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The recently proposed deal betweeen Comcast and Time Warner Cable raises a primary question that must be dealt with in mergers: What will the combined brand be called? The deal still must pass regulatory muster, but senior PR executives from both companies are no doubt already working on a plan for how to communicate a new name. Questions regarding competition and consolidation within the cable industry aside, a name change is always a major strategic action. Considering the less-than-flattering perception of both the Comcast and Time Warner Cable brands, perhaps the Xfinity brand—Comcast’s trademark for “triple play” services for cable, Internet and telephone—will become the new name if the companies merge.
Another option is to introduce an entirely new name, said Scott Milano, managing director of Tanj Branding, who works closely with Waggener Edstrom on branding campaigns. “It’s really being able to make a strong case for a name change,” Milano said. “Do you have a fundamental reason for the change and does the change address the issue?”
There are myriad reasons for organizations to change their names, including a pending merger; a lawsuit from a company with a similar name or (in many cases) the original name limits the company in the marketplace.
Either way, when a name change occurs communicators are tasked with the execution. “In any name change you have a Bell curve,” said Jenny Moede, president of Waggener Edstrom, North America. “The vast majority of consumers will be accepting, you’ll have some people who will say, ‘Brilliant,’ and then you’ll have some detractors. The goal is to help audiences understand why the name was changed and how the new name evokes the brand promise.”
Moede recommended two additional tips for how PR managers can help to communicate a potential name change:
• Create a targeted communications plan revolving around the name change, using all media channels (that make sense), including paid media and direct marketing tools.
• Look for customer data that go beyond “just a thumbnail sketch,” she said. “You can have a higher ROI on the investment if you understand the customer base, and [customers’] proclivities and choices, which typically havent been factored into PR campaign development.”
Changing a brand name is also about being able to articulate a brand personality, said Doug Spong, president of Spong, which earlier this month changed its name from Carmichael Lynch.
Spong said bracing for the name change was akin to creating a PR campaign. The effort included the director of new business development, digital strategists, measurement executives and the paid advertising team, he said.
“Right out of the gate we asked, what is the visual expression of the brand, how does the name match that and how do we market it?” Spong said.
Once the change is officially made, PR managers have to get the word to employees, customers, stakeholders and the media and then help to manage expectations and/or disappointment.
“Sharing the news and what a name change means with stakeholders and customers is the No. 1 priority,” said Mike Trigg, CMO of the file-sharing service Hightail, which last summer changed its name from “YouSendIt.” “For stakeholders, the announcement needs to be personal and address any concerns they might have. Communicating the change to customers was done in a number of ways including media, email, landing pages, app updates, social media and blog posts.”
He added: “A PR tactic that can’t be ignored for a rebrand is a crisis communications plan. It’s important to play out every circumstance that could happen so the company is well prepared. It’s also vital that all key personnel are on the same page and know the full details of how the rebrand will rollout.”
Getting buy-in from the rank-and-file is crucial. “We chose to have the design and logo created in house so our employees really felt like they were a part of the process and it was something they could embrace,” Trigg said.
It’s also key that PR pros not rush the process. For instance, Engauge Marketing and Moxie Interactive merged last August, but officially united under the new brand name, Moxie, in March.
“We had a three-page checklist on what needed to happen both internally and externally and the key messaging that we needed to send out,” said Jessica Carruth, marketing and PR manager of Moxie. “We had to make sure that both employees and clients knew that we weren’t changing in terms of capabilities, but instead offering broadened services and capabilities.”
Managing a brand is like owning a home. You need to remodel every once in a while to increase curb appeal and market value. Brands refresh their identities all the time. FedEx is shorthand for Federal Express. Nobody would ever refer to IBM as International Business Machines anymore. Long ago Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing contemporized its name to 3M. Last week Carmichael Lynch Spong rebranded itself after 23 years. We did more than a shave and a haircut with a new logo mark, opting for a complete identity makeover, including a name change to Spong. Here are few tips on PR strategy should you find yourself involved in the creation and communications of a new brand name.
▶ Positioning rules everything. After weighing the pros and cons and agreeing to a name change with my fellow partners, I drafted a positioning and messaging document that served as the blueprint for everything we did. From logo mark and its application, to business systems and signage, to launch-day announcement, re-skinned website and social channels. The document articulated overarching goals and messages for all stakeholders, including my partners, leadership team, staff, clients, search consultants and the PR community at large. It also answered most, if not all, staff and client questions.
▶ Don’t rush a good thing. There are a thousand moving parts and pieces to refreshing a brand. Many PR practitioners tend to underestimate the time and money it takes to concept, develop, produce a nd roll it out. The most-valued asset any brand owns is its good name. To ensure you can properly manage this asset, estimate the time needed for your biggest, most complex public interface: your website. Bake in time for user experience, information architecture, design, copy, animation, digital production, quality assurance and testing. Then add at least two weeks to the schedule.
▶ Many hands make for light work. If you’re the general contractor in your brand remodel, engage a diverse team of subject-matter experts who will own their areas of expertise and see them through from start to finish. Our re-brand included leaders from project management, new business, design, digital strategy, digital production, social engagement, creative (copy and art director), media relations, client relationship management, information technologies, human resources, office services and administration.
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