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Rebranding: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As marketers, the power of branding is deeply ingrained in our very souls.  We know how valuable a strong brand is over time and what happens to neglected brands.  We know that rebranding is a tool of last resort.  And those reading this article will understand how Brink’s Home Security rebranding was bad, ValuJet’s was ugly and necessary, and Blue Ribbon Sports set the standard for the good.

Rebranding Brink’s Home Security─Trying To Move Forward with a Foot in the Past

Brink’s spun off its home security business in 2008.  The new company rebranded itself as Broadview Security.  They felt good because they supported the name change with a “serious marketing push” including advertising and, wait for it, ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.  Their tagline was “The next generation of Brink’s Home Security.”

We’ve all been taught the risks inherent in mentioning competitors by name in our advertising and building their brand awareness.  Certainly using your old name in your rebranding communication builds brand awareness for the wrong brand.  It didn’t matter in the end.  The new brand was gone within a year, acquired by Tyco and merged with competitor ADT.

Rebranding ValuJet─Winning the Race to the Bottom 

ValuJet was the fastest airline to make a profit in the history of American aviation going from their first flight in 1993 to profitability and going public in 1994.  They were relentless in keeping their costs low, buying older planes, not owning hangars or spare parts, paying employees below market rates, and outsourcing everything they could.  The good news was that this did produce short-term profits.

The bad news was that safety suffered.  ValuJet had 15 emergency landings in 1994, 57 in 1995, and 57 in the first five months of 1996.  Then ValuJet flight 592 dramatically crashed into the Florida Everglades killing all 110 people on board.  The subsequent investigation revealed all sorts of systemic flaws and the airline was grounded until it fixed its issues.

Not sure anyone could recover consumer confidence after that.  The next year ValuJet merged with AirTran and folded everything into that brand.

Rebranding Blue Ribbon Sports─Seizing the Emotional High Ground

Blue Ribbon Sports was a US distributor of running shoes made by Onitsuka Tiger.  It originally made most of its sales at track meets out of the back of its salespeople’s cars.  It grew steadily for seven years bringing on more sales people, retail outlets, and then expanded retail and distribution operations.  At that point it ended its relationship with Onitsuka Tiger and started manufacturing its own shoes.

From its first running sole created in a founder’s waffle iron, to its swoosh logo, to the power behind its “Just Do It” tag line, this company has moved well beyond the blue ribbons that winners frame and admire from time to time to the goddess of victory with whom all great competitors want to have an ongoing, intimate relationship─Nike.

Implications:  BRAVE Rebranding

Environment:  Begin with the context for your rebranding.  What changed (like Blue Ribbon Sports changing from importer to manufacturer)? 

Values:  Anchor everything in what matters and why─to your brand’s customers (like Bowerman and Knight caring most about giving athletes a winning edge). 

Attitude:  Close the gap created by changes in the context:  strategy, posture, culture (like Nike choosing to out innovate competitors). 

Relationships:  First do no harm to your brand’s relationships with customers.  Then build (like Nike building even stronger emotional bonds with winners). 

Behaviors:  Maintain control of the rebranding process.  How matters as much as what (drive congruence like Nike does with its name, swoosh and “Just Do It”).

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This MENG blog post was contributed by MENG member George Bradt, Managing Director of PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding.
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About George Bradt

George Bradt is Managing Director of PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding and co-author of five books on onboarding including "The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan" and the upcoming "First-Time Leader" (Wiley, 2014) and four musical plays including "The Man with the Glass Heart."

One Response to "Rebranding: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

  • Marcie Wiehagen
    August 15, 2014 - 04:23 Reply

    George, your choice of brands really showcase the difference between success and failure.

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