advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hut, The Shack, The Whatever.

Hey look, more rebranding! Actually, it’s more like a newly discovered sub-species of the genus branding: The name change. But not a witness protection name change, rather, the customer-dictated name change.

So The Shack™ replaces Radio Shack, The Hut™ replaces Pizza Hut (sorta), the Sci-Fi Channel recently went SyFy, and before that, Dairy Queen went DQ.

What’s next, The Bell™?

I’m on the fence somewhat when it comes to renaming madness. Whenever I hear about a company rebranding, alarm bells go off because they’re trying to make you forget how bad their service is by slapping a new logo on things.

But then, it works when it works, as in the case of DQ. Shortening Dairy Queen down to two letters just sounds better phonetically. More importantly though, the brand doesn’t have the baggage that Radio Shack does. Besides, who doesn’t love ice cream!

In the case of ShaqHut though, it feels forced.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that your customers refer to your brand using a certain nickname—it’s another to crash the party and make that alternate name the permanent face of the brand.

That’s pretty much like your parents chaperoning your dates—when you’re 20. The brand is trying to be cool, because, well, if cool people call it that, and brands want to be cool, then that’s what they’ll do too. See? Now they’re cool too.

Forgetting the work itself though, I’d rather cover why companies focus on such a big move.

Brands seem to be giving in to consumers.

Changing your name to suit a demo as SyFy did by going after more female viewers is slightly different than changing your name to the one consumers know you by. (I’d argue though that they lost the core theme of mystery they had going by walking away from “if” in Sci-Fi, but I digress.)

No matter the reason, the net effect is the same: Fans now dictate your name. Yes, they’ll call it what they want regardless of your branding efforts, but you don’t have to help them.

I’m old skool/new skool on a lot of things, so I recognize the changes in the advertising paradigm, dynamic, zeitgeist or whatever else you want to call it.

Consumers are more “empowered” than ever and all that. However, there’s something about a name that doesn’t change. Ever. There’s permanence in that.

A name based on skewed questions in a focus group? Not really.

Brands can evolve their look and run different campaigns from year to year, but having a consistent name in place to play that off against creates an anchor for consumers. It gives them a happy place to come back to. No matter what, there’s still a name to rely on, comforting you like a Tommy Boy brake pad guarantee.

Lee Applbaum, CMO of RadioShack, says the company has used brand name shorthand for years. “If you can latch onto a brand truth, it’s a really wonderful thing.”

Hurts just reading that.

All brands have internal naming conventions. Everything from conference rooms to logos to nicknames for specific brands. But, that’s why that stuff is called “internal.”

As for brand truth? A consumer truth, maybe. Between customer and brand or in the customer’s own life, yes. Like, how they tend to shop, or how they feel about something at a certain age. Much as the Team on the brand side wishes it so however, consumers don’t care about internal brand mantras.

Yet it’s this brand perception vs. consumer reality that creates disconnects.

Rebranding by committee.

I tend to give agencies a pass here because it’s not usually their fault. Not saying that’s what happened with ShackHut, but I know how zealous some brands get with their internal brainstorms.

They go off on a 4-day off-site planning session, then force their agencies to use the theme they came up with—even if it feels wrong to everyone but the brand.

Regardless, you can still refer to a brand by its nickname in ads without taking the final step of actually changing the name. Consumers are always changing their minds anyway, so today’s Hut might end up tomorrow’s... who knows?

Would you jump off a bridge if the King did?

Some examples of brands using both nicknames and their regular names? Burger King may be known as BK for short, but they still run the full name in the logo. “Mickey D’s” or “golden arches” still has McDonald’s to play off of. Did Timberland suddenly become Tims overnight just because it got urbanized? Still looks like Converse All Star to me, not Chucks All Star.

Then there’s the Gubernator. When Arnold Schwarzenegger first hit Hollywood, he went against conventional wisdom and took a pass on changing his name to something a little easier to pronounce, certainly something more “American.”

He wanted to force people to remember his unique name. His logic being that if they did, it’d be a household name. And, well, it is. (But, he also backed it up with a string of mega action hits. If all those movies tanked, he’s just another never-was.)

Which leads to the second point:

A new name will not change the perception people have of your brand.

Especially if they’ve had a bad experience with it. Yet this is the main thing marketing directors seem to rely on now when trying to spur brand growth. Pull it off and you make a name for yourself. Fail, and it’s on to the next brand. Still, it’s as if most think a makeover is the only component of branding that matters.

It ain’t.

Consumer experiences with your brand play a huge role. Earlier, I said consumers shouldn’t be involved in something like dictating a name change, but they still play a major part in branding for this reason alone. Why?

Because branding is one-half client/agency input and one-half customer experience. You need both halves.

Customers are already involved with your brand when they purchased your product or dealt with your customer service. And if those things were an epic fail, and you did nothing to address them, who cares about your new name or logo?

Brand makeovers had better first start with fixing or improving the customer experience.

If you’ve read any of the comments on The Shack’s new look in that AdFreak article, you know the sentiments that people expressed about their stores and staff. Unfavorable at best.

I know mine are.

The majority of visits I’ve made to RADIO Shack were for things that I knew I needed, like a camera battery or speaker wire, etc. I didn’t go there looking to be educated on new products or having to rely on them to recommend something. I’m also not the only one to operate under the following core understanding of The Shack:

Basically, they sell the accessories for the electronics you buy elsewhere.

Just tell me where batteries are and I got this. Cable ties over on the left? Fine. It’s in this role that they’re perfectly suited. They know where all their items are in the store. Other than that, nope. I’ve received my share of poor advice when it came to things like cell phones and accessories, despite what the Einsteins spot implies.

(This raises another underlying issue relative to the industry in general: The effect of big box retailers on the consumer dynamic. Before the Best Buys of the world, you knew Radio Shack only sold Radio Shack products. Likewise, Sears selling Craftsman and Kenmore. Nowadays, salespeople have a lot of brands to keep straight, let alone explain it all to customers.)

And the final thing...

If everyone calls themselves The “Whatever,” then what sets them apart?

If you truly need to change your name, then do it for very specific reasons: You’re a cell phone company that merged with another telecom firm. You’re related to Hitler. You have Enron on your resume. You witnessed a mob hit.

These are perfectly valid excuses.

Otherwise, the move to The reeks of me-too, flavor of the month desperation. Unless your name or look are hopelessly out of date, what company that’s doing well ever needs to rebrand, let alone change its name?


HighJive said...

didn't you recently rebrand your blog to MTLB?

mtlb said...

Mob hit.