Building a brand name Featured

9:41am EDT July 22, 2002
Last year, SBN magazine changed its name from Small Business News and added the tagline “Smart ideas for growing companies” in an effort to better emphasize the changes not only in our content focus, but also our target market.

A year later, we’re still working on building that name brand identity and shaking the old one. You can’t imagine how many people still refer to our publication as “Small Business News.”

Building a brand name — one that your customers, suppliers and employees can identify with — is one of the most capital and manpower-intensive ventures any business can undertake. It goes much further than a simple public relations campaign or hiring a PR firm to fire off press releases to the local media exclaiming, “XYC Co. is now ABC Firm Inc.”

Consider Bearings Inc., which recently changed its name to Applied Industrial Technologies. Even though it built a state-of-the-art facility just down the street from its previous offices, it’s still common to hear people refer to AIT as Bearings.

One company that has successfully made the switch is Scott Technologies, the former Figgie International. That company changed its name two years ago after jettisoning its majority owner and beginning an extensive divestiture of noncore assets.

Figgie’s change arose out of necessity — the new leadership group decided the only way to regain the trust of shareholders, customers and employees was a complete facelift. So it went back to its roots, adopting the moniker of one of Figgie’s early acquisitions, the Scott Technologies Group.

Today, Scott Technologies has shed its Figgie image — pleasing not only company brass, but shareholders as well. And while Scott’s leadership team doesn’t eschew its former identity, it has refocused attention on its strengths. (See the story on the image change of Figgie International on page xxx).

But swapping monikers mid-stream in a business cycle is a risky move. Consultants regularly warn that building a brand name is one of the most important facets of your company. Why else would giants such as Xerox spend millions in litigation to protect their trademarked products?

And when Bell Laboratories made the switch to Lucent Technologies, the board of directors knew it was taking a gamble. Remember Lucent’s early advertisements reminding consumers and business partners that Lucent was formerly Bell Labs?

The bottom line is this: If you spent years — and millions — building name recognition for your company, product or service, don’t consider a change simply on a whim. Reduced sales volume, bad public relations or new products or services don’t necessarily merit switching your name.

However, if you do find your company in need of a moniker makeover, tread carefully and be prepared to reinforce the change more often than you may like.

As for SBN, I’ve gotten used to explaining to readers the reasons behind our change. I feel like I’m not only getting our point across, I’m educating them about what we really do — provide smart ideas for growing companies.

And that is reason enough for a change.

Dustin Klein (dsklein@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.