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Jun 07, 2004
How To

How to Switch Brand Names Without Confusing Your Marketplace: palmOne's Successful 4-Step Process

SUMMARY: When Palm split into two companies 18 months ago, the handheld division had to change its brand name to palmOne. In our interview, palmOne VP Marketing Page Murray details the four steps he and his team took, including:

- How to research new brand ideas in the marketplace
- How to select all-new product names & logos
- How to sell your internal staff on the new brands

Their efforts paid off - handheld sales rose to three million in 18 months:
"There was a time in the not too distant past when Palm was a company, a handheld product, and an operating system," says Page Murray, VP Marketing, palmOne.

In a situation like that, tension comes into play when licensees such as Samsung start to wonder if, since they're competing with a Palm handheld and operating on a Palm operating system, the Palm handhelds might have an inside track, Murray says.

So in October 2003, shareholders voted to "split into two things, the handheld and the operating system." The operating company became PalmSource; the hardware company acquired Handspring, Inc. (its third largest competitor) and became palmOne.

palmOne then needed to expand its franchise by building a wider customer base, going after both individual and enterprise customers.

"How do you take an incredibly strong brand, give the company a chance to compete, and not confuse the customer?" Murray asks. It was incredibly complicated but the company made it work, selling three million units of a new brand in 18 months.

Here's how palmOne did it:

Build sub-brands

"We had to spin the company off. We launched these two sub-brands," explains Murray.

To create the sub-brands, the team looked at consumer perception of the current brand. "As we tried to go out to mass audience, people would say, Yeah, I know what a Palm is, but that's something for a professional and I'm just a busy stay-at-home mom," he says. "But at the same time, others would say, I'm not going to buy a Palm, I'm an enterprise, and that's something they sell at Best Buy."

How could they grow the Palm brand and appeal to both audiences?

o Step 1. Bring in outsiders (the best in the field)
"People are really passionate about the brands they've given birth to," Murray says. "It helps to have somebody removed from the process."

Murray's team had a company to help with the analytics of the process (If they came up with a generic name [instead of continuing to be Palm], would they have to lower their price? Would competitors take a couple of extra points of market share?) and another company to help with the branding.

The team came up with four different scenarios about where the brand might live, with the pros and cons of each.

"It's not a small decision, sharing a brand versus creating a new brand," Murray says.
"You have to have total trust in your branding or identity company."

o Step 2. Define desired brands attributes

The team came up with a list of words that described attributes of each brand. These descriptive words included:

Business brand -- powerful, secure, manageable, nimble/flexible, robust, enterprise, serious about, thought leader, good value, pioneering.

Consumer brand -- fun, delightful, witty and intelligent humor, don't take self too seriously.

Parent brand -- simple, easy to use, human, desirable, elegant, authentic, personal, reliable, innovative, smart, egalitarian, empowering, intuitive, pragmatic, useful.

o Step 3. Name brainstorming and research

The team came up with over 200 different names for the brands, then conducted research to discover trademark issues (could they get the rights to the name in multiple languages?) and language appropriateness (did possible names translate well?).

o Step 4. Focus groups

With a short-list of 17 possible names for the two brands, the team conducted 12 focus groups, asking members to match images with names, match names with companies (Palm or competitor), and to pick a name and create their own small electronic device.

Zire™ became the consumer product. "It basically came out of the mouths of our test subjects. Like desire, it's whatever you want this thing to be," Murray says.

Tungsten™ became the professional product brand. "Not only is Tungsten an element," Murray says, "it also has a cool connotation. Tungsten is the material in a light bulb which is the universal symbol of innovation."

Evolve original brand images to fit new brands

"So now you've effectively created two product lines, but now you have to evolve Palm, because there's no way for both to be Palm," Murray explains.

"We had to make sure there was a distinct personality in the way we communicate, and the main way we communicate is through our products," he says. "People look at their Palms an average of 14 times a day."

They asked themselves whether the original Palm colors (blue and silver) made sense. "Blue is where every one of our competitors are," Murray says.

Instead, Murray's team took the two colors of the sub-brands (the electric orange of Zire and deep red of Tungsten), and created a new logo for palmOne. Then, in a high speed transition, they cycled out old images from Palm to palmOne in a matter of four months.

So the company's primary direction was, "Let's not go out and throw money at this problem and try to advertise our way to awareness," Murray says. "Let's just refine, and we did that through standard communication."

The team also created a short animation piece that brings together the logo of the products and the company, which plays whenever a user starts up a Palm. "We insinuate the logo and branding elements into tutorials, on the Web, on handheld products, on everything we do," he says.

Communicate internally -- often and well

Murray's team they road shows to every functional group in the company, from engineering to global supply chain to product management. The first show presented, in a very abstract way, why the company needed to create the sub-brands and what had necessitated the change.

The second show toured once the new names had been confirmed. It included videos of the focus groups and of enterprise groups talking to the camera about what the new names meant to them.

The show also played on the future, imaging products -- such as wireless mp3 players that could strap onto a wrist like a watch -- and mocking them up with the branding.

"Some of the names that worked really well with entry level products began to disintegrate once you moved to the next level of products," Murray says. "We showed why some of those didn't work."

The face-to-face presentations were important for recognizing how emotionally attached people were. "There were a lot of people who thought we were just crazy," he says. "It was good to allow people to vent their frustrations and their own ideas."

Though no great epiphanies came out of the internal meetings, most employees now think the change makes sense.

The shows also let employees know how it important it was that the information remained close to the vest. But to be sure, Murray's team provided a smokescreen, because dozens of Web sites were speculating on the company's next product.

"We registered a wide range of names and not all of them were real," he says. "The people who sit and look at every registration filing had different names to look at: Zire and Zeld and Skiff. They didn't know which to go with. Tossing confusion into the mix was good."

Changing a brand is a lot like renovating a house. "It will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think," Murray says.
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