Sept. 15--More than a decade ago, the Web-based business Rob and Ryan Weber launched out of their dorm room at St. Cloud State University was called Freeze.com.
In 2007, the business morphed into W3i. The name was chosen to incorporate its move to promotion of interactive services on the World Wide Web, but also was shorthand for the Webers and their other brother, Aaron, who helped the business generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from its Sartell headquarters before he left for other pursuits.
In the past few months, the company -- which has more than 170 employees and satellite offices in Minneapolis and San Francisco -- has become NativeX. That reflects that a growing portion of its business is coming from native advertising with mobile apps.
NativeX is one of dozens of area businesses that have changed their identity in recent years using a technique called rebranding.They range from the large -- such as Cold Spring Granite, which shortened its name to Coldspring -- to the small: Clear Waters Outfitting has become CW Outfitting.
In St. Cloud, Anderson Trucking Service rebranded its logo late last year. In Melrose, Stearns Vet Outlet became Leedstone. And, after more than 110 years, First National Bank of Cold Spring this summer became Granite Community Bank, a move to distinguish it from other First National banks and to coincide with opening a new building on Highway 23.
So why so many new brands?
"My sense is it may seem like it's happening more often now because businesses and industries are being invented faster than ever," said Andy Johnson, CEO of NativeX, who has been with the company almost six years. "We're an example of it ... the pace of business and life in general is accelerating. When new markets open up, you have to be prepared to take advantage of those."
Rebranding is not a decision to be taken lightly. Such efforts can require the help of public relations agencies and usually mean changing a host of collateral material (think signs, brochures, business cards, forms, clothing and websites -- anything with the former logo or name). National companies can spend millions of dollars on the effort. NativeX, while not pinpointing the exact cost, spent well into six figures.
There's also the risk of confusing customers and even alienating employees.
"It rarely happens that a company's rebranding effort goes down a rabbit hole," said Garth Harris, an assistant professor of marketing at St. Cloud State University. "You don't really see failures, but you also don't see the money that was needed to spend to make something work."
The risk of rebranding is in losing years or decades spent in building equity in brands that become well known. Changing that can have real financial consequences.
Harris said a legendary example of a rebranding effort gone awry came in the 1980s when Coca-Cola introduced New Coke only to have consumers reject it. The company restored the classic version.
While there are some risks, the benefit of rebranding, Harris says, is the ability for a company to establish the image it wants on a clean slate.
"You see some companies want to create a new identity if they were connected to negative publicity," Harris said. "That's why some of the companies involved in the Enron crisis shed their old image.
"Rebranding can also be strategic if your market has shifted, because it can allow you to communicate to new clients. Most of the time, you're going to see minor changes to react to the needs of the customer -- freshening the look of a logo to time with a new ad campaign. Rebranding is kind of like redoing your kitchen. You don't do it very often, but you don't want it to look like it's the 1970s, either."
Ronn Paulson is president of Thelen, a St. Cloud advertising and marketing agency. He has worked with various clients on rebranding.
"The connotations of a name change over time," Paulson said. "Has it become a limiting factor?