Symantec pushes its own brand

Symantec pushes its own brand

Symantec is reworking its approach to branding as part of a larger strategy to grow the software vendor's sales to corporate customers, according to John Thompson, the former IBM executive recruited in April to head the antivirus and software utilities company.

In a recent interview, Thompson said Symantec will start managing its branding in a more centralised manner than the company has in the past. In product areas where it makes sense, Thompson said the vendor will use the Symantec brand rather than the name of its Norton business unit. Historically, the company's individual business units have managed their own brands.

The changes will not increase the roughly $US100 million Symantec spends annually on brand-related promotions, but will entail a more careful management of that money. In addition, Thompson will centralise certain public relations operations and marketing of products, he said.

"Managing how we use brands is a critically important issue for the company, not just because of the image of the company but because of the financial opportunities," he said.

Overall, Thompson said he hopes to add more "discipline" to a company that has historically been run under a "decentralised, business-unit driven management philosophy". He added that Symantec will try to spread individual business units' technologies across a broader range of product lines better than the company has in the past.

The brand strategy is one of the first significant steps taken by Thompson since April when he became the chairman, president and CEO of the California-based maker of antivirus, utilities and connectivity software. The 28-year IBM veteran took over from Gordon Eubanks, who headed Symantec for 15 years and grew the company's revenues to $633 million last fiscal year.

Thompson said that upon taking his post he was "comforted" by the company's strong products, "great staff" and loyal customers.

However, he added that "what I have been a little surprised with quite frankly is the lack of coordination across the company on many of the important initiatives as we move forward".

At the core of Thompson's plans is his goal to increase Symantec's sales to corporate customers. He said his initial target is to quickly grow Symantec's corporate sales so that they make up half of the company's revenues - a percentage which could reach 60 per cent within 18 to 24 months, he added. Currently, 56 per cent of Symantec's revenues flow from retail sales.

The company has grown on the strength of its retail sales and largely through the success of products such as the Norton antivirus and utilities software it acquired in 1990. The individual Norton brand is so well known that many customers don't realise Norton products are made by Symantec, Thompson said. The perception of Norton as a retail product becomes a problem as Symantec tries to woo corporate buyers, Thompson said.

"They tend to equate Norton with a consumer product which may not be 'robust' enough for the enterprise market," Thompson said. "The issue is to have a brand that engenders a sense of trust, confidence, reliability - all of those things that are important to corporate buyers that are different than the brand name, if you will, of Norton perhaps in the retail [market]."

One example of the new branding strategy is a product that helps remote users connect to their corporate networks that was called Norton Mobile Essentials when it was first released. Since the product doesn't directly relate to core products under the Norton brand, namely utilities and antivirus software, it is now known as Symantec Mobile Essentials.

Thompson added that a unification of the company's brands not only saves on royalties that Symantec pays for the use of the Norton name, it could raise awareness of Symantec as a publicly traded company.

If fans of the Norton line of products don't know Symantec they can't translate their interest into an investment in the company behind the products, he said.

Thompson said he realised the brand confusion on a flight soon after joining Symantec. After he explained that Symantec makes antivirus software to a passenger in the neighbouring seat, the passenger asked whether Thompson's company "competes with Norton".

"It happened literally three times and I thought 'This is a huge problem'," Thompson said.

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