September 28, 2020

How Altair’s Rebrand Embodied its “Only Forward” Message

by Melissa Caffrey

When in doubt, turn to brand purpose. That’s what CMO Amy Messano of Altair did in early 2020 when the global tech company’s brand relaunch plans were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not quite sure whether to bring a year of careful research and planning to a halt, to pivot, or to proceed as planned, Altair found their answer in a new brand mantra: “Only Forward.”

The company decided to proceed with the rebrand, albeit virtually, and the refreshed brand identity was so powerful that it became more than a mantra—it was a rallying cry for employees and customers alike in a time of uncertainty. You can read some of the highlights of our Renegade Thinkers Unite interview with Amy, and Altair’s really cool “Only Foward” video promo, below.

Why did Altair decide it was time to rebrand?

As a B2B software company 35 years and growing, Altair’s roots are very much in engineering software, but we have expanded over the years into high-performance computing and cloud and data analytics. We were going from a house of brands to a branded house and it was the time for a brand refresh. We put in a ton of work because we really knew that this brand had to be worthy of the history of the company. Altair has a very sticky special culture that people don’t leave, an unprecedentedly low turnover rate, very high customer loyalty and satisfaction.

What is Altair’s new brand identity?

We had a responsibility to keep moving ahead and creating a path for the future. You know a brand is more than a logo—it’s the essence of who you are, the visual verbal articulation of the DNA of a company. For us, we came up with a mantra of “Only Forward.” For us, that’s the reaffirmation of our mission, which is helping people accelerate the pace of innovation and driving human progress. That really struck a chord in this particular juncture of time. It’s what people wanted to hear.

How was this new message received by customers and employees?

When we did all this ethnographic research, it was very clear that Altair was a place where people wanted to work and also where customers wanted to get their technology. You usually get different variations of who you are as a company and what you stand for, but we found a very rare gift. Employees and customers were both saying, “Find that tough problem and we’ll figure it out.” It was a way to say, “We’re moving forward.”

When we rolled it out, it was overwhelmingly positive from employees and customers, and because of the juncture, it became a rallying cry, not so much as a mantra. Every email people end it with, the social posts are way more than I thought they would be. People even say it at the end of conference calls now.

Did COVID delay the relaunch?

We’d spent a year preparing for this massive brand relaunch, so when COVID-19 hit and we were in the middle of this global health crisis, we had this very real question: Do we proceed, do we halt, or do we pivot? Over about two weeks, we talked with our C-team and our CEO and we came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to appear to be anything other than focused on helping keep our employees safe and productive, and still provide this great level of service for our customers by showing that we are continuing to invest in the business and drive it forward even during this uncertain time.

How did you announce the new brand to employees?

We had a town hall. Altair has about 3300 people globally, and we had 1800 people attend the call, which exceeded my expectations since our employee base is split up pretty evenly around the super regions. My CEO, Jim Scapa, kicked it off. We had a PowerPoint presentation that walked through everything. We had created a wonderful animation video. Then we had questions at the end and immediately followed that with an email with links to all the new assets. We did the best we could with everybody being at home, so it worked out really well.

Did you involve employees in the rebrand process?

Employees are hands down your best brand ambassadors. We surveyed every single employee, we had lengthy hourlong calls with groups of employees. We had daylong workshops, two-day workshops. We took the time to encourage across every function, doesn’t matter where you worked, to really gather their feedback, so they felt like they were part of the process. It wasn’t something that was just being thrown at them. It was something that had been their time, and their thoughts were valued and appreciated and part of the process.

Has the rebrand been successful so far?

We are not a name brand in most households, but we got 85 media placements globally. We had pretty fantastic stats on LinkedIn, so the engagement rate for the organic posts was over 6.5%, and I think it’s usually 2% on LinkedIn. I think we had 6x for the typical reports for organic for LinkedIn. For our animation video that explained the metamorphosis and the transition, the last count was around 45,000 for LinkedIn. The Facebook engagement rate was 8% and I think the average Facebook engagement per post is 3.2%, so we were exceeding industry averages. For us, that was exciting.

Did Altair’s new brand identity help customers during COVID?

Our marketing team out of the gate pivoted in reaction to COVID, especially the folks in APAC as they were the first impacted. Globally then it went through EMEA and the Americas. We reached out to people and had maybe even more success than we would have had in person. Over the past couple of months, we’ve had 20,000 people attend webinars, which is a huge deal for us. Our teams are encouraged to be nimble, to respond very quickly, and they’ve done just an incredible job of pivoting super-fast and bring everything online. That, I think, is a good manifestation of “This happened. We’re going forward. What do we do?”