The head and heart of mergers: Pandrol brand strategy

Image of a head containing a heart in the place of the brain

Mergers aren’t always seen as good news. So, when the Delachaux Group took the decision to merge several of their rail infrastructure businesses, they knew it made good business sense, but they also knew it raised as many questions as answers. How many of those original brands should they keep? What should the overarching brand be called? And what should the new brand become known for? The stakes were high. The Delachaux Group knew it was critical to get this right not just for their customers but for the group’s global workforce. We knew we could help.

Seeing the big picture

To help the group make the best decision, we embarked on a journey of discovery. First, we knew we needed to understand customer and staff perceptions of each brand and how a variety of different outcomes might affect them. We also needed to set a clear vision for success of the project, highlighting why the right solution would support the group’s strategic objectives.

We conducted a staff survey delivered on paper (very retro of us) – in part to reach factory workers without email addresses. We held physical and virtual discussion groups with staff around the globe and across a total of 28 brands or sub-brands. Telephone interviews gave us that all-important customer view. Desk research into competitor and comparator organisations also gave us a steer on common brand structures and competitor propositions. In total, we travelled over 5,000 miles to fulfil the discovery phase of the project, engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to deliver an insight-based solution.

The head

Mergers represent a moment of great strategic significance for any organisation. They also offer businesses a rare window of opportunity both for logical decision making and emotive engagement. Rationally, we needed a view of brand performance, brand equity and brand perceptions. We worked with The Delachaux Group to understand the size and performance of each brand through staff volume, sales performance and website traffic. We also asked customers and staff to score brands based on how well known they felt them to be, nationally and internationally. After all, for a brand to be worthy of retention, the value of its brand equity should outweigh the ongoing investment of keeping it. A clear picture emerged. Pandrol – a world renowned rail fastenings company – and Railtech – a highly successful aluminothermic welding company – held the most significant brand equity, with Pandrol being the larger, longer-standing of the two.

Old Pandrol logos above the new Pandrol logo created by Born + Raised

The heart

Of course, numbers only tell part of the story. Brand strategy should never be reduced simply to an exercise in commercial efficiency. We often hold deep-rooted emotional connections to brands and all that they come to represent. Without uncovering these, we risked losing those connections and alienating both customers and a global workforce.

Customers had told us that they were open to changes that made it easier for them to access a range of rail infrastructure solutions under one roof. The staff we engaged with across the businesses were often incredibly passionate about their brand and understandably cautious of change. Yet, as we moved through the project it became clear that far more united the businesses’ values, behaviours and ethos than divided them. The Pandrol rail clip and Railtech aluminothermic welding technique were both groundbreaking innovations in rail infrastructure, with a rich history of innovation driving the businesses forwards. A strong commitment to excellence permeated all areas of each business, along with a genuine passion for making the rail industry safer and more efficient.

A focus on this uniting ethos gave clarity and direction as the project progressed.

Bringing everything together

Head and heart came together in a brand strategy workshop delivered by Born + Raised. We fed back the results of our discovery phase and used those insights as tools to knock their brand architecture into shape in a series of exercises.

First, we needed to hammer out the best framework. The key objective was to make it easier for customers to see and access the breadth of the group’s offering, understand its true size and strength, and future-proof it in the event of future acquisitions. Born + Raised presented a number of options, highlighting the pros and cons of each. Together, we ranked each against key criteria. So what did the numbers tell us? It all pointed towards a monolithic brand architecture and a new brand, all under the Pandrol name. Previous brand names would be retained at a product-naming level only and gradually phased out.

So where did the heart come in? ‘Pandrol’ gave the brand an ownable name that was easy to spell and pronounce, yet retained decades of brand equity. But without a strong new proposition, it was a risk.  Would customers mistake the new Pandrol as simply offering rail fastenings? Would staff mistake the whole exercise as a hostile takeover, rather than feeling proud and enthused by the company direction? We took all this into account, ensuring that the proposition we developed brought to life the new Pandrol’s offering and heritage.

In addition to brand strategy, Pandrol also needed a brand identity that would put all the learnings into action visually. Designers worked closely with strategists to evolve the right look and feel for the brand. Careful consideration was given to the logo, fonts, colours and the visual style of the overall brand identity. And to ensure the new brand and proposition landed properly, we also gave recommendations on brand communications and messaging to inform the launch activity, ultimately leading to a custom-built website which brought an added layer of brand synergy to the freshly merged business:

Before launching it to the public we presented the new brand to an internal audience of 200 managers. The feedback was great (and was accompanied by two rounds of applause!). Team members across the group felt proud of the strategic direction of the brand and could see evidence of the collaborative process taken to reach the right outcome. And ultimately, they loved the new look and feel of their company.

See our Pandrol work page for more.

Image of the new Pandrol branding on several screens, created by Born + Raised