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What’s in a Name? The Rebranding Discussion

December 5, 2021by Jaquelin Bonura

As evidenced by Facebook’s recent evolution to Meta, a lot more goes into a rebranding than changing a name or a logo.

Determining whether a rebranding is the right move for your company starts by digging deeper into what’s prompting your desire for a fresh start, including capitalizing on a significant moment for the company; reflecting on changes inside the company or out in the world; and responding to controversy, crises and then some.

Regardless of the why, a rebranding effort should always be thoughtful and intentional, with the goal of better aligning with your mission and values and shifting your target’s view in a more positive direction. But even with the best of intentions, a rebranding can be risky: The outcome is never guaranteed, and the impact is likely to affect your bottom line.

With that in mind, we’re sharing some case studies, cautionary tales, and thoughtful takeaways for consideration if a rebranding happens to be on your radar.

What’s in a Name?

You may think that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, but Facebook may have you rethinking that adage. Facebook the company and the platform shared a name until the company became Meta in late October. Meta, now the umbrella company for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR and Onavo, has seen backlash from the rebrand – which some have labeled an all-out redirection of the company and others have called an effort to distract from issues plaguing the corporation and platform in recent years.

Preceding the Meta announcement, Facebook was already in hot water due to “The Facebook Files” series that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, spurred by documents provided by whistleblower/former employee Frances Haugen. She testified before Congress in October, alleging that Facebook willfully prioritized profit over public well-being and knowingly amplified harmful content with higher engagement-based rankings that led to the spread of misinformation.

Haugen’s detailed testimony, combined with events such as the October outage, further fueled unfavorable public opinion about Facebook. According to a study by Harris Brand Platform, Facebook’s trust score fell from 16% to 5.8% immediately following the leaked information. The company spent the next couple weeks working to claw back trust — recovering enough support to hit 11% in late October. But when they rebranded, they found themselves back at 5.8%, with issues still ongoing.

Takeaway:

Whatever the motivation in timing for their announcement (whether the rebrand was already in the works or a reactive move), Meta is a prime example that renaming an organization amid a crisis is, like once upon a relationship status, “complicated.” Before taking the plunge on a long or newly planned rebranding, assess if it’s truly the right time for your audience or if a delay could be beneficial.

Rebrand Refresher

Sometimes, a brand refresh is not only needed but overdue. This was the case for the syrup empire formerly known as Aunt Jemima, which, after 131 years, rebranded as Pearl Milling Company in early 2021.

Long criticized for the racist overtones of their “mammy” logo associated with minstrel shows, Aunt Jemima’s rebranding came after decades of heated debates, public disapproval and six attempts to evolve the brand, none of which resolved the issues. After the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s murder, Aunt Jemima’s parent company PepsiCo could no longer ignore calls for change. They (finally) dug in and did their due diligence: researching public perception, sharing their findings with the audience for transparency, and partnering with subject matter experts and diverse agencies to create an inclusive brand.

Then, PepsiCo retired the Aunt Jemima figure and name and replaced it with Pearl Milling Company. However, they did maintain the packaging’s color scheme and design to help ensure the syrup remained identifiable in the marketplace.

Takeaways:

Being transparent can go a long way with your audience, especially if your brand has been engrossed in contentious public discussion. Also, when making a major shift, there are ways to embrace something new while keeping (unproblematic) elements for the sake of product recognition.

Market Repositioning

When you stay true to your core values, a rebrand can be an opportunity to resurface what made your brand unique in the first place and what characteristics resonate most with your target.

One of our clients, Oregon Tool, recently went through this process. The company – formerly known as Blount – didn’t have any corporate recognition in the global marketplace and yet it had aggressive plans for growth. Being that Blount was the umbrella for a myriad of successful brands, it began considering each brand’s equity in the marketplace and their heritage stories. Because Oregon Products and its saw chain and bar were highly regarded around the world with a legacy of innovation dating back to 1947, Blount opted to build on the Oregon brand. The new name Oregon Tool not only honors the company’s roots, it positions them for growth across their entire portfolio of tools and equipment.

While Oregon Tool rebranding efforts included changes to the name and logo, there were many other layers, including galvanizing the company’s why, vision and values to guide the way and a waterfall of internal and external communications to share and contextualize the initiative among stakeholders. This involved many months of cross-functional coordination to spark excitement and momentum while also reinforcing the purposeful nature of the endeavor.

Takeaway:

When you have a meaningful heritage story, history should repeat itself – and make its way into your brand narrative through rebranding. Be sure to contextualize the effort for stakeholders, securing buy-in in the moment and for the future by developing an in-depth and broad communications strategy.

Figuring out the right and wrong reasons to rebrand can be tricky and potentially tough to navigate. All the work that goes into a rebrand can seem overwhelming, but it can also be a fantastic opportunity to refresh your public perception and capture consumers’ attention.

Interested in exploring how a rebranding strategy could benefit your company? Email Dana Arnold at darnold@hiebing.com to set up a call.

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