Emerson (formerly Emerson Electric Co.), a 110-year-old St. Louis-based manufacturer renowned for its consistent financial performance and operational excellence, has been nimble over the years in quietly adapting to changing technologies, market conditions, and customer needs. As it stepped into a new century, Emerson was in the midst of transformation once again. Having just made several strategic acquisitions and with key internal growth initiatives successfully under way, the company had become a world-class provider of high-technology products and solutions across a range of industries in fast-growth markets. Yet some audiences still held an outdated and incorrect perception of Emerson, seeing it as a stodgy, “Old Economy” manufacturer of motors and fans. To better align perception with the reality of its repositioning, Emerson invested a full year of extensive research and planning that culminated in the redefinition of its brand with a new logo (the first change in more than 30 years), shorter company name, and future advertising that reflected the company’s changing and emerging role as a forward-looking, customer-focused, technology-driven industry leader. Emerson needed to reinforce its positioning and announce its new identity to key audiences: media, financial community, and employees.
As exciting as the new brand was to internal audiences, the external reality was that a business-to-business corporate brand like Emerson’s is usually less interesting to the public and thus more difficult to publicize than a consumer brand. For this type of story, marketing reporters often seek an exclusive. What Emerson needed, however, was broad coverage. These challenges were compounded by the fact that Emerson always had been a quiet company, shying away from widespread exposure. As a result, senior management was not accustomed to dealing with the media proactively, and the company had few existing reporter relationships from which to build. The brand launch was the first time Emerson had ever executed a full-scale media outreach.
PLANNING AND OBJECTIVES
Emerson’s new brand strategy was the result of 12 months of extensive research, gathering input from customers, employees, analysts, and other core audiences — including MBA students from top-tier universities. With research concluded, Emerson held in October an “Omnicom Summit” for all the agencies (Fleishman-Hillard, public relations; Interbrand, branding/logo; and DDB, advertising) involved in the brand development to plan for the December launch. Objectives of the brand launch were to:
- Create awareness and understanding among Emerson key audiences that the refreshed brand is reflective of the company’s successful repositioning.
- Increase recognition of Emerson’s technology leadership among its key audiences.
- Raise Emerson’s visibility among customers as a responsive, customer-focused company that is providing value and making it easier to do business.
- Break down the false perception of Emerson as a conglomerate of disparate divisions and underscore the potent value of Emerson divisions working cooperatively, to deliver systems and solutions to customers.
In addition, to help prepare senior management for the media interviews, Emerson Chief Executive Officer (CEO) David Farr and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Katherine Button Bell underwent a day of intensive one-on-one media training, where they solidified messaging content, practiced message delivery, and planned for the brand launch announcement. Meanwhile, Emerson built a media list, soft-sounded selective media, and revamped the Web site.
The brand announcement served as the springboard for aggressive outreach to key thought leaders and media, emphasizing Emerson’s industry leadership and global reach. Strategies included:
- Leverage Emerson’s underexposure to generate curiosity and newsworthiness — providing the opportunity to generate high interest and tout many “changes” and “firsts.”
- Maximize coverage by preparing two story angles: a business repositioning story (told by the CEO to the business press) and a marketing story (told by the CMO to the marketing press).
- Reinforce Emerson’s technology focus by using the Internet to reach the media whenever possible — for example, by sending print and electronic press kits.
- Capture the attention of the financial community by tying the brand launch to the content and distribution of Emerson’s 2000 Annual Report.
- Keep the brand message alive by following up with proactive e-business and network power publicity efforts, and analyst outreach beginning Jan. 1, 2001.
To launch its new brand strategy, Emerson executed an active outreach program that began in St. Louis and ended in New York, and it included print and broadcast media as well as communications to employees and the financial community. The primary communications vehicles — all of which reflected the messaging, look, and feel of Emerson’s new brand — were:
- Media kit (a letter from the CEO, press release, annual report, fact sheet, Q&A, logo slick, and b-roll)
- Analyst package (a letter from the CEO, annual report, press release, fact sheet, and Q&A)
- Meeting in a box for employees (instructions, a letter from the CEO, press release, messages/talking points, FAQs, video, PowerPoint presentation (on disk), poster, and collateral request form)
- Web site (incorporating the new logo on its template pages and a special “sitelet” featuring a flash animation that brought the new brand identity to life, an online version of the media kit, and video clips of the CEO and CMO discussing the importance of the new image)
- Intranet site for employees
- Banners (“We Are Emerson” posters that highlighted key messages were sent to each location)
On Day 1, the new intranet site and Web site were launched and flash e-mails were sent to media and analysts that included a link to the Web site. E-mails were followed up with phone calls. The CEO and CMO completed all print interviews and local broadcast interviews. Senior managers around the world began holding meetings with employees to introduce the new brand strategy and explain what it meant at a divisional level. On Day 2, the CEO and CMO traveled to New York and participated in national broadcast interviews at CNBC, Bloomberg, and Reuters — all of which had been secured with soft pitching during the planning stage. The CEO also did an interview at Forbes for an immediate story in Forbes Global and in preparation for a future Forbes story about Emerson that will be more in depth.
Emerson’s stock hit a 52-week high of $77.375 the day the new brand strategy was announced.
More than 75 print, TV, and radio media covered the story. In addition to the national broadcast coverage listed above, the print hits included the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Barron’s, and Associated Press. In addition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle, Cincinnati Enquirer, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the story regionally. Marketing publications including Ad Week and Brand Week interviewed the CMO and ran articles. In addition, the marketing columnist at the Chicago Tribune covered the announcement.
Emerson’s Web site recorded its highest-ever single day number of visitor sessions — a 60 percent increase over the previous record — on Dec. 5, 2000, the day of the brand launch. In addition, the Emerson Web site experienced a record-high amount of traffic in December 2000, with unique visitors up 28 percent and visitor sessions up 36 percent compared to traffic during September 2000.
The announcement made a lasting impact. In the weeks following the launch, Forbes Global spotlighted the “art of reinvention” at Emerson, Business Week named Emerson’s current and former CEOs among the Top 25 Managers of 2000, Information Week ranked Emerson among the 100 most innovative companies using IT to deepen customer ties, and Fortune included Emerson among “Seven Stocks That Are Ready to Run.”