Rebranding is risky, yet not the worst-case scenario for every startup, says guest author Andreas Mahringer. As cofounder of Record Bird, formerly PATIO, he highlights the ups, downs and pitfalls of the rebranding process.
About the author Andreas is the founder and CEO of Vienna-based Record Bird. After graduating in 'International Economics' and Business Sciences' from the University of Sydney and Innsbruck, Andreas has been working in the field of strategic planning and consulting in some of the world's leading advertising agencies and advised one of the largest government projects in Australia in their corporate communication strategy. Record Bird is the product of Andreas' passion for digital technology and music, with the ultimate goal of creating a frictionless information flow between artists and fans in the context of recorded music.
"In any case, you want to avoid rebranding. More often than not, it kills a young company." Lawyer #1
I remember those words, as if I was given the advice yesterday. In fact, it’s been more than 12 months since one fearful lawyer shared his rather drastic view on startups and branding with me: Rebranding is expensive, drains your resources and — even if done successfully — will take months and present a high operational risk.
So, (almost) before anything else, we went through pages and pages of trademark documents, finally filed for protection of our own trademark, got it approved and paid too much cash to lawyers and bureaucratic institutions for their services in the process. But, we had protected our own trademark. Not globally but at least in our test market: Austria.
Creating brand ‘value’
Photo credit: Andreas Mahringer
Over the next few months, we kept promoting our brand. We exhibited at the biggest tech conferences, presented at various community events, participated in startup competitions, and build email lists, social media presences...
What we didn’t foresee was that we had to make a strategic decision on the product side. We wanted to test our product/market assumptions as fast and economically as possible.
This led us to reconsider our mobile-first approach and develop our product as a web application. Only once we knew that we were onto something, we’d consider rolling out the service via mobile apps. While this was definitely the right choice to make, it changed everything on the branding side.
Naming the baby
Like our product, the former brand name — PATIO — was particularly designed for the mobile app market. Here’s some of the reasoning that went into the naming process:
- Uniqueness: at the time of conception, there were no apps with identical names in major app stores.
- Generic: In case of a pivot, a generic brand name wouldn’t limit our venture to the domain of ‘future music releases’.
- Narrative: PATIO (Spanish: patio [ˈpatjo]; “courtyard”, “forecourt”, “yard”) stood for the garden area of my co-founder’s house, where we used to sit down once a week and discuss the latest records we were excited about — an experience, which we planned to digitise.
- Legal: There was no trademark registered for a software company in our core markets.
New game, new rules
For a web product, the brand name PATIO turned out to be a full-on disaster:
You don’t go to getgoogle.net, if you want to look something up. With the shift from mobile to web, the domain name evolved to become the major access point for our product...
- Domain: We were forced to settle on getpatio.net. While for an app landing page this seemed somewhat okay, the domain would be terrible for hosting the product itself. You don’t go to getgoogle.net, if you want to look something up. With the shift from mobile to web, the domain name evolved to become the major access point for our product, therefore it had to be straight forward and highly memorable. patio.com had already been taken by one of the US’ largest outdoor furniture retailers, while patio.net and pat.io were just as unavailable.
- Search: As a web product, traffic would significantly depend on our search ranking. Yet, people look for ‘new lady gaga record’ or ‘new album by david bowie’ rather than ‘patio david bowie’. Even if they did, there was a good chance they’d find some outdoor furniture with David Bowie prints, rather than landing on our site.
- Descriptive: Similarly, even if our site would come up amongst the first couple of search results, would you rather click on the link to a descriptive site which was clearly related to music releases (your search intention) or on a generic one like PATIO?
- People: Finally — and we really had not anticipated this problem — people would have no idea how to spell and pronounce “PATIO” [ˈpatjo].
We realised that our chances of successfully launching our product would be directly handicapped by our current brand name, yet a potential rebranding was far from the worst-case scenario.
- Losing Value: We had done some promotion work, but we were still in pre-launch. If worst comes to worst, I’d single-handedly write everyone we have ever met a personal email, explaining our intentions behind the rebranding.
- Costs: The only costs would be the past legal fees and manpower which went into the making and protection of our current trademark and corporate identity, as well as an annual fee for our old domain provider.
- Emotions: We realised that the only thing stopping us from diving head first into the rebranding process was our emotional binding with a visual identity, which we dearly loved. The moment we became aware of it though, also this last mental barrier had been taken down, as we knew that we’d never allow emotions to stand in the way of success. Not when it was about pride, nostalgia and a rebranding. Realisation did the trick. So, rebranding it was!
The new brand name - Record Bird - didn’t only come unexpectedly natural and effortless to us, but it also fulfilled all criteria we had previously specified:
- Domain: We got recordbird.com — what more do you want?
- Descriptive: The brand name establishes a clear connection to our product and market. On top, it includes a relevant keyword (‘record’) from an SEO standpoint (‘new record by…’).
- Narrative: Record Bird provides you with a bird’s-eye view of the non-transparent landscape of future music releases. The narrative clearly works.
- Spelling & Pronunciation: Using everyday words like ‘record’ and ‘bird’ should help prevent misspellings and faulty pronunciations, even for ESL folks.
- Trademark: Didn’t check, don’t care. If this should ever become a problem, we’ll deal with it once it does.
Branding won’t win your war, but it will ideally give you an unfair competitive advantage. It will strengthen your troops in the one or the other battle. Small battles admittedly. But don’t let your emotions get in the way of these little wins. They’re still a win.