Sometimes a company needs to rebrand for survival. For example, take ValuJet, which became AirTran to distance itself from a 1996 plane crash that killed 110 people.
Not all reasons behind rebranding are so dramatic. A company should routinely give its organization’s image a dusting-off to stay relevant, grow market share or keep the messaging consistent with the way the company grows, says Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, a marketing firm. The author of BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed, Adamson says brands should be updated every five years or so (think: the Michelin Man’s perpetual facelift) and given a complete overhaul every 20 years.
“Like every other asset in a company—like a piece of machinery—a brand is going to depreciate over time,” he says.
Here are some reasons it may be time for a company makeover:
The marketplace has changed, and you are losing ground.
Mergers and acquisitions mean that several brands require a unifying theme. Think Virgin.
You need to update your look. “Maybe you were a fuddy duddy-looking company, but now you are hip and cool and smart, and you need branding to reflect that,” says Alina Wheeler, a consultant and author of Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team
Your current image limits growth. Consider Starbucks’ logo change, which removed “Starbucks Coffee” verbiage, leaving only the telltale siren logo. This made sense in light of the company’s growth plan, which was to grow its consumer products business and include products other than java.
An aspect of your brand—the company name, logo, tagline or image—doesn’t explain who you are. “Often businesses look at their name and image and say, ‘Man, we’re not even in that business anymore!’ ” Wheeler says.
OK, so you know you need to rebrand. Where do you start? Begin internally, Wheeler says. In other words: Don’t go out and hire a pricey consultant right off the bat. Take these first steps of the rebranding process:
Establish why you are undergoing a rebrand. Clearly state: Why are we doing this? What is our end goal? Take stock of who you are now and where you want to go. What are the organization’s short- and long-term goals?
What have you done right? Which of your current brand’s strengths do you hope to build upon? And what needs to go?
Who are the stakeholders you need to consider when creating this new way of communicating? Who are your target customers? What about investors? Media? Your community?
What is going on internally that a rebrand can address? “When rebranding is done right, companies not only become more focused externally, but internally you gain clarity,” Wheeler says. Strong brands give employees a clear, concise story to focus on.
Jiren Parikh, President and CEO
Old brand: Exclaim Inc., based in Princeton, N.J.
Rebrand: Snap MyLife, maker of cloud-based mobile apps
I was working for the company in 2007 when it was called Exclaim, and all we did was make online imaging and photography software. When the company got in trouble financially, I decided to buy it and restructure it. I had always hated the name Exclaim, but we were just getting started and could barely make payroll for four employees, so a drastic rebrand wasn’t something we could afford at the time. In 2009, we did alter the name to Exclaim Mobility, which helped with corporate business development since it made it easier for analysts and bankers to understand what we did.
The next year we bought Mobicious, which made the photography mobile applications Snap2Twitter and Snap MyLife. These apps provided technology that encompassed all of our growing portfolio of assets into a cloud platform, as opposed to the software products we had marketed in the past. Since then we’ve also bought apps for mobile security, streaming music and information sharing.
We officially rebranded our whole company to Snap MyLife in the first quarter of this year. All of our products have been renamed: Snap Mobile, Snap Secure, Snap Music and Snap Synch. The process of making this change was really simple: Four of us sat down and made the decision. I believe that brand is everything, but it has to be at the right place and the right time. This was our time.
Some folks—like my father, who will never buy our products—found the new name to be cheesy. But everyone else, including customers, bankers and our partners, love that it is simple. It resonates because it says something about each product’s identity, and the use of “Snap” in each product name lends to an overall company brand.
We have operations in the United States, Madrid and India, and having a cohesive brand shows these different offices a path forward. Thanks to the brand, everyone gets the story right away; we don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining. We welcome new product ideas, and our brand inherently gives our employees guidelines for how they can work with marketing and senior management to make sure those ideas are in line with current product offerings.
Greg Farrell, Vice President of Business Development
Old brand: ADT with singular focus on home security, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla.
Rebrand: ADT, which now focuses on lifestyle technology, including security
ADT has been around for 138 years, and with a 26 percent market share, we are a clear leader in home security. But the number of households with security systems has been stuck at 20 percent for years. If we wanted to grow, we needed to expand our brand. It was important to build on the fact that the No. 1 priority for homeowners was to feel safe, and ADT is considered the gold standard in the security business. We didn’t want to touch that.
But it made sense that we would grow into the home automation trend. People want to see a notification on their mobile devices when their kid comes home from school, they want to have the coffee made when they wake up in the morning, and they want to automate their thermostat and lights. These things offer convenience, environmental conservationism and savings. They also allow people to feel safe and in control, feelings that fit in with ADT’s existing brand.
In October 2010, we rolled out ADT Pulse, which offers these lifestyle services. It was an adjustment for our organization; we were entrenched in the old brand in certain ways. At an executive level, we had to provide research and financial projections and then conduct tests in a very thoughtful, managed manner to prove there would be adoption among our customer base.
Today this brand change affects everything we do internally. It took a long time to get our sales team up-to-speed with the changes, but now they use iPads when visiting customers’ homes. If we were using 1980s technology and writing orders on a pad of paper, that wouldn’t reinforce our brand as a technology leader. Customer service had to learn to troubleshoot cameras and how to operate thermostats.
This has been a clear win for us. In the first 18 months, 39 percent of all new ADT customers subscribed to the Pulse system, and revenues rose $500 million from 2010 to 2011, compared with just $300 million the previous year.
David Hauser, Chief Technology Officer
Old brand: GotVMail, based in Needham, Mass.
Rebrand: Grasshopper, virtual voice mail for small businesses
Each of the first six years we were in business, we had the same conversation: We didn’t like the brand.
Profits were rising. We had happy customers and a strong [search engine optimization] strategy, but our name limited our ability to grow. It was really a product name, not a brand name, and we chose it because we didn’t have anything better. From an advertising perspective, it was a nightmare. We do a lot of radio advertising and had to buy 60-second ads instead of 30-second ads because it took so long to spell out the name. We also owned more than 100 domain names to accommodate misspellings. We wanted to build a brand that entrepreneurs could love and connect with.
Finally in 2009 we said, “You know what? It’s not like we’re IBM where so many people know us that we can’t change our name.” We chose a grasshopper—a creature that can take large leaps when compared with its size and is always on the move—concepts we could translate to entrepreneurs. We didn’t do any formal market tests, just chatted with friends and people inside the company and got good feedback, so we went with it.
Initially we invested $15,000 on a marketing campaign that involved sending chocolate-covered grasshoppers to media and other partners. We also outsourced the making of a web video focused on our new brand. It was a huge risk, but we figured we’d spent more money on dumber things.
At first we took a huge hit in our Google rankings and with Google AdWords. But within six months, our SEO ranking was back to GotVMail levels, and our investment more than paid off. Our marketing efforts generated 170 blog posts about the company, more than 5,000 referrals to our website from Twitter and Facebook, and a 93 percent increase of traffic to our “How It Works” page.
Our new, easy-to-understand brand has other benefits, too. Now we are invited to speak at 10 to 15 events and conferences each year, compared with just two to three a few years ago. Internally it has been amazing for our company culture, which was really strong before. People love to wear Grasshopper hoodies and T-shirts, and they can really identify with the entrepreneurs who are our customers. That is why this has worked: It’s authentic. If the new brand were silly or cheap, we wouldn’t be proud of it.
Emma Johnson is a business journalist, gender-equality activist, and founder of the world's largest community of single moms, WealthySingleMommy.com. Emma and her best-selling book, The Kickass Single Mom, and her organization, Moms for Shared Parenting, have been featured in hundreds of national and international media outlets.