Future-Proof Brand Series: Martin Pietersen, Atos
Atos is a global leader in digital transformation with over 110,000 employees in 73 countries and an annual revenue of over €11 billion. As the European number one in Cloud, Cybersecurity and High-Performance Computing, they enable customers, employees, collaborators, and members of society to live, work and develop sustainably and confidently in the information technology space. The Group is also the Worldwide Information Technology Partner for the Olympic & Paralympic Games and operates under the brands Atos, Atos Syntel, and Unify.
We spoke with Martin Pietersen, Global Brand Director at Atos, who told us about the development of their new branded house architecture, how they are leading the way in digital transformation with their brand, and how Atos manages the brand activation of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
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How do you make sure your brand remains consistent across all brand touch points?
Martin Pietersen: The customer should be the focus of brand strategy. Branding is the foundation of a successful digital customer journey and putting the customer centre-stage helps to effectively integrate a consistent brand experience around the globe. We put the Atos brand at the centre of who we are and what we do, which means it’s easier to build a strong and coherent brand across different levels of corporate, commercial, product and employer branding.
Our global and country marketing and communication teams also take part in brand training programmes on a quarterly basis or occasionally on request. This ensures that they understand every detail of the Atos brand; from brand strategy and architecture to visual identity and brand measurement.
"We put the Atos brand at the centre of who we are and what we do."
For over eight years we have been using a brand portal to share information and assets. The visual identity of the Atos brand is regularly updated, on average every 2-3 years, to ensure it stays relevant and future-proof. To maximise brand coherency, we’ve also set-up a global internal marketing and communication production agency which develops 70% of all (digital) marcom assets. Weekly meetings take place between the agency and brand management to ensure we’re consistent across all brand touch points.
What do you do to ensure your brand creates value for Atos itself?
MP: I can answer this question in different ways, because how do you define value? I have three examples in mind: The first is to deliver a price premium on our products, offerings and solutions. Atos is a proven trusted brand in the market and buyers are willing to pay a price premium when the strength of an IT service and technology provider’s brand reduces the perception of risk. My second example is to recruit the best talents which isn’t easy in the highly competitive technology market Atos operates in. We want to become a top tier 1 employer, and having a strong, known and well positioned brand will help us to recruit the best talents.
“Being a well-known brand around the globe means it will be easier to access new markets and connect with internal and external stakeholders.”
My last example is accessing new markets. Atos, as we know it today, is the result of expansion through many notable acquisitions, which we continuously integrate to enrich and strengthen our company. Being a well-known brand around the globe means it will be easier to access new markets and connect with internal and external stakeholders.
How do you ensure the Atos brand is seen as a pioneer in digital transformation itself?
MP: It’s very important Atos is at the forefront of digital transformation. We need to practice what we preach, and this means reinventing ourselves on a continual basis, rethinking why we exist as an organisation, and reassessing what our purpose is in society.
We’re repositioning ourselves from a pure IT services company to an IT services and technology company which, for example, involves high-investment in new technology and patents. Our strategic alliances with Siemens and Google Cloud help to enrich and transform Atos in areas like artificial intelligence, hybrid cloud and machine learning.
“We need to practice what we preach, and this means reinventing ourselves on a continual basis.”
We occupy a thought-leadership brand position which helps ensure Atos is seen as a pioneer in digital transformation. Atos has a global expert and scientific community which is always looking at least five to ten years ahead. Both communities are publishing unique publications such as Ascent Magazine, Journey 2022 and Look Out, which present market trends and the future of digital transformation.
The progress Atos is making on its products, services and solutions is presented on an annual basis at Atos Techdays, where we invite clients, media, analysts and partners and show them what we do and where Atos stand in the world of digital transformation.
What’s different about your ‘style’ of brand management compared to your key competitors?
MP: A brand is a living thing and the Atos brand excels at being agile and simple. It is essential we keep our brand strategy agile, flexible and efficient, which doesn’t come by itself as we are operating in a complex industry with an extensive range of products, services and solutions.
It’s quite often the case people get very excited about brand strategy but when it comes to execution of the brand it’s done very poorly. The execution of the brand is very important otherwise the whole process is wasting resources and not optimising ROI.
“It is essential we keep our brand strategy agile, flexible and efficient.”
A brand is brought to life by making sure that it is translated and coherent across every touch point, which means that our corporate strategy is supported by our brand strategy. This isn’t always the case when we look at our competitors. Brand is business so in our day-to-day work our focus is to clearly link them together. This goes beyond marketing and communications: it’s a key value to use in all our discussions, throughout the whole company, as everyone needs to be connected to the Atos brand.
How do you ensure Atos’ employer branding is successful in attracting talent?
MP: Great brands start from within, so as well as focusing on our corporate, commercial and product brand, we continually develop our employer brand. We have a well-defined corporate brand which has helped us to build our employer brand. I believe a strong employer brand is fuel for recruitment strategies and as we operate in a highly competitive market it’s important to manage the brand with the aim of attracting the right talents.
Atos is continuously working on its employer brand, from having a strong employer value proposition, defining personas to doing market research on the needs of our current and future employees. Working with institutions like the universities of Cambridge, Harvard, HEC and INSEAD, our strategic alliances (Siemens, Google Cloud), our global client base as well as our partnership with the IOC & IPC, all help to position Atos as a great employer.
How will the shift to the brand architecture which you are now deploying help brand harmonisation?
MP: Looking internally, Atos’ diversified structure meant there were high costs linked to maintaining numerous independent brands (70). The case for streamlining brand was strong, however, the decision to unify our brand architecture was not only driven by Atos’ continued customer-orientation, but the need for a brand inspired framework to guide future acquisitions and the ambition to position Atos as a strong global IT and technology brand. There was a strong financial argument for this change to brand architecture, for example driving synergies across the brand portfolio to deliver efficiencies.
“There was a strong financial argument for this change to brand architecture, for example driving synergies across the brand portfolio to deliver efficiencies.”
The transition from a house of brands to a branded house will allow us to emphasise the Atos brand while taking a unified approach, taking advantage of global opportunities and cross-over markets.
What is strategically important when integrating new brands into Atos?
MP: Different brand scenarios apply depending on the business objectives set at the start of a merger or acquisition. We continuously question ourselves as to how the acquired brand fits within our portfolio, what’s the role of the brand in the short and long-term, is the acquired brand enriching the Atos brand, and what is the financial value of the brand? We also need to assess how sensitive the market, client and employees respond to a potential brand change and if we see (business) risks in the market we operate in.
As the Worldwide Information Technology Partner for the Olympic & Paralympic Games, how do you ensure the Atos brand is used coherently for these events?
MP: This is the largest sports-related IT contract in the World, one we have held since 2002. There are four billion people watching the Summer Games, so the Atos brand is highly visible and there is no room for error. To make this programme a success, Atos develops a global cross-functional team who build a global marketing, sales and communications programme to leverage the Worldwide IT partnership with the IOC and IPC. We have clearly pre-defined SMART objectives for different target groups and work around a ‘Big Idea’ – a creative concept supported by a content strategy – to align all actions and (digital) channels. All assets for this program need to reviewed by the IOC and IPC as they use strict brand guidelines and approvals.
“There are four billion people watching the Summer Games, so the Atos brand is highly visible and there is no room for error.”
When this strategy has been decided we move into execution mode. The programme normally takes about a year and includes a detailed evaluation report including business ROI.
What tips can you give about brand management based on your experience at Atos?
MP: Branding is a powerful communication discipline to visualise business strategy. The beauty of brand management is that it’s art, science and business strategy, and in my opinion that’s what makes it such a great area to work in.
It’s essential that you get everyone within the company involved in the brand and remember the brand is owned by everyone so there needs to be constant dialogue. When managing a brand make sure your brand principles aren’t part of a fixed system and you don’t act as the brand police. Flexibility is essential, otherwise you won’t make it in the market as the environment is changing so quickly. You also need to ensure that you keep your brand future-proof in this rapidly changing world.
Martin Pietersen is the Global Brand Director at Atos.
Read more interviews in the Future-Proof Brand Series.
Read more in our expert guide:
8 tips to future-proof your brand
How do you ensure that your brand continues to perform well in a rapidly changing world?