Let's take a close look at Corporate Branding at Akzo Nobel - Interview with Nathalie Quéré. Can you introduce yourself, Nathalie? What’s your background? What are the most important tasks you have as the head of corporate communication?
My name is Nathalie Quéré and I have been of Head of Corporate Branding at AkzoNobel since March 2012. I am essentially responsible for all aspects of the AkzoNobel brand, which includes raising global awareness and ensuring that our businesses all over the world use and promote the brand in the right way.
Some time ago, AkzoNobel went through a rebranding process, what were the reasons for this transformation? How does it affect your corporate communication? Following the sale of the company’s pharma activities and the subsequent acquisition of ICI, AkzoNobel wanted to express its new strategic direction by developing a new brand positioning and identity. So we set out to present AkzoNobel as a single, coherent and inspiring global brand. As well as establishing AkzoNobel as the umbrella brand for all our products, we also reworked the logo to make it more relevant for the 21st century.
But it’s something which had been evolving for some time. The rebranding effectively signaled the culmination of a major transformation process which had started several years earlier. It was a very carefully planned process and sent out a message that our unified organization had a clear direction for the future and we were ready to write the next chapter in our long and successful history. Obviously, communicating the change involved a huge amount of planning, both internally and externally. Changing your identity has massive implications for signage, stationery, and workwear, not to mention the branding on your actual products, so it was a major undertaking, but proved to be a successful one. Changing identity and country is a major decision.
How many product brands are under the AkzoNobel umbrella? It’s impossible to put an exact number on it because we have so many. We not only have consumer brands, such as paints and coatings, but we also sell many thousands of different products through business to business channels (our Specialty Chemicals business in particular) so I couldn’t give an actual figure. We also operate in very dynamic markets, where portfolios are changing all the time. Some brands are phased out, while new technologies and products are constantly being developed, so estimating numbers would not offer a very realistic picture of our activities.
Why did AkzoNobel choose an endorsed branding model? Research has shown that consumers and business customers are more likely to deal with companies with strong brands. AkzoNobel has a long and proud heritage that stretches back hundreds of years and there is strong equity in the AkzoNobel name. It’s a respected and trusted brand. So marketing our products in a brand architecture model which has AkzoNobel as the umbrella means that our entire portfolio benefits from the power of the AkzoNobel brand just as, for example, Rabobank (Joost Augusteijn) explains in this article about "Enhancing Brand Preference". It also helps to strengthen the global recognition and value of the AkzoNobel name. In addition, market dynamics in certain parts of the world lean heavily towards the power of global brands. Consumers want the reassurance that they are buying products from a global company that sells products they know they can rely on.
What are the challenges in communicating a corporate brand to such a diverse audience in many markets? In order to reap the benefits of endorsed branding, we have to be fully focused at all times. We have to make sure that our entire product range is consistent in terms of quality and what the company stands for. All our brands are independent and have their own marketing departments, but Corporate Branding is there to ensure quality and offer help when needed. Jos van Haastrecht (DSM) shares some interesting views about Creating A Shared Value Strategy in this article. For example, we have an online Brand Center which is the primary company resource for tools such as branding guidelines and assets such as logos and images. It also serves as an approval center which enables us to ensure that material being produced by our businesses is on brand and in line with the company’s values and identity.
You have mentioned that sponsoring is one of the most effective ways of promoting the corporate brand, why is that? What are the other methods? It’s important that people all over the world have heard of us and recognize the AkzoNobel brand. It’s our job to not only make sure that people have heard of the company but that they also have a positive association with our name and what we stand for. Placing advertisements and entering into partnerships and sponsorship agreements is an effective way of achieving this. If you want to learn more about Building Powerful Strategic Alliances, read this interview with Jean-Marie Vogel, a well-known executive recognized for his experiences particularly in the domain of Strategic Alliances. Corporate promotion initiatives help consumers to feel reassured about what they are buying because they know it comes from a company that can be trusted, operates in an ethical way and has an established reputation. They also make a connection because they can generate a sense of giving something back to the community. So as well as showing support for an event or initiative, people understand that we also want to be a good neighbor. We can seem more real almost, more human, rather than simply being a big company that produces paint and chemicals.
How does the fact that the company was ranked first in the Chemicals Sector on the very prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes (DJSI) influence the perception of the AkzoNobel brands? We take sustainability extremely seriously. For us, it is not some kind of abstract concept. It is firmly embedded throughout our organization to the extent that it is now part of AkzoNobel’s DNA. Being ranked in first place in the Chemicals supersector on the DJSI is obviously welcome recognition for our efforts, but if we are to maintain our leadership position and take advantage of business growth opportunities, we have to accelerate the pace of our commitment. So we are putting an increasing focus on getting more value from fewer resources and being one of the Top Brands from the Netherlands helps! How does this impact our brands? Well, customers are increasingly demanding more sustainable products. But we don’t just try to satisfy that demand, we also develop new products that anticipate future demand and offer “greener” solutions before people even realize they need them. This helps to build the connection between our brands and our environmentally responsible approach to production and product development and we will continue working towards a situation where our brands have a natural association with sustainability and well-being. This interview was conducted by Bea Stanford for Best Dutch Brands.