Corporate Eye

What’s in a Name? When Companies Rebrand

Remember in 2007 when Apple changed its company name from Apple Computer to just plain Apple?  Don’t worry.  Most people can’t remember.

And that’s the point.

The Apple brand name had become so powerful that the ancillary word which could have pigeon-holed the company into a single line of business had already become meaningless.  Consumers barely noticed a change when Apple dropped Computer from its name shortly before the iPhone hit the marketplace.  Today, most people can’t even remember a time when Apple was followed by Computer at all.

That’s successful branding!

So what can we learn from Apple’s story and other companies that have found themselves in similar positions where their names limit their growth potential (you can read a few more stories in this New York Times article)?

First, it’s important to have foresight when it comes to branding.  Great brands live for a long time and the world around that brand is likely to change.  While it’s great to have a brand name that is specific and clearly defines what the brand is and stands for, it’s even more important to ensure that brand name can withstand the test of time.  A company like Apple began with a narrow focus, but as happens to all companies, growth creates expectations for more growth.  Typically, in order to keep growing, a company needs to expand into new businesses.  What happens when your company or brand name doesn’t fit with those new businesses? You have two choices — don’t expand (not usually an option) or change your brand name.  The latter is usually the preferred choice.

The biggest problem in changing an established brand name is giving up the equity that you’ve built into that brand name over the years.  Fortunately for a company like Apple, dropping a word from the company name had no impact on the business, but many companies aren’t lucky enough to find themselves in a similar position.  That’s often the case after a merger or acquisition.  Even companies with similar product lines and consumers have been known to merge and be afraid to let go of one or both company names for years (consider Price Waterhouse Coopers).  The investment in establishing awareness, recognition and trust in a new brand name can be big in terms of money and time.

Of course, there are some companies that attempt to insulate themselves from similar branding problems.  For example, Johnson & Johnson operates in a decentralized manner with the Johnson & Johnson company name being a secondary piece of the branding puzzle.  Instead, individual business units and specific product brand names are the ones promoted to consumers, and that’s where the company’s investments into building brand equity are made.

There is no way of knowing where your company will go in the future, but it’s best to think big.  Position your company and your brand for long term success by considering the best case scenario for your company’s growth, and develop the branding strategies that are likely to help you reach those goals in the most flexible manner.

Consider this story as an example of what not to do — in the United States, there was a fast food restaurant that began in 1985 and grew in the early 1990s called Boston Chicken which served a variety of rotisserie chicken meals.  Boston Chicken got fairly popular and began to expand from its New England roots across the country.  As time went on and more healthy fast food choices were introduced to major chains, Boston Chicken began to lose business.  In 1995, the time came to expand the menu to include non-chicken items.  What’s a company called Boston Chicken to do?  The name changed to Boston Market.  It was a small change, but for a brand that was still fairly new, the timing and necessary investment were not good things.  In 2000, McDonald’s purchased Boston Market for its real estate but left some locations open primarily because the brand name still held some value.  McDonald’s sold Boston Market to a private investment company in 2007.  I’m not saying that Boston Market failed because of the brand name change, but it certainly didn’t help — just an example of a narrow branding mistake to learn from.

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, TodayShow.com, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.
 
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