We are all used to people’s names changing for one reason or another – usually for marriage or divorce, or the latest iteration of a pop star’s career. But when it comes to brands changing their name, it can happen for a myriad of reasons. And for some, it may not be smooth sailing.
Through the years, we have all seen brands invest in a total overhaul of their identity; some for the better, some not so much. Anyone remember Consignia? In January 2001, Royal Mail, a brand established in 1635, announced it would be rebranding as Consignia at a cost of £1.5m. Customers ferociously disagreed and just over a year later (and around £1m), the brand was reverted.
We also became familiar with the Livestrong Foundation. Having formally been known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, after confirmation he had illegally been using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his professional career, Armstrong’s charity changed its name in a rebranding effort in 2012.
Then we only have to look at the recent debacle with P&O Ferries, alongside P&O Cruises, to understand the full implication of a brand’s name. P&O Cruises launched an advertising campaign to distance itself from the P&O Ferries business, as its own brand health declined.
A couple of decades ago, a change of name or brand mark meant updating letterhead and the sign above the door. Today, things could be seen as being a little more complicated. Let’s take a well-known home courier service, for example, that recently underwent a major rebrand from Hermes to Evri. It seems that for many, the first time people even knew about the change was when the parcel arrived on the doorstep. But should it be as simple a process as receiving some new post bags?
Firstly, rebranding at scale is a huge undertaking, and Evri are by no means alone in struggling to initiate a successful launch. Our team at Fountain were keen to learn more about the transition, and found a few things that other brands may find useful to consider when opting for a change of identity:
- Old branding – Hermes branding can still be found on many major websites’ returns and delivery pages, which could be confusing and send mixed messages to customers. Prior to launch, brands should work with all their major retailers and ask them to manually update URLs and anchor texts in line with the change.
- Backlinks – Most have been redirected from the Hermes domain to Evri; a ‘quick fix’ rather than a pre-planned outreach and reclamation strategy. Best practice is to implement manual changes from the linking website’s site for any pages that will be deleted. This leaves the website in a better position as links point to relevant pages, without redirects diluting link equity.
- Bidding – Evri is unable to be first in line in terms of ad position and impression share when bidding on ‘Hermes’ brand keywords. As they don’t have the associated Quality Score Ranking, it’s like bidding on competitor brand names – the answer is to use the brand name in the ad copy if the trademark belongs to your organisation and talk to Google so they understand what’s happening.
Can a rebrand deliver?
The good news is that a rebrand can work – if done for the right reasons and, even more importantly, in the right way. The Fountain team have put together the following guide of things to consider in order to make delivering a rebrand as pain-free as possible:
1 – Plan ahead. Before making the big switch, have the correct tools and plans in place to help migrate successfully. Here are some important things to consider:
- Signal the change – Before migrating, use the current website to send signals about the upcoming change; this is helpful to users and Google. Signals can be generated in several ways, through on-site content and metadata changes as well as all forms of PR.
- Google Search Console – The verified old website will have lots of data to benchmark from. Use this to verify the new site and benefit from Google’s Change of Address feature.
- Google Analytics – Another treasure trove of data is available here, but you should also set up GA4 for the new site too. Admin access is essential, as without the right permissions, content cannot be added.
- Search engine crawling – Block Google and other search engines from crawling the staging or production website.
- Activity – If there isn’t going to be a break in paid activity, get the URLs for the new site in advance so they can be implemented before it goes live. Ads need updated landing pages to direct traffic to.
2 – Benchmark the current site performance using Google Analytics, Google Search Console and a link building research tool. Look at website performance across a year to gauge for seasonality and other external factors. Some things to include:
- Organic visits, conversions and number of clicks during the last 12 months
- Keywords the brand already ranks for
- A list of all backlinks
3 – Prepare for a website migration. Things can go wrong and cause the brand to lose traffic, rankings and revenue. To be successful, put in place a website migration checklist and split into the following four stages:
- Phase one: Benchmarking & redirect strategy
- Phase two: Staging site checks
- Phase three: Launch Day checks
- Phase four: Performance review
As part of the planning stage for migration, you should also consider the following:
- PR – Use the rebrand as an opportunity to gain mass press coverage and links to the new website with the correct anchor text. Tie up traditional PR and brand awareness with Digital PR and gain some backlinks, with branded anchor text to the homepage.
- Bidding – If people aren’t aware of the rebrand, they won’t be searching for the new name. All of the brand awareness created over the years will have gone, so invest that money into rebuilding the new brand.
- Conversion tracking – Whether the existing domain gets a ‘face lift’, or a brand migrates to a completely new domain, conversion tracking will be affected to some extent. New snippets and/or tags need to be placed on to the rebranded website and tested to make sure everything is tracking correctly.
- Ads – Assets in ad accounts will be outdated, including branding in ad copy, imagery for display ads and any video ads. Consider certain extensions like search image extensions if they contain brand imagery, sitelink extensions, as the domain will likely be different, landing page URLs and static UTM tracking. If a new ads account is created, all the data accumulated and associated with the account will be lost.
- Advanced controls – Use advanced controls in the bid strategies section of Google Ads so the account is aware that there may be a fluctuation in conversion rates (which there very likely will be) and doesn’t panic! Don’t keep this active for too long or it will mess with the data.
- Anchor text – This is critical when it comes to off-page SEO; if there are thousands of links on other websites containing the brand name, it makes it confusing for Google to rank the new brand appropriately.
- Hosting – It will take a while for the full transition to happen, so make sure both websites can be accessed throughout the process.Change for the better
It is vital that organisations take the time and ask themselves difficult questions at the very beginning to work out if a brand really does need to change its name, or whether perhaps it’s just a flight of fancy. If it is indisputable that the change is for the better, putting together a strategy which includes all the milestones (pitfalls) along the way, with relevant members of the team being brought in at the right time, is the only pathway to success. There are no shortcuts to rebranding properly, as there is only one opportunity to launch and be deemed a triumph by customers and colleagues alike.
Invest the time, choose the right people, follow the strategy, and the rebrand will be delivered on time, Evri-time.
Article contributors at Fountain Partnership – Libby Masters, Senior SEO Digital Marketing Consultant, Matt Hartley, Digital PR Marketing Consultant, Matt Meazey, Senior SEO Digital Marketing Strategist and Cieren Ware, Digital Marketing Paid Media Consultant.