Changing Course

Launching a new company or product can be a pretty straightforward process. After all, starting with a blank canvas allows marketers to define their core messages, identify key audiences, and develop strategies to drive brand awareness. But what happens when an existing brand has to be changed? That can be a minefield for marketers, but answering three basic questions can ease the pain and make the process much easier to manage.

  1. How much equity is there in your existing brand? Companies often resist changing a product name or identity for fear of alienating existing customers and partners, but in many cases only a handful of people will really care. This can lead to a lot of wasted energy and even dilute the excitement that a new brand can create. Instead of trying to create a hybrid brand identity to keep a handful of folks happy, it may be worth jettisoning the old brand and starting afresh – assuming that you keep your existing network informed about what you’re doing and give them time to adjust.
  2. Will your rebranding be seen as a cover up? A business will often rebrand when its existing name has a bad connotations, but sometimes that can create an avalanche of bad publicity. Philip Morris Companies became Altria in 2003 to highlight its expanding portfolio, but the general consensus was that this was a switcheroo to deflect attention away from its tobacco business. In fact, the company still receives bad press because of the change. If your business has skeletons in the closet, it’s probably worth cleaning out the closet rather than repainting it and showing off your “new” closet.
  3. Will the new brand really be different? No matter how much time and effort a company puts into a new brand or name, the underlying business practices tend to be the same. That’s a huge positive for a software developer that has been acquired but wants to maintain its core technical strengths; it’s less good for a dive bar that puts up a swanky neon sign for “The Oxygen Lounge” but still sells flat beer in dirty glasses. Before you spend months (and lots of money) on a new brand, figure out if the change is going to be a cosmetic one or a more fundamental shift in business practices.
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