What happens when you ask 27,000 employees to keep your new brand under wraps for a fortnight before revealing it to the world?
You’re in the right place to find out.
Following on from my article on 1 October about the Thomas Cook rebranding, I’m delighted to say that their Comms team got in touch with me to share the inside story.
To recap, Thomas Cook Group plc has been a staple holiday provider brand on the British High Street for 170 years and, today, operates across 19 countries. For the first time in its history it has ‘unified’ its brand, combining the strength of the Group under one common symbol, the ‘Sunny Heart’ and the phrase ‘Let’s go!’
These will, over a period of time, replace the iconic globe image, and Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it across websites, retail stores, its aircraft fleet, headquarters and overseas offices .
The company has 27,000 employees globally, and is the second largest leisure group in the UK. As well as its master brand, it also boasts some of the UK’s other favourite travel brands including Airtours, Cresta, Direct Holidays, Elegant Resorts and Club 1830 – hence the need to unify and simplify its impressive portfolio.
My thanks to Vicki Burwell (pictured), Head of Communications – Group Special Projects at Thomas Cook for getting in touch. We had a conversation and I asked her lots of questions about the Sunny Heart launch, which was communicated internally to employees first.
Here are some extracts from our conversation:
How long has the company been working on the relaunch?
Our whole transformation journey began over a year ago, when Group CEO, Harriet Green joined the company in July 2012. The company was at a low point and in need of change.
One of the first big decisions Harriet took was to look at the brand strategy of the entire organisation.
We painted quite a confusing picture for our customers with our many brands.
Initially, we embarked on a pilot launch in Northern Europe, one of our strongest markets, where we unified our leading, well-known brands with a common symbol – an early version of the Sunny Heart.
They retained their identity, but were visually connected. This was very well received by customers and employees. Research shows us that traffic to websites and sales conversion improved and brand recognition increased rapidly over a relatively short period.
What happened next?
The brand work had to run in parallel with our other transformation initiatives.
We had to move quickly as a Group to stabilise and turn around our performance and we had to do things in the right order.
The Sunny Heart brand launch is the third major milestone in our transformation this year. The first was when we shared our strategy in March. The second came in May, when we announced our financial restructure – one of the most complex deals the City has seen.
For us to maintain the momentum of our fast-moving Transformation, the next exciting development was to take our learning from Northern Europe and use it to help further strengthen and unite us as one global team around a single unifying symbol.
The Sunny Heart sends a clear message about the scale and diversity of our Group and signifies to our customers and other stakeholders that we’re back and we’re different.
This is so much more than a new logo and we need our people to help us become the company we want to be by delivering our brand promise.
Simply, this launch has been described internally as giving a face and personality to the body that we have worked so hard to make fit and healthy again.
We largely did the brand development work ourselves, internally, with the help of a large team of colleagues from across all our markets.
This has been widely appreciated, not just because it saved on cost, but because it seems more important to employees that the project has been driven by people who understand our business, the travel industry and our customers – it hasn’t been thrust upon us by external consultants.
How did you prepare for the 1 October launch?
We first unveiled the Sunny Heart to our Leadership Council – 140 senior managers from across the Group – early in September.
We made it clear that the new brand is built on our internal values and that the brand unification is another way for us to further embed them as they are the foundation of the brand.
As leaders, they then owned the rollout of ‘Our Heart’ to every single employee over a two-week period in the run-up to 1 October. As you can imagine, with 27,000 employees based all over the world, it was a logistical challenge to get to everyone face-to-face over such a short period. That said, the rollout has been hugely successful thanks to the enthusiasm and incredible support for this initiative.
We did all we could to help by providing a full launch ‘kit’ with videos, a slide presentation and suggestions for Brand Games to bring it all to life.
This also helped ensure consistency and that wherever they are in the world, every employee received the same messages, albeit tailored to their particular part of the business.
It was really important to take our people into our confidence, and for them to engage with the Sunny Heart and our new brand essence, Let’s go!, before we launched externally.
For them to understand why this is so much more than a new brand image, and the role that they have in our on-going transformation, is vital for them to deliver our all-important brand promise.
(The heart-shaped photo of employees and the people forming the letter are courtesy of Thomas Cook and feature employees in Belgium – Rachel).
We trusted them with all the detail and asked them to keep it under wraps until launch day so we could maximise impact, and it really paid off.
Why was it so important to brief internally first?
Because a brand is more than a design – it’s a promise to our customers that flows from our values – that’s why we’re all brand ambassadors!
We wanted our people to engage further with the values and understand why we are rebranding, when, how and their role in bringing it to life.
You’ve been through a lot of change, particularly in the UK, how does the launch sit alongside this?
I think that most understand the need for change and, while it’s a difficult balance to achieve, we have strong leadership and work hard at clear, consistent and good communication.
As a result, it’s generally understood that we need to continue to fix our business while, at the same time, driving our Transformation and delivering our strategy for new, profitable growth.
Have you been aligned with the external comms team?
Absolutely, this has been a team effort! We have had clear workstreams, each with a team led by an owner and a clear project plan, which was aligned across the Group, from day one.
We wanted to be consistent and inclusive, while at the same time allowing colleagues to make informed choices locally to ensure that the launch reached everyone in the right way, through the best channels.
For example, we needed a different approach for our remote homeworkers, and crew that work shifts.
What’s the atmosphere been like internally?
It’s been great, with lots of excitement and warmth towards to the Sunny Heart. As with any change, for some it will take a little time to get used to it but overall it’s been really well-received.
There was quite a carnival atmosphere on launch day. Lots of people chose to come to work with heart or yellow-themed clothing and there was a lot of social media activity with photos and reactions being posted on Facebook and Twitter.
We’ve also been running some competitions and have got some great photo entries!
I saw lots of photos of sunglasses, cakes and sweets
There were and that’s just how we wanted it to be! It’s why we wanted to take everyone into our confidence ahead of the launch. There was a great sense of anticipation and much celebrating on the day.
What channels have you been using?
Lots of face-to-face, videos, webinars, intranets, social media – you name it and we’ve used it!
Our strategy is ‘High Tech, High Touch’, so we‘ve combined online/social media activity with team interaction.
How will you maintain momentum?
We’ve rebranded our intranets and, over the course of the next few weeks, we’re are launching a single portal that will, for the first time, give all Thomas Cook Group employees access to the same site and information.
We’ll certainly be using this as a primary channel to keep the brand alive and to encourage even greater ‘Groupness’, a term we’ve adopted across the company over the past year.
We’ve asked for feedback and ideas on all the Sunny Heart activity and will be using this to help further shape our ongoing plans.
Post author: Vicki Burwell
My thanks again to Vicki for sharing the internal story with me and All Things IC blog readers.
What do you think of what you’ve read? What’s struck you about how they have communicated the changes internally?
I love the level of trust that the organisation displayed and how it put employees first so the anticipation built from the inside out. It’s absolutely best practice to tell employees first wherever possible when changes are on the horizon and I enjoyed hearing first-hand the reality of the Thomas Cook story.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. You’re welcome to tweet me @AllthingsIC with your thoughts or to comment below.
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It is exciting to see an organisation transform it’s image and hold on to it’s core values at the same time. What is particularly important is the unification of the brand image which makes it easier for employees to engage with and become ambassadors. I particularly love the heart-shaped picture of the employees! It says it all- unity at the heart of the company. A picture, is after all, worth a thousand words.