3 Winning Rebranding Strategies From Veteran CMOs

Sometimes it pays to change. That’s what CMOs at companies from entertainment to personal finance are finding as they grapple with the digital revolution, where customers flock to online (and often mobile) alternatives to the traditional stalwart services that made up the 20th century economy. But with the right rebranding strategy, three companies have found new ways to reconnect with their customer base and adapt to a digital age that’s arrived faster than many ever expected.

The company: Flex (formerly Flextronics)
The CMO: Michael Mendenhall, formerly at HP and Walt Disney
The strategy: As Mendenhall told Ad Age, Flextronics started life as a manufacturing company, but the new wave of digital advances has made it closer to an ‘Internet of Things’ innovator, partnering with companies like Ford and Google to develop systems that interface with the Internet. Mendenhall led the charge to rebrand the company as Flex, shedding its old manufacturing associations for a new status as a creator of hardware that speaks software’s language.

The result: While not everyone gushed over the name change (Mitchell Goozé of the Value Acceleration blog said it may be the “stupidest rebranding ever”), investors seemed to understand the transition the name represented. UBS moved the company to its Buy list in 2015, after the rebranding, saying, “Flex is the flag carrier for EMS vendors moving up the value chain.”

The company: IMAX
The CMO: Eileen Campbell, formerly at Millward Brown and Angus Reid Group
The strategy: Even being synonymous with the big screen movie experience hasn’t saved IMAX from digital disruption, as more and more viewers opt for screenings from the comfort of their own home. But Campbell told Digiday that IMAX seeks to “give the millennials a reason to believe in the movies” as an experience, not just passive entertainment, through its 2014 rebranding efforts. The campaign featured a strong print component that played up the low-resolution nature of watching video on a computer or a mobile device, as well as a series of online interviews and resources exploring the IMAX technology and experience.

The result: When it comes to big blockbusters, IMAX has regained much of its lost viewership, particularly thanks to the record-breaking global reception of the new Star Wars film, which broke the ticket sales record previously set by another recent blockbuster, Jurassic World. (Even in China, where the film wasn’t widely popular, IMAX sales were robust.) And viewing preferences seem to be reaching filmmakers, too: VOA reports that the majority of big budget films are now shot on IMAX cameras so they can be shown on the (truly) big screen.

The company: Western Union
The CMO: Diane Scott, formerly at US West Dex and Izodia
The strategy: With the rise of mobile payment systems like PayPal and Venmo, traditional brick-and-mortar services like Western Union have seen customers look elsewhere for convenience. So what does a company that is more than 100 years old do to adapt to a fast-paced digital environment? Scott launched a truly global campaign—with advertisements and outreach catering to languages, cultures, and preferences—in many of the major markets that Western Union serves, emphasizing the company’s commitment to its customers and helping make their dreams a reality, an argument in favor of loyalty and consistency over cost.

The result: Financially, the company was on a better footing in mid-2015, when it reported higher forecasted earnings. From a marketing standpoint, the Western Union campaigns also appear to have paid off, with the company’s 2015 British campaign focusing on Indian users resulting in more than 1000 new service sign-ups in the first two weeks alone.

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