The long-term partnership between design consultancy Insight and Lion Nathan enabled the drinks giant to build on its heritage while evolving to meet today's market
Ringing the changes
Building a trusted brand is about much more than simply leaving a good taste in your mouth. For more than 170 years, the well-loved New Zealand and Australian brand Lion Nathan has weathered business cycles, changing markets and changes in ownership. Now known as Lion Nathan National Foods, it has become Australasia's largest food and beverages company, maintaining its focus on sociability, responsibility and sustainable growth—with assistance from its brand custodian, design consultancy Insight.
Insight has worked with Lion Nathan since 1998 to produce its annual reports, which have won gold three times at the prestigious Annual Report Competition in New York. This has created a platform of mutual respect and trust, and Insight has developed a deep understanding of Lion Nathan's business.
"We don't just see Insight as an organisation that delivers against briefs; we see them as a partner in guarding our brand. It's such a long-term relationship and one of the things we value is the climate of honesty around it," says James Tait, corporate affairs director for Lion Nathan National Foods.
A natural progression of that relationship occurred in 2005. It was the right time for Lion Nathan to align its somewhat staid corporate brand with the more progressive, product side of its business. In answer, Insight rolled out a fresh, full-brand concept across Lion Nathan's investor relations, brand communications and corporate responsibility platforms.
September 2009 heralded another new phase: Japanese-owned company (and large shareholder) Kirin bought out the minority shareholders and privatised Lion Nathan. Plans to merge with Kirin-owned Australian dairy giant National Foods subsequently began to unfold.
Come together right now
"With Lion Nathan we have more than a decade of experience, knowledge and insight into their business, which is highly unusual in design company circles," says Mike Tisdall, founder of Insight.
Insight needed to create a brand "trinity" that would align the new, overarching brand (Lion Nathan National Foods) with the two separate business units
"That long history was invaluable as we considered brand positioning for the newly merged company. Our approach is always: how does this fit with their business, is it the best fit for them now, and what will it look like in one, two or five years time?"
Put simply, Insight's brief was: "We are merging companies and changing our name to Lion Nathan National Foods—how do we communicate ourselves?" Questions abounded about identity and positioning, weighting towards one company or the other, and whether to maintain elements of existing company logos.
With a strong company culture (it is in the top quartile of the Global High Performing Companies) and 80 percent of its customers favourably engaged with the brand across New Zealand and Australia, it was important Lion Nathan take that track record with them. Yet the companies also needed to combine to create something larger than the sum of their parts—a brand "trinity" that would align the new, overarching brand (Lion Nathan National Foods) with the two separate business units. The challenge was to do so without reinventing or destroying the Lion Nathan and National Foods brands.
"It was complicated," says Mike Tisdall. "But these are the challenges Insight relishes."
The nuts and bolts
The Lion Nathan National Foods' 'look and feel' had to be "sufficiently flexible and work across a large range of touch points and stakeholders," says Tait. "Lion Nathan National Foods is not a consumer brand, but it is a branded consumer goods company, so all three corporate brands have to communicate the image of a progressive, brand-building company with a consistent brand essence that revolves around bringing more sociability and wellbeing to the world."
"The focus was to create a sense of family between the three corporate brands," says Insight's creative director Brogen Averill. "We worked to make it feel like a whole, but still ensure each individual business unit could be distinguished.
"We used the edgy, fun elements of Lion Nathan, and retained the feel of the brand.We also needed to adapt to the new category spaces of National Foods (juice and dairy) and find synergies between the two companies. It was about developing the best elements of both brands to create commonality, and taking them in the same direction together."
By combining the two companies' strap lines, Lion Nathan National Foods became the brand responsible for "bringing more sociability and wellbeing to our world".
The decision was made for both companies to retain their logos. The Lion, in particular, was seen as steadfast, strong and core to the Lion Nathan brand. Insight then created common language, photography, and graphic form across both trading company brands, including a colour palette that could be used to link or differentiate.
"Lion Nathan National Foods is in an evolving market where they are radically changing, so we are helping to bring stability to their brand and maintaining consistency throughout the change," says Brogen Averill.
"The business is about great people, great brands, sociability and wellbeing. Design, in partnership with Insight, has really enabled us to bring those elements to life," says James Tait.
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