Brand Transformation Interview: With Carina Hauswald Managing Partner, Globeone Zurich

At the end of the transformation, there must be a brand that satisfies both customers and stakeholders”

Brand Transformation

When companies think about the impact of their brand(s) and decide to act, a lot must have happened already. Bringing a brand on the right track is by that time already a tough piece of work. In this interview, Carina Hauswald, Managing Partner of Globeone in Zurich, tells us what matters in brand transformations. Ms Hauswald, I am interested in discussing the topic of brand transformation. When a brand weakens or when digital topics become more pressing, the question of brand transformation often arises. How would you define it?

Carina Hauswald: In its most basic form a transformation is nothing more than going from one state of being to another. In terms of brand it is often essential when the market environment changes or an internal strategic decision is made that requires the support of a strong brand. A brand transformation touches on questions surrounding the positioning, the brand identity and architecture, design elements as well as strategic brand communication. In a globalized market with a constant stream of new competitors and disruptions caused by digitization, companies are under severe pressure. Those, who don´t adapt to change, risk going out of business. Business models and brands must be continuously reviewed and renewed. Under these circumstances, a brand transformation is often the obvious choice. In the face of such challenges, what is the best way to formulate the goals for a successful brand transformation?

Carina Hauswald: It is in the nature of things that objectives can be very different, and, above all, depend heavily on the situation in which the company finds itself at the time of transformation. Depending on the initial position, it could be a matter of realignment after a serious crisis, the entry into new markets, or extrapolating new target groups. The goal could also be a new brand identity after an acquisition or merger. In addition, external factors must also be considered when formulating the objectives. Megatrends usually characterize the corporate environment. Recognizing their medium- to long-term significance for the brand is one of the most important tasks of management. No matter what the ultimate goal of a brand transformation is, it must be consistent with the corporate strategy and must put people at the center. Are there any repetitive processes with regard to the various phases of a brand transformation on which brand managers can base their course of action?

Carina Hauswald: Yes, there are. Generally speaking, the process can be broken down into five steps. These then need to be adapted and structured to individual cases. Before a detailed timeline can be drawn up, the “explore” phase begins with the recording and assessment of the company´s current situation. An honest and ruthless assessment of the situation is important in order to make sure the process does not go wrong from the outset. This is followed by the “think” phase, i.e. the actual battle plan. In the third “create” phase, creative development is initiated. If this goes wrong, the subsequent “act” phase will also be difficult to implement. And, of course, in the fifth phase of the transformation process, the “optimize” phase, the result must be assessed with the help of clearly defined indicators – i.e. key performance indicators – and, if necessary, improved. This sounds like a tedious and fragile process …

Carina Hauswald: The managers guiding this process must always expect important factors to change in the course of the process. Therefore, there is no point in sticking rigidly to the defined processes and ignoring shifts in the goal-setting. At the end of the transformation, you need a brand that appeals to customers and stakeholders alike. Brand managers always need to recall this and demonstrate the necessary flexibility to adapt. This does not mean that they should drastically abandon all previous work and blow up the project timing, but they must be agile in responding to such new challenges. You pointed out that it is important to involve the stakeholders, but you also emphasize the importance of the corporate strategy for the transformation process, which is determined by management. Isn´t that a contradiction?

Carina Hauswald: Of course, top management must set the strategic guidelines. That´s part of their job. But during the brand transformation, you also need them to listen closely. Stakeholder involvement is the most important success factor for transformation. Empathy is essential because in the end people are still at the heart of the brand. What do you see as the biggest challenge in a brand transformation process?

Carina Hauswald: It is very important not to equate transformation with a mere rebranding. A brand transformation goes deeper and touches the core of a company´s behavior and mindset. Basically, during a brand transformation, there is nothing that should not be called into question, if necessary. There are transformations that unfold gradually, so stakeholders only perceive incremental changes and are more accepting. Depending on the situation of the brand however, a drastic change may be necessary This is a major challenge. It is radical, it can cause conflicts. Therefore, it requires all relevant stakeholders to be involved in order to keep resistance low and create a joint effort. A brand transformation is always about staying successful in the long term. How can brands in the digitized world not only catch the attention for a short period of time or for one click but be relevant in the long run?

Carina Hauswald: Brands need to reach and convince their target groups. This is why brand communication must take place on three levels. The first is the level of fascination. Here, communication – keyword: higher corporate purpose – draws the big pictures, address the stakeholders in an emotional way. On the second level, the level of commitment, you need to get stakeholders interested in the brand in a sustainable manner and engage them in interactions. Of course, the product itself cannot be neglected. It is at the center of communication on the third level where communication informs about the advantages of the product on a factual basis. When the need for change gets intense, there is a growing fear of failure. What are the greatest fears that need to be overcome in the transformation process and how do you accomplish that?

Carina Hauswald: Undoubtedly, the pressure is particularly high during brand transformation processes for all persons involved. Nevertheless, it is crucial not to give in to fear, because the transformation process requires courageous and spirited decisions. In my experience, the fear of losing control over your own brand is one of the main obstacles to the transformation process in top management. Fostering cooperation and motivation is the best way to bring around change. Brand transformation processes cause uncertainty among employees. This is a challenge for the management which needs to explain to the employees the opportunities and advantages associated with the transformation. It is obvious that communication plays an important role not only in this.

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