Xerox Business Services Reborn: Q&A With Conduent CMO John Kennedy


Conduent NYSE

Conduent executives including new CEO Ashok Vemuri rang the opening bell for the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, its first act as a company independent from Xerox. Now the hard part begins: telling the world what Conduent is all about.

The newly spun-off company is a $6.7 billion global business, a member of the Fortune 500, and the world’s largest provider of diversified business-process services, with more than 93,000 employees.

Conduent logoBut Conduent is a new brand, and it’s largely up to Chief Marketing Officer John Kennedy to get traction in the B2B marketplace for the identity of a company that is so ubiquitous—touching two-thirds of all insured patients in the US and more than half of all people traveling through tolls daily—but yet so unknown.

“There are no shortcuts in this task,” Kennedy, who was CMO of Xerox before the split, told brandchannel about the rebranding Xerox Business Services as Conduent. “It takes time. We don’t expect and we don’t necessarily have the desire for Conduent to have the same kind of name recognition [as Xerox] or to become a household name; that’s not the business we’re in. By virtue of being a B2B and B2G2C [business-to-government-to-consumer] company, we want our clients to know us well and value us, and for key individuals where we have deep client relationships to know about us.”

Conduent came about because of the unraveling of a big gamble undertaken by Xerox in 2010: seeking to combine its legacy document-technology company and brand with a huge business-outsourcing company it purchased, Affiliated Computer Services. Kennedy himself was in charge of marketing the combined entity.

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, under pressure from investors, declared last year that more shareholder value would be unlocked by separating and so announced that Xerox needed to be divided again, basically back into its two previous components: Xerox, now an $11 billion document technology and communications business, and Conduent, as a standalone business processing services company.

Xerox John KennedyKennedy (right) shares more about the challenges and opportunities for the new Conduent brand in a Q&A:

What’s the story behind the name “Conduent” and the new identity? 

Both the name as well as the branding strategy were intended to be vessels for story creation. Conduent obviously is a coined word, but in Catalan it actually means “leader.” Our intent was to find a phrase or word that evoked characteristics of companies.

We compete in business-process services but we do a very particular type of work. All of it is essentially a part of a business or government operation that involves connecting it with some person on the other end: a patient, employee, citizen, or benefit recipient. And where these entities are partnering with us, we manage consequential parts of their operation: millions of transactions that typically happen every day, all day.

So we were looking for a word or phrase that helped us evoke that—connect, conduct, conduit, which includes a channel and a level of connection and flow—all of which evokes the work that we do. And with “ent” on the end, it’s “enterprise,” “entering.” We landed on Conduent because we thought it does a good job of evoking the characteristics of who we are and what we do and what we create. It’s a little interesting. It invites a bit of explanation, but that’s exactly what we wanted—to strike up a conversation.

How do you market a business services company and create a new brand from the iconic global brand that is Xerox?

We start with creating as much clarity around the value we create, in a differentiated way. That’s the heart of any brand strategy. We did a lot of work thinking about how single-minded and differentiated we can be and the difference we can make for a market or industry or business or government we’re serving.

And it’s not often you see an initial listing of a company that’s already Fortune 500; this is a consequential thing, and we’re going to be communicating that. With the bell ringing we plant to take advantage of all media opportunities that are there. We also are doing advertising on business and financial TV networks, and print advertising in newspapers, as well as digital takeovers of some business and news sites.

We have paid search and a fairly heavy social effort going on, doing our best to leverage our employees with an extensive employee-engagement program right out of the chute. We’re capturing the content for social from the mini-events we [held] at 500 locations around the world on January 3.

What theme are you establishing for Conduent at launch?

Our tagline is, “Advancing the Everyday.” The idea is that a lot of what we do may seem like everyday interaction—using a prepaid card, handling a question on a customer care line, going through a toll—but to us and our clients, they’re more than that. They’re actually critical touch points in a relationship. We don’t just manage them; we make them better, modernizing the constituent experience.

A couple of years ago you promoted Xerox and its combined businesses with a campaign called “Work Can Work Better.” It featured a TV commercial that used the Harry Nilsson song, “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me.” Is any of that positioning still relevant?

Yes, some themes carry over real well. We’re able to build on a lot of that work. The groundwork on the Xerox side helped us get off to a faster start on the Conduent side.

Does Conduent or Xerox have the more difficult marketing challenge ahead of it right now?

There are two different tasks. It’s hard to compare them. Conduent is a brand new company, with the challenge of establishing itself and creating some awareness and consideration, in a very crowded market space. Xerox has a very different challenge: a household name, one of the best known in business, with the challenge of repositioning itself that it’s back. They have to update and contemporize the way the world sees them.

Get more branding insights in our Q&A series