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What makes me an expert on when and how to change your company name or rebrand? My family business was originally in fuel oil heating (think propane heating). My dad and my uncle were always acquiring companies because urban renewal had chased our customers out of our service area. When they acquired a new company, they thought people wanted to do business with a familiar company name.
Well, skip many years ahead, and my brothers and I are at work alongside my dad (as my uncle had passed away). Anyway, one cold day in February, I went to a Super Bowl party and heard a couple of people getting into a heated argument. Naturally, I got closer so I could hear what a couple of fellow New Yorkers were arguing about.
One of them said to the other, “I have the best heating company there is.”
The other replied, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I have the best heating company!”
I asked them both which company they used, and they told me the names. I gulped. Both were using me, but they had no idea we were all one company! Worse, four other companies we also owned were in the same situation.
The next day, I told my two brothers and my dad what had happened. My dad reached for the phone as soon as I stopped talking, so I asked him, “What are you doing?”
My dad replied, “I’m calling a friend who can help us fix this. He is a big-time marketing expert from Madison Ave.”
I asked, “Why would he take your call?”
Dad said, “We were childhood friends. He had a disability and appreciated that I defended him when others would pick on him. His name is Leo.”
A few days later, I was on the phone with Leo Baron, who became my marketing guru. All the phenomenal marketing lessons he taught me formed the basis of Marketing Power, which is what I’ve taught my one-to-one clients for more than 20 years now to great success.
One of Leo's rules for working with him was that I would need to trust him — especially when he wanted to do something new and bold. This made me raise an eyebrow, but my dad was a great judge of character, so I was pretty confident Leo would steer us in the right direction.
The ugliest green
At our first meeting, he asked, “Do you know the two reasons a company should change its name?” I said I didn’t.
He continued: “It’s either to announce that companies are merging or growing in a good way or to distance itself from trouble. Luckily for you, Al, you’re getting all your companies married up under one great brand. The name should be something the customers already know. Something the companies have in common.”
I told him the five different names of our companies. Leo wrote them down and played around with different choices. He settled on Oil Services Inc. (OSI for short) and created a logo for us.
“Now, let’s select a unifying new color for your trucks as we’re not only unifying under one name, we’re using this to create a great rebrand,” he said.
I told him, “The law in New York City requires that fuel oil trucks be green. And not just any color green. Only one of these six colors will do.” I passed him the color chart.
He pointed at one of the six shades and said, “This will do nicely.”
I said, “Leo, that’s the ugliest green on the page! It sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Leo said, “Which is precisely why I picked it.”
I continued my protest. “But …”
Leo said, “Al, I’m not asking you to wear a suit this color. I want your trucks to be visible at a distance, and this will do the trick. And when you paint the new OSI logo on your trucks, put it near the back of the truck, not in the center. And tilt it at a 45-degree angle.
“And you know how your current trucks have phone numbers, radio towers, and boiler installation promotions? The only thing I want to see on your trucks is your new name and logo. If they’re interested, they’ll find your name in the phone book and call.” (Today, of course, they would Google it!)
I visualized this bright green truck with the off-center logo, and I figured the staff would think I had lost my mind.
But I trusted Leo.
Once we had the trucks painted (of course, these days, they’re wrapped), it suddenly looked as if we had twice as many trucks on the road. While driving around town, people would see the distinctive green of our trucks with the new logo from blocks away. We were different!
Even my competitors called. They all told me they loved the new look and could I do the same for them!
Now the only name our customers saw was OSI. And OSI became everybody’s favorite heating company at most Super Bowl parties from then on.
Let’s assume you are lucky enough to hire your own Leo. You’ve decided on a new name and logo change for your company or, as in our case, one new name for a bunch of companies.
The next step is to let your customers know about the change. You can and should do this through both snail mail and email.
Here’s the key: Make sure you put it on your old letterhead and mail it in your old envelopes. The letter should tell customers a brief story of why you are changing the company name and use the opportunity to highlight some benefits of using your services.
If you’re also sending an email blast (and I recommend you do), use your old logo and email signature so it’s something they will recognize.
In Part 2 of this column, I will share a sample of this letter and a bunch of great tips for successfully executing a company name change and rebranding.
Doing a company name change in the right way can increase awareness of your brand and reduce confusion in the marketplace. And that’s a good thing for everyone.