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BRANDE : Change management

October 21, 2013

Five Things You Can Learn About Internal Communications from the Thomas Cook Re-Branding

Thomas Cook is the world’s oldest travel agency. But after surviving wars and natural disasters for 150 years, the company was in real financial trouble in 2011. 

Marketing magazine listed the problems: “Emergency loans, travel-agency closures, job cuts and profit warnings,” and about $786 million in losses in 2012. The company closed 200 of its agencies and shuttered its publishing arm, which had produced 300 travel guides.

But with new CEO Harriet Green, Thomas Cook reorganized and stabilized. And then it needed what Head of Communications Vicki Burwell called “a face and personality to the body that we have worked so hard to make fit and healthy again.” That is: a new brand.

With input from stakeholders across all its divisions around the world, on October 1 the company changed its logo from a blue sphere to a “Sunny Heart” and trimmed its lengthy tagline from “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it” to simply “Let’s go!”

But how to roll out this new branding to 27,000 employees at offices all over the globe — some of whom worked at home? What followed is a case study in smart internal re-branding. Here’s what Thomas Cook did right:

Supporting managers first
“We first unveiled the Sunny Heart to our Leadership Council, 140 senior managers from across the Group,” Burwell told All Things IC. “They then owned the rollout to every single employee over a two-week period” in the run-up to the official launch. Rather than a single directive from the CEO, which wouldn’t have been customized to each division, Thomas Cook let managers lead the way. And even better  they gave the managers a launch kit with videos and slide shows to communicate a consistent message across all departments.

The importance of employee buy-in
Thomas Cook could have rushed or overlooked the employee roll-out; after all, the branding was already done, so who cared what the workers thought? But Burwell saw that it was crucial to have employees on their side: “For them to understand why this is so much more than a new brand image, and the role that they have in our ongoing transformation, is vital for them to deliver our all-important brand promise.” Spoken like a true brand advocate!
Employee trust
The agency unveiled the branding to employees first, so there were 14 days where one leak, anywhere in the world, could have diminished the public unveiling. “We trusted them with all the detail and asked them to keep it under wraps until launch day so we could maximize impact,” Burwell said, “and it really paid off.”

Thomas Cook employees in Belgium celebrate the new logo
A “carnival” kickoff
Anticipation and secrecy made for a very fun day when the branding finally went public. Burwell said, “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. There was a great sense of anticipation and much celebration on the day. When employees are actually celebrating your brand, you’ve done your job.

Maintaining momentum
The launch is over, but the excitement goes on. Burwell explained how the internal communications team is keeping employees engaged and involved: “We’ll be using [a re-branded intranet] 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.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Through all phases of this transformational initiative, Thomas Cook did everything right. Take a look at their new website and see for yourself.

Is your organization looking for a new brand and greater “groupness”? Let Brandemix be your travel guide.