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Author: Ross Sturley – CIMCIG Committee Member (@rosssturley)

The construction industry has been gripped by a wave of high profile mergers and acquisitions this summer. Among the moves – and potential moves – making the headlines were Carillion’s pursuit of Balfour Beatty, Arcadis chasing Hyder, Holcim’s merger with Lafarge and AECOM buying URS.

These developments have wide-ranging implications for market, of course, but they also raise significant branding questions.


AECOM’s practice is to acquire and rebrand. The American group has purchased a large number of other companies since it was founded in 1990, including well-known brands such as Davis Langdon and Edaw.

AECOM rebrands everything it buys. Shakespeare might have approved. He penned: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

But actually, there is a lot of historic perception tied up in a name and, because of that, a great deal of brand value. Changing the name risks destabilising the business.

What was Davis Langdon? It was a group of people with a set of skills. The fact they all had Davis Langdon business cards gave prospective clients an expectation of the type and quality of service they might expect from them. In DL’s case, there was considerable value in that. The same person is likely to have a different set of brand expectations when presented with an AECOM business card.

Managing such a change needs to be done with caution. One of the best known UK examples of a rebrand, for anyone over a certain age, was the chocolate bar now known as Snickers.

The bar was already called Snickers in many countries, but up until 1990 in the UK it was known as Marathon. Mars (the owner) decided it would align the UK with the global brand – so that international customers would not be confused.

Mars added the line ‘Internationally known as Snickers’ to the packaging for a year. The company then changed the packaging to ’Snickers: formerly known as Marathon’ for another year, before dropping the strapline altogether.

This was backed up by a pretty significant advertising campaign, mainly reassuring people it was the same bar inside the wrapper.

AECOM might have wanted to reassure that Davis Langdon was ‘the same bar inside the wrapper’ to prevent customers switching to rivals. On other acquisitions they might have wanted to use the change of name to demonstrate a change in quality, diversity, or capability of service.

Rebranding is not confined to moments following mergers or acquisitions of course. Some feel that a new logo, or change of corporate colour, will revitalise flagging performance and revolutionise a  marketing strategy.

A successful rebrand can do both of those things. It can change customer perceptions of your company, your products and your services. But such a change needs to be careful, considered and strategic.

Names are hooks – places where our brains hang all the physical and spiritual attributes that help us make sense of a brand. When people think of Snickers, they now think of the same things they thought of when they used to think of Marathon. What do people think when they think of your company name?

If a name is a hook, then moving it is rather like moving a coat hook with all the coats still attached – it’s difficult, and you’re probably going to drop a few of them on the floor.

Changing your name risks losing all the loyalty and understanding you’ve built up over a period of many years. If you want to, or need to do it, work out which coats you don’t want to drop.

Focus on the key element of your differentiation – what used to be called the USP. What is it that uniquely distinguishes you from all your competition, the thing you do better than anyone else? It’s this thing which you can charge a premium for, simply because no-one else delivers it.

Hold on to that differentiation, and make sure your new branding puts it front and centre. Express your differentiation in terms your customers and staff understand. Make sure your staff live and breathe your differentiation, and love your new identity.

A successful rebranding campaign will ensure you hold onto the baby and throw out the bathwater.  

Ross Sturley is principal at Chart Lane, a strategic communications company specialising in construction, property and regeneration, and a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group.

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