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Rebranding Lessons From Aol.2 Makeovers can boost a dying brand--the key is communications coupled with real changes.

By Aaron Kwittken Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Commonly called "My first internet," America Online has already been referred to as an internet dinosaur. As the company that pioneered mainstream internet access begins the next stage of its existence, a corporate facelift was a natural and necessary step in the process.

While it can be argued that the introduction of AOL's new identity as Aol. may not be an aesthetically pleasing transformation, AOL has been very successful in ensuring that its core audiences (advertisers, consumers and employees) are aware of all the internal and external changes to the brand and the significance behind the changes.

Over the last decade several large corporations (for examples: Accenture, Verizon, Cingular and Altria) have favored rebranding and renaming as a tactic to regain relevance and contemporary standing--or brand solvency in the case of GMAC with Ally. That is because refreshing your brand and image is a great and effective way to gain a second look from your customers, especially if you've lost relevance (or the attention of your audience). Small businesses can also benefit from repositioning in the marketplace if a strategic and comprehensive communication plan is implemented alongside it.

The Benefits of Brand Rejuvenation
Although AOL's makeover may in fact be a thinly veiled reaction to its failed marriage with Time Warner, the company's rebranding efforts have attracted widespread top-tier media attention and supplied the company with a sturdy soapbox for its spokespeople. Brand rejuvenations have the following potential benefits:

  • Provides an opportunity to communicate the shift in business model
  • Allows you to migrate your brand into new markets, new audiences
  • Can help you shed a negative reputation, or disguise negative events
  • Allows you to update the company's mission and vision and re-engage employees

Any companies makeover should include a visual component to help businesses re-establish the lines of communication with customers. Whether that's new packaging or a redesigned logo, these tools have the potential to engage audiences to rediscover the brand. Love it or hate it, America Online's new logo led the way for a series of media announcements and spearheaded a communications campaign informing its audience of the critical shift in business model.

That said, a truly successful rebrand needs a lot more than a new logo. Once the buzz wears off, you don't want customers thinking your attempts amount to nothing more than lipstick on a pig. Just remember how customers were quick to criticize Radio Shack's name change to "The Shack," and the media backlash that ensued once it was reported that there would be few changes in the company's actual offerings or internal brand identity.

Your Pre-Makeover Checklist
Before undertaking a brand revival there are some things you should do first, so if your business just needs a refresher (as opposed to complete brand resuscitation), read on.

  • Walk in your customers shoes: Become your customer for a day to better understand what they want.
  • Don't be superficial: Aim to tie your rebranding efforts to a fundamental shift within you company, and don't be afraid to talk about the strategic significance behind your change.
  • Crowd source: Continue to tap into your existing customer base for constant feedback and opinions, which should factor into your evolving communications planning.
  • Start from the inside out: Employees are your brand ambassadors. Begin the internal transformation early to ensure message consistency and distribution.
  • Learn to let go: It may be difficult to cut ties with the original brand identity, but you can't look forward if you're still looking back.

Aaron Kwittken

Global Chairman and CEO of Kwittken

Aaron Kwittken is global chairman and CEO of Kwittken, an award-winning PR agency headquartered in New York. The firm has offices in London and Toronto and boasts a client roster of iconic brands along with a staff of multi-specialists. Kwittken makes regular guest appearances on CNBC, FOX Business Network and Bloomberg TV to provide insights on matters involving reputation and brand management.

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