John Holland rebranding driven by growth into B2C markets

Infrastructure company rebranded after 69 years

In a significant departure from the clichéd infrastructure company in hard hats and high-vis vests, John Holland has completely overhauled its brand for the first time in 69 years.

Realising that not only were customers, but also employee demographics, were changing, John Holland set about facilitating an employee-driven rebranding from the ground-up, which also marks a move for the company from B2B into B2C.

The 4000-person company has set its sights on doubling its business by 2021 and expanding into new markets including property development. In the next two years, it is set to bring another 3000 people on board.

Executive general manager of customer and corporate affairs at John Holland, Larry McGrath, said growth was a significant driver behind the rebranding. The company was bought three years ago by CCCI, a wholly owned subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company.

“We’re a company with a long and significant Australian history, we’ve been around for 69 years and built some iconic things, such as Parliament House and the Melbourne Cricket Ground southern stand, and now John Holland is building all the largest transport infrastructure projects in Australia,” McGrath told CMO.

“Growth has been a significant factor, we are not the business we were even three years ago. We are already growing into the property market, the customers we have changed, and the customers we do have, have different expectations as well. A 40-year-old brand wasn’t cutting it anymore.

“We now have commercial customers looking to lease office space in our commercial developments, so this is a direct B2C relationship we haven’t had in the past. We can’t consider ourselves to be only a B2B business anymore, because they way governments select us for work is how the end solution we’re going to build meets the needs of their end customers, so if we’re not focused on their end customer, we won’t win work. So we really needed a new brand."

Another driver behind the rebranding is the shifting demographics of John Holland employees and the expectations they have about the company they work for.

“There is an enormous hunt for talent in this sector, with the east coast infrastructure boom, everyone is trying to get best engineers and so on, and many of them are in the younger generations. In fact, almost half of our employee base are millennials, and that demographic have a completely different expectation of what they want us to be as an employer,” McGrath explained. 

After watching a competitor undertake top-down rebranding projects, John Holland went with a ground-up approach that started with employee workshops.

“We knew we didn’t want to change the name, and we weren’t sure about the logo, but we knew we needed to change our values, and we needed an organisational purpose,” McGrath said.

To help, the team we ran a series of nine forums across the country and had 140 people from various projects get together for half-day workshops to talk about why they joined John Holland, and what they wanted to see from the group in the future. 

“What was really clear is that people wanted significant change, and thought our values were those you had to have, but were ultimately meaningless to people," McGrath continued. “That took six months to go through, and we also did some customer research and competitor benchmarking and looked at where global brands were heading.

“We moved to a purpose-led brand made up of a ‘why, how and what’, with values to be genuinely inspiring to people and unique to John Holland.” 

Brand values now include caring, empowering, imaginative, and future-focused.

While initially against redoing the logo, the new brand values naturally led to a redesign. John Holland then used brand champions across every site of its operations in Australia to launch the new branding to employees with merchandise, a video and a microsite.

While a ‘soft’ launch has been done with consumers, the group planning on a bigger launch later in the year when all the employees have received brand behaviour and training.

“There’s a category of clichés in the infrastructure community, but when you talk to people about what they are most proud of, it is the outcomes they have achieved for people," McGrath said. “We’ve flipped the brand around and focused on that impact and the positive impact we have on people’s lives. The rewarding thing is it’s resonated very positively within the organisation."

More big brands explain their rebrand strategies:

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