Graham-Jerome Ball, Director of Global Branding, Informa, explains how Informa Markets retired strong legacy brands UBM and Informa Exhibitions.
Type ‘how to launch a brand’ into your favourite search engine, and you’ll get over one billion entries with tips, tricks, examples and lots of brand experts weighing in with their experience of brand launches.
Type ‘how to retire a brand’, and you’ll get fewer than 10% of that number.
How come? It might be that in branding, like in many other fields, we prefer the new and the next rather than looking in the rear-view mirror. Perhaps talk of retiring brands doesn’t feel as exciting or compelling.
Also, in today’s world, where the value of brand awareness and advocacy is ever greater, businesses tend to invest and commit to their brands at a greater scale than ever before.
There are, however, occasions when a brand reaches the end of its useful life or simply no longer fits into a company’s positioning or strategic business plan.
The decision then comes, whether to shutter a brand entirely, or to retire it and transition to a new one. The key consideration is whether the brand has an attribute that has particular value or meaning to a community or customer base, which you wish to capture and transfer.
Good brands will, over time, create a whole ecosystem of customers, suppliers, business partners and other interested parties around them, whose interests, needs and support must be fully considered in the decision.
Two into one more powerful brand
The decision to retire a brand is not one to take lightly. It demands a great deal of thought, planning and sometimes courage; it is complex and time-consuming, and it is just as important to get right as a one-off brand launch.
In 2019, within our exhibitions business at Informa we retired two brands at once – Informa Exhibitions and UBM – and launched a powerful successor brand – Informa Markets.
The brand Informa Exhibitions dated back from the turn of the century, not long after Informa itself was formed and established as a brand, while UBM had a legacy dating back 100 years, and a fascinating history of transitions from newspapers and TV to business media and events.
Both brands had built up a very positive reputation with exhibitors, customers, suppliers and colleagues, which it was imperative to retain in whatever brand decision and transition we chose.
Especially when acquiring businesses, it can be tempting to rebrand them as quickly as possible, without taking the time to understand their position and value, and to fully plan how the rebranding will play out in the wider world. This brings the danger of brand fatigue and loss of support among the brand’s former advocates and champions.
Transitioning to Informa Markets
In early 2019, we took the decision to retire both brands and move to Informa Markets for a number of reasons. The most significant was that we felt it spoke more clearly to the role the business plays with customers today. It signalled a move from describing where the business started – in exhibitions – to a more purposeful statement about our influence and positioning both at exhibitions and beyond the show floor, into data and digital products and specialist content.
Or, as Informa Markets CEO Charlie McCurdy said: “Informa Markets really brings to life the role we play helping to bring energy, opportunity, growth and success to the specialist markets our customers operate in, and to our customers’ businesses.” It gave us an opportunity to go to market with a new story, through a new website, press releases, videos, stories and interviews, while retaining the existing product brands, reputation, and loyalty. It also provided a focus and motivation for both sets of colleagues to work towards establishing a new business, rather than remaining or joining an existing one.
Tips for brand retirement
Once the decision to retire one or more brands has been made, it is important to ensure you have a clear and workable plan to transfer their equity to your new brand.
One of the most important groups to consider in brand retirement is colleagues. When things go well, colleagues are your best brand advocates. Not only do they engage with customers, peers and other companies you work with, they speak to friends and family and post on social media. When colleagues are engaged, support the brand retirement and understand what you are trying to do, they will help convey the message. More than this, retiring a brand takes many different teams and functions to practically make it work, and so getting people on board to help and buy in is critical.
We carried out research with those we were relying on to help with retiring both brands, to gauge the depth of feeling and areas that needed particular care and attention. In some instances, this initial research – whether it is through questionnaires, interviews, workshops or informal discussion – can shape the way the project is set up.
Another essential first step is to audit the full extent of the retiring brand’s digital footprint, to estimate the scope of the job in hand and who might need to be involved in taking actions. This might include multiple websites, at a product brand and business or corporate level, and the search engine optimisation that is tied into bringing people to the sites, as well as social media channels and any online references where company name is specified such as Google Maps and Wikipedia.
The communications that customers and suppliers receive should also be in scope, whether those are marketing newsletters or eblasts, what appears on invoices, and even what bank account names customers pay, tied to the legal entity they are contracting with.
In terms of physical assets, it can be easy to forget about signage on buildings, and having a sustainable solution for retiring branded stationary and goods while minimising unnecessary waste or landfill is essential.
When the research and information collection stage is completed, it is then possible to create an action plan for each individual task, including what communications and information should be provided when to customers, suppliers, key partners, including venues and so on, so they can also be part of the journey and so we make their role, and any changes we are asking them to make, as easy as possible to fulfil.
For us, neither the Informa Exhibitions nor the UBM brand could be retired overnight either, particularly given UBM’s long history, and the carefully co-ordinated process we undertook. They will continue to have a visible footprint and historical legacy, but over time and, if done correctly, the business’s most important stakeholders will have made the journey to Informa Markets, a brand that brings our strategy to life. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said: “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”