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Ericsson: B2B branding research case study

The end goal

Ericsson, a manufacturer of telecoms infrastructure equipment, had seen its market undergo radical change.  Telecoms used to be about voice calls, but now smart phones meant it was all about data and content.  Mobile operators wanted their customers to be streaming video, downloading music and surfing the internet.  Fixed line operators had reinvented themselves as quadruple-play providers of phone, broadband, internet and TV.

Ericsson needed to ensure that they remained relevant in this new environment.  They took several commercial steps to do so including a number of acquisitions which provided new technological capabilities.  This saw three key brands being added to the Ericsson portfolio – Redback, Tandberg and LHS.

Whilst these acquisitions created a strong proposition, something was missing – a brand to hold it all together.  Not a brand in the sense of a visual identifier.  It had already been decided that the new entity was going to adopt the Ericsson identity.  But a brand as in the associations the ‘new’ Ericsson’ should trigger in the target market’s mind; its meaning.

So Ericsson turned to their long-term research partner Circle.  We were engaged to:

  • Identify what Ericsson and each acquired brand meant to the target market
  • Identify the optimum future brand positioning for the ‘new’ Ericsson
  • Develop the core principles of a brand migration plan which would preserve the value in acquired brands and ensure employees and customers came on the journey
  • Track progress towards the aspirational positioning over time

 

Finding the optimum brand positioning

Optimum brand positioning

 

The means to the end

At the core of our approach was Circle’s proprietary Brand GPS™ framework which is based on the eight core attributes strong B2B brands display.  This framework is a powerful guide.  It has been verified by branding experts from 20 of the world’s leading B2B marketing agencies and there’s a proven correlation between performance on the framework and brand preference.  Brand GPS™ also has flexibility – it’s not a black-box but a framework of principles.  This ensures that every project is bespoke to the client’s unique situation.

With Brand GPS™ as our guide we first gathered deep insights into brand perceptions through 50 in-depth, one-on-one interviews with senior decision makers in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

These interviews made use of various projective techniques to help respondents articulate their thoughts on an abstract concept and bypass the tendency of B2B decision makers to over-rationalise their thinking.  For example, The Brand Obituary exercise helped people to articulate which aspects of a brand they value most and would miss if lost.  We asked respondents to imagine they are writing an obituary for one of the acquired brands.  In it they expressed the brand’s unique attributes, how they felt about them, what they will miss most and the hole left in others’ lives.  We then asked them to imagine they were writing a newspaper announcement about the birth of the recently departed’s child (i.e. the new brand).  In it they expressed their hopes and aspirations for the new brand as it makes its way through the world, and provided advice to the youngster on pitfalls to avoid.

We then gathered a series of hard metrics on brand perceptions so that qualitative insights could be verified, brand strength precisely measured and a benchmark set.  A global online survey of 750 customers and prospects was used to do so.  This survey was then repeated at regular intervals following the brand migration in order to monitor and inform the journey.

As with the earlier qualitative stage, great care was taken to look beyond the superficial.  For example, if we were simply to present a list of brand attributes to respondents and ask which mattered the most, the likely answer is ‘all of them’.  After all, any credible brand wouldn’t seek to have any association with something that didn’t matter to some degree.  And even if respondents were to express a preference for some brand attributes over others, B2B decision makers tend to overweight the importance of ‘rational’ attributes, e.g. value.  To bypass this and access sub-conscious beliefs and motivations several statistical and psychological techniques were used.

Employees from all of the brands were also included throughout the process.  Before any external research we held a series of internal workshops with key stakeholders to determine their aspirations for the brand.  We deployed an online survey to all employees globally so that they had the chance to express their views.  And then we repeated this at key stages of the brand migration to ensure that everyone was still supportive.  This engagement was critical to the success of the project.  It resulted in strong buy-in to the end decision, ensured that the chosen brand positioning reflected the culture of the company, and meant that the brand promise could be delivered in reality.

At the end of the process, Circle ran a series of workshops throughout Ericsson using our ACTIVATOR methodology.  This created a consensus decision on a sensitive issue and generated clear action plans.

The key findings

The research gave Ericsson clear direction.

Based on the insight, we created a brand statement for the ‘new Ericsson’ which was resonant, compelling and differentiated.  This was based on the theme that ‘1 + 1 = 3’.  The new brand combined the best elements of Ericsson (global reach, heritage, etc.) with DNA imported from acquired brands (primarily their innovative mind set and start-up culture).  Ericsson adopted this as the aspirational brand positioning.

We also used feedback from the target market to create a set of ‘golden rules’ and ‘cardinal sins’ for the brand migration.  These became the core guiding principles in Ericsson’s future activities.

And we created a set of brand health KPIs including the Brand GPS™ Score which summarised overall brand health in one simple but powerful number.  These metrics were then benchmarked and tracked over a two year period.  This gave clear visibility of progress towards the aspirational position and allowed any corrective action to be taken rapidly.

The end result

Ericsson ‘retired’ the acquired brands in 2010 and began to operate solely under the Ericsson label, but with a fresh brand positioning.

In the three year period since, sales in this business unit (the ‘new’ brand) have grown from 10.6 billion Swedish Kroner to 12.2 billion Swedish Kroner (approximately £1.1 billion).  This represents a growth rate of 15% which, given this is a billion pound business, is phenomenal.  Sure, it’s not all down to the brand, but it has been an essential element.

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) branding research.