Executing a global brand transformation
In this episode
Looking at services companies today, one would notice that almost every leading name has gone through a major brand transformation. Although ridden with tension, panic, and a long list of challenges, it is one of the biggest steps to get through in order to get to the next level. Gabriel Cohen sits down with Capgemini‘s Francois-Xavier Reodo, who shares how they navigated through their own brand transformation and brought their name on a global scale. He explains how they handled their team’s initial negative reactions, the major revamp of their brand identity, the struggles of the acquisition process, and working with different cultures. Francois-Xavier also talks about the importance of doing brand surveys, what baseline metrics they considered for their total rebrand, and the undeniable positive impact of putting customers first.
About Francois-Xavier (FX) Reodo
FX is responsible for growth, brand, external communications, employee engagement, client intimacy and field marketing for Capgemini Invent and frog in North America.
Between 2015 and 2021, FX was in charge of building Capgemini marketing & communications team and strategy in Asia Pacific, building up a high performing team of 20+ marketers, in order to support the group fast growth in the region (revenue X4 in 6 years).
He has a track record of conceiving, planning, executing – and reporting on – multi channels global marketing strategy, plans and campaigns with earlier experiences providing insight on how to interact and engage with consumers to build brand relationships via key advocates.
Welcome to this episode. This is a very international episode. This is a European episode. I’m joined by FX Reodo who’s the CMO of North America for Capgemini Invent. Welcome, FX.
Gabriel, thank you for having me on the show.
Give us a little bit of an introduction to yourself. You’re a Frenchman that’s in New York. How did you get there?
It’s been a long path to New York. Thank you for asking. I’m French. FX stands for Francois Xavier. It’s been my personal branding to turn it into FX for some of our international colleagues and friends to be able to address me without struggling with pronunciation. I grew up in France in a very small town that I don’t think anybody will know. I was eager to have a global career. That’s why I studied in different areas around the world.
My first job and my first assignment was at Capgemini in North America here in New York several years ago. I was working on social media and digital marketing back when it was really booming and starting, using the only skill and the fact that I was a digital native when some of the other marketers were not. After that, I moved to our headquarters in Paris working on a transformation project that wanted to turn our key salespeople into brand ambassadors on social media at the moment that we were starting to talk around social selling. That was a really interesting experience very early on in my career. We built a team in India. I was going back and forth to the country. That was a cool assignment.
A few years ago, the transformational in my career opportunity happened is Capgemini decided to commit to Asia Pacific and create an Asia Pacific entity. As part of that, they nominated Luc-Francois Salvador to lead that entity into its next stage of growth. I met Luc-Francois Salvador casually in our headquarters. I pitched myself for a job and it worked. That’s how I joined this newly created entity, which boomed. It was an amazing growth platform for me and for the company. It lasted for seven years. They were based in Hong Kong before the assignment that I was in.
Talk a bit about the assignment that you’re in.
I’m working for Capgemini Invent, which is an ecosystem of agency within the Capgemini group that looks after strategy, transformation consulting, innovation, product development and design, and also key R&D solutions around complex engineering solutions. It is what we like to call at Capgemini the tip of the spear. Being able to create the strategies and the conversation that are going to be transformational for the entire organization that we work with as clients.
My work at the moment as the Chief Marketing Officer of Capgemini Invent is to bring this agency into its next stage of growth here in North America. We oversee frog, which is a very famous design firm, and Synapse, which is an IoT and R&D agency. We are putting everyone under one roof to make sure that we help Capgemini differentiate and tell the end-to-end story to its customers.
I’m going to be talking a lot about brand and marketing within the realm of professional services. A lot of people who are reading this are probably going to be very aware of the McKinsey’s, BCGs, and the big four, the Deloittes and PWCs. I know Capgemini a lot because of the European background. Maybe talk for a moment about where Capgemini fits within that world of professional services.
Capgemini was founded in Grenoble, the French headquartered company which grew globally really fast. It used to be very specialized around being an IT solutions and IT service provider and grew quickly, building knowledge in this area, building capabilities, and then extending in different geographies. It is sometimes organic customer acquisition.
Several years ago, Capgemini started taking the path of becoming a true transformative partner for our customers and was eager to tell the full consistent technology-enabled transformation story to their customers. Becoming a partner meant starting being able to not only provide IT solutions and IT services, but also being able to craft the strategies, the new customer experience, the new ways to manage and operationalize your enterprise, how to roll out an intelligent industry, and these kinds of things for their customers. That has been the transformation of the group in this direction.
If you look across all these professional services companies, everyone’s gone through some mode of transformation. I can’t think of another category where if you named the top 20 in that category, every single one has gone through a major brand repositioning and refresh because of the evolution changes. I can’t think of one that hasn’t. You described a bit about the evolution of the business strategy. What was that from a brand standpoint? What was the brand process like?
We like to say that we want to be positioned as a business and technology transformation partner. That really means being able to have a conversation with the customers about their strategic direction and the transformation that is needed to enable that strategic direction. For us in marketing and communication, that has gone through several major evolutions over the last couple of years.
The first one of this evolution is there has been a very big refresh of our visual identity including our logo a couple of years ago. If you look at it, there is something a little bit passé or old-fashioned. In the logo, it was Capgemini, and then there were capabilities that Capgemini was working on to something a lot more creative and playful. Our color is blue and we played around the renewal of the blue. That was a major transformation for us and a major evolution.
The second piece is the publication of a new brand promise, which is aligned with the idea of being more strategic and working hand-in-hand with the customers on their transformation, which is to get the future you want. I personally like this brand promise because it’s an active promise in the market. I encourage our customers to challenge themselves but also look into things such as the society impact, sustainability, and others. The reason why it’s a very interesting promise to the market is also because it has an internal element of it.
Capgemini is a massive organization of more than 350,000 people. I am encouraging people to get the future they want. Joining the organization is particularly important. For a professional services firm, the ability to have all of those people be our advocates, share the message on social media, and get into a company in which they share the purpose, the vision, and the feel that is going to help them get the future they want is the first way that you can translate your brand promise to real action. That’s the way that worked well.
Professional services branding more than any other category has been able to do brand well in the context of being able to have very clear external and internal articulation. Oftentimes, you end up having conversations about how there isn’t a separate employer brand or there’s one brand. You then tailor the message. If you look across a lot of the big professional services brands, they do a really good job of getting to that brand promise that can work both ways.
Take us under the hood in the process. On the flip side, the challenge a lot of times when you do any type of brand work in professional services is it’s hard enough already in any industry that you’re working in when you’re going through brand work to not have everyone else give an opinion. When it comes to brand and marketing, what we hear often is everyone has an opinion of what we’re doing.
When you’re working with very smart people who are consultative in nature, then everybody has an opinion, especially when you start getting subjective things like the identity refresh or why getting the future you want is the right positioning as opposed to something else. Take us under the hood a little bit. Did those types of conversations happen? How did you deal with those? Did you have to go backward to go forward?
Absolutely. What I found interesting as part of the creative process that our brand team globally led is they really made an effort to create a connection between the core identity of the company and this new logo and the new visual identity, for instance, when we refreshed it. I’ll give you an example. Our company was founded about many years ago by Serge Kampf. A figure of the founder here at Capgemini was very attached to Serge Kampf. His family was involved in the process and the creative process around picking what the next visual identity could look like.
It’s a handwriting logo at the moment at Capgemini. That handwriting is the handwriting of Serge Kampf himself. That’s him. We looked into his former letters and the things that he wrote. We found that handwriting and used it as the next logo. That’s the best answer that I can give you. We are creating this link between the foundation of the company. Making it make sense in a format that’s more relevant, more creative, and maybe bolder has allowed us to have a linear evolution from one to the other that made sense.
Our new logo, I remember a few years back, was unveiled at one of our big internal leadership meetings. I remember my first reaction to it because it was so different from one to the other. It was pretty tough. A lot of our leaders did not really like it. You will have asked them 48 hours after the time that they had to absorb the shock, etc., and then they have an overwhelmingly positive answer. As people learned the story around the creative process and understood linear evolution and how we reached that point, they started making letters, liking it, amplifying it, etc., and being advocates of this transformation.
That’s a really interesting lesson there. A lot of times, when you present change and something new, you almost have to prepare yourself that the first reaction is going to be negative. Were you prepared for that? Was it one of those moments where it was like, “Nobody panic,” and give it a while until they sit with it?
Absolutely. To be very fair to our global colleagues and the brand teams that worked on this project and the agencies, they’re anticipating many of those reactions. Also, there was this interesting decision each time we went through those transformations to first communicate internally and take the time to communicate internally and have people be aware of this and then to the market, which is interesting because the brand is how we are perceived in the market.
I know some of the other exercises that are being made on the market are being made the other way because the brand is the number one way that your clients and the rest of your stakeholders interact with your company. It’s mostly considered an external asset. At Capgemini, this is how we’ve created a lot of links around the brand that people differ.
A lot of people who work in professional services or consultants tend to be quite skeptical. Is there anything that you can recall from the internal launch that you think you did well or that worked well around getting people excited without going too overboard and rah-rah or whatever the French version is of rah-rah?
What is interesting is we get the feature you want. Our new brand signature was the starting point of a new conversation with the clients, especially if you put it in the context of that transformation that we’re going through in positioning and what we want to stand for towards being that end-to-end partner. All of our sales colleagues and all of the people that were facing the clients, the morning after, had a new conversation to react to or something else to bring to their clients and be like, “What’s the feature you want? What is it? How we can help you start working and defining how to get there, etc.?”
From one day to the other, the strategy of the group has been to move in that direction. We have a wealth of capability and strengths to deliver in that direction, but how do you, from one day to the other, allow that conversation to happen? Your clients see you in a certain way and maybe not the other. They don’t necessarily see that you’ve evolved and changed so much.
That new brand promise created the framework to do that because then, you have the first conversation that comes in. It is like, “I’ve seen you’ve launched this. What does that mean, etc.?” You’re like, “Let me explain it to you.” Triggering those new conversations with this promise with the customer is the best way that people can take it and go and activate it the day after.
It is really interesting because, when you start to talk like that, you start talking about something that people can relate to even if they’re not a market or a brand person. You’re talking about conversations with customers. You’re not talking about the brand itself, which might feel something more abstract or obtuse.
What’s both very simple and genius about this brand promise, to be honest, is that it is very active. We have this idea that we’re going to be your end-to-end partner helping you transform. Here you have a brand promise that starts with get, and then you want. It makes a lot of sense from that perspective.
It’s also customer-centric. It’s not about you. It forces you to have to start a conversation through each client’s lens to ask them what feature they want as opposed to focusing on what it is that you offer. Once the brand is launched, that’s a huge exercise initiative, but it’s only the start. You’ve been talking about the aspect of the strength of the brand and it being very active. Talk about the activation then. This is where the rubber hits the road. What did you do well? Tell us some of the activation stories.
What is interesting here is once you have redefined a little bit that baseline of your promise to the market, you need to translate it into how you tell the story. As a team, we’ve moved into two ways to activate around this premise. The first one is storytelling and telling stories from the outcome and the value that we deliver to customers on their transformation journey rather than talking about ourselves. It’s being a little less introverted as an organization and talking a little bit more about our clients and their journey. Rather than what is it that we did with them, we are talking about them and how we’ve helped them go from one point to the other.
The second piece is the launch of the sub-brand, Capgemini Invent. It is the tip-of-the-spear creative consultancy that helps encapsulate the four new elements of promise or the four things that we want to be famous for. That helps create a link across all of the capabilities of Capgemini. The first one is the ability to define a new business model. They’re looking to market disruptions and look into the current strengths of the company, etc., and define a business model based on this.
I’m sitting here in the New York Applied Innovation Exchange, which is a consulting lab that does that. We sit here for a certain number of days with our customer to look into the startup ecosystem, their competitor’s moves, etc. We identify what’s next in terms of their moves and what they can do to lead their market and define where they can win in the future.
The second element of the story that’s important for Capgemini Invent is the ability to bring innovation at every stage of the product lifecycle. This is a very important thing for businesses from design to solving complex engineering solutions and connected products to scaling, manufacturing, and then renewable and the circular economy. Sometimes, the physical product and the digital product are at the center of everything at the moment. We’re helping our clients on this journey.
The third element is how we help businesses not necessarily use a new tool or move into a new platform from an IT perspective but operationalize digital transformation end-to-end. The last one is how we do not help them do data and analytics but make smarter decisions. Repositioning a lot of the way that we were telling stories and how we were bringing our customers to the mix of stories that we say is very important here. That’s how we’ve been operationalizing it from a marketing communication perspective.
Is there a way with what you need to do to stand out? You’re a French company that’s in North America. You’ve got the big North American-based incumbents that probably have a higher top-of-mind awareness, and then you’ve got the upstarts and the slaloms of the world also coming in as well. How can marketing or brand help distinguish in order to cut above the clutter?
The brand surveys and the analysis that we do with all the different survey partners or agencies show us that we’ve progressed in a great way both on what we want to be known for by the people who know us and the number of people who know us. There are a few things that we’ve invested in that helped us accelerate on some of those markets. If you go on our website, you will see that, for instance, Capgemini, for the last few years, has increased, the way that it cares and invests into sports sponsorships. We are a rugby partner. That’s very strong in Asia Pacific and Europe. It is a little bit less appreciated in America, but it’s a growing sport.
We are a big sponsor and partner of the Riders Cup, which is golf. We hope it is going to increase and improve our brand awareness in North America. In each of those sports, for instance, we also bring innovation and work with the federations to improve the fan experience with different digital tools. We also bring our customers there to see that we are committed to the market and to see that we are investing in the brands, etc.
You rightly pointed out that we are one of the largest players on the market in some of the European countries and probably a smaller player in the Asia Pacific. It’s partly true also in North America. If you want to cut to the noise, you need to be a little bit more provocative in the type of content that you push on the market and the type of stories that you tell. You need to make sure that you also are not being de-united.
Capgemini, if you look at our story, we have acquired a lot of organizations and brought them together. Our ability to tell this story end-to-end, particularly at the moment. We have the tech on one side and the strategy, the transformation, and the ability to transform on the other. More importantly, we have the engineering piece. We had an acquisition with Altran a few years back. We are one on the market that is able to bring all of those together into one story. Our ability to show that we have this differentiating important element on the market is particularly important. Many of our competitors have built such capabilities but never in the way that is so put together.
For example, you talk about the acquisition of frog. Almost every big financial service has made some of those acquisitions. A lot of them struggle sometimes because there are such different cultures. They see themselves as being special. Can you talk about what have been some of the pain points or struggles with some of those acquisitions? What kind of things work? Is it a case of patience? Go into the hood a bit and tell us about not just the pretty picture. We acquired it, but we have this great holistic thing. I know that’s the marketing story, but I’m going to challenge you a little bit on the reality because we know it’s not that straightforward.
I’ll give you an example. Capgemini has made a conscious decision to keep frog as a brand and make it not only a design brand but make it part of our promise in what we call customer first. That’s the proposition in terms of how you engage better with your customers as a business. One part is design but there’s also customer experience. Retail experience is marketing, UX, UI, etc. Rather than phase out frog and retain the talent, the strategy adopted in this case has been to integrate some parts of Capgemini Invent and other agencies into frog to extend its value and the way that it plays a big role in all promise in this space. That has been one of the answers.
Many of the pains that you listed are very much present in any organization. This one is particularly interesting because you see a lot of professional services firms trying to go into this space with different levels of success in doing it. In Asia Pacific, for instance, we acquired 5 or 6 organizations over the last few years. The acquisition that we acquired has helped improve a lot of Capgemini recognition on the market and extend the Capgemini footprint really strongly in Australia, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
In this case, the decision was to bring the people under the Capgemini house with one brand and not to retain their brand. Most of my answer is there is no one-size-fits-all. That really depends on the quality of the brand and the recognition of the company you acquired. Sometimes, the best strategic way that the brand can help you differentiate yourself for the bigger ship as in the case of frog in customer first is by finding that right balance that you make the right decision.
That’s a good segue into a point you said earlier. In your career, you spent time in the US and then you worked in the home market in France and in Asia. Talk a bit about what you learned from a brand-building process or in having those different experiences and the different tools or strategies that you needed to deploy at a regional level.
My observations will be documented through research, etc. I read a few articles from Harvard Business Review on this topic. It depends on the nature of the business and the size of the market. The AsiaPac itself is an archipelago of different markets and different businesses that all have very different ways of working, different ways of positioning a brand, and different ways to enter and make yourself relevant.
It’s documented, for instance, in Southeast Asia or China that the relationship is one part that is a lot more important. The way that you nurture the relationship over time is particularly important. Whereas here in the US, you will have a brand-led business. People know about you. They reach out to you. They see your ad and then they connect with you, etc. The way that you invest in sports sponsorship is particularly important.
When we expanded our brand and when we added the exercise of expanding brand recognition around Asia, we invested in Rugby Seven, which is very famous in Asia but not too much in the US competition around geography. The one in Hong Kong that is called the Hong Kong Sevens is famous. There is one in Australia, Singapore, and Dubai, which was part of that geography for us.
The way that we invested in it was very much focused on building relationships. We are bringing people under one roof, like clients, prospects, third-party partners, etc., and having them have an experience of the Capgemini brand where they could mingle and network with our key leaders and sales folks. Interestingly, when we look at sponsorships of sports in the Rugby World Cup in Europe or the Riders Cup, for other geographies, there is this element of relationship but also how many times is the brand going to be placed, where it’s going to be, and a lot more around the visibility. That’s one of the many different things that we could see in terms of how you adapt your tactics and strategies to different cultures.
Let’s jump to a few things about your personal journey and growth. One of the things I thought was interesting was when you were telling the story about going to Asia. That was completely opportunistic. It’s not like somebody came, called you, and tapped you up. You went for it. Talk a bit about that and how important that is as a sort of general principle of career. Has that always been a part of your attitude that’s helped you get there? Have there been times when you’ve done that and maybe you’ve fallen flat on your face and it doesn’t always work out like that?
1 of the 7 values of Capgemini is boldness. This is something that the company tries to live by. I’m very lucky to be in an environment that has been looking for this type of move and this type of raising your hand and trying to do something new. I always look at my team, for instance, and the people that I manage or coach, or some of my mentees as well. I tell them, “Thinking out of the box completely and turning the table is usually the way to go.”
That’s also related to the conversation we had about getting the future you want. It is the ability to always challenge your stakeholders, the people you work with, and the leaders who are sometimes very senior that you work with. Making them think a little bit differently about something is always going to be seen positively.
I had a professor in my MBA class who spent a lot of time demonstrating to us A plus B a few years back. In a pitching competition, the project that is always coming up with the boldest solution always wins. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most feasible or if it’s innovative. If you have managed not only the boldest solution but you have managed to make the person who listens to you think about a problem differently, you win. That’s usually how you win in those pitching competitions, etc. I remember this very vividly. The feasibility element is important. That comes next. If you start thinking about a project differently, you’ve won. I would always encourage people to do so.
It has mostly brought me further, especially in a market where Capgemini was innocent and trying to boost itself around the Asia Pacific and try different things. Sometimes, you fail, and sometimes, you succeed. The luck that you have when you are a part of a large organization that is expanding somewhere is your startup. You’re not big and you don’t have huge means, but you can be a little bit bold. You can fail and start something else, etc. That has been extremely lucky for me early on in my career.
What do you think having had some of this global experience and gone to work in different markets has been able to help you on a day-to-day?
It completely expands your horizons in terms of the way that you think. In your daily life, which is your private life, you are constantly challenged by cultural shock, by not being able to do paperwork, by not being able to understand how things work, and by being sometimes insecure about your visa and things like this.
If you are completely outside of your comfort zone, that expands your horizon. You are a lot more tolerant. You’re a lot more open to new ideas. You are thinking differently because you constantly have to find solutions for yourself. You bring some of these elements into your work and do the same thing. You have a lot more cultural awareness and a lot more empathy. We know how much empathy is extremely important as marketers in order to be able to tell a story that simply resonates. That’s very rich. That’s the wealth and the strength that you acquire.
I’ve always tried under the guidance of my parents to, from an earlier age, try to get myself out of my comfort zone and do all of those things. I have been privileged to do it in a very comfortable situation. When I look at a resume or when I look at the ability of somebody to get into a new job, etc., I will always look at whether have they worked sometime overseas. Have they studied sometimes overseas? Did they maybe do something a little bit different volunteering somewhere or something like this?
That will tell you a lot about the ability of the person to be adaptable, bring new solutions to the table, and think sometimes differently. In a business that is hyper-changing, particularly in technology and transformation, we need people who are able to not always know the answers or not always come up with the answers, but be adaptable and at least have the faculty to look at a problem and think about it in a few different ways.
Do you have a favorite interview question that you like to use when you are evaluating candidates that help bring that to life? Beyond looking at the resume, seeing where they’ve been.
It’s nothing special. Many people do it, but I always spend the last 10 to 15 minutes of an interview asking people about what they do outside of work, how they spend their time, and what they’re passionate about. It can be anything. If you talk about it in a certain way and you show passion, etc., that can tell you a lot about the ability of somebody to tell a story and the ability of somebody in a marketing team to be creative and bring those.
I usually like to dedicate at least 10 or 15 minutes of the interview around going a little bit more into the one-on-one connection. There was also somebody who believed very much in the value of relationships and the value of having fun at work. Being with people who are going to be bringing different types of passions and different types of interests that we click with at work is important to creating a strong team. That’s the reason why I’m asking these interview questions.
How do you stay fresh and current with what’s going on in business, or more specifically if we think about marketing and brand?
One of the things working at Capgemini Invent and this agency world that we’re bringing together, and it would be the same for our competitors, at least for many of them, is we are in a business where people around us are brilliant. They are smart. They worked on the most interesting challenges for the customers and brought to life concepts from end to end.
In staying current, you do it. I read the press. I listen to podcasts, etc. Having those conversations with my colleagues in strategy and consulting is where I stay up-to-date. Sometimes, it’s a little bit frustrating because I feel I’m not necessarily keeping up at the same pace. You learn a lot from this. For me, that has been what’s rich about my job. We work with designers, engineers, and strategists. That’s really something that I value a lot.
What is your favorite podcast or book that you’ve read that you find yourself writing stuff down or that influences you?
There is a podcast that I listen to called Marketing Trends organized by Mission.org. They are interviewing different CMOs who have different problems and issues. I enjoy the content and listen to it on a very regular basis. I tend to use my free time for disconnecting from work and doing some other things as well. I can’t say that I’m spending a lot of time reading through business books. I prefer novels, but that’s a personal preference.
It’s refreshing honesty. It reminds us of the European origin. I listen a lot to Scott Galloway. He always says that the US is the best place to make money, but Europe is the best place to spend money because they know how to live.
That’s possibly true.
FX, this is brilliant. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks a lot for joining us.
Thank you, Gabriel. I appreciate it.