The company, with annual revenue of $125 million, had grown through a series of international acquisitions and was still associated with several different names O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, TRASCO, Labb SA, Protec SA in both the minds of its customers and the minds of its employees.
So in 2004, President Gary Allen decided the division needed a single, cohesive identity and launched a rebranding initiative.
“I wanted to promote our size and scale in the marketplace to separate us from the competition,” says Allen, “because when you look at us in the aggregate, we’re the largest producer of protected motor vehicles in the world. ... I didn’t think the company was acting that way.
“We’re a global company and most of our clients are global, and I thought it necessary to present a global front. And it was internal, as well, to drive the team to be one full team, to give up a bit of their nationalist thinking.”
He also had to get employees to let go of the brands they were familiar with successful brands that were often No. 1 or No. 2 in their regions.
The very first step for developing a rebranding strategy was to get good help, says Allen.
“I finally did what I think most good executives should do I turned (the project) over to people that I felt comfortable with. I turned it over to Eva Keller, my marketing person, and Eva went out and searched for some rebranding firms.”
Allen and Keller looked for several key traits in a rebranding partner. The most important was a firm with a global presence and international experience to match the organization’s worldwide operations. An international firm would understand the challenges of an international rebranding, from choosing a name that would work across multiple languages to getting employees from all corners on board.
They also looked for a company that was focused on fully rebranding, not simply on developing a new advertising and marketing strategy.
“I thought several of them were more just on the advertising side,” says Allen. “[Our partner] was able to focus us on the whole idea of creating this brand.”
That partner was Landor Associates. Once Allen and his team found the right company to work with, the next step was to develop a new name, a new logo and a new brand.
“This brand was found through research, through talking to employees,” says Keller. “We interviewed key executives and we dug pretty deeply for market statistics. Who are our customers? Who is buying these products? Why are they buying these products? We had to understand all that to really come up with this brand and not just come up with a name that (was) going to be meaningless.”
After researching its customers and the marketplace, the company embarked on a long process to develop a name that encompassed everything Armor Holdings’ Mobile Security Division stood for.
“There were several reiterations of getting people together, getting Landor to understand what really we were trying to do with a name and a logo, what our history is, what we’re all about, that we are a leading-edge company with our size and all this other stuff,” Allen says.
And while Allen oversaw much of the process, he felt that in order to get employee buy-in, he would have to really let employees control the process.
“I kind of took myself out of the early phases,” says Allen. “I was doing what an executive does from a budget standpoint, ensuring that we had funding and so forth, and establishing what I was willing to spend to do this.
“So from that perspective, I kind of stepped away, let the working-level people who were interfacing day-to-day in our marketplaces contribute because I thought they had the best input for us. And I think they felt good about it, from an international perspective especially.”
The meetings helped establish several key points that the organization wanted to emphasize, from being the market leader in technology and ballistics testing to being the oldest armory company in the market.
And focusing on getting an outside company to understand these key attributes is what made those meetings successful, says Allen.
“It was a face-to-face thing that I think really helped a lot, and I also think it helped the process itself we didn’t focus on anyone’s own personal beliefs about the naming,” he says. “It was the attributes, what did we as a business want to accomplish, what did we stand for. Landor did a very good job of keeping us focused, because I think if internally we had tried to lead it, we would have failed. We would have fallen back on everybody’s own little egos.”
From these discussions, the name Centigon and the tagline “Built on a heritage of security” emerged.
Once the company had a new brand, Allen faced the project’s greatest challenge getting employee buy-in. He had to convince approximately 1,500 employees in seven countries who were used to thinking and operating regionally to put up a united, global front.
He began early in the process. A newsletter went out to all workers that explained, without specifically mentioning the new name or brand, that the company would be changing and that as a leading brand, it had to become a more unified organization.
“I think first you had to let everybody kind of get their bearings ... and it took a little bit of time, because, of course, everybody doesn’t like change or giving up what they were accustomed to or their personal heritage,” says Allen.
Then the full-scale internal rollout began.
“The day of the launch, we had big luncheons for all the employees,” says Allen. “We had a very nice presentation. We actually went around and they took video clips from all of our plants with people talking about what this means to them.”
Allen, Keller and other senior managers used the luncheons to walk employees through the acceptance curve that each of them had experienced.
At times during the process, even Allen had doubts, so he knew it was important to sell the employees on the change.
“When we got to the whole idea of selecting the name, that morning I had told Eva I was going to pull the plug,” says Allen. “I just thought, ‘This is not going anywhere.’ And then, all of a sudden, as they walked me through it, it started making sense. With that in mind, from me, I knew we had to take a little time to walk them through this and it would take time for them to grasp the concept.”
Along with unifying employees internally, the company also made an effort to centralize its sales force and standardize its sales materials under the new brand.
“[We wanted to get away from] acting like our French people were selling our French products and the German people selling the German products. We developed a centralized sales team who represent all of our companies in different markets,” says Keller.
Once the internal rollout was complete, the company faced its next big challenge the external roll out.
“[Landor told us], ‘We can do this branding but it’s an empty vessel. Now you have to go out and truly drive this through the marketplace,’” says Allen.
But in an industry in which clients are governments, prime ministers and very select, wealthy individuals, traditional avenues of brand promotion, such as mass advertising, aren’t effective.
Centigon took another approach. It sent out direct mail pieces to past, current and potential clients and vendors, then began a campaign of personalized contact. This way, the company ensured its message was clear and consistent, and it prevented the competition from putting its own spin on the new brand.
Then, Centigon began a series of launch events. Not only did these events introduce people to the new brand, they also introduced clients to the company’s newest product: the IE Defense System, an armoring solution that protects against an improvised explosive device (IED) attack and attacks with armor-piercing bullets.
For Centigon, the new product represented everything the new brand stood for a long, prestigious history, a global presence and access to cutting-edge technology. Because without the expertise of a seasoned armory company and the skills and knowledge of employees from the many Centigon plants across the globe, the new system would not have been possible.
So from the Moscow International Motor Show to the International Motor Show in Frankfurt to Washington, D.C., and across Latin America, Centigon used its newest product to showcase the best aspects of the Centigon brand.
“For our customers, [the rollout events showed] how it was going to be better for them,” says Allen. “We were going to do away with the confusion. If you’re a major corporation and you have needs in Latin America, you can deal with a U.S.-based company that has operations in any part of the world, which means a lot in the security business. Also, it showed to our customer base what we can bring from a cost, quality and schedule perspective.
“We have the most capacity. We’re able to buy products at the best prices because we buy the most. We’re the 800-pound gorilla now in the marketplace.”
A unified company
The rebranding and company unification project is beginning to pay off for Allen. The unified work force, especially on the sales end, has led to more efficient production.
“I used to have the management at each facility own their salespeople, so they were driven to sell for a local region,” says Allen. “But now they’re driven to make sales numbers for Centigon. What it’s done, because we have eight manufacturing plants, it’s allowed us to be more efficient, because if you sell a car out of France, people expect it to be built out of France.”
Now, with sales acting globally, clients understand that the best product for them may come from Brazil, even though they’re agreeing to the deal in France.
“We’re able to go by either the different levels of armor or different products from our plant, so operationally, it’s making it a lot more easy for us to be more efficient and utilize our global resources. I would have situations where one factory was working overtime and the other factory didn’t have enough work. So for us, we were able to normalize our manufacturing, which allows us to fill large orders faster and truly become a global player to where we act like a global company.”
And for more concrete returns on this investment, Centigon will look to old-fashioned success indicators sales numbers and customer feedback.
“Several of the really big clients that we try to entertain, we’re getting a whole lot more input from them relative to new orders,” says Allen. “And a lot them even say, ‘Gee, we didn’t realize you guys had this type of capacity and scale’ and so forth.
“ I think as we move forward, I’m really anticipating a really good growth from these initiatives.”
HOW TO REACH: Centigon, (513) 881-9800 or www.centigon.com