Anatomy of Axalta’s Rebrand

October 24, 2013

After the Carlyle Group acquired DuPont Performance Coatings for $4.9 billion last year, the company was renamed Axalta Coating Systems. Coatings World recently had the opportunity to talk about the rebranding process with Michael Crickenberger, vice president of marketing, corporate affairs and planning at Axalta Coatings Systems.

Coatings World: Please describe the initial process of rebranding DuPont Performance Coatings as Axalta.
Michael Crickenberger:  Looking back over the past year, I’d characterize Axalta’s rebranding process as a combination of collaboration and creativity.   Collaboration was the starting point.  We began by asking questions. We asked employees around the world what they hoped our company could become now that it was an independent business.  Who better than our own people to know what our untapped resources were?  Then we asked our customers what they thought of us and, just as importantly, what they expected from a world class coatings company because, at the end of the day, our business is all about meeting our customers’ expectations.  The answers provided the goal line we wanted to reach.  Once we knew where we were headed, the process unfolded. 
The creative component, of course, was coming up with an identity – a new name, a logo and an entire communication system to support and promote that new identity.  Axalta Coating Systems captures the scope of our business.  The Axalta name is at the top of the alphabet. Coatings describes every product we make – liquid or powder - in 35 manufacturing plants on five continents.  Systems conveys our approach to our business:  integrated systems in our R&D and manufacturing facilities, consolidated process systems for OEMs, application systems to enhance the refinish customer experience for color matching, color choice, ease of application and business management, to name a few. 
Once we knew what the goal looked like and had a name, we created a logo that would visually convey the spirit of our new company.  That’s the image of the organization. One of the things that sets us apart is that our logo – unlike those of many other companies – appears in many different colors.  Look at the landing page of our website axaltacoatingsystems.com and you’ll see the logo transitions through our colors.  This really communicates the essence of our company - we’re in the business of color.  

CW: How long did the rebranding process take?
Crickenberger: The formal branding process has taken almost a year so far. But I think our most important learning has been that the process will never really stop. You can have a  a new identity but a label is only skin deep.  Every day we look at new ways to bring the promise of our new identity – a company built for performance – home to our customers.  How can Axalta develop new brands that, for example, meet societal and regulatory demands for reduced environmental impact?  How can we improve the customer experience?  What can we do to continually improve product quality?  This is what will keep long standing customers coming back and give us the ability to attract new ones.  

CW: DuPont is such an iconic brand, were there concerns that the new name and identity would be detrimental to the company?
Crickenberger: In one respect, there was a challenge. We wanted to take the best of the people and products that were part of our past – an identity that our customers in 130 countries know well – and carry them over to a completely new corporate brand. But many of our customers associate more with our individual products such as our Spies Hecker and Standox refinish brands.  As well, Axalta’s history dates back well before DuPont with the creation of the Spies Hecker brand by Herberts in 1866.  As we launched our new identity we’ve embraced our entire corporate heritage plus the strong identity of individual brands.  That’s the foundation on which we’re now taking our business to the next level and bring added value to all of our stakeholders.

CW: How has the new corporate identity been received by your customers?
Crickenberger: Customer feedback has been terrific.  They have high standards in their businesses and they appreciate the quality of the approach we’ve taken to rebrand ours.  They also know ‘it’s all about the customer.’  We expect all our customers to continue to hold us to exacting standards in the months and years ahead.  More importantly, we know we can’t rest on our laurels. 

CW: What are Axalta’s plans for the future?
Crickenberger: We’re committed to grow in order to meet customer expectations and stay on top of emerging trends.  For example, in May – only 100 days after becoming an independent company – we announced a $50 million investment to expand our manufacturing capacity in China to supply the growth of OEMs in China.  We started up a $5 million expansion of our U.S. R&D that will accelerate new product development and bring new formulations to market faster.  We’re always implementing commercial strategies to grow market share organically.  For example, we just established a relationship with Service King Collision Repair Centers, one of the fastest growing body shop franchises in the U.S., to supply them with our Spies Hecker line of refinish products.  And we’re always examining opportunities to make strategic investments. This is the momentum that will enable Axalta to grow.    

CW: What are some important issues to consider when deciding to rebrand a company?
Crickenberger: The biggest issue that we identified was the need to communicate and to keep communications a two way street.  You’ve got to listen to your stakeholders both inside the company, or employees, and outside – our customers.  Don’t make assumptions is another way to look at this. You don’t know what you don’t know.  You’ve got to ask questions all the time and get fresh perspectives along the way.  The only way to solve for this is to listen to others.  Second, communicate with those same stakeholders early and often.  Inform employees about progress – they’re certainly Axalta’s greatest resource – and the more they know and understand, the better.  Finally, it’s critical to inform customers about the process.  Our customers run their own businesses – large and small – and understand change.  They don’t expect change to occur overnight.  They do expect to know what the general path forward and what’s coming next so they can manage their business accordingly.    

CW: Any final thoughts on the rebranding process?
Crickenberger: We learned that coming up with a new Axalta brand was a chance to do so much more than create a new name and logo.  Axalta’s rebrand created the opportunity to engage in new ways with our employees, customers and others. Every aspect of the business – manufacturing, products, sales, service and more - is tied into the rebranding process.  The Axalta identity becomes part of each of these activities whether it’s visible, such as a logo on a product label, or in the way the people of Axalta embrace the values of the company when they work with a customer.