Kathy Schneider has embarked on many rebranding projects throughout her career. As the Chief Marketing Officer for FD Technologies, she most recently navigated the challenges of developing and implementing a brand refresh to support a new corporate strategy while preserving a 25-year heritage. Here, Kathy shares her expertise and key learnings from the brand refresh process.
Modern Marketing Today (MMT): What was the motivation to shift First Derivatives to a house of brands under the new group name, FD Technologies?
Kathy Schneider (KS): The motivation to update the group name to FD Technologies and implement a new house of brands model was based on a refinement of the corporate strategy. When we examined the businesses, we recognized that we have offerings in three distinct spaces with different market dynamics and competitors. First Derivatives started over 25 years ago by providing consulting services in capital markets. The company had grown exponentially as customers took more services into other areas of their banks. We later acquired KX, an ultra-high-performance real-time data analytics software, which drives some of the most demanding business critical decisions in both financial institutions and industry sectors. When First Derivatives fully acquired KX’s software in 2014, the brand did not have much investment and was considered as one of the industry’s best kept secrets. In addition, the company acquired MRP, the leading enterprise account-based marketing firm in Forrester’s Leaders Wave.
As we worked on our growth acceleration strategy, we realized that going to market as the First Derivatives brand was confusing. While it was the name of the group, it had become synonymous with the capital markets consulting business and didn’t properly reflect the value proposition of any one of the businesses. We needed to clarify that the group’s portfolio included technology and software as well as services to help investors better understand us. To do this, we changed the group name to FD Technologies. We also recognized that each target market required a strong, clear brand and value proposition to differentiate us from competitors. As we organized the group into three business units, we implemented a house of brands model for KX, First Derivative and MRP that enables each business unit to achieve its full potential.
MMT: How did you ensure the legacy of First Derivatives while also modernizing and uplifting the brand’s new image and comprehensive capabilities?
KS: The more we looked at our corporate strategy, the more we realized how distinct the three markets are that we serve. First, we needed to clarify the overall group brand. This is how we came up with FD Technologies, which includes First Derivative, KX and MRP. There was a dire need to differentiate ourselves and show up in the markets that we represent as a strong player in each space. At the same time, we needed to identify the group as the powerhouse that it is. Following a thorough discovery process and assessment of alternatives, we selected the name FD Technologies for the group since it retained a familiar element, FD, which employees, customers and investors had come to use for a while. It was well recognized and had much positive sentiment, particularly in capital markets. We incorporated ‘Technologies’ to reflect the breadth of the portfolio which had come to include powerful software and marketing technology. In fact, the consulting business had been doing more and more projects focused on technology for banks. For example, we have deep expertise implementing, upgrading, and maintaining the technology that most banks use to run their operations.
We then turned our attention to the consulting business which had been known as First Derivatives since the business originated. However, the brand, website and content had not been invested in. The consulting business was also expanding into new areas, such as business automation, data science and data engineering. Subsequently, it was a great time to introduce a fresh modern brand that would reflect the forward movement of the business as well as its strong heritage. We wanted to inspire our audience and long-standing clients to take another look and learn about our expanded services.
While exploring the purpose and value proposition of the consulting business, we realized the term ‘first derivative’ means the mathematical formula for the rate of change. This aligned well to the business’ purpose to serve as a catalyst for our clients’ business agility irrespective of direction, specialism, or rate of change, while people, data and technology are the three critical variables in this equation. Our teams work shoulder to shoulder with our clients helping them deliver on programs that change the business. We next worked on the visual identity and tone of voice for the First Derivative brand, bringing a contemporary and sharp style using fluorescent green and grey-blue, whereas the original colors where quite traditional green and blue. The three brand principles underpinning the new brand design are that it is forward-focused, human to human and discerningly daring. This is captured in the logo by the forward-leaning I’s and the new imagery style. The team and clients have responded positively to the refreshed brand.
MMT: Walk us through some of the challenges and key learnings you experienced throughout this rebrand project.
KS: Brand strategy enables corporate strategy, not the other way around. Because our corporate strategy evolved towards a business unit model focused on three distinct markets, we allowed the brand strategy to bring clarity to each business unit and step forward from behind the group name – delivering strong, distinct brands in each space.
We realized the strengths that KX and MRP already have as brands – in the case of KX, the issue was not so much a brand name challenge as it was an awareness problem. We realized we didn’t need new brands for KX and MRP since they are punchy, easy to remember, powerful and, not to mention, incredibly successful businesses. However, for KX, we needed to refresh the brand identity and messaging to reflect its evolution to a horizontal streaming analytics platform from its beginnings as a time series database. Sometimes companies jump immediately to change names or brands and leave significant equity behind. We wanted to avoid this pitfall.
First Derivatives plc, a publicly traded business with over $330 million in annual revenue, was a home-grown business in Northern Ireland, which is a quality that would remain admired by employees. Part of my job was to honor this pride in First Derivatives’ heritage while balancing new and fresh branding that supported the corporate strategy.
MMT: What is your advice for CMOs embarking on a similar project?
KS: For many companies, these last 18 months of the pandemic has forced strategic pivots as well as wholesale changes in business direction and model. CMO’s can play a strong role in ensuring the brand effectively positions the company to bring that strategy to life. As you embark on a brand project, agree a steering committee of critical stakeholders who will ensure due diligence in vetting alternative routes as well as decision-making clarity. While many voices can contribute during the discovery phase, it’s important to be clear on who will approve decisions at each stage of the process. Otherwise, you risk brand design by consensus and reflecting a bit of ‘everyone’s feedback.’
Start with understanding what the brand challenge really is; is a new brand needed? Or is the current brand tired or unclear and in need of refresh? Focus on the purpose and value proposition before working on the visual identity. It can be easy to jump to the ‘look and feel’ especially when the feedback often focuses on the logo and imagery. However, the value proposition is fundamental as it should inspire the brand image. For example, KX is all about driving the most demanding business critical decisions with data, hence the strong block letters and angular style was selected to convey the strength and performance. Also, the K and X form a diamond which represents that data that is at the heart of KX – and drives business value for clients.
For First Derivative, we modernized the color palette with fluorescent greens and use forward slashes in place of the ‘I’s’ to represent the forward focus of our business and the three key variables of change – people, technology, and data.
It’s important to have KPIs that will support the impact brand makes. For digital advertising, this can be relatively straightforward using click through, viewability and engagement metrics along with industry benchmarks. However, qualitative, and quantitative surveys can also help if you don’t have large budgets for awareness campaigns. Another method is to run tests on a smaller, affordable audience pool to demonstrate impact. Having these conversations and explaining how the brand impact will be measured at the beginning of the program can help drive buy-in early and support alignment on results later.