Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rebranding can cause controversy for Associations Too

Sometimes association leaders decide its time to change anything from the name to the logo to the mission. I’ve been part of such decisions both as an executive director and as a consultant.
In one case, the association changed its name with the goal of “broadening their base” for membership. In reality, the new name caused confusion and lost the focus of the original name.
Marketing history shows such change – no matter how well researched – can be difficult if not dangerous to the organization’s future.

I’ve been around long enough to remember:
  • Ford’s big bomb – the Edsel. Probably one of the most researched products ever ... but an utter failure in the market place.
  • Coca Cola’s launch of the “New Coke” generating a revolt among Coke consumers. Enough backlash that Coke quickly introduced “Coke Classic” ... and slowly retreated to dropping “New Coke” and rebranding Coke Classic to Coke.
  • The Gap released a new logo and pulled it 24 hours later because of all the “dishing” from social media and branding experts.
The News-Press here recently published a branding story that had some interesting observations:
  • The backlash started almost immediately.
  • Leaders at The Philharmonic Center for the Arts made the announcement last month: The Phil was no longer “The Phil.” Now it would be called “Artis-Naples.”
  • The idea was to rebrand the 24-year-old Naples Arts Center as more than a place for retirees and more than a home for the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • The No. 1 reason for change, said Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) marketing professor Christine Wright-Isak, is usually this: Attracting new and younger people.
  • It’s a delicate balancing act, though. How do you attract new customers without alienating old ones?
  • The general rule is this, she said: “Proceed with extreme caution.”
  • With organizations, a name change or rebranding can be potentially dangerous — despite the best of intentions. You risk driving away customers, instead, Wright-Isak said. 
  • Usually, it’s best not to change your name at all unless your brand has been irreparably tarnished, Wright-Isak said. Any negative connotations can disappear if you change other things about the organization, such as programming or better customer service.
  • “Launching a new brand identity and name makes complete sense,” said Berliner Benson founder Mike Berliner (who helped create Artis-Naples). “While some people will always be resistant to change, the real story here is about creating a positive future for an outstanding organization.”
So, what can associations learn from these examples and stories?
  • Carefully consider the rationale and need for a change. What will you gain vs what will you lose?
  • Weigh the choices and how they will impact your current membership along with your intended membership.
  • Don’t use a contest to create names or logos.
  • Develop a launch strategy that does not incorporate surprise.

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