Does your company name carry negative connotations in the marketplace? If so, it may be time to take a cue from Osama Bin Laden. (If he wasn’t dead, that is).
It’s been just over a year since the anniversary of one of the most successful counter-terrorism operations in U.S. history — the day our elite Seals ended the life of arguably the most feared and hated enemy of our country in recent times. Osama Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11 and numerous attacks on Americans and others, is now fish poo.
As we all now know, it wasn’t easy getting him. He had a network of operatives and protectors who kept him safe. As this network was slowly dismantled through the unending pressure of drone strikes and other military and intelligence operations, even Bin Laden knew he had a problem. Keeping control of all of the elements of Al Qaeda proved very challenging. Many times, his terrorist operations ended up killing Muslim civilians (collaterally and sometimes intentionally), as well as their usually intended “infidel” targets. This started changing how Al Qaeda was viewed, and the change was one that Bin Laden took notice of based on recently released intelligence.
At the very base level, Bin Laden knew that the organizations’ missteps cumulatively resulted in a very real problem with his brand. Sure, Al Qaeda was still a feared organization. But when many of the group’s own allies started drifting from the fold, something had to be done. Luckily for us (and bad for Osama), this was a problem that couldn’t easily be fixed. So what is a terrorist leader to do when the excess brand baggage becomes more negative and there seems no way for the brand to recover its previously held leadership status?
Why, rebrand, of course! And in this case, a rebranding would have probably started top down with a name change. Unfortunately for Osama, an 8.5 gram piece of lead stopped the process in its tracks. Luckily, business leaders are not terrorists (for the most part) and can weigh the cost vs. benefit of rebranding at their leisure. Here are a few things that they should consider before making a decision:
The reasons companies consider name changes aren’t always due to negative perception. Businesses sometimes change their name to make a political statement, like when Prince became “The Artist.” And sure, there are times when it’s to hide from a bad past such as when Anderson Consulting became Accenture (thanks for nothing, Enron). Occasionally, it’s to denote a new venture resulting from a merger, to prepare the newly christened alliance to blanket the marketplace with fresh messaging. Or it can be a way of realigning a company’s position in a new or changing market.
All of these reasons are valid, but executive leaders need to heavily weigh the consequences of these changes. Often times, loyalty is tied to branding, and changing a name can create confusion in the marketplace. Confusion is rarely good for customer relationships. So while a new name can be hugely helpful in escaping negative connotations or previous missteps, the transition needs to be managed to be successful. Companies need to clearly articulate why the name is being changed, and how corporate values align with the new name. This should help nurture buy-in and make the transition one that carries more positives than negatives, by embracing the new opportunities in the market without losing the brand equity that has already been solidified in the minds of existing customers. This messaging needs to be reinforced across marketing channels on an on-going basis until widespread acceptance is finally achieved.
If executed correctly, the results can be truly spectacular. Probably not as spectacular as the raid on the Abbottabad compound but, then again, few brands will ever achieve the respect of Seal Team Six. But increased market share, recognition and segment dominance are all great results that are achievable for companies that do it right.