanted to ensure that customers could continue to count on us as they had been for three or four years and make sure that we did not leave that brand attribute behind. The fourth element was making sure that our customers could count on us to connect them to the global financial community with our expanding global reach and presence.
Now my next question was about how your brand differs from your competitors’. You just gave me four brand pillars that, to me, seem like competitive differentiators. Would you agree or were there other things that you did relative to competitive differentiation?
We did focus on those brand pillars as the core competitive differentiators, to give our sales team and our customers the belief that we’re 100% focused on the financial markets. And that we don’t get distracted like another large global enterprise could. That gave us a lot of differentiation from some of our competitors. And the other element that differentiated us was really relying on our proven history for decades in this space, which really helps us differentiate from a new entrant in this space.
As a strategist and a marketer, my next question might elicit some humor, I hope. And that is, how does the sales force live the brand in every interaction with customers? And I ask you that question because sometimes I hear your peers say, “We did all this wonderful work around the brand and then the sales team gets in front of the customers, and the words that come out of their mouth are not on-brand message.” Which must be incredibly frustrating. So how do you make sure that your sales force lives the brand in every interaction?
That’s a great question. In some of my past roles, I’ve had a lot of empathy for the sales team and some of the challenges they face. And our belief here is that you must walk the walk with the sales team. You can’t simply deliver a word document or a PowerPoint or a set of messages and not practice it with them. But this is a process, these things don’t just arrive. It’s a complex process to make sure that these messages are getting into the vernacular, the vocabulary, and the messaging, and they must get comfortable with it.
You’re asking someone to change their stripes in the way they’ve operated for quite a period of time. So, what we did along with that was to create a set of tools, holistic messaging to support all the cross-selling discussions that they’re going to have with clients. That includes things like a new website, with new positioning. But we also need to get the senior leaders out to help deliver it and talk to the clients with them.
I mentioned we did have a new visual identity as well so there was a catalyst for change that they were able to leverage to go engage their clients. And we also had the announcement of that large acquisition which allowed us to create a compelling event for them to go approach their client. So, it was about creating the on ramps and then, when those on ramps happen, they can show that they’re prepared and comfortable with the conversation. And if they weren’t, we’d have people that would go with them to help deliver it to them.
We’re 12 months in and the process is going quite well.
Fantastic. That’s a lot of support and a lot of recognition on how important it is to support the sales force when you relaunch a brand. That’s a great story, a great example for all of us.
What was the core opportunity for brand relevance that really inspired your strategic story?
The core opportunity was to really set a complete, broad set of new, multi-year goals for the organization. It wasn’t just about creating a new logo, or having a new tag line or a new message. It was about redefining what the boundaries were for our sales team, for our product teams that are out there building and defining these new concepts, and giving them a two to three year view as to where we’re trying to go as an organization. And for us, the way that translates into value, is that it created a compelling narrative internally and externally with the press, the media, the analysts, our investor community, and our customers.
And it really allows us to develop new client relationships so those new market segments that we’re trying to target, it creates that on ramp into those. And it also creates a holistic view within the customers where our sales team can now go in and sell products and services that either didn’t exist in the past, that they didn’t have in their toolkit, or that the customer simply just was not aware of, that we offered and provided. And you can use an analogy, it’s almost like an iceberg where only 10% of it is above the surface, and we did have that kind of behavior and belief which is a great thing. Because all you need to do is expose it, and it really helped track value for our business.
And that’s how we approached and looked at the way we are going to create value.
You have 1,400 employees spread across 60 countries, which is quite a challenge. So my last question is, how did you launch the brand internally?
We took an innovative approach to this. And the best way I can describe it is that we viewed the launch of the brand as when we started the process. So, from the day that we started this initiative, we exposed and involved all 1,400 employees in everything that we were doing. We led them down the path. We did complete employee interviews and surveys with them. We allowed our entire internal staff to participate in a contest to pick the logo, so they had their fingerprint on it.
We did education along the way around the importance of brand building and messaging with things like blog posts and internal education. And then of course, when it came time to roll it out, we had the senior leadership and the CEO of the company unveil the message and brand. So, we think we took an innovative approach to it by really exposing the entire company to the effort. They really felt a part of it and that it didn’t just arrive on their desk on that day with a new business card and our new logo. They knew that it was coming, they expected it, and they had influence in the project.
I can tell you that is an innovative approach. I’ve been involved in a lot of rebranding efforts and the internal launch is usually really hard. But doing things like letting them pick the logo, and running a contest, those are innovative approaches, so congratulations on handling that really well.
I wanted to thank you for sharing your story with us. Creating an inspiring brand that tells a strategic story is not an easy thing to do. And you executed flawlessly. Thanks for being on the show and sharing your story with us.
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