Interview with Niina Eschmann, Axpo: changing markets, changing times

22 Oct 2010|Added Value

The Swiss Energy Market will likely be opened up to small business and private customers by 2014. A big challenge for Axpo, a government energy provider. Axpo was established 10 years ago and mainly used as a holding company in German-speaking Switzerland. However, recognising the need to adapt to the changing landscape, Axpo embarked on a strategic corporate rebranding process in 2008, with one key focus: to be ready for the changes facing their market.

We interviewed Niina Eschmann, Head of brand management, sponsoring and marketing at Axpo Holding AG, Zurich, about repositioning a brand in a changing marketplace.

Mrs Eschmann, the Swiss Energy market is changing. But what prompted you to begin your process of corporate rebranding as early as 2008?

Eschmann: In short: we knew things were going to fundamentally change. We knew that by 2014 the Swiss energy market would probably be open for private customers. And in the meantime we expected a referendum about Swiss nuclear energy. An extraordinary challenge for us, a government company. We had to position ourselves for the future – for our clients, end consumer and shareholders – as well as keeping a discerning eye on our competitors. Why? Because international energy providers are waiting in the wings to take advantage of our changing market.

What had to be done?

Eschmann: We had to find a way to stay in business in the future. It was important to find a clear and relevant brand positioning for Axpo. A brand positioning that would allow us to top up our brand with significant future-oriented content without forgetting our past. Continuity is very important for us. Of course, Axpo is the leading energy holding in Switzerland. But it is important to know that in 2008 our brand portfolio was very heterogeneous. NOK (North-East of Switzerland), CKW (central Switzerland) and EGL (international retail company) were brands well located in their distribution areas. They still are. But they weren’t well established on the national level. Furthermore the customers didn’t understand our structure and brand portfolio. We knew a consistent appearance for the Axpo brand would be important for our future in Switzerland.

Can you tell us about the milestones of the process?

Eschmann: If you want to build up your brand image and equity, you need time. Even six years was tightly calculated for the small Swiss market. But we knew that we had to start early and develop the process effectively and efficiently in order to get the business ready for change and gain a real competitive edge.

As a result of a market mapping study with Icon Added Value in 2007 we already knew our main target audience, their behaviour and their media use. We also found it useful to look beyond our own market and took at detailed look at the German energy market. Icon Added Value then worked with us to develop a brand architecture for Axpo.

In 2008, our Board approved the corporate branding process, including a single brand strategy and no double branding for the associated companies.

Since then we’ve been sure to regularly measure the implementation of brand and communication activities. The progress in brand awareness, brand identity and implementation of communication is documented in our brand scorecard so that we can make sure we track our activities and ensure we’re on strategy. This also allows us to make adjustments as necessary.

What advice can you offer for corporate branding processes?

Eschmann: Be aware of what’s happening in your market and plan for the future. Make sure you have enough time to respond. From the start, work systematically. Build up teams in your company, across divisions. Keep communication transparent and pro-active. And search for competent partners to help you make the right strategic decisions.

For more information, contact Anne-Kathrin Kirchhof at Icon Added Value, Germany.

prev next