CMO Insights: How Rebranding is Done

Reinventing your brand is a lot harder than it sounds. Legacy perceptions, perhaps one’s that you worked for years to engender, are extremely hard to dispel.  Xerox spent years trying to convince us they weren’t just a copier company with modest success. Then there’s the need to get both management and employee buy-in which can be as hard as changing customer perceptions.  For example, Kodak management and employees never really adjusted to the digital era and its last minute efforts to reinvent came to naught.

One of the most dramatic ways to signify reinvention is through a name change since it risks resetting brand equity at zero.  Which brings me to my conversation with Michael Mendenhall, CMO of Flex.  Formerly known as Flextronics, Mendenhall and the leadership team recognized that customer perceptions did not align with what the company actually did and where it wanted to go SO they decided to drop “tronics” from their name, thus marking a clear transition from the old to the new.  It was hardly as simple as that so read on to learn just how effective this reinvention really was and why Mendenhall was recognized with the Growth Award by The CMO Club.

Drew: Can you start off by telling me what Flex does?

Michael: We design, innovate, and engineer smart products for the connected world.

Drew: How does digital marketing fit into that, and what were some of the digital initiatives you have focused on in the past year?

Michael: Well, it wasn’t just digital as an initiative that we accomplished this year. When I came to Flex over a year ago, this was a company that was transforming itself based on market demand. We started out 40 years ago in contract manufacturing, moved into electronics, and then evolved into a supply chain solutions company. The last four to five years, the company added a great deal of capability around design, innovation, engineering, and software solutions filling out the entire portfolio of products and services for companies who would want to commercialize products. We would provide them with the sketch-to-scale solutions, no matter if you were a small startup with an idea or you were a Fortune 10 company.

Drew: How did your team go about changing the marketplace’s understanding of Flex and the services it provided?

Michael: It was our goal to rebuild the corporate strategy of the company, evaluate the existing assets and capabilities and then ask ourselves, “What do we offer the marketplace and what is that the addressable market for our products and services?” The name of the company was adding to some of the confusion relative to our customer value proposition. The market thought we were electronic manufacturers or contract manufacturers. In fact, we weren’t. We were a very flexible, adaptive company that could commercialize your product from a sketch on a napkin, all the way up to full-scale global distribution, as well as logistics. So we decided strategically to drop the “tronics” from the name to reposition that brand against that new strategy. After changing the name, we then proceeded to recalibrate the brand, developing a new mission-vision-value proposition for the company.

Drew: Can you expand on how you modified Flex’s brand architecture and built on the brand identity?

Michael: We built out a strategy around a couple major pillars. One was corporate communications, which included strategic communications, financial communications, and analyst relations for the company. We aligned the communication architecture to the brand and corporate strategy of the company. This allowed us to build the mechanics in marketing around digital marketing, communication, brand, global citizenship, CSER and really go after what was going to drive customer and shareholder value.

Drew: What were the effects of the newly implemented strategies?  

Michael: The effect all of that had was pretty extraordinary. In the first six months after we had repositioned the company and launched the new brand and communication, we had already added 44 percent value to the share price. That wasn’t just from revenue growth, there was a great deal of that that was attributed to the strategic repositioning of the company, the new brand and the new communication architecture for the company. We also wound up bringing in a lot of new customers, both small startups and large enterprises. We’ve had great margin growth in the company based on this, all ending with a really terrific one-year shareholder price and return to the shareholders.

Drew: Wow, that’s a herculean effort doing all of that in a relatively short period of time. As you’re reaching new markets with a brand name that was unheard of, it must have been particularly difficult trying to get some credibility in the market.

Michael: We had existing relationships with VCs and private equity firms who knew our company well. They would continue to espouse our experience, knowledge, credibility and experience sending any software or hardware companies needing help in designing, engineering prototyping and production. We have extraordinary amounts of cumulative experience that could help brands eliminate startup mistakes, giving them velocity to market with quality and reliability. We focused on the brand reputation, not as much the equity and influenced the relations relative to those key stakeholder groups. We spent time building that capability in addressing those initiatives that then would move the reputation of the company. That was the part of the success, using all levers including digital marketing.

Drew: Do you see a big difference between B2B and B2C marketing?

Michael: I’ve always been quite frustrated with how companies, who are B2B, they generally believe they need to have to have a certain business tone and vernacular in approaching there market. Content in B2B is is incredibly important whether short form or long form, whether it’s a soundbite or a two-hour documentary. The narrative should be told in an approachable and easily digestible way. Not speaking over or under the audience. Simple, easy and quick. The channels then become important in whether you’re passive, active, engaged, etc. So for us, I always believe that you must have EQ in the narrative. After all we are all consumers at the end of the day.

Drew: It seems as though many marketers are experiencing a renewed interest in storytelling. Is this one of your focuses at Flex?  

Michael: For me, there is an emotion in decision-making, and a level of engagement that supports storytelling. Within storytelling, we follow a certain pattern of lead generation, lead nurturing, conversion etc. I wanted to build an approachable brand. We are in multiple industries and it could become very complex and sophisticated very quickly. We have to be approachable, yet understandable, and simple in how we appeal to the market. The narrative of you brand is incredibly important. It needs attention, discipline and focus.

Drew: What is the story you wanted to tell and how did you tell it?

Michael: We talked about thought leadership, as Flex is an influencer and thought leader in the space. That involved shaping those scenes and stories, and deciding how we would tell them. We then set out to look at the means by which we would produce the content. One of those was a magazine called Intelligence. We went after the intelligent, smart data, and the idea that product will move from using connectivity for operability to optimization and predictability. That becomes incredibly important because then you start to realize that your products are actually going to tart optimizing themselves and giving you new data points as a marketer. The magazine is basically an industry magazine for the intelligence of things. We curate content from some of the world’s best in their field; they write for us based on topics we believe would be interesting for people that are working on smart connected products. Every Company is a media company. Content is still king.

Drew: What do you think is the biggest lesson here for marketers?

Michael: I believe the biggest lesson for marketers is to remember that storytelling is still very important. No matter if it’s short form or long form, as marketers we have to pay special attention to the art of storytelling. We have to be highly disciplined and focused on that, and be able to tell stories in an approachable way, especially if you are B2B.

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