How to kill a brand without losing its fan base
Brands die every day, some rightfully so. But many go before their time, often in service of a new owner's strategy refresh. When that happens without a long-term migration strategy, customers might be disappointed.
Oracle, for example, acquired more than 50 companies in the last 8 years, including brands like BlueKai, Responsys and Eloqua, most of which were initially absorbed into Oracle's new marketing cloud. That led to confusion among some brand loyalists.
Jennifer Renaud witnessed this situation at Oracle, where she spent 3 years, including 20 months as global marketing lead on Oracle Marketing Cloud. And she saw it at Vertiv, where she now leads marketing for the $4.5 billion data center infrastructure company formerly known as Emerson Network Power that was rebranded as Vertiv after Emerson divested in 2016. Emerson Network Power/Vertiv has grown through acquisition of various brands including Liebert, Geist and Avocent. While none are household names, renaming them was like creating a “digital busy signal” for loyal customers. Renaud discusses the steps taken at both companies that helped recapture brand fan bases.
What happened as a result of the brand retirements at Oracle?
First, I'd like to give props to the team that was there before me, because they did the amazing job of creating a category called marketing cloud. The Oracle Marketing Cloud came to be by a number of acquisitions (Eloqua, Responsys, BlueKai, Maximizer). Part of their decision was to effectively rename each of those top brands to Oracle Marketing Cloud Marketing Automation and Oracle Marketing Cloud Cross-channel Orchestration, which created a couple of problems. No. 1, we actually had to explain what each of these was, when we already had Eloqua [which people knew]. And, No. 2, when people searched for Eloqua, they'd hit the site and they'd leave because there was no one there.
So when you retire a brand that people know, you disappoint loyal fans. Is there more to it than that?
There is more. When you take away a brand name, super fans lose a bit of their identify. The interesting thing about Eloqua especially, was that there were people who identified as “EloKings” and “EloQueens” because they were so into the brand. And then we took that away.
Were there other indications that killing the brand names was problematic?
Yes. We started really looking at absolutely everything that was going on with our digital assets, their bounce rates and time on page. We could start to see a couple of things. People were still searching or actually typing in Eloqua.com and Responsys.com, but they're landing on a page that says Oracle Marketing Cloud, and doesn't have the brand name on it, so they leave.
Did you notice this phenomenon with other retired brands?
Yes. It happened when I went to visit a partner who asked, “What did you guys do with Responsys?” That's when I really started diving into the questions. We went to the web team and said, “Can we just bring back the names? Can we just make sure they’re all over the website, so that it is Oracle Eloqua, Oracle Responsys, Oracle BlueKai? And will that help us?” It did. We started to see a material change in our engagement with our prospects and customers. That was incredibly important because, of course, you want to fill the funnel.
How did you discover that a similar issue might be present at Vertiv?
As it turns out, Liebert is an incredible brand in the data center space. So much so that, on one of my first customer visits, I walked in and said, “Hi, I'm Jennifer Renaud from Vertiv.” And the guy looks at me blankly and says, “I've never heard of you.” And I said, “Wow, because you've got a lot of our stuff in your data center.” And I said, “How about Liebert? He says with pride, “Oh, my God, do you want to see my Liebert?”
How did you make the case for reinvigorating some of these brands?
We did a test with one of our other brands, Avocent, after asking, "What if we took Avocent.com, which was pointing at Vertiv.com, and move it to its own page? Suddenly, from that search term, we went from bounces to a lot of on-page activity and growth like crazy. It was phenomenal. And we weren’t even doing any SEM at this point, we just wanted to point people searching for Avocent to Avocent.com.
Were there other tests that helped make the case to keep the older brands around?
I think the beauty of some of the things that we can do in marketing is really test what might work and what might not. We went to one event recently where the carousel just said Vertiv and Avocent. People come up to us and said, “Wow, I had no idea that you were here, because we didn’t see your name in the program guide.” It helps us a lot to get those brands up there [on the booth].
Is the simple lesson here to have a migration strategy when dropping brand names?
I do think so. It needs to be a well-thought-out, multi-year strategy. You need to think about what this is going to look like over time. You may change and evolve over time. You might say, “I want to be a ‘house of brands’ versus a ‘branded house’ over time.” You can make changes in that direction, but you've got to give yourself the space to make those changes.