September 01, 2010
Tales of Whoa!—When and How Rebranding Is the Right Move
by Katherine B. Ponder
Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.
Tips from Those Who Have Executed a Successful Rebranding
Gauge how much corporate identity inventory is in existence before rebranding.
Accept that you will miss some things that have the old look and feel.
Try to complete the process within six months.
Communicate to field leaders early and often.
Major rebranding/renaming is best done only if there is something fundamental in the business that must be overcome.
Rebranding should come from the top management down.
Work with an experienced rebrander.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
—Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
Shakespeare’s phrase may be true, but who among us, as modern consumers, would even give a trial sniff to a flower that has a less than alluring name? So it is with corporate branding, and rebranding is even more challenging.
Rebranding is not something to be taken lightly. It is a clear signal that something bigger than just a logo or name is undergoing a transformation. It usually accompanies a repositioning of the brand as well. Since a corporate identity is the most visible and outward sign of a company, tweaking or downright overhauling the identity says a lot about the company’s present and future direction. Several direct selling companies have recently completed rebranding efforts, varying from complete, top-to-bottom repositioning to more minor changes that nevertheless have far-reaching effects.
What Is Rebranding?
Everyone in the corporate world assumes they know what rebranding is. However, let’s set the stage with a few Marketing 101 definitions. Brand: identifying mark, symbol, word(s) or combination of same that separates one company’s products or services from that of other firms. Repositioning: modification of consumer perception of a product or service; often necessary when a market has changed.
In effect, a rebranding is the changing of a corporate mark but is frequently undertaken with a repositioning strategy. With this in mind, we’ll examine the efforts, calculations, risks, rewards and results of companies in the direct selling industry that have taken on rebranding—and hailed their initiatives as successful.
Discovery Toys was founded 32 years ago and has been through four different owners since its inception. When Jeremy Hobbs, Chairman and CEO, bought the company in 2007, the brand had grown stagnant. The look and feel was outdated, and there had been very few new product introductions. The old logo had a boy in box, which Hobbs saw as a subtle message that said everything in this company is stuck “in the box.” He observed, questioned and listened to salesforce members, corporate employees, industry peers and many other audiences for about a year. Then he felt comfortable calling for change, diving in on everything from a new logo to new products, a new compensation system, revamped website and more.
With a dramatically different product set, Vollara is the new name for the company formerly known as EcoQuest. In February 2009, the name was unveiled to give new structure and a fresh identity that would unite four brands, five compensation plans and four websites that had existed under the EcoQuest umbrella. Ironically, this was not the first corporate name change for CEO Joe Urso. In 2003, he acquired the name Electrolux and transformed it into Aerus. This first change took six to seven months to complete, and while the company still retains branding rights to Electrolux, Urso is confident that his decisions helped shed the reputation as “your grandmother’s vacuum.” The Aerus change helped educate and train Urso for the eventual unveiling of the Vollara name, and many other changes along with it.
Team National also had two runs at changing their corporate name. The company was founded as Nationwide, but that became confusing, because a well-known insurance company had a very similar name. Even during those days, corporate founder Dick Loehr always called the sales field “Team Nationwide” in homage to his auto racing background. Thus, in 2001, the company name was changed to National Companies, and the salesforce was called Team National. As the company continued to grow, however, it became clear that having a corporation and field team called two different things was perplexing to customers and potential members. “It’s one of those things that I look back on now and say, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t see how that would be confusing to call ourselves one name and our field another,’ ” says Angela Loehr Chrysler, CEO and President. “But it wasn’t really an issue when we were smaller. Everyone just knew.” In 2009, Loehr Chrysler simplified. The corporate offices and salespeople are now united under the moniker Team National, with a revised logo to boot. The “N” in the logo now takes center stage, and the car image was dropped.
Tahitian Noni International (TNI) faced a different challenge. The company found itself in a crowded marketplace, with many competitors that had joined the super fruit juice category. TNI created this category when it founded the company in 1996, but 14 years later, the company had a new story to tell and wanted to revamp everything along with it. “We renovated virtually everything,” says Jeff Wasden, Vice President of Global Marketing for TNI. “We’ve done a logo redesign, packaging redesign, formulation modifications, new formulations, new story that leverages our science, and we’ve redefined the space we’re in. I would say ours is a rebranding as well as a repositioning as to what industry we’re in and who our competition is.” This huge undertaking was rolled out in February 2010 for Canada and the United States and will continue to be implemented internationally.
Ambit Energy also revised its logo this year and invested in expanding brand awareness and positioning the company as a smart alternative to other energy providers. The revised “spark” logo is many things to many people. All the A’s that form the outside border of the spark’s circle represent consultants’ type “A” personalities and the integrated teams that make up the company. The symbol itself represents a spark, referring both to the company’s product and the energy needed to make a difference in others’ lives. In its entirety, the mark presents a consistent, professional image to the industry at large.
The driving reasons behind each of these corporate changes are as diverse as the strategies and results. For every inspiration, there was an equal and sometimes opposite reaction as to how to handle the challenge.
Some companies needed a complete “reset.” For Vollara, Urso and his team decided that the entire business needed to be updated, adjusted and revitalized. For many years, they felt the company didn’t live up to its full potential. Urso acquired EcoQuest in 2009, knowing that something dramatic had to happen to show that he and his fellow corporate leaders were committed to significant changes. They wanted a fresh start to attract new people. “The business had some technologies that needed to be updated, and some new technologies that needed to be introduced,” Urso says. “We wanted to bring all the pieces together under one brand, one website and one compensation plan. We knew we needed a new, fresh brand.”
“You have to look at the reason the business isn’t going the way you want to go.”
—Joe Urso, CEO, Vollara
This complete confidence didn’t come without analysis. Urso says, “You have to look at the reason the business isn’t going the way you want to go. Is it because of your people, including your corporate team? Is it because of the systems by which you run the business? Are you inadequately capitalized? Or is it something fundamental with the business strategy, your market, your product line, your compensation plan? Is it something in your business strategy that goes beyond people or systems or financial resources? If the answer is yes, you have to decide whether a fresh start is really necessary. For us, it was.”
Other companies wanted to refresh their brand without a total overhaul. For Ambit, the 4-year-old company wanted a mark that would accurately reflect their growth and more experienced vision. When the company was started, everything was built from the ground up. The first logo was fine for their mad-scramble, startup mode, but didn’t accurately reflect what the company has become, now that they’ve had several years of success. Corporate leaders knew that at some point the brand would need to be changed. Market circumstances played a role in making 2010 the right time.
“I remember going through my 45-minute daily commute to work in late ’09, and I was driving in on a fairly heavily trafficked part of Dallas. I saw all these billboards were empty,” says Founder and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Chambless. “In all the years I’d been making this commute, I had never seen that many available billboards. It dawned on me that if inventory was high and demand was low, we might have an opportunity to get media at an attractive cost.” This light-bulb moment (coincidentally, this is also the theme of Ambit’s new advertising campaign) for Chambless led to a rebranding initiative that started with the new mark and took advantage of affordable TV, print, outdoor and even radio spots.
Discovery Toys also recognized the need for change but didn’t want to lose the historic name recognition of a formerly thriving company. However, the business desperately needed an infusion of energy, commitment and defined goals. Field members were hanging in there, but the new leadership team knew they could deliver so much more. “We had some field members who had been with the company for 15–20 years,” says Chief Creative Officer Meryl Holland. “They had been relatively ignored, provided with precious few new products and offered little inspiration. But they stayed because the mission of providing learning toys that parents and children can use to play together and learn or teach is simply outstanding.” The bottom line said it all: Sales hadn’t increased in 10 years. Hobbs saw the potential and brought together a team that could make the necessary—and significant—changes.
Still other companies needed to create a new space. At TNI, science and clinical studies were providing excellent support for the product. TNI has multiple human clinical studies as well as third-party proof of the noni fruit’s bioactive efficacy. This inspired corporate leaders to differentiate their company by emphasizing the value of noni and its iridoids, components which have been scientifically proven to deliver several important health benefits. “We’re creating a new category and calling it bioactive beverages,” Wasden says. “This focuses on one of our core product attributes—medicinal plant bioactive compounds that are stable over time and proven through numerous human clinical studies.”
For many of the companies undergoing rebranding, the new logos and ad campaigns also helped to create excitement around other, even more significant, corporate changes. From new products to improved scientific support, redesigned compensation plans and fabulous new websites, these companies invested time, effort and money to execute their strategies exceptionally well.
Repositioning and rebranding aren’t done on a whim. All of the companies we spoke to did extensive research and groundwork before making any changes; and then there was significantly more work involved to choose the right changes.
Often, thought processes start percolating in the back of CEOs’ minds, and this unofficially launches the rebranding. TNI leaders began to think about making a change when they kept seeing clinical studies—14 to date—that supported their products’ effects based on iridoids’ interactions in the body. By February 2010, corporate leaders were ready to make a change and launch a new category.
Ambit Energy’s leaders had also known for quite a while that they would eventually change their logo. When Creative Director John March was hired, he and Chambless discussed it. March worked on the project on and off, as time allowed. But when media prices dropped significantly, the work began in earnest. Discussions with field leaders and corporate team members helped mold the eventual new logo.
Because Team National wasn’t in a huge hurry to rename and rebrand their company, they watched their inventory for a while to see when replacing everything with a new logo would be most practical. They also talked significantly with top field leaders first, floating the idea and giving extreme advance notice that a change might be coming. Those conversations helped Loehr Chrysler know that she was on the right track; when inventory of corporate stationery, apparel and other branded items was relatively low, the new name and logo were rolled out.
Other CEOs wanted to move quickly. Discovery Toy’s Hobbs bought the company and took some time to gauge the situation. When he was ready, he wanted fast changes toward a corporate relaunch. He hired Meryl Holland, a former brand manager of Barbie from Mattel Toys, to start the heavy lifting. She first interviewed all stakeholders to learn their opinions, including the company’s original founder. This led Holland to develop a brand platform around three words—connected, vital, educational. All these terms were consistently used or referenced when she spoke with customers, the field and employees. They became the foundation that guided all the rebranding and relaunch efforts, including the company’s new logo of a dancing child.
“From August to October, we did research, identified key brand names, and saw logos,” Holland says. “I contracted with Paul Farris, who is a well-known, New York-trained brand development designer. He nailed it the first time. When Jeremy [Hobbs] and I saw it, we had goose bumps.” So, within three months, Discovery Toys had a new logo and a tagline that conveys everything the company embraces: Teach. Play. Inspire. All corporate packaging was redesigned accordingly, new products were launched and every product included “layers of learning” skill cards and activity guides to help parents and educators interact with kids on multiple levels.
Despite all the research and “gut” feelings, sometimes rebranding’s biggest requirement was a willingness to dive in. What drove Urso of Vollara to revamp the company, name and all? “Stupidity!” he says with a laugh. “Really, we knew we had to rebrand and did a good evaluation of the risks. I was willing to make the change. I wasn’t willing to be the milkman and just continue to milk the company. I wanted to make it grow.” The Vollara team completed an evaluation phase, tested concepts for six to nine months, and then took another six to seven months to complete the changeover. The company’s whole rebranding process took about two years.
Every major change in a company carries significant risk, and rebranding is one of the biggest. “A fresh start should be a last resort,” Urso says. “There are costs and consequences that are unavoidable, and therefore, there is a risk.”
Anticipation of field rejection or reluctance was near universal among the companies we spoke with. How they handled this potential negative reaction showed each company’s strengths. At Team National, Loehr Chrysler put her faith in open communication with the field. “The only risk that ends up having to be overcome is really communicating it to your sales field so that they learn the new name and the new look and that they are aware of it,” she says. “Anytime you have change with a salesforce in the direct selling industry, even if it’s a good change that they embrace, it still may take time to make them stop what they are doing—recruiting, selling and utilizing your products and services. Some people just by nature have to stop and say: What is this? Why are you doing this? You have to know that this is a risk, and you have to overcome that risk from the start by truly communicating through every means available.”
Leaders at Discovery Toys took a different tack. They knew they were taking a big step by revamping the logo and overall corporate image. “Half to three-fourths of our salesforce was still attached to the old look and feel,” Holland says. When the company surprised top salesforce members with the new logo at an incentive trip, the group was collectively shocked. “Those of us in the corporate offices had been seeing it, and we loved it,” Holland continues. “We thought they would, too. It didn’t go over too well at first. On Day One, Jeremy [Hobbs] said 80 percent of them did not like it. By Day Two, 50 percent loved it. By Day Three, 80 percent loved it.” Once new products and reinvigorated corporate support were revealed as part of the process, the field overwhelmingly accepted the changes.
For TNI, preparing the salesforce was paramount. “You’ll always have people who think a brand shouldn’t change, and they like it just the way it is,” Wasden says. “But in any company, if they have the ability to make a product better, they will. We talked to our independent product consultants, and at our convention last February, did a presentation showing a Macintosh computer from 1984, the iMac from 2000 and the Mac computer of today. The point was clear that products change, and we are all happy that they do. Very few people drive a Model T anymore. When products are improved, it should elevate the product’s value for the customer. Improvements like this help a brand stay relevant. Brands that become more and more relevant, grow.”
One business, in particular, didn’t see much of a downside to potential changes. Ambit, as a young company, found it relatively easy to make its logo change, because there wasn’t as much brand equity in their existing mark. “We had the luxury of not having a lot of road in our rearview mirror,” Chambless says. “We were able to look at this as the introduction of a brand. We were kind of almost brandless before. Our consultants tell our story, and they’re really our brand to the customer. We just gave them a better look and more exposure to help them.”
Rebranding Results: The Payoff
Every one of this article’s participants has been very pleased with the results of their rebranding efforts.
At Discovery Toys, the new brand is energetic, youthful, fun and purposeful. New salesforce members are coming in with gusto. They’re young and excited. Recruiting is up, and sales have risen for the first time in 10 years. “We’re out of survival mode,” Holland says. “Now we’re in revitalization.”
Ambit’s new logo and advertising have generated many positive responses from customers and their sales force. The field has commented that their potential customers have better name recognition because of Ambit’s media push. Sales are continuing to grow, and the brand identification has increased and built credibility. “We thought we’d hear from consultants, and we did,” says March. “But we’ve also heard positive things from customers.” He and Chambless further explained that all 300 corporate employees adopted, without prompting, the logo in their corporate e-mail signature lines. “It has resonated,” Chambless says.
In the halls of Vollara and Aerus, both brands have been successful. Aerus’ new approach to the former Electrolux helped to reverse a 20-year downward trend. Aerus has consistently turned a profit since the name change seven years ago. Vollara’s self-makeover, including a new starter kit, has led to improved recruitment and a steady stream of new representatives coming in under relatively new field members. In fact, more than half of the reps who have joined since the rebranding are joining under other field members who have been active less than four weeks. “I think that’s a great indicator of a very strong platform,” Urso says. One- half of Vollara’s total product line is also new, and sales are up 30–35 percent.
At Team National, the overall “feel” of the company has improved. While there weren’t major hurdles to be overcome or significant shifts undertaken, the new name and revised logo have, nonetheless, helped. It is now much easier for the salesforce to explain and sell the memberships without confusing customers by using two different names. It has better aligned the company with market perceptions and reinforced existing strengths.
TNI’s new designs and products, and its move into the scientific, clinical arena for marketing, have created improvements. “We had more truth that we could tell,” Wasden says. “Now we are helping IPCs to convey the scientific truth behind our bioactive story.” Through these changes, TNI’s sales are up 18 percent since February 2010 in North America alone. The rest of the world will get the new scientific messages in the coming months.
The take-away to all these experiences is that rebranding and repositioning can be done well and yield great results. Asking the right questions, making preparations and being willing to take risks are necessary. In the end, a brand that matches your company, values, field and mission is the ultimate reward.