Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting it right when time comes to rebrand

chartis insurance

At what point should you rebrand a product?

While there is always the temptation to change the company or product image, making the first steps may not be easy because it is akin to venturing into the unknown ground.

It may be an ego trip or to shake off a bad image after an unfortunate occurrence caused by the firm or from external factors.

A number of financial services firms that have survived the meltdown find themselves in the latter case.

At one time, a company may also change name and use new colours, logos, and positioning.

Experts say branding is about perception; it defines a business or product from the competition.

“The ultimate purpose of any re-brand has to be about strengthening connections with all stakeholders,” George Godsal, the managing director of Hill & Knowlton East Africa, a communications agency says.

Changing the name does not change the underlying perceptions, he says.

It is also likely that if an organisation moves to a higher rung, it will rebrand, like in the case of Inoorero University in Nairobi, previously the Kenya School of Professional Studies (KSPS).

As a university, it will be dealing with new stakeholders and also strengthen the existing bonds.

Because rebranding gone wrong can be suicidal, it is imperative that owners find a balance between the benefits of the change while not alienating existing customers.

“When you are rebranding, it should bring value to your customers,” says Esther Ngomeli, managing director of Media Edge, an integrated marketing agency.

Focusing more on the process than the customers is a common mistake, say experts, who warn that is the sure route to oblivion.

To reduce the risk of losing the old customers, Olive Gathinji, marketing manager of Deacons, says the ownership should engage this public on why the company is donning new colours or changing name.

In the Interbrand Sampson’s Best Global Brands 2009, the companies in financial services had their brand image soiled with public assigning them the blame as the main authors of the crippling economic downturn.

In the height of the slowdown, many investors avoided the big names, preferring the upcoming firms.

Reversing the change of heart may push affected firms to rebrand in the hope of shaking off the negative perception.

For instance, Citigroup dropped from position 19 in 2008 to 36.

Citigroup may not be looking to rebrand but another company that has suffered a similar fate, AIG, is rebranding its insurance operations to Chartis, including the local business, with the aim of rebuilding customer trust.

But you don’t have to have a soiled chapter in business to rebrand.

There are times when the name no longer reflects the focus of the business.

The Nyanza Petroleum Dealers company started operations in 1958 and was based in Kisumu town as an oil marketer.

In 1998, it shifted focus and began to deal in automobile accessories, including the franchise owner of Pirelli.

Late last year, the management got a new name — AutoXpress — that it says reflected its new business direction and dealings.

“Sometimes organisations think that because a brand is experiencing perpetual low sales, the solution is rebranding. Before rebranding, first find out what the problem is with the product,” says Ms Gathinji.

Find out what is wrong with the product, the people handling it or the distribution channels before changing the brand, she says, adding it may not be meeting customer expectations.

Rebranding is an expensive affair.

To get a new name targeting the motorists, AutoXpress says it will be spending Sh30 million.

Apart from changing the stationery, website, uniforms, among other things, it is important to sensitise the staff on the changes to minimise resistance and increase the chances of bonding with the target public.

When researching on the new name and the logo, watch out not to infringe on existing trademarks, which may lead to heavy legal expenses and battles.

Employees and suppliers

Ms Gathinji says to rebrand, market research is inevitable, training sights on current and prospective customers to find out their perceptions, new trends and preferences.

But changing too often can cause confusion in the market, which may push the firm deeper into the mud and expose it to competitors.

“Great brands are built from the inside out and a re-brand will fail if its values don’t ring true to every person connected to that brand — from employees to suppliers to customers,” says Mr Godsal.