For a business to be successful, it’s no longer enough to just have the best offering or most talented employees. These have become table stakes thanks to players like Amazon and Airbnb that have reinvented what it means to be customer-centric. Now, customers can order almost anything with the click of a button…
Quaker Houghton was created by the merger of Quaker Chemicals and Houghton International, two of the biggest players in the specialty chemical industries. The newly formed company came to DeSantis Breindel for help creating a unifying brand.
Together, we developed a new brand strategy built around a simple but powerful concept: “Forward Together.” This brand strategy pivoted the company from a products focus to a solutions focus. To reflect this, the new logo for the merged company suggests two entities coming together—not only Quaker and Houghton but also Quaker Houghton and its clients.
However, for a brand to be credible to its stakeholders, its products and actions have to live up to its corporate promise. Quaker Houghton promised unity, but because both company’s product portfolios had simply been combined, its product brand architecture was crowded, confusing, and sometimes redundant.
We worked with Quaker Houghton to rationalize its product architecture, creating a portfolio that emphasized solution categories over product names. This was not only easier for clients to navigate, but also helped drive equity to the new Quaker Houghton brand.
To implement the new portfolio strategy, we took a three-step process, which we recommend for other B2B companies making sense of their product range after a merger.
Research-driven product rationalization
Once an overall portfolio strategy has been decided upon, it’s time to make the tough decisions about which legacy brands stay and which will be subsumed. Research is very important in this process, as information about product name equity and recognition will not only be crucial to the decision-making process, but will also help justify those decisions to stakeholders who may feel threatened or upset by the disappearance of legacy product brand names.
For Quaker Houghton, we undertook a robust product-brand research initiative, polling existing customers about which brands they recognized, which they used, and how they referred to and perceived brands. In cases in which products overlapped, this information helped us choose which sub-brands to retain. For example, in the multisurface cleaner category, we found that Quaker’s brand had much higher market recognition, so we recommended that it be chosen to remain in the portfolio instead of the competitive Houghton brand.
We used our findings to also create a decision tree for future acquisitions. This heuristic would help the Quaker Houghton team determine whether brands should be maintained, renamed, or subsumed.
Brands can be renamed or retired at different cadences based on their equity in the marketplace and their stakeholders’ emotional connection towards them. On one hand, there are brands that change overnight: these could be those without much recognition or that are suffering from a bad public reputation. On the other, there are brands that undergo a slower, multi-step transitions. After FedEx acquired Kinko’s, the printshop brand was renamed FedEx Kinko’s before finally becoming FedEx Office.
We recommended that for Quaker Houghton, legacy brands could be retired or renamed without an intermediary transition brand. While this decision reduced costs, it was also based on two research insights: the first being that many of the brands slated for retirement had low name recognition. The second insight was that almost half of customers referred to products by their use, rather than by the actual product names. In other words, they asked for “Quaker cleaners” rather than “Quakerclean 720.”
Although we recommended a simple migration strategy, we still emphasized the importance of clearly communicating the plan to customers, employees, and partners. It was important to tailor messaging to each audience, as the change impacted them differently. For example, while customers needed to be assured that renamed products would maintain the same level of quality, employees needed to be aware that product name changes would require some extra lift from them to ensure that customers’ procurement approvals were transferred to the new product names.
Successful B2B brands are built from the inside out. A company’s own people are the living embodiment of the brand in a way that is rarely the case with consumer businesses. How a B2B company’s people act, speak and even think will be far more effective in communicating the brand’s promise than…