How to Successfully Rebrand Your Promo Products Business

Successful rebranding can take your company to a whole new level.

After 50 years in business, Fey Promotional Products Group (asi/54040) felt it was high time to invest in something new.

The company’s corporate execs decided to enhance their manufacturing capabilities by acquiring other firms, so in the past seven years, the supplier acquired two companies (Reflectix in 2009 and Mi Line in 2013) to boost its production capabilities. In considering acquisitions, “it was a totally different type of manufacturing process, a totally different type of decorating process, and it was a totally different type of product line,” says Ron Williams, director of marketing for Fey, based in Edgerton, MN. “So that’s what was interesting to us.”

>>Rebranding Success Story: Axis Promotions

But the maneuvers also introduced a common challenge: how to rebrand a company now that its production, staffing and corporate identity has changed in the aftermath of an acquisition.

Fey’s enhanced production capabilities provided an opportunity to position the company in a whole new way. By adding new products (more than 100 since 2013), Fey aimed to make the company ubiquitous – a go-to supplier for a wide swath of distributors. The company’s new slogan (“Putting Your Message in Every Home”) is the main driving force for every product brand the company produces, says Williams. And the company diversified its product positioning as well. For example, the company’s pizza cutter, which has been around for years, was given a healthier spin by repositioning it as a vegetable, herb and spice chopper.

Fey is not alone in its re-evaluation. At some point, nearly every distributor or supplier feels compelled or inspired to revamp its image in the name of enhancing their market position. Whether that means rebranding through an acquisition, product development, name and logo change or an alternative approach to conducting business, how a company rebrands – as much as the reason behind it – can make or break a brand’s success at rebirth. “Brand equity,” says Dawn Edmiston, clinical associate professor of marketing at William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, “is your single greatest asset.”

How and why companies rebrand can have a huge impact on their success moving forward. Perhaps the most important thing is figuring out what your company’s purpose is to begin with – one of the most difficult objectives to gain clarity on, according to branding gurus. That can lead to companies building “buzz around a new brand before the actual organization is really aligned with that new brand,” says Karen Leland, founder of Sterling Marketing Group in New York and author of The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand.

In fact, too many small-business owners think rebranding means simply coming up with a new logo or website. (Or even a name change, but Edmiston says too often “a rebrand fails when companies choose a trendy name.”) A logo or website is simply adjunct activity. The real point of a rebrand, says Paul DiModica, CEO of marketing and sales consultancy Value Forward Group and author of Value First, Brand Second, is to successfully identify and communicate a company’s unique market position in a way that inspires others to buy. What many small businesses don’t realize, adds DiModica, is what motivates customers to buy – influences that must be communicated within a company’s brand identity. Does your company increase the buyer’s income? Decrease their expense? Manage risk and consequences? Make them more agile in their marketplace? How does the product make the buyer feel?

Whether or not these five apply to every distributor, supplier or customer, companies must think about “why do people buy, why won’t they buy from me, and how do I create value people believe in,” DiModica says. Those questions particularly apply in a commoditized marketplace. If promotional product distributors are seen as being able to provide the same products and services, says Nancy Shenker, founder and CEO of theONswitch, a New York-based marketing consultancy, it’s important to identify a brand differentiator and leverage that when recasting a company’s image in the marketplace. “What is that extra thing that will make them pick you?” she says.

That was certainly the case with Golden Pacific (asi/55549), a supplier of luggage and assorted bags based in Pomona, CA. After a strong hold in both the retail and promotional product marketplaces for more than 25 years, the company began to see its ad specialty market position “languish” says Dan McEntee, the company’s president, who was brought in last March to reinvigorate the company brand. McEntee says the company wanted to “get back to its core” as a promotional product supplier, and also pinpoint Golden Pacific’s true market advantage that would compel clients to choose it, even if they could find similar products elsewhere. It quickly became clear that the company’s production – and ultimately its market advantage – lies in the fact that the company designs and owns the factories in which its products are made. In that way the company “has more control than many suppliers,” McEntee says. And that gives clients peace of mind.

For many small-business owners – distributors and suppliers included – figuring out what their strongest market position is can be daunting, if not downright unknowable. How do you know where you shine brightest in the industry? Look at your brand more objectively, suggests Tanya Korpi Macleod, president and CEO of Macleod and Co., a Minneapolis-based marketing agency. Questions to ask should include: What problems are you solving? What’s the customer journey you provide? For companies unable to answer those questions, it can be helpful to identify your competitors. “Define your competitors and you have something that will help you,” Macleod says.

Additional insight can be gained by identifying where your brand “lives” most, she adds. For example, are prospects and clients most likely to see your company online, or on trucks or the side of a building? Where do your company’s marketing messages reside most often? Identifying that point of contact can help companies realize where customers connect most with them.

That insight recently helped Simba (asi/87296). Looking intensively at competitors, trade show comparisons and reviewing others online led the Oxnard, CA-based supplier to rebrand itself as a promotional product company rather than solely a trophy and awards supplier as they had previously. In the most objective way they could, Simba execs reviewed the company’s book of business and “saw that sales were leaning toward the promotional industry,” says JC Lombardo, the company’s customer service and marketing manager. But the “look and feel of the logo and presence [in the marketplace] were really murky,” Lombardo says. In addition, their industry image was of a firm that serviced mom-and-pop shops – a position that, while adequate, wasn’t emblematic of the large corporate orders the supplier was capable of and eager to service.

Along with redefining its perception, Simba unveiled a modernized logo. Experts agree that a company’s logo says as much about its brand and market position as its products or customer service policies do. But rebranding consultants also caution business owners to be wary of rethinking a logo and nothing else (unlike Simba initiating the logo change as part of a greater strategy). “One of the mistakes companies make is they do this weird thing where they think rebranding is coming up with a new logo or new tagline,” says Leland.

“That’s creating a new visual brand, but that’s not rebranding,” she adds. “The logo’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the whole picture.” Rebranding, in fact, involves not only logo redesign with a potentially new tagline, but also corporate identity and philosophy, customer perceptions, even an intangible customer impression that can leave clients with an emotional or visceral connection to their experience with a brand.

Constructing policies and practices to back up that brand identity is also crucial. When Gateway CDI (asi/202515) was acquired by Brand Addition, Europe’s largest distributor, the company conducted countless internal conversations about how to handle the change. “How do we answer the phones? What do we do about email signatures? What do our websites say? What do our catalogs say?” says Chuck Fandos, U.S. CEO for the Saint Louis-based distributor. In the end, Fandos says, the company decided a quick approach was the best one: changing building signage, business cards, websites and other collateral and touchpoints as quickly as possible.

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