Rebranding your business

How do you know when it’s time to rebrand your business? If it is, how do you go about it?


Despite some rather public branding disasters, such as The Post Office’s Consignia debacle, there are also countless examples of rebrands that have led to business success.

BT Cellnet rebranded as O2 when the network demerged from the telecoms giant in 2001. Following its £18bn purchase by Spanish firm Telefonica and an exclusive deal with Apple, it’s one of the most popular networks in the UK.

So how can you be sure your rebrand is an O2, not a Consignia? To find out, we spoke to three entrepreneurs who have changed their business name, along with a couple of branding gurus.

Why rebrand your business?

Rebranding is not to be undertaken lightly. When asked when a business shouldn’t undergo a full rebrand, Kevin Roberts, chief executive worldwide of advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi, replies: “Almost all the time. Often it’s not the brand that’s the problem, but the service, execution, product, delivery, or value.”

There has to be a bulletproof business case for a name change. Peter Shaw, founder of branding consultancy Brand Catalyst, believes there needs to be a radical change in the area you’re operating in. “If you’re going through a structural change, or you think there’s a real reason why your business isn’t growing because people perceive you to be something that you’re not, then that’s a good reason to shift.” James Knight found himself in this situation. Although his business, Lawyers’ Direct, was growing healthily, he felt the name was giving the wrong impression. While his company does offer more affordable services, he felt that the emergence of the ‘no win, no fee’ firms meant his business was beginning to sound too much like a value proposition. This was prompted by the type of customers that were responding to its marketing. “We began to believe the name was holding us back,” he says. “We wanted a brand identity that more closely reflected the commercial law firm that we were.” A rebrand to Keystone Law did the trick. For Ryan Notz, who launched the online marketplace for tradespeople Buildersite.co.uk in 2007, the business had outgrown its name. “I’d intended it to be a business-to-business service for contractors hiring subcontractors,” recalls Notz. “But then it became more consumer-facing, with homeowners finding tradespeople, and we needed to speak to them more.” He feels the new name, MyBuilder, reflects this. 

The name game

If your business is growing well, simply not liking the name is not a good enough reason to change. First, you need to research and gauge people’s perceptions of your brand. “Talk to your audiences and ask: ‘What do you think of this name?’ It may well be that they are quite neutral,” adds Shaw. “Look at Carphone Warehouse. It doesn’t sell carphones; it’s not a warehouse. It has gone way beyond that.” More importantly, find out what people think about your business – how they position it against the competition, its personality and what it’s like to deal with you. This will help you decide on the name you should develop. “It should be one that is going to fit with that, but also stand out from the crowd,” says Shaw. Crucially, make sure it really is a change for the better. Robert Chapman rebranded his business to Firebrand Training after breaking away from a franchise, The Training Camp. He says it’s vital to be objective when choosing a name. “There are all sorts of different ways you can calibrate what the name should do for you, which has nothing to do with whether you like it or not.” Chapman wanted one that sounded clear over the phone, would work in foreign territories and, like Virgin, wouldn’t prohibit diversification. “We test-marketed eight names, making it look like a real company, advertising online and then looking at the click-through rates. Some got twice as many as others,” he explains.He also felt The Training Camp was too descriptive, and wanted something more provocative. He believes ‘Firebrand’ has created a personality for the firm that impassions people, driving the culture, and that having an intriguing name can be a marketing tool in itself. Chapman researched various agencies before choosing American naming specialist company Igor, conceding it was “not cheap”, but worth it. Igor was the only one that had a process for naming a business. “Naming is a discreet skill set,” he says. “You only get one bite at this cherry. The brand – the colours, font and logos – I could do every year. You’re not stuck with it. We spent $3,000 on the brand and 15 times that on the name.”  That said, the quality of naming experts varies dramatically, so it’s important to shop around. Knight had a terrifying encounter with one who wanted £55,000 just to “think about” his brand identity.

The risks of rebranding

Rebranding can be expensive and there must be tangible benefits. This makes it easier to communicate it to customers and convince your shareholders, if you have them, that it’s worth the cost. You can create confusion in the market if people don’t understand why you’re doing it. It’s also fundamental to ensure any new name is available to use, and to protect your own brand equity. Search online to see if anyone is using anything like it in a similar field. If not, check the name against the UK Trademark Register at ipo.gov.uk (OHIM for the European Union). Shaw advises speaking to a trademark attorney and getting a full check in the relevant legal classes. The execution is also key. Plan how to migrate email and your website, tell suppliers, customers and staff, and change stationery and marketing collateral. Choose a date when your new systems will go live and ensure there’s a crossover period, so people using your old email addresses or website are redirected. Knight did a presentation for staff, showing them what everything would look like down to the business cards and recapping the reasons for the change. “It’s important to allow people to buy into it,” he says. After involving members from each department, Chapman and his co-founder decided on the final name themselves. They threw a party to reveal it six weeks before launch, after securing the domain names and filing first round trademark applications. They emailed all their clients a week before the launch date. “Start with your own people. Involve them, listen to them and inspire them,” Roberts stresses. “Then it’s far easier to emotionally connect with customers. Above all, be authentic, genuine and truthful.”

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