Kevin Sellers joined Avnet as the electronics company’s first CMO in nearly a century, charged with creating a new identity for a brand he jokes is the best no one ever heard of.
A new campaign, including a new corporate identity, launched April 3, to reposition the company, which has been going through a transformation that included a new management team, divesting portions of its business and the acquisitions of electronics manufacturer Premier Farnell and the engineering community Hackster. Working with creative agency R&R Partners, design firm Red Peak Branding and PR agency Brodeur Partners, the company launched a new identity and marketing campaign April 3 which includes social media, native advertising and more traditional media.
Sellers spoke to Velocitize about the challenges of reinventing a 96-year-old brand and introducing it to 21st century marketing.
Velocitize: As the first CMO, what were your challenges?
Sellers: The culture at Avnet was very decentralized forever, and that’s OK; there’s no right or wrong in central vs. decentralized. But one of the things that had become very evident as time had progressed onward was Avnet did its marketing in a very localized fashion—local marketing teams had their own campaigns and did their own creative and all that stuff. Each of the things that they did solved the problem they had or the opportunity they had, but if you stepped back and looked at the whole mosaic of that creative, it looked like a bunch of random stuff smeone had thrown there.
They did some research before they hired me and found that gosh, our brand basically means nothing. It’s the largest company you’ve never heard of; our tongue in cheek tagline is “The world leader that nobody knows.”
What’s happening in the world is there is so much change happening in the technology industry and if Avnet doesn’t transform, we’re going to be in trouble. Part of that transformation is we really have to be more relevant to the customer.
What we recognize is this shift says: You’ve got to be relevant to the customer or they’re going to find their support somewhere else. So that led to the idea that we have to build our brand. We have to be known to this audience. They should better understand what our value is.
Velocitize: How is your new branding targeting those changes?
Sellers: We started with research. We wanted to understand. For me, the best brands in the world are the brands that express themselves, express their true selves. You can’t fake this stuff.
We wanted to understand: What do people really think about us? What do they know about us? We did global research with thousands of suppliers, employees, and potential customers. We learned some interesting things about us.
We came back and learned that “Avnet, you guys listen very well. You collaborate really well.” That was one of our strengths. We are a very people-focused company and we partner really, really well.
They told us that we’re really objective. We don’t come in with biases. We actually work with them to provide solutions that are right for them.
(We learned) that we have a lot of ingenuity, which is an interesting word, because most technology companies want to talk about innovation, but we’re not innovators. We’re really the company that takes the technology and helps you apply the technology.
We came up with this idea that we’re kind of like a Sherpa. We are behind the scenes, we have a humble attitude, but we are experts. We’re not Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Mount Everest, but we’re the Sherpa who got him there. The other metaphor I have used it that we’re not the Academy Award winner, but we’re the person the Academy Award winner thanks in the acceptance speech.
We decided that we would change our look and feel. Our old look and feel, we tested and found that people said it was old-school, like 70’s technology. It’s not something that says you’re the future.
We have three things that we’re going to do with the campaign. We have some things that are going to celebrate the impact that the technology that we’ve helped our customers develop has on the world, instead of saying “Hey, look at us, we’re this cool behind-the-scenes technology company.” The next piece is we’re going to talk about how we collaborate and partner with customers. And the last piece is we’re going to talk about the actual Avnet sherpas themselves.
We’re going to be doing mobile, IP address targeting, we’re going to have paid and organic social, a lot of digital—animated banners, paid sites, site takeovers. We will have video, both paid and on our own site, and we’re also going to have print. It’s going to be a very comprehensive campaign.
Velocitize: Have the local teams pushed back against the centralized campaign?
Sellers: That was the hardest part, as you can imagine, with the amount of change we were pushing through. I had never seen this much change in a company in my 25 years being in this industry.
There had never been a CMO that everybody reported to. I got great support from the CEO and the executive team. If you ask what’s the biggest challenge, it was an internal thing.
The change has been internal. I’m really pleased with where we’ve come, but it’s been a long, hard slog.
Velocitize: How do you balance the personalization and agility of sales to respond to customers with this centralized, single-brand message?
Sellers: The best part has been the sales team has recognized that they need, they want, they have been requesting this. They have felt all along that our marketing has been fragmented, inconsistent and sometimes incoherent. They’re actually onboard because they love the fact that we’re investing in the brand. Especially the good ones realize the strength of the brand gets me in the door. My job is closing deals, but I need you opening doors for me and right now those doors are not being opened, I have to pry them open.
The harder part has been on the marketing side. The marketers around the world are so used to “Hey, I do my own thing. I want to keep doing my own campaigns,” and we came in and said “no, you’re not doing that any more. You don’t get to do your own campaign. We’re going to stop that.” But they’re on board with that; we made some organizational changes where necessary, but we’re one global team now.