Toward a Strong Sage Brand

Written by Dennis Frahmann, EVP, Marketing for Sage North America

In July at Sage Summit 2011, Sage announced a branding strategy that prompted a lot of feedback and interest. In simplest terms, the Sage strategy is to move from a house of product names cobranded with Sage to a strong branded house, emphasizing Sage. Sage is moving away from a model like Adobe Systems, where individual products such as Adobe Photoshop are emphasized for different markets and needs, toward a model like Cisco, where the focus is on how the Cisco portfolio can help meet its customers’ network needs.

Why a Master Brand?

While almost everyone agrees that a stronger Sage brand is desirable, many question why that strength needs to come at the expense of existing product brands. To answer that, consider what makes a brand strong. It is at least three things:

  1. Do people know the brand?
  2. Do they think positively about the brand?
  3. Do they connect that brand to the available set of relevant solutions?

The Sage North American portfolio currently encompasses over 40 product brands. According to annual brand-tracking studies, only three of them—Sage Peachtree, Sage Simply Accounting, and Sage ACT!—have aided awareness higher than that of Sage in North America. Five years ago, before the name Sage was added to the product brands, Sage itself was virtually unknown. Cobranding over the past five years has paid off, but awareness levels remain significantly below competition. By focusing resources on one brand, not 40, Sage is far more likely to make significant inroads quickly. That is exactly what has been seen in other Sage regions where this approach has already been taken.

A strong brand needs to be more than just recognized. It also needs to be associated with positive attributes that are meaningful to potential customers. Sage has a number of strong characteristics coming into common play, from its work with Sage Advisor to the scope of Sage Business Care to the quality of the customer experience. All of its offerings will benefit if they get associated with this common story. Again, connecting these characteristics to each product is quite challenging. A focused effort on the master brand has much faster payoff—especially when the brand scores high on customer experience in its various forms, many of which are outside of the software itself.

The final concern with the current portfolio of product brands is that almost 100% of the current customer base knows that their product is part of Sage, and customers overall have a positive view of Sage. At the same time, customers almost never recognize that other products in Sage’s portfolio are in fact from Sage. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Record almost any meeting or conversation among employees, partners, and customers. The word “Sage” will seldom be mentioned. It will all be focused on the product brand name. Often, at Sage Summit, I encountered customers who were astounded to discover that their needs could have been solved by Sage, if only they had realized the reach of the Sage portfolio. Add to this a reverse challenge involving a prospective customer’s perspective of Sage. Again, at Sage Summit, I heard from a partner who recently lost a large CRM deal. Even though the Sage solution had been selected and a contract drawn, the deal was lost when a newly hired CIO came on board who didn’t know Sage. The competitor won, not because of its product’s merits, but because of its brand.

Put it all together: There’s a lot of work to do to create a strong brand. Spread that effort and investment across dozens of brands, and progress will be slow. Take a more aggressive master brand approach, and progress will be quicker.

Why Use Numbers?

Many agree that focusing on Sage and dropping product brand names is a sensible prioritization of resources. But some question why Sage plans to use a product numbering system to denote targeted customer segments.

Overall, the purpose of using numbers rather than simply generic technology categories is because Sage has multiple products in the financial space, and those solutions are targeted at different customer segments. Sage needs to acknowledge that and help potential customers understand that. Numbers are a way to do that.

People are concerned that the numbers will imply a sequence of increasing capability. Yes, they will. That’s intentional. Numbers will be used in a way that is totally aligned with how Sage has consistently positioned its product portfolio to analysts, press, partners, and customers these past few years.

Another concern is that the numbers raise customer experience expectations. Yes, they will. We recognize that. In fact, the master branding strategy is just one part of a strategy to make the Sage customer experience far more consistent. Our business partners are right to caution Sage on not overreaching and remind the company of past expectations not met. We realize that we must be careful in the expectations we set, but it is totally appropriate and necessary for our branding strategy to emphasize setting common expectations.

Admittedly, there are different approaches beyond numbers that could be used to achieve these same goals. However, numbers are often used in naming architectures that seek to emphasize the master brand. Examples range from Seattle’s Best Coffee to luxury car brands to many technology hardware firms. The number approach has been in use in most Sage European regions for many years. For Sage North America, it makes sense to build off a system that has worked for other parts of Sage and not to try to create something new.

What Are the Details?

Sage chose at Sage Summit to share with its channel community the broad strategic direction of our brand work, and several reporters also wrote about it. By providing an opportunity for reaction and feedback, Sage believed it would end up with a better overall plan.

As a result, we’ve received many good ideas and also seen much speculation. Some are concerned about details that may or may not enter the plan, or even that Sage isn’t considering the need for details. We are fully committed to providing our channel with full details later this fall and will follow that with clear communication to our existing customers. This will include the specific products that will be renamed, what their new names will be, the timetable for the change, and the steps we will be taking to support the transition. The general timeline is that initial products will be changed in early 2012, with the process completed by the end of 2012.

Speaking for Sage, we have already found valuable input and perspectives from the online conversations that have helped refine our plans. For example, we have been working for months already with our marketing agencies on specific search engine marketing plans, but some of the conversations have raised specific nuances we needed to add to the plan. We continue to meet individually with selected partners and advisory groups to get more formal input as well. On a personal level, I welcome input from any of our partners.

Please be aware I am unlikely to comment on your input publicly. Sage will provide a detailed plan as our next activity, but that plan will have been fully agreed to and vetted. Providing individual details out of context would be counterproductive.

By the end of 2012, as this rebranding effort nears it completion, both Sage and partners should begin to see positive results. When customers truly begin to understand how Sage and its partner community can help them achieve their business goals, all of us will in turn see how clearer and more focused brand communication helps our businesses succeed.