The Power of Branding at Xerox

Engineers and branding often times don’t mix well. The value of branding activity is not always apparent and not easily measured.  

When compared to spending money on a workstation, it can be hard to justify the cost of a brand-building project.

But listening to Ursula Burns, CEO and Chairman of Xerox – herself an engineer by training – talk about the value of the company’s brand in its turnaround effort, was refreshing.  She credits the Xerox brand with customer acceptance of a completely new Xerox.

Burns was speaking at The Anderson School of Management at UCLA as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series.  Burns became chairman of Xerox in May 2010 and is spearheading the company’s shift from a maker of printers and copiers to a services company that is “enabling workplaces – from small businesses to large global enterprises – to simplify the way work gets done so they can focus more on what matters most: their real business.”

Her talk at UCLA was wide ranging – from the challenges of being an African-American woman business leader to the importance of mentoring to what a control freak must let go of to run a 140,000-person company – but she also touched on branding.  

In responding to the dramatic changes that were impacting Xerox – namely customers not printing as much – she said the company decided to look at what had historically made it great, as a guide for how to respond.  

At the outset this might have meant doubling-down on the copying technology that it was so good at.  But the discussion led to Xerox’s role in helping companies change document-intensive processes.  

In fact, Burns said, Xerox got into printing when a patent lawyer was trying to simplify the patent submission process, which at the time required seven copies of the application that ran up to 50 pages each.  There was a huge expense associated with copying the applications, having someone review and compare them to the original and then fixing the inevitable mistakes.  

“What if,” said the lawyer, “we could just take a photo of the document and print it seven times?”

So the strength was not in the technology, per se, but rather in the re-engineering of the business processes.  They followed this course in their restructuring and have reshaped their $23 billion business from mostly hardware to now mostly services.  

Burns said: “Xerox has a brand that people like and that gave us entry.  The brand gave us permission” to come into other businesses with new services designed around making business processes more efficient.

Corporate branding builds trust with customers.  Xerox’s brand, built around quality and innovation, helped customers transfer that trust to new services.