Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Xerox Means Business

Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Xerox Means Business

Article excerpt

The US corporation couldn't have a better leader than Ursula Burns as it aims to diversify its brand.

Xerox wants to sell you accounting services.

Xerox wants to sell you accounting services. You can see the challenge faced by Ursula Burns, one of corporate America's most talked-about chief executives, in her mission to turn the Connecticut-based giant into an upstream business-services provider.

Along with Hoover and Google, Xerox is one of those rare brand names that has become an everyday verb. You didn't just photocopy something, you 'Xeroxed' it. That locked-in association meant a gravy train in the heady years of the mid-20th century, as the corporation's technological lead in a burgeoning market made Xerox one of the greatest growth stocks of all time.

Today, that core 'printed page' market is valued globally at dollars 132bn, but it has become much more competitive. Conversely, the market that Burns is aiming to dominate - back-office services such as accounting, call-centre management and HR processing - is worth dollars 400bn globally, with higher margins. The financial logic is sound, but the issue of credibility is more moot. As Xerox has a foot in both camps, this means a considerable stretch of brand equity.

It is early days, but Xerox's transformation may play out to be an object lesson for other B2B brands seeking to make the journey upstream It is a common theme with a common imperative: to move away from the tough business of making and selling lumpy objects in increasingly commoditised markets, to the comparatively purer air of selling 'smart invisibles' such as advice and business services, with their healthier margins.

One lesson dispensed by Burns is that if you're going to venture upstream, you need a large paddle. Hers cost dollars 6.4bn and came in the shape of ACS, a Texas-based, business-process outsourcing group, which was acquired among doubting whispers from analysts in 2009. Cross-over business from clients such as P&G and Target is already persuading those analysts that they might have been wrong.

Subtlety, as well as boldness, has been a feature of Xerox's reinvention. The route to services was slowly prepared before the ACS acquisition, through the natural step of offering outsourced documentation management. From there, the logic is that Xerox can migrate to other services unconnected to its original core competence, with a positioning as a brand that understands all the unsung processes of business life. …

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