Brand it: Is your change programme a twentysomething hipster?

Brand it: Is your change programme a twentysomething hipster?

Think about McDonald’s, Nike, Apple, Visa. What do they have in common? They each have a strong brand. And a strong brand is everything. More than just a logo or colour palette, it’s a constructed identity that builds an emotional connection with customers and so becomes embedded into their personal and social identity. Brands are so valuable that they drive a lot of mergers and acquisitions; for example, Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover for $2.65 billion not for raw materials, but for the power of the brand.

If everyone from the CEO to the customer knows the power of brands, then perhaps we should do more to build a brand when trying to engage organisations with change.

So, how can you get started with building a brand for your change programme? Firstly, actions speak louder than logos so don’t get stuck on what you brand will look like. Logos often change but the core identity of a brand doesn’t.

Don’t start with your brand at all. Start with your employees, understand who they are and what will engage with them, and build your brand identity from there.

A match made in heaven

You should aim to build a brand that connects with your audience and suits the underlying tone of your change programme. If the brand personality for your change programme feels like a trendy twentysomething hipster, but your employees are more like fifty-somethings, then your change programme brand could fall flat on its face (or hipster beard). Likewise, if your programme was designed to change behaviour to make people more compliant with important regulation, an informal and fun brand might not work for you. You may want your brand to feel like a strict school Headmaster to help that your employees understand the underlying seriousness of the change.

PA built a brand for a government organisation’s IT transformation programme. We wanted employees to feel that the IT change was going to be positive and highly beneficial change and so we built a brand with an informal and positive personality that would bring people along the change journey. We didn’t want the change to feel complicated or overwhelming so our brand used simple language and quirky images to explain complex technical ideas. We tested the brand to make sure it connected with the organisation’s employees, helping the final brand to be as engaging as possible.

It’s all about personality

They say it’s about what’s under the surface that counts. Giving your change programme an engaging ‘personality’ with consistent tone and messaging will help frame the reason for the change and desired future state in a way that is clear and genuine.

When thinking about your brand’s personality, ask yourself three questions:

1) How do you want your audience to feel?

Do you want your audience to feel relaxed and un-phased about the changes? Perhaps you want them to take the changes seriously and realise they need to start working differently. Or maybe you want them to feel excited and inspired about the future? Understanding this is an important step and will help you to get your brand personality spot on.

2) Language: What tone or style would be most effective to communicate your message and engage your audience?

Don’t be afraid to be different. If your organisation’s internal communications tend to be a little ‘news reader’, don’t be afraid to be more ‘Blue Peter presenter’! Consider the imagery and language that will bring this personality to life and help you stand out from the noise from the rest of the organisation.

PA worked on a large IT transformation to embed a new technology throughout the organisation. A big problem was the number of highly technical terms that were unsuitable to be communicated to the wider organisation. So, we worked with the client to create and distribute a language guide to help everyone on the change programme communicate in a way that would resonate with the organisation and fit in with the informal brand of the change programme.

There may be times where words are less important, but getting the style and tone right are still hugely important. We worked with a large international pharmaceutical organisation who were restructuring to become independent from their parent company. We were asked to help them to strengthen their internal cultural identity. As it was an international organisation, we chose to co-build the brand alongside all regional offices. The result was a brand that had very little language and instead focussed on communicating in pictures that could be understood and recognised by all.

3) Content: What do you want your change programme to say?

Understandably, you will have different messages to communicate at different times in your programme, but it is important to think about the core message that you need to reinforce. Often this is the burning platform for change and the inspiring vision for the future. This message will have to be reinforced. Again and again and again, because sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through and be accepted. Avoid scripting a ‘key message’ and repeating it, using exactly the same words each time, as it’ll quickly become stale. Instead, focus on getting the key points right and allow the message to be communicated using different words and channels each time, to help your communications continue to sound new and exciting.

Love at first sight

Once you have developed your brand’s personality, you can start to design its appearance. One way to keep your change programme current is to avoid creating one logo or graphic that is stamped on all programme communications and activities. Instead, create a ‘theme’ that gives you the flexibility to produce new visuals to suit different situations, whilst still fitting with the look of your brand. Using the same style and theme throughout your communications will help employees easily recognise the programme’s brand, while avoiding it becoming boring. Carefully plan how your theme can be applied for the duration of your change programme. This will avoid the risk of launching an unsustainable theme that will need to be dropped, potentially damaging the credibility of your change programme.

Whilst working on a large scale change programme, PA designed a series of characters to bring the change to life. This suite of characters gave the brand flexibility, as the characters could be used to support a variety of different initiatives and ideas and were placed in different scenarios depending on the stage of the programme. As the brand developed, the characters came to represent the core behaviours that organisation needed to change. For example, one character represented being responsible and another represented being considerate and these characters were used consistently to reinforce this message. This led to high engagement and recognition of important behaviour change.

Building a strong and consistent brand for your change programme may feel a challenge, but standing out from other change initiatives and increasing engagement is top on the wish list for most communications teams. So all that’s left to decide is, is your change programme a twentysomething hipster or…


Tara Jones is a director in PA Consulting’s London office, where Dennis Layton is a principal.

The authors would like to thank Andrea Alexander, Mauricio Arnau, Lori Dobeus, Kirill Dushkin, Lauren Miller, and Katie Smith for their contributions to this report.

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