Case Study

Johnson Controls

Johnson Controls is well-known in the commercial HVAC and building automation markets. Stroll in any major city or commercial center and you will notice a white Johnson Controls service van parked on the street. But for most consumers, the Johnson Controls brand has low recognition and even with some level of awareness is often confused with other “Johnson” name brands (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, SC Johnson, etc.).

Creating momentum in a low engagement category

The Johnson Controls relationship spanned 6 years and the very first project started in the Power Solutions division. Power Solutions was a leader in OEM and aftermarket batteries (automotive and industrial) but was facing significant challenges:

  • Steady erosion of a premium price position
  • Low consumer engagement 
  • Short-term sales approach and operational culture
  • Dated market research fragmented by region
  • Lack of data/information systems for brand management

Leadership, product and marketing alignment

After conducting a series of qualitative interviews with senior leadership and customers, our team established the positioning and go-to-market strategy for the Optima and Varta brands. Specifically, we were able to focus brand teams in Milwaukee, Hanover (Germany) and Shanghai on:

  • Key audiences and where the brands’ focus should be
  • Performance gaps and owned/differentiated equites against key competitors
  • Customer painpoints and the increasingly “big company” experience that comes with growth 
  • Changing from a pure operational mindset to a brand led business
  • Understanding the brand impact from flattening distribution levels and lack of meaningful product innovation

Shortly after our presentation and worksession with senior leadership, we initiated an annual, global brand tracking study that focused on purchase funnel metrics and key brand dimensions.  This research study was particularly important for identifying brand priorities and the activities that can strengthen the brand and customer experience.

After piloting this program with Varta, Optima, LTH and Helier brand teams, the annual exercise was extended to a broader portfolio of Power Solution brands. An annual readout with breakout working sessions became the critical inputs into formulating business and marketing plans.

Rollout across the organization

Following the success in Power Solutions, corporate leadership shifted its focus to the Buildings division and the same cadence was applied to its flagship brands - York and Metasys. The program was deeper in scope given the global footprint, complexity in applications and the inherent reliance on barriers to entry. The entire category is dominated by four global companies but given advancements in building automation technology and emphasis on LEED certifications the time was ripe for a strategic shift. While the businesses viewed their frugal innovation investments as fiscally responsible decisions, the persistent focus on the importance of brand helped once again shift a sales culture into a brand-led, future-proofing orientation. The sustained branding efforts in Buildings resulted in the acceleration of hardware and systems integration as well as a commitment to developing a more comprehensive service delivery experience.

Growing share and expanding the Footprint

With the more disciplined approach in managing brand portfolios with business operations, significantly more consideration was given to brand in terms of acquisitions and channel growth. Two additional strategic projects were spearheaded:

  • A brand valuation to support an offer to acquire a competitive battery brand in the US
  • An assessment of the AC Delco battery brand in the Middle East with the effort required to launch the Varta brand in the region

The Brand Management OS Process

Internal Brand Impact

Given the limited marketing budgets and small percentage of investment into brand, the process in both divisions created a case for a sustained increase in brand funding and a sharpened, collaborative focus on customers, targeted messages, touchpoints  and experience.