Landor & Fitch global CMO: Why business transformation is a brand game

Chief marketing officer talks about the exponential rise in brand transformation and her key lessons in achieving sustainable, successful business outcomes

Record levels of mergers and acquisition, spin offs and corporate change is increasing the need for brand transformation, according to Landor & Fitch global CMO, Jane Bloomfield. Yet too many businesses continue to fall into the trap of seeing transformation as a digital, technology and process game, rather than one centred in people and customers.

Speaking with CMO on a recent visit to Sydney, the experienced marketing leader shared her views on the exponential rise in brand transformation, as well as lessons in how to successfully execute a brand rethink internally and externally. She credited growing impetus for brand transformation in part to increased disruption from the pandemic globally, as well as renewed emphasis on growth.

“There is greater pressure to create shareholder value, there’s huge pressure on sustainability, but there’s also digitisation, technology and supply chain disruption,” Bloomfield said. “It’s interesting to be in Australia and watch the news about housing crisis, skills shortages – it’s similar to the conversations going on in the UK.

“What all of that is doing is accelerating business transformation. We saw a lot of businesses caught out during Covid. Certainly some of the larger, legacy businesses who have been slower to transform. And there are all sorts of reasons for that. They can be very good at what they do, but it means their systems and processes are set up to do what they do and that can make it hard therefore to change - and change quickly.

“A lot of businesses coming out of the pandemic are now saying we really have to transform systems, processes, ways of working, skillsets. That… necessitates new strategies, brands and ways of expressing what’s on offer from the organisation itself.”

Yet all too often, brand is the least important thing until it becomes the most important, Bloomfield continued.

“There is an obsession with digitisation, technology as being the answer or the solution. But if you’re not thinking about it from a brand perspective, and a brand anchored in your users, your customers and the experiences they’re having with the brand, then you’re creating something somewhat in a silo that may not necessarily dovetail or work with the rest of the organisation or brand,” she warned.  

Bloomfield described brand as reassurance, something familiar and inspiring to lock onto, and as the compass giving organisations directions for how to behave now and into the future.

“For us, brand is the most important starting point because it provides the North Star, vision, values and purpose. So whatever you are designing from a digital, CX or tech perspective has to fit within that,” she said.

Landor & Fitch has been involved in a large number of transformations including brand spin offs such as Bayers’ company, Covestro, and Delphi Automotive’s Aptiv. Bloomfield joined the agency in October 2021 and has responsibility for both marketing and sales. Prior to joining Landor & Fitch, she was chief growth officer at Kantar UK.

Credit: Landor & Fitch's Jane Bloomfield

While brand is increasingly perceived as a platform for action and in the context of ESG, Bloomfield agreed brand doesn’t necessarily mean being sustainability-led.

“People sometimes confuse purpose with having to do absolutely everything for everyone, or that it has to be about sustainability. Our belief is brand provides a lens on that, but it has to provide a lens on lots of different things,” Bloomfield said. “Brand is the compass – it clarifies the purpose. It should motivate the leadership. And that will unite your employees, provide clarity for customers and it should excite investors. It has to be a platform for growth and create value for the business.”

Pressure to demonstrate brand value

Talking about the importance of brand to CMOs is preaching to the converted. But strategic investment remains a difficult thing to sustain. For one, there is more pressure to prove marketing’s work. For another, digital marketing and the short-term stats fix it has delivered only emphasised the challenges of proving longer-term brand impact.

What’s more, there’s a gap in mid-level marketing skills, heightened by cohorts of distinct performance and growth marketers versus strategists who lack holistic experience of marketing and brand building and the 4Ps grounding provided by organisations like Procter & Gamble. Bloomfield agreed an obsession with performance marketing has too often resulted in marketers failing to utilise their wider arsenal of tools.  

“I do think there is a danger, overreliance and shift too far towards performance. But I get a sense we’re swinging back a bit from that, and people thinking about the shorter-term game and also the long game,” she said. “In some respects, Covid has been helpful. For some brands, it provided realisation they had focused too much on that short game. When one channel was switched off, they were left completely high and dry. Whereas those playing both games came through in more robust health.

“It's hard to say many brands came out of Covid thinking that was brilliant. But if you survived it and came out with a healthy brand, you’ve done very well.”

So how do more marketers embrace the longer-term game and drive more impactful brand transformation? For Bloomfield, it again comes back to thinking more broadly about how a brand shows up for a customer as well as for employees.

“I think the later has been an overlooked area in terms of some aspects of marketing. Marketing has traditionally been very externally focused. The relationship between a CMO and the chief people officer and HR is now so critical,” she said.

To help, Bloomfield pointed to work done with Delphi Automotive when it spun off Aptiv, an automotive technology provider. Landor & Fitch created an employee listening platform to allow staff to see the new brand roots and plans, to ask questions and to give feedback.

“It was a huge investment in time and financially. But it was so important, that when we launched the new brand into the market, employees were 100 per cent behind it,” she said. “And they were hugely excited, which really added momentum when the brand was launched externally. I don’t think you can overestimate the impact and importance of bringing employees with you.”

Then there’s measurement of brand value to tackle. Landor & Fitch parent group, WPP, has a tool called Brand Asset Valuer (BAV), which analyses the world’s biggest brands to understand the value brand brings. Through this study, it’s been able to show brand itself can contribute up to 25 per cent of market cap.

“When we’re talking to businesses, even to CFOs – it’s again that discussion about how you get marketing investment and get people to buy into building brands. It comes back to data,” Bloomfield said. “If you can come back and say 25 per cent of market cap is in this ‘intangible’ asset of brand, why would you not invest in that?

The buy-in of leadership is another important element. But Bloomfield also put the onus on marketers to earn their seat at the top table.

“It’s really on marketers to continue to prove their value and manoeuvre their way into conversations. But I do think there’s more recognition and again, Covid gave marketers a phenomenal opportunity to prove their value within the boardroom and within the organisation,” she added.

Lessons in brand transformation

With all this brand transformation experience behind her and the Landor & Fitch business, Bloomfield has a checklist of learnings to share with other CMOs. The first is brand needs to be right at the heart of any transformation approach.

“The second lesson is don’t forget your employees and keep them close,” she said. “We find with a lot of clients when we go in to talk about rebranding is a sense people want to cling on to the familiar. It’s ok to mourn the loss of what was. A lot of transformation starts with a loss; you’re changing something that could either be a name, or in a large amount of cases for us, when companies spin or split for various reasons. For employees, that can be hard.”

A clear reason for what you’re doing is also a must. “Often, we forget to tell the why. We tell people we have rebranded and they wonder what went wrong. They don’t often understand the journey. It’s important to keep reminding people of why – what’s the goal, the ambition, the new story we want to take forward,” Bloomfield said.

“That again comes back to people – you have to win with employees before you win externally. Often people think let’s announce this externally and show what we have done, yet they haven’t communicated to employees. I don’t think it can be overegged in terms of making sure employees feel really comfortable or that they’re the last people to know.”

Another lesson from Bloomfield for marketers is “don’t expect a round of applause”. “Any rebrand or significant brand launch in market will always have someone criticising it,” she said.

“Any big change brings with it scrutiny and criticism from some quarters. You have to accept for some people they don’t like change, it’ll be hard. You just have to hold your nerve. It will dissipate. A huge amount of thought has gone into this work. When you explain to people, they can understand the vision so much better.”

As an example, Bloomfield pointed to Landor & Fitch’s work with Bayer on spinning off Covestro. The name was made up of syllables with specific meaning. ‘Co’ reflected collaboration, while ‘stro’ reflected strong and ‘vest’ was about the idea of independent strength.

“When we explained to employees and they bought it, then externally, it helped people understand the thinking behind it,” she said.

The last lesson from Bloomfield is launch day is not the finish. “Once it’s out there, you have to look at how you continue to support that and follow through. Where do I now need to invest? What is next? If you stop progressing, talking about it and investing, momentum will stop,” she said.

“We see many organisations make that mistake – they hit that level of excitement then want to move on. I’m afraid not. That’s when the real work begins.”  

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