Monday, February 25, 2013

What's in a Name? Considerations for Brand Makeover

Brands, like people, can sometimes benefit from tweaks to their appearance. An updated logo, modifications of brand colors, and in the case of sports brands a new appearance for a mascot are examples of how brands are updated. It is not much different than a person going with a new hairstyle, switching from glasses to contact lenses, or adding variety to his or her wardrobe. But, one change most brands (and people) do not make is changing their name. An exception for brands is in the sports industry. It is not unusual for relocated franchises to change nicknames. What characteristics make sports brands a more likely candidate for changing brand names than other types of brands?

This question has come up most recently in the case of the New Orleans Hornets. The NBA team relocated from Charlotte in 2002 and kept the Hornets nickname that it had since beginning play as an expansion franchise in 1988. The rather generic name Hornets worked in New Orleans, as it did in Charlotte or would work in most any other market. If the nickname Hornets was not bad or an awkward fit (like that of the former New Orleans NBA team, the Jazz, in Utah), why would a brand makeover be undertaken more than a decade after the team relocated to the Big Easy?

Certain variables or market conditions set the stage for a more extreme brand makeover of a name change. Among the strongest of the forces are:

  • No strong connection between brand name and market exists
  • Brand does not have high equity or value
  • A fresh start is needed

The New Orleans situation resonates with all three of these considerations. First, the Hornets nickname had no particular connection to the New Orleans market. The brand could benefit from developing an identity more closely identified with the city. Second, although the Hornets nickname could be used indefinitely, it does not a particularly high level of brand equity. In contrast, when the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, the value of the Raiders name was so great there was no reason to consider making a name change. Third, the brand does not necessarily need a new start, but it has new ownership (New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson). Mr. Benson owned the rights to the name "Pelicans" and opted to re-brand the Hornets as the New Orleans Pelicans beginning with the 2013-2014 season.

Cynics might say that the brand makeover of the New Orleans Hornets is nothing more than a ploy to sell more jerseys and team merchandise. Fans will want to show off their loyalty to the team by wearing the new look. But, in the long run the New Orleans franchise made a wise decision. It has aligned its brand identity closely with its home market, strengthening bonds between New Orleans residents and "their" team.

ESPN.com - "Hornets to Officially Become Pelicans"

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