By Thomas Wagner.

During a panel discussion at the German Design Council’s German Brand Convention 2019, Nadine Rahman of ifm solutions and Eric Snoeijen of Bosch Rexroth provided a detailed insight into how businesses can successfully navigate digital transformation with effective brand management.

From traditional business to Industry 4.0: Navigating the transition with brand management

Outstanding brand management is by no means self-evident. And this is especially true when it comes to evolving a successful brand with a long-standing tradition and incorporating in it the myriad changes coming out of digital transformation. In this context, underlined moderator Saskia Diehl at the start of the panel discussion held during the German Brand Convention 2019, it is traditional B2B companies, in particular, that face the greatest challenges.  For decades these companies have been thriving in the market. Now, they find themselves bombarded by consultants telling them they need to change the way they operate to keep up with shifting customer needs, new business models, changes in manufacturing and the growing ineffectiveness of traditional ways of communicating and selling products. This is compounded by yet another effect of the transition: aggressive changes in the expectations of new hires and young professionals.

Digitalisation also changes brands.

Nadine Rahman is the CEO of ifm solutions, the digitalisation division at ifm. ifm is the world’s leading manufacturer of sensors and has been at the forefront of the international automation technology industry for 50 years, says Rahman. Now, she explains, digitalisation has removed the line “between the world of IT and world of OT”. If a company that specialises in sensors suddenly decides it wants to manufacture software as well, it first needs to gain the necessary expertise to do that. There are two options: you can either comb the market for talent and build the teams you need one person at a time, or you can look to see which companies have the expertise you need, and acquire them. For this reason, says Rahman, you need to develop local and international expertise in order to present yourself to customers as a brand, and as a competent partner for digitalisation solutions.

Fitting different working cultures under the umbrella of a single brand, explains Rahman, is chaotic at first. For ifm, the confusion started with their business cards. You need visual consistency, she says. Since ifm uses a one-brand strategy, the decision was made to use the company’s colour, orange, as the core visual element. But moving towards better brand integration isn’t enough, according to Rahman. You need to combine this with a process of change management, which requires bundling individual competencies so that your newly created teams can work together in a constructive way. At ifm, this process culminated in the founding of ifm solutions, and consequently in the creation of a brand migration process which was used to integrate various subsidiaries. Finally, explains Rahman, the ifm brand was ready to build up its new digital expertise.

Brands must adapt to their environments.

For Eric Snoeijen of Bosch Rexroth, the fact that the industry has changed so drastically over the last 20 years, while the brand has failed to keep up, is as clear an argument as any for digital transformation. Snoeijen sees brands as experiences, not as stamps or seals. For years now, says Snoeijen, Bosch Rexroth has been a “drive and control technology company”. However, the brand was lacking in familiarity, especially among young engineers. According to Snoeijen, the point of departure for the transition began with a realisation: “We were moving everything forward except our brand. So we asked ourselves: why can’t we think about the brand in a way that allows the brand to do the moving?” Today, the brand claim “We Move. You Win.” demonstrates the core focus on movement.

With the subsidiary having to reinvent its image under considerable pressure, this also inspired the parent company, Bosch, to breathe new life into the Bosch Rexroth brand. Tobias Brummer, head of Global Brand Management and Brand Communication at Bosch Rexroth, emphasises just how important it is to get employees on board with the transformation – you need to start by convincing your workforce of the need for a brand transfer. If the process of renewing the brand is successful, this will lead to people identifying with the brand and getting excited about it.

A company’s core values are key.

The changes that need to take place in brand management as a business shifts to offering entirely new expertise and resources under the banner of digitalisation, explains Rahman, have a lot to do with the company’s core values. The values that ifm has embodied for the last 50 years are essentially timeless – but they needed to be reinterpreted. The brand’s claim “close to you” reflects the values of quality and dependability, while also communicating the fundamental principles of the company’s philosophy: to never design, manufacture or sell products with military or weapons-related applications. “Values like these never lose their relevance.” The question, then, is this: “What does ›close to you‹ mean in the digital age?”

For Eric Snoeijen, there’s no question that brands need to keep up as a company’s products and services change. The important thing, says Snoeijen, is that the two fit together. Snoeijen and Rahman agree: it’s not enough to create a cool brand. Something actually needs to happen inside the company, and the products behind the brand need to deliver. “Developing a good product comes first. Then comes communication,” explains Rahman, cutting straight to the heart of the issue.

This approach, as noted by some in the panel discussion, is characteristic of traditional German businesses – these companies, especially those in the software industry, sometimes lack the courage to get unfinished products out onto the market quickly (a move which is often essential in order to ensure success), and to then provide subsequent updates to improve the product over time. When asked, in terms of brand strategy, how a business should handle new digital products in industries and markets where the brand is still unknown, Rahman provides a surprising answer: “We always ask ourselves what it would take to threaten our business in the market. And then we develop that area of business ourselves – in a way, we act as our own biggest competitor.”

Watch the complete video from 6 June 2019

(please mind, only available in German)

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