Retaining employee pride in the renaming of AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals


How can you fundamentally build on employee pride during a spin-off? Here’s how naming served as the key differentiator in a rebranding of AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals into Nouryon. For this rebranding we teamed up with Design Bridge (then VBAT) and VIM Group.

When it was announced at the end of March this year that the US-based Carlyle Group was going to acquire AkzoNobel’s Specialty Chemicals branch together with Singaporean investment fund GIC, a lot of preparation had of course been going on behind the scenes.

AkzoNobel had announced in April 2017 that it wanted to sell its Specialty Chemicals branch, and preparations for this demerger were set in motion shortly afterwards. Because a spin-off of Specialty Chemicals meant a new name and a complete rebranding of the industry.

Involving employees in rebranding

Rebrandings of this magnitude are often prepared in fairly small circles, sometimes even only at management and Board level. The management of AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals thought differently and wanted as many employees as possible to be involved in the process. Under the leadership of Vivi Hollertt, Chief Communications Officer and Jasper Jansen, Head of Communications Netherlands & Germany, a careful process for this was worked out. VIM Group was called in to assist with agency selection, impact analysis and implementation of the corporate identity to be developed, Globrands was selected for positioning and naming and VBAT for the design and corporate identity of the new brand.

After a thorough external analysis looking at the positioning of competing chemical companies and gathering input from employees, the basic ingredients of the new positioning were identified. Then, some 15 focus groups worldwide, formed from employees from all levels of the company, formulated a common purpose in several sessions. That purpose ‘Your partner in essential chemistry for a sustainable future’ would serve as a guideline for all communication throughout the rebranding process and was an important part of the naming briefing.

Our employees are especially proud of our history and our reputation for growth through partnerships, innovation and sustainability. We combined all this to create a brand identity for Nouryon that is true to who we are and helps us stand out from our competitors.

Vivi HollerttNouryon

At the first orientation workshop at the head office in Amsterdam, various possibilities for naming were discussed by exploring different directions using so-called Moodwords. On this basis, it became clear that for naming purposes, the company’s history was also one of the important routes to be further elaborated.

Setting a direction for the future by referring to the past

This meant the team had to delve well into the past, scrutinising past company names, brand names and key people associated with the companies. Given the global use of the brand name to be developed, native speaking creatives from different countries in the Globrands network were involved in the process.

At Globrands, the search resulted in many hundreds of names and name concepts. Of these, after initial trademark screening in the more than 80 countries where the company operates, checks on the availability of ‘web domains in those countries and primary linguistic suitability, enough remained to be submitted to the project group with substantiated advice.

From two such creation rounds and presentations, a longlist for further research was determined in consultation with the international project group.

That longlist was then subjected to further trademark searches for comparative and potentially conflicting trademarks and trade names and linguistic checks in all relevant languages.

In the end, a shortlist of names remained, from which, after careful consideration, the name Nouryon was chosen that met all communicative criteria, was globally available under trademark law and of which all urls were available. More importantly, it was a name that everyone involved was comfortable with.

A strictly secret operation

Meanwhile, design agency VBAT had already started to investigate the development of the brand properly, including design and the identity the brand should stand for. As the new name had to be kept strictly secret while the trademark registration process was still ongoing, VBAT was initially given only a dummy name and the first letter N.

VIM Group prepared the implementation of the Nouryon name and corporate identity across the various brand carriers, both digitally and offline, so that everything was ready to be implemented.

On 9 October 2018, the time had come and Nouryon presented itself to the world and its employees for the first time. By the end, more than 200 people were involved behind the scenes preparing the name, brand, and new materials such as the website.

Here, CEO Charles Shaver underlined the link of the new name with the old Noury & van der Lande – the two entrepreneurs from Deventer in the 19th century who discovered how chemistry could contribute to better flour and bread and would become part of a multinational company operating in 80 countries in essential chemistry: Nouryon.