In 2000, oil giant BP Amoco rebranded as "BP: beyond petroleum". Its image had moved on from that of British Petroleum and needed to reflect a company that was transnational, with a portfolio that included solar power.
The new logo further enhanced this shift. A vibrant green, white and yellow sunburst named Helios, after the Greek sun god, it was designed to underline the company's commitment to the environment, making BP the fuel of choice for the environmentally aware motorist.
Whatever you feel about the company and its environmental record, this is widely seen as one of the most successful rebranding exercises of recent years, and it stands in stark contrast to other attempts of the same era. Think British Airways' shift to BA and its various tail fin designs; PricewaterhouseCooper's attempt to demerge and rebrand its consultancy arm as Monday; Abbey National paying £26m to drop the National and the upper case "a"; and, of course, the Post Office Group's move to Consignia.
With such high profile disasters, it is no wonder that rebranding found itself with a floundering image. Dragon Brands director Keith Wells remembers: "Following Consignia, rebranding took something of a hammering.
For a while companies shied away from taking this route for fear of being openly ridiculed. The corporate view was: why put your head up if someone's going to try and knock it off."
So why do some succeed, while others are left licking their wounds? Maybe the answer lies with the simple question: why rebrand in the first place? Anne Bahr Thompson, managing partner of Onesixtyfourth, a strategic boutique centring on research and brand building, highlights some of the confusion that surrounds the rebranding process.
"Many companies believe that they rebrand themselves every time they develop a new ad campaign, while others recognise rebranding as the change of corporate name and identity as the result of a merger, acquisition or divestiture.
Others see the need to rebrand when a product or service is marketed or distributed differently.
And, today, many businesses use a rebrand to revitalise a business in peril, accompanying a change or modification in their identity with new marketing communications, but not necessarily a corresponding shift in their product or service offering."
And it's here we hit the first sign of trouble, as Laura Haynes, director of branding agency Appetite, explains: "A change of name, logo and look are called rebranding, but really do nothing but change the clothes of the organisation.
This will invariably fail to connect with audiences whose cynicism dictates there must be a reason for a change to be believable."
Bahr Thompson expands: "Rebranding should signal a change in strategy, a new product or evolved service offering; in short, a real quantifiable change. Even the City feels more comfortable when a rebranded corporate entity accompanies its announcement with a clear vision and a strategic plan."
Credibility and authenticity is essential for a successful rebrand. When a rebrand is undertaken alongside a real change, all of its constituent parts are working toward the same goal. Consistency is the key if you're not going to confuse the consumer. Having said all this, some companies simply outgrow their names.
Take secure payments processing company bacs – or bankers automated clearing system, to give it its full name – for example.
The company rebranded to Voca to update its "stuffy" image and reflect its entry into the European markets.
Other obvious examples include London Electric's rebranding to London Energy. Here, once the company added gas supply to its services, the name no longer reflected the nature of the business. Similarly, when British Steel wanted to open up its market it changed its name to Corus. Another would be British Sky Broadcasting's shift to Sky – by dropping the "British" from its name it positioned itself on the world stage.
In short, if you know where your future lies and you choose an image and name that reflects that, then you're giving your rebrand every chance of success. But if you're using this process to cover up old problems it is more likely to have the opposite effect and could leave you looking at a lengthy stretch in marketing text books filed under "what not to do".
However, finding a name is becoming an increasingly complex process. As Voca's chief marketing executive David Sear explains: "These days, almost every name you can think of has been taken in one sector or another, and no territory is off limits. Getting a name that's defendable in the international market place can be a legal nightmare."
To get round this, companies are increasingly turning to fictious words – Consignia, Opodo or Ocado, anyone? These words, of course, do have the added benefit of having no hidden meanings or emotional attachments, giving you an empty vessel in brand terms which you can then imbue with your own values. Importantly, they also make protecting your domain name more feasible.
The internet may offer access to markets that were once out of your reach, but it also presents you with more potential pitfalls to spoil even the most expensive rebrand, as PwC discovered: having spent around £75m in its attempt to rebrand its consultancy arm as Monday, it made a serious technological error. The campaign ran under the "Introducing Monday"; if you went to www.introducingmonday.com things were fine, but if you happened to go to www.introducingmonday. co.uk you were greeted by a dancing donkey and a catchy tune with the lyrics "Everyone knows we've got your name".
All very entertaining for Joe Public, but hugely damaging for your brand. Yes, it is a powerful thing to own the ".com", but if you fail to secure the other obvious variations you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
Abbey National's stumbling block was something altogether different: unveiling its new look ahead of its staff re-education programme.
It's one thing to keep your consumers onboard, but having your staff onside is an essential step to ensuring your brand transition works smoothly. Your people are the pulse of your business and the face of your brand – if they don't believe what you do, how are the public supposed to?
Shari Donnenfeld, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Jetix (formerly Fox Kids Europe), is effusive on the subject.
"Your staff needs to know what benefits any rebranding will bring to the organisation and to them. Any transition needs to become an internal reality first, because if your staff don't communicate the brand properly you will lose credibility."
Spencer Buck, of Bristol-based design company Taxi Studio, agrees: "Major transitions such as rebranding can cause uncertainty throughout any organisation; people will want to know whether their jobs are on the line and what is going on, so it's important this process is properly managed. People should be made to feel involved in the process from the top down.
You are the future ambassadors for the brand." Essentially, communication can make or break a rebranding, as Dragon Brands' Wells is only too aware, following his experiences with Consignia. "You always think you've communicated enough but never have. My golden rule would be: communicate, communicate, then over communicate," he says. "You need to plan for more communication than you could ever have imagined possible, both external and internal, and then stay on top of it afterwards.
One of the things that strangled Consignia was mis-reporting and mischief-making in the media. You need to come down like a ton of bricks on this sort of thing."
The final part of the jigsaw is timing. In essence there was little wrong with BA's idea, but it was implemented too quickly and cavalierly. In instantly losing all its Britishness, the company violated any permission customers had given them to become more international. It just looked like a case of change for change's sake. At the other extreme you have WH Smith, which took 15 years thinking about its rebrand. By the time it did anything, its once dated brown and orange logo was suddenly back in fashion again.
Although you may follow all these criteria to the letter, there's still no guarantee it won't backfire.
Sometimes you can't tell if you've covered every avenue until you're out there in the public eye. So what do you do if it all goes wrong?
"Really this shouldn't happen, but make sure you take it one step at a time and get buy-in at every stage. That way, if something does go wrong, you are only going back one step, not back to square one," says Lars Hemming Jorgensen, creative director of London-based Large Design. "But should the unthinkable happen, the main thing is not to panic – run off and ‘do some brand stuff ' and come back six weeks later with a new corporate identity."
Dragon Brands' Wells sounds a warning note: "Turnaround might be an impossible task. Once the media gets stuck in, it is pointless trying to win the battle. You're often better just to keep going, keep your people aware and impressed by your own commitment and get the business running the way you want it to.
Your best possible scenario will be a gradual falling away of interest."
Rebranding can be a dangerous and, in some cases, contentious business, so it's not something that you should do on a whim. People get attached to brands and they can be very unforgiving.
A successful rebranding is as much about minimising risks as about creative genius.
But the prizes are worth it – a well-executed rebrand can rejuvenate your business, be a great internal motivator, give you a second chance with consumers and allow you to enter new markets and acquire new customers. However, get it wrong and you risk becoming a laughing stock, damaging your credibilty, and, at worst, needing to completely rebuild your brand. And all this is going to hit you where it hurts – the balance sheet.
According to Jetix's Donnenfeld, if you want guidance, turn to one of the many rebrand survivors.
"Although each case is unique, talking to people who've done it before can make you aware of all the things you need to look at. Furthermore, the support of a good agency is critical – once again they'll be aware of most of the common pitfalls."
Finally she counsels: "Don't do it – you have to be mad. Rebranding is a tough and painful experience." OK, maybe you don't have to be mad, but it certainly helps.
SmoothFM builds on JazzFm's brand
Today, 102.2 JazzFM is rebranding to 102.2 Smooth FM. In London, the station will provide a mellow mix of soulful music.
"Generally speaking, it's time for a rebrand if the current brand stops working effectively and is having an adverse effect on the company," explains JohnMyers, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, which owns JazzFM.
" In the case of 102.2 JazzFM, the station, simply put, does not ‘do what it says on the tin', and that was, therefore, inhibiting the station's growth."
The company has already rolled out a similar rebrand in the North West – 104.4 Smooth FM was born on 2 March 2004. The station has since quadrupled its revenue and the company is hoping to reproduce similar success down south.
"With the launch of 102.2 Smooth FM in London, we know this station has the potential to be huge," says Myers. "But it doesn't matter how great the logo is or how fantastic the marketing campaign is – if the product it represents doesn't live up to the hype, then it's all going to end up a waste of time."
Myers believes the best rebrands are the ones where people forget what was there before. "It's important to know who your audience is, who your potential audience is and ensure that the new brand is marketed clearly and effectively to them. It's important that the brand is clear and that the marketing tells them exactly what they can expect... and we believe we'll achieve both with this station."
Post Office Group to Consignia
In the mid-1990s, Dragon Brands was invited to help the Post Office Group look at how it was going to cope with the rapidly changing business environment. The group, which was the little known public sector entity controlling Royal Mail, Post Office Counters, Parcel Force, etc, was under threat from privatisation and from deregulation and the opening up of the European market.
It was eventually decided to create a corporate entity through which a full international distribution solution could be offered. To do this it had to lose its local bias. It would have been impossible to protect either the Royal Mail or Post Office as brands outside the UK and would merely have caused complicated clashes and confusion.
After a long process, three names were put into qualitative research, from which Consignia was selected. The name was trademarked (along with several other names as a smoke screen) at least three years prior to its formal unveiling.
The rebrand was finally announced in January 2001 and was due to launch in April 2001, timed to coincide with the group's conversion to a PLC. The initial launch was backed up with a massive collateral presence and was well received in corporate circles.
"This took place not long after the BA tail-fin debacle, and everyone was keen to ensure that the reasons for the change were communicated as effectively as possible," explains Dragon Brands'Wells. "It was made clear that the rebrand would not affect the grassroots services such as the Royal Mail or Post Office brands, just the controlling corporate entity."
So what went wrong? Shortly after the launch, an ill-informed section of the media jumped on the story and started scare mongering about the fact that your local post office would be changing its name to Consignia.
Here the first major mistake became apparent, misjudging the public's emotional attachment to the Post Office brand, the second was that instead of quashing this bit of media tittletattle, Consignia let it run. Confusion reigned.
Shortly after this another factor came into play: it transpired that the business was in decline. A new team was put in place to turn things around, and rebrand to a large extent played into their hands, as it took the brunt of the blame for the group's decline in fortunes.
The new team had to move quickly. The decision was taken to capitalise on the tide of public opinion and the group was rebranded to Royal Mail Group. (One of the common public misconceptions is that the group was returned to its original name.) The brand has escaped pretty much untarnished and the Royal Mail Group has put it all behind it and moved on.
Job done and face saved. However, what will happen to any international ambitions, remains to be seen.
Fox Kids Europe to Jetix
When you broadcast kids' programmes in 58 countries and 18 languages, bringing your disparate operations under one corporate umbrella is one hell of a task.
But this is exactly what Fox Kids Europe faced when it was bought by Disney.
"We couldn't just take the name Fox Kids and roll it out across the globe, as it was already owned in the States, so we had to find a new name that would transfer to all our territories," says Shari Donnenfeld.
The process meant coming up with a name that worked in 18 languages with no "nasty" clashes, and was compatible with the pronunciation, translation and alphabets. Eventually Jetix was decided on.
To keep employees onboard during the transition, the company ran brand roadshows explaining why and how the process would work. To ensure they took viewers with them, Jetix was introduced as a prime-time slot on the existing Fox Kids schedule used to showcase some of the flagship shows. Research was done before the roll-out to check the response, which found the new brand was checking all the right boxes.
"Kids can be fickle," explains Donnenfeld, "but they adapt much more quickly than adults to new and different things."
Bacs to Voca
Bacs (Bankers Automated Clearing System) handles 90%of salary transfers, 80% of benefits and pension payments and 70% of household payments by Direct Debit. In 36 years of business it has never lost a transaction. And in a recent survey 98% of IT directors said they trusted BACS and 94% said they would recommend it. With that level of trust and reliability, why would you need to rebrand?
The technology may be 21st century but the image was dated and too heavily British. With the financial landscape changing, the company needed an image that would allow it to compete with the best in Europe.
"We want our technology to be at the heart of revolution, so we needed to break away from our quintessential Britishness and portray ourselves at the forefront of this technological revolution," explains chief marketing executive David Sear.
So out went bacs and in came Voca [meaning to draw down funds]. Through the entire process, bacs' 500 staff were regularly consulted and kept in the picture as to why the rebranding was taking place and how it was progessing. Finally, over one weekend, the new brand was implemented. "When staff came in on the Monday morning, each desk had a Voca gift, there were Voca pens, Voca screen savers, Voca mousemats and all the signage had been updated," recalls Sear.
The company is spending £100mon refreshing its technology and is positioned at the forefront of Europe's financial revolution. If people didn't know how cutting-edge bacs was, Voca is changing that.
Breaking rebranding down
Essentially, rebranding can break down into three major constituent parts:
1/ Repositioning: Changing the strategic direction of your company, for whatever reason (divestiture, merger, etc) is a good opportunity to combine all three aspects for a full rebranding exercise. However, done alone it would need to be backed up by some heavy PR, particularly if you wanted to gain a foothold in new markets.
2/ Refreshing: Simply updating a tired image. This is something that companies indulge in frequently; just follow how brands such as IBM, Apple and Microsoft have evolved over the last 10 years. More consumer facing brands will date far more quickly than the less-seen corporate brands, and some believe they should be refreshed as often as every five years.
3/ Renaming: This is simply changing the name of your company/brand without allying it to any strategic shifts. On its own, this is not the most sensible move, as it can cause confusion in your target market.
However, many companies have successfully (although some of you may not agree) managed this transition without much more than an emotional consumer outpouring – think Marathon to Snickers, Opal Fruits to Starburst and even Jif to Cif.
This article was first published on Media Week