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Don’t expect Dick Bondy ’71 to follow the old rules when establishing identities for corporate clients

In some cases, what’s on the outside can count more. For proof, see the example of Dick Bondy ’71, who worked in advertising for years. In 2004, ITT, his longtime client, was a multi-industry conglomerate, which created branding challenges.

“ITT went to market in three primary industries with three divisions, each with many different brands,” Bondy recalls. “Meanwhile, competitors were organized as monolithic brands and could offer their clients end-to end-solutions. ITT was just as capable of powerfully delivering end-to-end solutions as G.E. and Siemens, but it wasn’t apparent to customers. ITT was at a disadvantage.”

The confusion between brands was most evident and particularly troubling during trade shows, which are critical events for brand building among customers, prospects, employees, the media, investment analysts, and more. ITT’s divisions attended the trade shows as individual brands, each with their own booths, often not adjacent and exhibiting vastly different ways of depicting the corporate and product brands.

“The approach was simply confusing,” Bondy says. “Meanwhile, competitors went as monolithic brands that looked much more powerful.”

Bondy and his advertising colleagues couldn’t change the way ITT’s divisions built their displays because the divisions had contracts with outside firms. But the group did come up with a solution it implemented at several key tradeshows.

“We did what I called ‘heroic branding’ outside the events that entailed larger-than-life advertising opportunities,” he explains.

For example, Bondy and his colleagues wrapped the buses that shuttled people between the event and the hotels with ITT imagery. During a major trade show in Amsterdam, they developed a 70-by-20-foot billboard touting ITT outside the event entrance and placed ITT flags on 13 poles surrounding the venue.

“We identified all these outside opportunities with the trade show operators,” Bondy recalls. “It was just space that wasn’t being used and our objective was to negotiate for the spaces as well as for rights of first refusal for the next year’s show. Our objective was to hijack the show for ITT and it paid off handsomely in terms of measurable increases in awareness, positive attribute ratings among customers, and enthusiasm among employees.”

As part of the subsequent move to consolidate divisions, Bondy led a rebranding of ITT in 2005. While the initiative didn’t involve a logo change because the company had launched a new brand identity a few years prior, the latest change did entail educating employees about why it was critical for ITT to go to market as one cohesive corporate brand.

“I worked hand-in-hand with the brand identity firm, Landor, to accomplish this,” Bondy says. “ITT now is a much simpler company with divisions organized by market rather than by brand. Because of this, it’s easier to achieve operational efficiencies.”

More recently, Bondy has rebranded himself. He left the advertising agency business and is now a consultant who specializes in the events and activities involved in corporate rebrandings. For instance, when a company changes its name, Bondy studies how it announces the change to its important stakeholders.

“Typically, a company stages an event of some sort and when it’s finished, unfortunately, it’s back to business as usual,” he points out. “When a company rebrands itself, it’s usually for some basic strategic reason that suggests it look at its market or customers in fundamentally different ways going forward. There’s something that has changed its mission, vision or values. If that’s the case, then employees especially are the ambassadors who have to make some sort of changes to the way they deal with customers. I believe this is an area to which not enough attention has been paid.”

Bondy has developed a database of best practices for corporate rebranding events. While the number of rebrandings has dropped in recent months, he foresees an increased number in the financial services and pharmaceuticals industries going forward because of mergers and consolidations caused by the economic downturn.

In his new role, Bondy will help these and other companies achieve common rebranding objectives, such as announcing the change in a significant way and taking all of the proper steps—conducting brand audits, developing identity elements, and redefining missions, visions, and values—in creating a new brand.

Bondy stresses that corporations must properly prepare their employees and key stakeholders for the rebranding so they fully understand the goals and mission of the new company on the day that it is rebranded and afterward.

“The employees need to keep walking the walk and talking the talk,” he says. “At their peril, corporate leaders imply that the rebranding is done and it’s back to business as usual. The danger is that they communicate that they are a new company, yet they demonstrate through the actions of their employees that it’s the same old company.”

Bondy will have an impact on organizations’ strategies based on his considerable experience and on new information he has culled through research, such as the best practices he identified and wrote about in a recent web article.

He’ll also look for large, creative solutions that sometimes could be described as heroic.

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