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Pick a Lane: Rebranding a Behemoth is Possible

Canada Life
Canada Life

After running three different operating companies for more than 15 years, the braintrust at insurance giant Great-West Lifeco Inc. decided last year that less would be more.

Andrew Morris, Canada Life

Andrew Morris, Canada Life

Even though the decision to rebrand Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life under a new Canada Life banner might seem to be a no-brainer—it was the only geography-neutral one of the three—it was not taken lightly.

Oh, there was also a fourth option—scrap all three names and come up with something new, perhaps even a moniker that isn’t even a word yet. You know, like Google.

But the latter possibility never got off the ground, according to Andrew Morris, Toronto-based vice-president of brand & experience at Canada Life Assurance Company. “We knew we wanted to choose from an existing brand. We didn’t want to create a new one and have to educate people,” he says.

Time for a Direction

During the company’s research, it was found that Canada Life didn’t have the most brand equity of the three and didn’t post the highest awareness scores, either. Great-West was the biggest, having acquired Canada Life in 2003 and London Life six years before that in a pair of multi-billion-dollar deals.

The ultimate decision—which became effective at the beginning of this year—came down to which name they believed was best for the long term and driving growth.

“There are a lot of attributes associated with having ‘Canada’ and ‘Life’ together that you get credit for. People associate Canada with stability and strength, they think ‘approachable, caring, integrity, doing what’s right and keeping your promises.’ These aligned well with who we are as a company,” he says.

After deciding around the boardroom table that Canada Life was the way to go, management and directors wanted to put the name to the test before they started changing the signs on their buildings and ordering new business cards. So, they polled all their customers, asking “if we changed our name, what would your reaction be to Canada Life?”

“Virtually all of them said it would be a no-brainer,” he says, referring to the 90 per cent of policyholders who voted to give it the thumbs up.

Bringing it Together

Jeff Swystun, a Mont-Tremblant, Quebec-based global branding expert, says Canada Life was the right banner for the three operating companies.

“It’s balanced, it’s iconic and it sounds permanent and safe. Those are things that businesses need to communicate not only industry-wide but on an individual brand basis. Trying to get any brand with ‘Canada’ in it now (is virtually impossible). That’s a huge benefit,” he says.

The strategy has been to bring the best parts of Canada Life, Great-West and London Life together under a new Canada Life brand and a new logo. For example, Great-West was known for its high levels of customer service supporting plan members across the country, London Life was famous for its “Freedom 55” retirement plan while Canada Life was the country’s first insurance company, starting in 1847.

“We wanted to make sure we had a crisp new start. It positions us differently,” says Morris. (The parent company name is the one that hasn’t changed. That remains Great-West Lifeco Inc.)

The goal with any rebranding initiative, of course, is to give a long-term boost to sales and profitability. Morris didn’t attach a number to it but said the company tried to position the move as “an enabler.”

“We wanted to reposition the brand—who we are and what we stand for—so Canadians are aware of us and will support the other growth initiatives that are coming. We purposely didn’t put a number on our sales goals. We want to enable all the other things we’re going to do,” he said.

Brand and People

Combined, the new company has more than 10,500 employees across the country who serve more than 13 million customers. Just how long it takes for the new Canada Life to fully establish itself with those employees, many of whom had strong ties to the retired brands, remains to be seen but there’s no doubt it will be measured in years, Swystun says.

“It will depend on the human resources department. Even though they’re similar companies with similar business operations, they’re different. How do they handle benefits? How will they handle vacation time? They have three distinct cultures, how will those cultures merge?” he says.

The Future as One

 The rebranding has certainly come at a significant financial cost but whenever possible, the company has tried to maintain business as usual. For example, as certain marketing materials need to be replaced, they are reprinted with the new logo and branding. There has been some consolidation and rebranding of investment products and as new products are developed, they are released on the single Canada Life platform.

“We have over-communicated with advisors. We don’t assume they know (we rebranded) just because we made an announcement last year. We started telling them with statements, inserts and emails, ‘you’ll start seeing Canada Life soon’ so they knew what was coming,” says Morris.

“Now we have more of a market-facing view of the brand. We’re actively promoting it to advisors, plan members and Canadians at large. Last year, we had a trade push with advisors and this year, we’re putting out more messaging to consumers in general.”