Australia: Rebranding in the energy market – Issues to consider

Last Updated: 3 August 2017
Article by Georgina Hey

A number of energy giants have recently undergone corporate rebranding exercises. The motivations of these powerhouses often vary, from unifying a group after a series of mergers and acquisitions, to repairing reputational damage, to just aligning with a new corporate vision. Tesla dropped "Motors" from its branding in 2016 to promote its clean energy solutions offering, and AGL Australia recently launched a new logo as part of a wider digitalisation strategy designed to emphasise sustainability and digitalisation.

Whatever their objective, when rebranding organisations will have to navigate numerous challenges along the way, many of which if not carefully managed can cause irreversible damage to both the new and incumbent brands.

Organisations looking to rebrand should complete a risk analysis and establish a comprehensive rebranding road map at an early stage, accounting for the risks that they may face in the course of rebranding (some of which are highlighted in this article) and incorporating steps to mitigate those challenges before they become problematic.

Plan for success

Fail to plan and you plan to fail- this phrase is especially true when rebranding. To manage timing, costs and to ensure confidentiality the first step needs to be establishing a detailed road map for your rebranding. Action points will include: (i) scoping the rebrand – which jurisdictions are involved; which brands; which businesses are impacted; (ii) identifying the project team, balancing the importance of maintaining confidentiality in the early stages against the value of having early access to operational and local knowledge that may useful in planning the rebranding; and (iii) defining your budget (which should include some contingency for overcoming inevitable road blocks), your risk appetite and your timeline.

Securing the brand

A gap analysis will be needed – what trade marks does the organisation already have registrations for, and where are the gaps? What trade marks are available to register and where might existing third party rights intervene and create difficulty for use? Today, brands consist of much more than trade marks and organisations considering a rebranding will need to consider several categories of intellectual property rights including copyright, domain names and social media handles, as well as company names. Maintaining confidentiality will be important for ensuring that rights remain available for registration – which is itself a challenge given the public nature of many intellectual property registries.

The early stages of using a new brand are arguably the riskiest in terms of third party challenges. An established brand is unlikely to be challenged as infringing a third party's rights, whereas this can be a key hazard for a new brand that is untested in the market. Carrying out thorough and effective clearance searches to identify any relevant third party risks early in the rebranding process could pay off significantly in the long run by avoiding adverse PR, and it will be more cost effective than defending a litigation and paying for a further rebrand in future.

Ensuring an effective transition

Your communications team might now start to think about marketing the rebranding. How will you introduce your new brand to the market, particularly your clients, employees and licensees? How will you secure their buy-in, and educate them about the new brand? By this stage, you should have established brand guidelines setting out in detail how the new brand should be used.

Listed companies and entities that have issued securities, particularly those with listings on multiple exchanges, will need to consider the rules of the relevant exchanges and potentially other regulators in the jurisdiction. These rules can be very prescriptive on the timing and form of announcement and may require a shareholder resolution – with penalties for non-compliance.

Implementing your brand transition is likely to require a project plan in itself, the first step for which is to identify the materials that need to be rebranded to a fine level of detail. You'll have broad categories of assets – digital assets, marketing materials, real estate and property (ranging from external signage to the office carpets) and logistics assets – in which there will be hundreds of individual branded items from business cards to staff uniform, and oil tankers to customer correspondence. Your implementation plan needs include types of branded items in use within your organisation, potentially across multiple jurisdictions, and may account for existing stock, lead times for ordering new stock, IT requirements, testing timelines and possibly key dates internally – for example, implementing a brand transition during month-end could create unnecessary complexity for your finance team.

When brand transition is complete, your historic branding should not be forgotten. There may be intrinsic goodwill in the brand from which third parties might seek to extract a benefit, and more. Could you sell the brand? Or even, would the business be concerned if a third party picked up the brand? A question to consider is how will intellectual property registrations for the historic brand be managed going forward? A different brand strategy may now be appropriate.

Conclusion

A corporate rebranding can deliver many business benefits. A new brand can enhance the effectiveness of your corporate strategy, refresh the identity of a company, create unity across an organisation and regenerate interest from clients and the wider market. With brand health under constant scrutiny, most organisations cannot afford to use an underperforming brand.

However the rollout of a new corporate brand brings with it a number of risks and challenges, which if not addressed properly and in good time have the potential to undermine your rebrand and irreparably damage your existing brand.

If you are considering or are already involved in a corporate rebranding, speak to a member of our IP Team to discuss the products we could offer to support your rebranding process and to help you to identify and mitigate the risks described in this article before they arise.

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Georgina Hey
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