Insiders & Participants Share Their Perspective
“You are WAY too excited about this news,” Jason Sloan, Sonance Chief Sales Officer joked when first telling me about their rebranding plans a few weeks ago. But I was excited – these plans put forth a major shift in the position of the Dana Innovations, Sonance, iPort, & Trufig brands. To Sloan and CEO Ari Supran, this was more of a refocus than a rebranding – a return to their largest and most beloved brand after a long and at times frustrating period of trying to establish another overarching entity.
But to me, it was much more than that.
The inside story on the Sonance rebranding…
Since Strata-gee broke the news Tuesday about Dana Innovations launching what I called a “major rebranding effort” that would move Sonance to the forefront of everything the company is doing – I have received a lot of emails and phone calls from readers about the story. Almost universally, everyone applauded the move.
But a disturbing number of folks I communicated with suggested that this outcome was obvious. For them, it was easy to see that this was what the company should have done in the first place. It was, they suggest, a glaring error back then to try to subordinate Sonance to Dana Innovations. To me, this sounded a little like “Monday morning quarterbacking.” Or in the words of a favorite metaphor of a friend of mine – hindsight is 20/20.
The fact is it is NOT always easy to determine how emerging brands should be positioned alongside each other. As a former manufacturer, I know that it can be a bit of a hazy picture, first to introduce a new product…that over time and with a degree of success slowly has more models added…to methodically turning into a line…and – before you know it – results in a freestanding brand that finds a market niche that voraciously adopts it. And then suddenly, as I mentioned in my previous post, you wake up one morning with a “business card problem.”
A Closer Look Behind the Decision to Rebrand
So in this post we’ll explore the process in a little more detail – giving you some additional insight into previously non-public factors that impacted the thinking behind the decision. There are many remarkable aspects to this story. My thanks to Sonance, who granted Strata-gee exclusive access to behind the scenes information on the discussions, deliberations, and considerations that ultimately led to consensus.
So the first thing you should know is that there was a fair amount of difference between the way I viewed the rebranding effort that the team at Dana Innovations/Sonance was about to announce…and the way they viewed it. That’s why Jason Sloan’s comment at the beginning of this post, said in jest, may have only been partly in jest.
The fact is that in most cases when an organization announces a significant rebranding – it is usually a company that is in some kind of trouble. Things are not going well and the management believes that it is best to wipe the slate clean and start over with a new brand, new branding definition, new logo, and a new mission.
Unusual: Rebranding When Business is Good
However, that is not reflective of this scenario with Dana Innovations and Sonance. According to the company executives, they have had a fantastic ten-year run – the period during which they were trying to establish Dana Innovations as the over-arching company that markets three primary brands: Sonance, iPort, and Trufig.
So my first point to the company’s executives was this – you are the leading architectural speaker brand…that fact alone means you have more at stake than just about any other company. This, in and of itself, suggests that a rebrand comes with an added element of risk. That company in trouble? They most likely have nothing (or very little) to lose. But a company at the top of a market? They potentially have a lot to lose.
Beware the ‘X’ Factor
On top of that, it seemed likely to me that some in the industry may choose to view this move as an admission that things at Dana Innovations were not going well. Otherwise, why change? Some may interpret this decision as a defensive move, rather than an offensive one.
Any time a company embarks on a change in their BRAND, they are putting into play their very reputation and their reason for existing. You may plan on instituting improvements – but any major change in marketing is inherently risky. I call this the “X” factor, there are elements you can control – but there are also elements outside of your control. While not necessarily likely, it is possible to unleash a sequence of events that end up invoking the “law of unintended consequences.”
So let’s just say I saw this move as one fraught with drama.
Company Executives Didn’t See It That Way
But the top company executives didn’t see it that way at all. They are not, for example, changing to a “new” or created brand…they are simply undoing their effort to try and unify all brands under the Dana Innovations umbrella. No matter what happens, how can it be wrong to simply refocus on your most popular existing brand?
“I guess everyone’s got their own specific reasons [to rebrand]. Ours is certainly not a situation where we’re trying to reinvent ourselves; or that we’re running from an issue. This isn’t Anderson Consulting becoming Accenture – and it’s like nobody’s ever heard of Accenture.
“In many ways, it’s actually undoing things that we’ve done.”Ari Supran, CEO of Sonance
‘A Message of Clarity’
Both CEO Ari Supran and CSO Jason Sloan have obviously given this rebranding initiative a lot of thought – the project has been running behind the scenes for over a year. On top of which, they have consulted with lots of sources for input and feedback, with both of them very comfortable with unleashing this rebrand. In fact, they truly view the maneuver in simple terms:
“We really wanted to focus on a message of clarity for our dealers,” Jason Sloan told me.
Impending Sonos Deal a Factor
But there were other factors to be considered as well. For example, the company had been working on a deal with wireless multiroom music system king Sonos that would result in Sonance producing a line of architectural speakers to be marketed by Sonos. The day was rapidly approaching when Sonos would be promoting the results of their Sonance collaboration aggressively, and globally. So this was another factor that added some motivation for the company to better clarify their brands.
Yet another factor company executives considered was a dramatic increase in industry-wide consolidation – with private equity firms snapping up brands under the auspices of a large holding company full of nameless, faceless ‘suits,’ as Supran put it. Companies like Sound United, SnapAV, and even Samsung were buying whole portfolios of brands, often changing the nature of that brands relationship with the market.
Inadvertently Sending the Wrong Message
This situation wasn’t prominent ten years ago when Dana Innovations became the umbrella brand over Sonance, iPort, and Trufig. But it is a quite prominent situation now. And it potentially changes the market’s perception of the company, almost making Dana Innovations look like one of these private equity driven conglomerates.
“So what we were inadvertently doing was messaging that we’re like that too. That there’s this group of corporate suits called Dana Innovations that’s holding these three brands – when in reality it was just as simple as a name to refer to the three brands that we all worked in.”Ari Supran
This was yet another factor that added motivation for the company to clarify things…to drive greater transparency. Perhaps more importantly, using a word that Supran frequently uses, to demonstrate that Sonance is more ‘authentic’ than that.
Rabe & Co. – A Sherpa to Guide the Process
The company turned to Rabe & Co., a New York-based design company who’s tagline is “graphic design & more.” That “& more” part turned out to be very significant. Founded by Ken Rabe and Liz Birch, Rabe & Co. is a small company with principals who had worked at some of the largest Manhattan advertising agencies (one of the principals worked on the famous ‘Got Milk’ dairy industry campaign, for example). Although the plan was to have graphic designer Ken Rabe provide the graphic design on the new Sonance logo – Rabe & Co…or as Sloan refers to them, RabeCo…became much more than that.
In fact, RabeCo turned out to be a significant driver of the strategic aspect of the whole project. Both Sloan and Supran regularly use the word “sherpa” when describing RabeCo’s role, suggesting they were instrumental in guiding the whole team on this successful journey. Ultimately RabeCo helped Dana Innovations/Sonance figure out who they are and how to make their brand relationships more intuitive.
Liz Birch: ‘It’s Either a Collaboration or It’s Nothing’
Ken and Liz surveyed the market and determined that, despite years of efforts, Dana Innovations dealers were confused about the many brands and their interrelationships. Not only that, but dealers told Rabe that their customers were confused as well. Once RabeCo came to this conclusion, they plainly told company executives that you can’t just simply change the logo…much more was going to be required.
“One of the things that really frustrated us early on in our careers is the giant agency approach – which is that the ones who are on the ground really doing the work and really ironing out all the tiny details of the project, didn’t have a seat at the table in client meetings. So now with our own company we tell clients it’s either a collaboration or it’s nothing – our design has to move the needle or we’re just another design firm.”Liz Birch, Rabe & Co.
RabeCo, Supran told me, was very proficient at keeping the project moving and “broke down the inertia – or almost paralysis – around trying to change one little thing without changing the fundamentals of it.”
Rabe: Sonance is an Unusually ‘Healthy’ Opportunity
Birch admitted this project with Sonance was different. “A lot of companies come to us during a very bad time in their business, where their numbers are not were they should be…perceptions are all wrong. But Sonance was one of the first times a company has come to us where they’re incredibly successful and very well respected. It just seemed like a healthy opportunity for us.”
This project has been running for more than a year with heavy interaction between the team at RabeCo and the extended team of senior leaders at Sonance. Birch noted the uniqueness of their interactions.
“It was sort of like a real self-introspective journey for the whole senior leadership team there – about who they are, who they’ve been, and where they want to go.Liz Birch
“But we often try to act like a mirror or play almost like a therapy role to our clients.”
The Clarity of a More Focused Brand Strategy
Ken Rabe commented on the uncommon level of enthusiasm the Sonance senior leadership team brought to this project. “Everybody at Sonance approached us with the same kind of energy, and that’s kind of exciting,” Rabe said.
But one thing the design team emphasized was their basic philosophy. “It was all about one thing – how do we reduce, reduce, reduce…a game we always try to play with identity projects,” Rabe said.
By that, Rabe means that their experience tells them that companies need to approach everything from the position of simplicity, clarity, and focus. This is true of processes, brand definitions, and logo designs.
From the reaction to Sonance’s new logo, it looks like the design team and Sonance’s management have succeeded. But perhaps even more successful is the new clarity of the now more-focused brand strategy.
Learn all about Sonance and its products at: www.sonance.com.