Now an instantly recognisable name, Cochlear has led the field for implantable hearing devices thanks to professor Graeme Clark’s invention of the multi-channel Cochlear implant.
Originally assisting children with hearing loss, the business has grown and today also supports adults and an ageing population with hearing conditions. As the brand now reaches customers through digital channels across different regions and markets, Cochlear wanted to evolve the brand identity in line with these changing dynamics. And with new products coming onto the market and the finishing touches put on its new five-year business strategy, Cochlear wanted to strengthen and harmonise its branding.
The brand strategy needed clarity and consistency, while a new supporting brand architecture would streamline processes and enable the systems to scale across its suite of product offerings globally. It required investing in its masterbrand and creating a compelling brand story.
In the more than 30 years since its inception, the category has swelled with competitors. As a result, Cochlear also wanted to elevate its compelling brand story as a unique differentiator. To achieve this, it wanted to align around its founder story as the original innovator of hearing technology.
Cochlear started life as an engineering company and has always been focused on the technology, explained director of corporate communications, awareness and brand, Kirsten Impey. Yet it was time to adapt to being more customer centric and build its story around the emotional connection with the brand, not simply just features and tools. The company additionally recognised the importance of moving away from product focus to showcasing the life-changing customer experience in its brand messaging.
Being in the business of hearing implants, Cochlear naturally has a unique relationship with its customers, a bond that can start in childhood and last a lifetime. It was clear this was a differentiator in any brand narrative going forward.
“It’s this intrinsic connection to our company. We love sharing stories of people who are really connected to our brand, and it’s a real privilege that we take very seriously,” Impey explained.
Partnering with FutureBrand, the business developed its brand strategy, a new brand identity system and founder narrative, with each element playing an integral role. The masterbrand and sub-brands now work together and it has defined a strong brand proposition. Brand, strategy and proposition are fully integrated.
“It’s now connected and directional,” Impey said. “It’s really helped provide direction in the organisation. With our planning, the architecture gives us the structure we need and decisions are easier. We’re not debating things because there are clear roles, we know where our products and sub-brands fit and we have a clear messaging hierarchy in the matrix.
“It’s also helped with the language across all of the marketing efforts and it’s helping deliver value to the business in a much more meaningful way.”
After research and feedback from customers to validate the idea, Cochlear adopted the shell motif as a core element of the brand redesign. It connects to the founder’s discovery of taking a shell and a blade of grass to solve the problem of how to insert an electrode into the ear to treat hearing loss. The shell is also a metaphor for the inner ear and provides the design element used for global consistency.
“What we’re trying to do from a brand perspective is to normalise our technology and increase awareness around the value of hearing and the impact of hearing on our overall health and wellbeing,” Impey said.
The rebrand process included online training in brand modules within the business, while it’s also invested in agency, distributor and partner education. “Spending time building understanding and capability around the brand strategy, the identity system and language is really key,” Impey said.
Another learning was not to underestimate the broader operational and cultural opportunities that a rebrand can have. “Having some of those tough conversations together has made us a much stronger and unified global marketing function,” she added.
Answering the ‘why’ question
The important work extends beyond marketing. “Brand touches the whole organisation,” Impey noted.
As a large change management piece of work, it was important the business spent time investing in employee engagement as well as seeking buy in across the broader organisation. Impey highlighted extensive stakeholder engagement across the executive and leadership teams in country and region to better understand the local and regional challenges. It was also important to explain challenges the rebranding work would solve from a global perspective.
And with everything from planning brand campaigns to approvals, the business could see opportunities for efficiency, alignment and scale. “We could see that investing in the brand right now will pay dividends, short and long-term into the future,” Impey said.
One of the questions to answer was around the ‘why’. “With the business investing in other kinds of transformation work, it meant explaining why it was important to invest in the brand work,” Impey said. The brand’s founder story was a natural choice and answered this question in a compelling way.
“We recognised we could be more distinctive and that we had a really ownable story. We’re the category creator and we wanted to tell that origin story in a really authentic way, so brand storytelling is really important,” she added.
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