A brand new strategy

NetApp's corporate marketing and communications team has worked hard to help redefine the company for a variety of different audiences.

NetApp's corporate marketing and communications team has worked hard to help redefine the company for a variety of different audiences.

Over the past 16 years, NetApp (formerly known as Network Appliance), a data-management solutions provider, has built a successful business, operating in more than 100 countries and posting nearly $3 billion in revenue last year.

Extensive research, however, revealed that the company wasn't connecting with one of its primary audiences. NetApp product users loved the company and were extremely loyal, but their bosses, those who make and influence purchasing decisions, didn't understand NetApp.

"The technical audience asked us to help their bosses understand who we are," says Elisa Steele, SVP of corporate marketing for NetApp. "It was a call to action from our own customer base to [raise] understanding and awareness [among] strategic managers."

The business of branding
These insights were revealed after NetApp's marcomms teams proposed a brand investment to help meet aggressive business goals set by the executive team in 2006. Ultimately, it formed the foundation for a multimillion-dollar, long-term investment in a new brand identity that launched March 10.

"It became a business initiative, not a marketing proposal," she says. "It's about moving the company forward, including how we communicate. We never once called it a rebrand. We were developing a communication system that would make it more clear who NetApp is going forward."

The efforts encompass all touch points, including a name, logo, tagline, and Web site. Steele notes that the initiative represents an evolution of the company and was born of high-level collaboration and cooperation.

"[Our CEO] agreed it was time to invest in the brand and talked to people to guide them on why he was sponsoring this program," she says.

Landor Associates, a strategic brand insight company, consulted on research and the brand platform and system. Voce Communications, NetApp's AOR, handled media relations and social media outreach for North America and supported communications for the rollout.

The research noted other issues, which Steele says were limiting growth. For example, non-customers had lower than expected awareness of the company, while the technical audience believed it was a niche player with one type of product, when it actually has a broad portfolio of data-management solutions. The name Network Appliance was deemed confusing, and the former tagline, "Simplifying data management," was only relevant to the technical audience.

"We had a real understanding of an audience we were missing," says Steele. "We made sure messaging appealed to both audiences. The new tagline ["Go further, faster"] conveys [our] promise to the marketplace and is relevant to all audiences. [The research] gave us confidence and strength in [making] decisions about name and tagline."

Steele's team held meetings, workshops, and focus groups with application partners, such as Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP; distribution partners; and members of the technical and strategic audiences to get feedback on elements of the new identity. Industry analysts also gave feedback on elements of the new branding throughout the process.

Once the new brand was solidified, more than 6,600 employees had to be brought up to speed - on both the external changes and the business rationale behind them. Leadership teams and other staffers identified as helpful in communicating and driving influence were enlisted as brand ambassadors late last year.

One month before launch, the internal team went on a "road show" of 18 cities on four continents to present the reasoning behind the changes and to train about 1,000 staffers to act as information hubs.

"We wanted to enable [employees around] the globe to represent the brand at the same time," says Eric Brown, senior director of corporate relations at NetApp. "We wanted people to [understand] that a brand [is] the promise you make to customers, partners, and shareholders. We had a compressed, aggressive timeline for employee engagement around the concepts, big picture, and reasons [for the new branding]. We didn't want them to obsess [about the new branding] - the obsession should be about meeting business goals."

The team unveiled the new brand to all staffers a week before launch. An internal Web site went live, and for the first two days it included a moderated chat where Steele and the team talked to employees in real time about the changes.

"We made it clear [to staff] that our culture is positive, how much that meant to customers, and how it shaped the brand," Brown says.

Surveys showed staff response was positive. "People understood that the change was important to growth and that our business goals can only be realized if more people know who we are," Brown says.

Agencies' role
The 21 PR agencies that NetApp employs around the world served as brand ambassadors. Brown notes that PR focuses on reaching the technical audience through IT media, the blogosphere, and podcasts. Business media, networking, speaking engagements, and university relations help to engage the strategic audience.

Also supporting the launch were new ad and search engine marketing campaigns, and a new Web site in 12 languages.

Steele notes that cross-functional management is key to success. "To execute the program externally [we needed] a brand team that represents every department," she says. "It breaks down barriers, inspires collaboration, and is a critical factor [in] success. Every operational aspect of the business has to execute in tandem to affect the external experience."

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