Evoke discovers what's in a name

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Driving a business at Internet speed can lead to accidents.

Recovering from just such a mishap is Evoke Inc., a Louisville, Colo.-based Web conferencing company that used to be known as VStream Inc. In February the start-up changed its name, and that is when its marketing problems began in earnest.

Evoke is relying on its ad agency, New York-based Greco Ethridge Group, to surmount steep challenges, the kind they don't teach you about in marketing class.

"We have our backs against the wall," said Paul Marobella, Greco Ethridge's chief relationship officer.

Three of the biggest marketing problems facing VStream--er, Evoke--are:

•Transferring VStream's brand equity to Evoke.

•Communicating the new name when the regulations surrounding Evoke's pending initial public offering restrict available media outlets.

•Achieving consistency when VStream creative is still running in selected publications.

The company adopted the VStream name shortly after its founding in 1997. Using some of its $110 million of venture capital funding, the company didn't begin widespread promotion of the VStream brand until January.

Quick change

But a month later, on Feb. 16, the dot-com formerly known as VStream announced its new name. Evoke initially gave no reason for the change, but a search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site reveals that the trademark "VStream" was registered in 1994 by Infonet Services Corp., El Segundo, Calif.

Evoke personnel declined to be interviewed, citing the SEC-mandated "quiet period" rules, but the company's public relations manager, Charly Rotermund, said it abandoned the VStream name because it had evolved beyond simple streaming media.

To promote the Evoke name, the company is running what Marobella calls a "bridge ad" as part of a $12 million campaign. The ad takes a lighthearted approach, closing with the line: "VStream is now Evoke. Same company. Better name."

"I think that's a relatively good solution," said James Gregory, CEO of Corporate Branding L.L.C., Stamford, Conn. "It's pretty clever, actually."

In its SEC filing, however, Evoke addressed the marketing difficulties posed by the new name: "These changes may confuse our customers, business partners and investors, which could harm our business."

Marobella downplays Evoke's challenges, discounting how much brand equity VStream could have accumulated in just a couple of months of advertising. "First of all, on Jan. 1, they had zero brand equity," he said. "We probably didn't move the needle that much."

Advertising restrictions

For Marobella, the pending IPO and the accompanying quiet period rules posed a bigger problem. While it prepares to go public, Evoke is limited to appearing in vertical publications. It cannot advertise in general business publications such as Business Week or The Industry Standard. It's a problem because spread ads with the VStream name ran prominently in those and similar magazines.

To circumvent this obstacle, Greco Ethridge suggested outdoor advertising, which is not limited by SEC regulations. So the Evoke name decorates scores of billboards in San Francisco, Denver, Austin and New York. It also appears on the sides of subway trains in Boston.

Evoke faces a final marketing quandary. In magazines like Fast Company, VStream committed to placements three months or more in advance. "A lot of VStream creative is locked in for April," Marobella says.

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