Marketers on how they crafted Kearney's new brand

04 February 2020 6 min. read
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At the turn of the year, global consulting firm A.T. Kearney broke with nine decades of heritage by dropping its initials from its name. The creation of Kearney’s new corporate identity was far deeper than a simple name change, however, according to experts from Siegel+Gale who oversaw the creation of the new branding.

As the consulting market becomes ever more crowded and competitive, the industry’s old heads have had to contend with a new generation of digitally-savvy upstarts looking to eat into their market share. As a result, long-term market incumbents have deployed a number of different tactics to differentiate themselves from the chasing pack. One of the most common tactics leveraged by such firms is the rebranding exercise.

A number of consulting’s most established names have used rebrands to give the impression that they are both experienced enough to deliver top value for money, and able to keep pace with agile, modern business. McKinsey & Company, for example, is the world’s largest strategy consultancy, but took up a clinical new branding in 2019 to show potential clients its offering had broadened into a more holistic approach, including design. McKinsey’s MBB competitor Boston Consulting Group meanwhile dropped “The” from its name, while adopting a new connected-character sans serif logo to reflect the firm’s own end-to-end capabilities.

Most recently, this saw global management consulting A.T. Kearney drop the initials of its founder Andrew Thomas Kearney from its name, rebranding as Kearney. The move aimed at shifting the focus of the firm’s branding from its more-than-90-year heritage to its current and future incarnations – not to mention simplifying its brand for media companies who often failed to reference it correctly, as publications such as Financial Times, Bloomberg, Handelsblatt and the New York Times had repeatedly done over the years.

The rebranding exercise was undertaken on Kearney’s behalf by Siegel+Gale, a brand strategy, design and experience firm founded in 1969 and headquartered in New York – however it didn’t actually begin as a ‘rebranding’. According to Siegel+Gale Senior Strategy Director Nick Miller, the decision to change Kearney’s branding evolved from an initial question of how to improve the consultancy’s recognition in its industry, as it looked to attract new recruits and clients in a new decade.

Kearney first approached us to help clarify its market position and overall story,” Miller explained in a piece on Siegel+Gale’s own website. “As one of the world’s leading consulting firms, they did not have the recognition of some of the other more well-known names. When talking with clients, it was clear they enjoyed the firm, the people and the outstanding work, but they could not identify a “signature” of the brand. It was difficult to convey a simple story about who they are and why people should care.”

The identity which came from this process included a bespoke font to capture the firm’s “originality,” resulting in a unique, contemporary design system to “appeal to the next generation.” At the same time, Siegel+Gale identified that Kearney’s nearest competitors were starting to own specific segments of the colour wheel, meaning that it should move away from the “overcrowded segment of predominantly-red brands,” and to a more eye-catching purplish hue.

Lock, stock…

Improving Kearney’s familiarity to possible clients was easier said than done, however. Jay Lock, a Freelance Designer engaged by Siegel+Gale for the project, added that beyond the creation of a new logo and name, corporate identity also includes the use of photography on literature. He explained that as the market had been “flooded with dated, unrealistic, cliché photography for a long time,” diversifying Kearney’s pictures away from that could help set it apart from its rivals.

As a result, the firm made the bold marketing move to scrap stock photography from Kearney’s communication outings, replacing this with 100% crowdsourced imagery from Kearney colleagues. To populate the needed photography database, the company collected more than 10,000 photographs shot by Kearney's global employees between October to December 2019.

Lock expanded, "Companies have missed an opportunity to personally connect with customers and show who they really are. The idea of inviting Kearney’s employees to help shape and build their brand was a no-brainer. Simply put, they understand their people are their brand. The result of eliminating stock photography is images that are innately more real, relatable and refreshing. This gives potential clients a clear picture of what it’s like to work with Kearney, the difference they bring, as well as creating an engaging employee experience. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing something that you have created out in the world.”

Ultimately, the new branding and photography all builds toward creating a more authentic and grounded impression of the consultancy. Miller stated that the firm’s new ‘voice’ has been born from the personalities that make Kearney a consistent firm around the world – something which the dropping of the A.T. served to emphasise, as it represents a broader idea of the ‘Kearney Family’.

Miller said of Kearney’s staff, “The people are real, relatable and refreshing – genuinely original combination in the world of management consulting. It manifests in many ways, including eliminating jargon, telling clearer stories and turning the brand into a more familiar conversation – the brand shares bold ideas but in a way that’s useful, clear and surprising.”

Agreeing, Lock concluded, “The identity was born out of the firm’s desire to bring their people to the forefront. It’s no longer about one individual but about the different characters that make up Kearney… We introduced a sophisticated and timeless slate and white system with a new accent colour of purple to highlight what’s most important.”