Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Managing The Tightrope of (Brand and other) Changes

The November 13 Special Broadcast: Notes and Domino Social Edition Beta Preview and Announcements (replay here) event that I've been leading has finally ended! We're in replay and post-event mode now. A big part of that post-event follow-up has been the Twitter and earned media buzz around the possible name change and branding repercussions.

One expected, but still interesting take, by some in the press and Twitterverse was a focus not on the new features and the first public beta in years, but rather like eWeek and others a focus on what was a smaller component of the broadcast message. IBM is considering removing the Lotus brand from the next release of Notes and Domino. I suppose this is because Notes and Domino is the last major product family in the Lotus brand to shed the name and get closer to the IBM Brand (which, not coincidentally, was named the world's second-most-valuable brand last year). Which means that the journey which started with the IBM acquisition of Lotus has pretty much reached a logical conclusion.

You'll note I didn't say "winner" or "loser" Brand. That's because there's no guarantee what the right logical conclusion will be in all circumstances. This set of reactions I'm seeing reinforces for me why that is:

Brand matters.

It's a core emotional connection people have with a product. Even in the supposedly more-logical Business-to-Business world, that emotional connection is important. So there's a delicate dance a company must make, especially for established Brands, when changing them. Most acquisitions and mergers eventually have to deal with it:

  • which brand image or name holds the market's attention more?
  • how strongly tied are existing customers to the brand?
  • which brand has more flexibility for future change?
  • which brand is held in higher (or lower) regard with the target customer, and why (or why not)?
  • how well do the two brands work together?
  • how fast do you make a change, if change is what's needed?

My employer's example is far from the most recent one. A few years ago, the merged United and Continental airlines decided to keep the United brand name and ditch the Continental name brand, but they did the exact opposite with the brand image. That change too elicited emotional feedback.

It comes down to: "change is never easy". It's also a position I've changed my tune to over the years. When I was younger, itching for change was more natural and jumping headlong into something new was exciting and rarely questioned. As I get older and more experienced, I can now see that a thoughtful approach isn't necessarily bad, either, as long as it doesn't lead to excuses for not making ANY changes. That's a choice too, and usually a pretty bad one.

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