Rebranding Should Be Driven By Growth, Not Desperation

A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

image001Companies typically rebrand themselves for two distinct reasons. Those that are floundering do so in a desperate attempt to stave off failure. Such attempts are seldom successful, as rebranding typically does not address the systemic issues causing the company to fail.

In contrast, companies that are rapidly growing often rebrand in order to more accurately reflect the expanded scope of their target market and product set.

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A Band-Aid On A Gushing Artery

Research In Motion's (RIM) rebranding effort earlier this year is a classic example of a company attempting to overlay a new brand onto a misguided strategy.

RIM's management made the brilliant decision to change the company's name to BlackBerry, Ltd. In fairness, they also attempted to belatedly reposition the company as a smartphone competitor, abandoning their email-centric devices upon which they had created a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Unfortunately, the market was as excited by the new devices as they were about the company's revised name. As Wired magazine pointed out in a January 2013 article, "It’s a Hail Mary pass for a company that held 44.5 percent of the domestic market in 2006 but watched that slip to 8.4 percent in September because of Android and Apple."

Too bad the pass was incomplete; despite its shiny new name, many cynics in the tech community have reveled in the BlackBerry death watch.

Jimmy To James

For a growing, successful startup, rebranding can be an effective way to redefine the company's expansion beyond its initial core market. In this way, it is akin to a young adult going to high school and suddenly insisting on being called James after a lifetime of being known as Jimmy.

A prime example of an emerging startup, which has pulled off an effective rebranding effort, is Invoca (I am an investor through Rincon Venture Partners). The company was formerly known as RingRevenue, a name that aptly reflected its initial go-to-market strategy, which focused on the performance-based telephony marketing.

In the course of dominating their initial direct response market, a number of enterprise-level advertisers began using Invoca's unique marketing platform in ways the company had not foreseen. For instance, Empire Today, the national shop-at-home carpet and flooring company, has used Invoca's solution to power marketing partners' call-based campaigns, increasing its marketing reach and delivering thousands of additional inbound customer calls each month. This unintended use of their technology caused the company to modify their product set to better accommodate large, brand-focused advertisers. Their name change was a natural reflection of the company's broader applicability, beyond customers with performance-based ad budgets.

GoToMy Rebranding Campaign

The path from a product name to an umbrella brand is not uncommon in the startup world. For instance, at Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix) the company’s name reflected our mission to enable independent experts to directly access customers’ computers and fix their technical problems.

However, after the Internet 1.0 dotbomb crash, we abandoned the technical support marketplace and began licensing our screen-sharing technology. Our name was so disconnected from our SaaS business model that we were in the process of rebranding the company when Citrix approached us.

Rebranding Considerations

Consider the following tips when implementing your rebranding effort;

Extensible – The greater extent you can leverage a name across a product family, the better. For instance, Citrix utilizes the “GoTo” moniker for its line of remote access solutions, including, “GoToMyPC,” “GoToMeeting” and “GoToWebinar.” Apple utilizes a similar approach with the prefix “i”, as in “iPad,” “iTunes” and “iPhone.”

Partner Leverage – As a component of rebranding often involves entry into new markets, it is often wise to craft strategic partnerships, which jumpstart such efforts. In the case of Invoca, the company recently teamed with Salesforce on a number of fronts. For instance, the company launched an app on Salesforce.com's AppExchange, which allows marketers that utilize Salesforce to seamlessly tap into Invoca’s call routing, tracking and analytics features.

In addition, Brett Queener, Executive VP at Salesforce.com, recently joined Invoca’s Board of Directors to help guide the company's enterprise marketing efforts.

I asked Brett what prompted him to join Invoca's Board. He noted that, “The call channel has been completely forgotten by many large marketers – which is a glaring omission given that smart phones have bridged the gap between the online and offline worlds. By ignoring calls, these marketers are leaving millions on the table.”

Lift Up The Hood – A rebranding exercise is an opportunity to overhaul your company's entire marketing communications efforts. Unlike Invoca, BlackBerry failed to take full advantage of their makeover opportunity. Instead of questioning the foundation upon which their marketing was based, Blackberry opted to slap a new name on a failed product and business strategy.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about companies that do desperation rebranding or that killer burrito I just ate.

Image: ilamont.com

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.


Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.





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