Fortifying an icon


Sonae is the largest private employer in Portugal, with a broad portfolio of businesses covering retail, financial services, technology, shopping centres and telecommunications.

Although the group is predominantly Portugal centric, it also has operations around the world through different partnerships and has a reputation in the global business community for being a leader in strong corporate responsibility and a clear voice on issues such as sustainability.

Sonae has an admirable heritage that many accredit to the legacy of Mr. Belmiro de Azevedo, the long-term owner and entrepreneur of the group. With a new leadership, growth ambition and appetite for performance, Sonae wanted to future-proof their brand and build on what has been previously achieved.

The challenge

In 2020, Sonae approached Saffron with a clear challenge, to define a brand strategy that would:

  • Define the authentic value that Sonae offers the world
  • Build autonomy but also connection across the Group’s sub-brands
  • Inspire and improve internal engagement and advocacy

The process

Through quantitative research, interviews and focus groups, we were able to gather a deeper understanding of the businesses and employee challenges, as well as develop a very strong collaborative alliance. With additional input from industry experts and external thought leaders, we were able to frame the opportunity areas and outputs.

Sonae is a complex organisation with many businesses and teams within its ecosystem. It was critical to engage all of the sub-holding teams for them to contribute in the process and take ownership of their brands going forward.

The interpretation

The analytical process resulted in the definition of an actionable set of brand principles and attributes to act as a roadmap to organisational decisions, business objectives and corporate character. The simple interpretation of this is captured in the brand promise; ‘We create today, a better tomorrow for all’. It is a simple phrase that summarises the forward-looking, enterprising and socially responsible ambition of the organisation.

A visual language to bring strategy to life

A natural impact of the new strategy was the change to the visual identities of the Group and the Subholdings. The new Sonae logo was created to build on the visual heritage of the previous logo but demonstrates the new tactical direction of the group. The combination of the brush stroke and vector letterforms reflects the duality of a human organisation in pursuit of performance and rigour. The Subholdings logos share this same ethos but each with its own colour palette and composition to unify but differentiate each from the other.

Beyond the logos, a complete design system has been developed to express the brand through communications and marketing activities. New colours, typefaces, icons, images and other design assets work together to build a new expression for the Sonae brand.

Brand architecture

The development of a new brand architecture model that foments a sense of community between the Subholdings whilst maintaining enough flexibility for business development for each, offers Sonae a model for expansion while unifying the organisation.

Sonae is a long-living company with a strong culture and legacy. To work on its brand evolution is a huge challenge, that requires the right partner to collaborate with. Saffron was beyond that! The strategic approach, diligent working method, great creativity tuned with brilliant thinking and execution, and positive attitude, were definitely key to the success.

Marta Cordeiro e Cunha

Head of Brand Communication at Sonae