Brand launch. Brand refresh. Rebrand. You know the drill. But what do you do when the best brand option was one you left behind?
(Your palms just got sweaty, didn't they?)
The Boomerang Brand
The boomerang brand is a brand that once worked well; then it was abandoned—and then returned to. A boomerang brand can be a tough pill to swallow, as it inevitably means walking away from significant investments of time and money, and all the hard conversations—and frankly, job losses—that come with that.
But sometimes, a boomerang is your best bet.
Tropicana and Gap boomeranged their visual identities. Ford boomeranged the Taurus. And in June (2023), Momentive announced its boomerang back to the SurveyMonkey brand.
Momentive's Challenge—Or Is It Pronounced 'Opportunity'?
In 2022, Momentive announced a loss of $3.6 million in Q4 and an $89.9 million loss for the year. Self-serve revenue had decreased 6% in the fourth quarter, whereas Sales-assisted revenue had increased 23%.
It doesn't require an MBA in marketing to spot the opportunity here: Shift revenue away from more expensive Sales-assisted channels into more cost-effective self-serve ones. And to do that, Momentive had a branding ace up its sleeve, which it let the world know it would be playing one quarter later with this message from new owners, Symphony Technology Group: "We're excited to announce that Momentive will be returning to our iconic SurveyMonkey brand name under the direction of new CEO Eric Johnson!" [Emphasis added.]
But how did Momentive get there? Was that an admission of a mistake? A natural evolution? The result of something unexpected?
Prior to the Momentive rebrand, the research had been solid, the need justified, and the investment merited, according to former SurveyMonkey CMO Leela Srinivasan, who led the shift away from SurveyMonkey to Momentive. Leela—who has a reputation for successfully building industry-leading software brands—had the experience to see around corners. And yet...
"When we launched the new brand," said Leela, "We knew it would take several quarters to fully integrate it into the product, the customer experience. That may have slowed the adoption of the brand. Also, although it costs millions to create and launch a new brand, it takes millions more to grow and sustain that brand. The plan was always to retain the SurveyMonkey brand for the consumer business while growing the Momentive brand for the enterprise business. Based on its financial results, I do not think the organization was in a position to make that level of investment."
Despite the hard work she and her team put into the rebrand, Leela said, "the Boomerang makes sense given the market conditions and what I presume are financial goals around the core product, SurveyMonkey."
Five Ways to Avoid the Boomerang
The best boomerang strategy, of course, is to avoid having to face the situation in the first place. Here are five ways to keep your next refresh or rebrand from turning into a boomerang.
1. Do the math to invest appropriately
Brand is not a project; it's a program. A holistic, decades-long, all-encompassing program. And the investment decision needs to reflect that.
Start by quantifying your current, all-in brand equity—down to your ticker symbol—to establish a baseline. Then figure out the true cost of changes:
- Project costs. These are immediate and obvious, and they include the creation of new materials, the replacement of sales and marketing materials, internal and external launch, partner outreach, activation campaigns, swag replacement, legal protections, investor relations, SEO, and other digital reinvestments.
- Program costs. These include ongoing investment, and they are often incurred over years as you sustain and grow the new brand. Investor relations never ends; employee materials starting with onboarding tools require active management to keep "clean"; digital markets need to be continually scrubbed.
Check your assumptions: Because you're abandoning a brand that has momentum, you will be operating with headwinds for a time. During that gap, before the market and your employees "forget" your old brand and fully embrace your new one, your cost of sales will be higher, and productivity will be lower.
For one thing, many sales conversations will include time spent talking about the change. For another, you did just remove everything from the intranet. Projections that show that growth will be more expensive for a time, at least until you expect to have recaptured parity with your new brand.
When you want to rebrand, it can be tempting to fudge the cost model by leaving out programmatic costs or assuming that the cost of growth won't change. So if you really dislike your brand and find yourself wanting to game the numbers to make your case, here's some cold comfort: Dave Grohl, founder of Foo Fighters, has hated the name of his band since the start and told Conan O'Brien it's "the stupidest ***ing band name ever." Even the occasional rock idol has to stick with a dumb brand rather than start over!
2. Make sure Product is in the room
One powerful lesson from Momentive's story is that the brand was not yet part of the user experience when it made the change—and, according to its former CMO, that likely slowed down adoption. Brand is more than packaging—even when it's as simple as Asana's unicorns.
Every brand contact point builds loyalty, and every missing contact point increases costs.
3. Do your research
Then, when you're done, do more.
Underestimating peoples' emotional connections to a brand can be deadly. Making sure your research reaches the depth of that emotional connection requires collecting data through multiple sources and checking that none of your methods are structured so that people are motivated to tell you only what you want to hear.
If you can include your customers in the process—or crowdsource ideas without skewing results—even better.
Also, don't skip employee research. Before you start telling employees what's coming, get an honest assessment of the resistance you'll likely face. (Those of you who have struggled to sunset a beloved brand after a merger know the risk of underestimating an employee's brand loyalty!) And if you find leaders who insist they'll keep wearing those old killer pullovers, dig deeper.
Run your models... including with ridiculous assumptions. Gone are the days of predictable markets; in the past fifteen years, the world has experienced—among other things—two economic crashes, a pandemic, 15 of the 20 most expensive disasters in history, and the commercialization of artificial intelligence.
These are the days for anticipating how a new brand strategy might be affected by something wild and unexpected.
Be brutally honest. Aspirational is not good (we might say Momentive was aspirational in its plans to operationalize its new brand), but pessimistic is no better: Ford rebranded the Taurus to the Five Hundred partly because of a pessimistic interpretation of falling Taurus sales. In truth, people wanted the Taurus, just a better version of it than the company was producing.
Analyze sales trends and competitors as objectively as possible.
4. Run a soft launch
If possible, mitigate the risk of a potential boomerang by minimizing initial exposure, as the impact of a Boomerang-with-a-capital-B can be crushing: Coca-Cola dropped New Coke after only 79 days, but the world still remembers it some 14,000 days later.
Limiting risk is harder than ever today, but localizing the impact of a failure can be important. A corollary: if you know that a rebrand will have to happen, get started immediately. Every day you wait increases expense and risk.
5. Create a 360-degree activation plan
Activation doesn't end after an arbitrary campaign is done; it ends when you've replaced every instance of your old brand with your new one—including the new instances that pop up because of employees' old habits, partner and media mistakes, and the Internet's stubborn tendency to store digital copies of everything.
Companies tend to overweight activation plans to brand contact points at the top of the sales funnel while underweighting activation at the middle and bottom of the sales funnel, and—worse—shrinking employee and investor activation to a road show.
Send the signal that you're serious about making the new brand stick by demonstrating painstaking commitment down to the last detail, across all channels, for as long as it takes.
The One Time to Embrace a Boomerang Brand
SurveyMonkey, Ford, Tropicana, The Gap, and yes—way back in 1985—even Coke all got it right. When you are a market leader (and especially when your brand is a household name), you run with what's working. You protect the status quo and force the competition to invest in clever. When you innovate, you do it with one thing in mind and one thing only: raising the bar.
And if your company ever gets away from that—whether as a consequence of a change in strategy, a merger, or just plain boredom—the moment you find yourself wishing you were back to who you were, Boomerang!
More Resources on Rebranding
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