Though fraught with dangers, rebranding can help companies reap rich dividends

For several years in the past, companies in Oman were operating with the same look and logo, which they designed decades ago. The reluctance to go in for an image makeover stemmed from the fear that consumers, already used to correlating the product with a particular colour or design, may not accept the new look.

But now with the opening up of markets and increased competition several companies have taken up the challenge of changing the way they look. Rebranding is now the catchphrase of the sultanate's corporate sector as the needs and priorities of its consumers have undergone a steady but dramatic change over the years. In tune with the globalisation of products and services, the corporate sector has been focusing on major repositioning strategies in every aspect of their product, right from packaging to logo.

And the exercise has proven fruitful. Companies ranging from airlines to mineral water producers have gone in for rebranding in the last couple of years and say it has been worth the trouble. People go for rebranding to give a new lease of life to a brand that has reached the saturation point of its life cycle. The question on whether to go for a complete rebranding exercise depends on the stage at which the brand has reached in comparison with its competitors," says Radha Mukherji, executive director of DDB. Rebranding offers an opportunity to create a new identity that captures the essence of what the company stands for and what it has to offer by way of products and services. Although it is a costly affair, it provides an opportunity to breathe new life into the operation.

Success stories
That is exactly the reason why Oman Air went in for a rebranding exercise. "The old logo gives a national image with the khanjar and the colour of national flag. This was suitable when it was a regional airline. Since we are embarking on a massive expansion with long-haul routes, we have to enhance our image," says Usama Karim al Haremi, head of corporate communications and media, Oman Air.

He explains that once an airline expands on a global level it needs to convey a commercial image, rather than a national one. "We are still attached to Omani tradition. But the new image will make the airline more acceptable among its potential travellers." He adds that for any rebranding exercise to be successful, it has to be supported with a massive and well-planned media advertisement campaign. Oman Air is advertising on the BBC and CNN.

"The fruits of rebranding are yet to come. I think it will pay rich dividends in the long-run," Haremi says. In fact, the year 2009 is a crucial year for the airline in view of its expansion programmes, which include more long-haul routes. Senior officials of other companies say that the benefits of rebranding have been manifested in both tangible and intangible ways.

A R Srinivasan, general manager of Al Ahlia Insurance, says there has been a substantial increase in awareness of his company among potential customers, ever since the rebranding exercise. "The visibility has improved and there is a perceptible change in the approach and dynamism of employees. Along with the logo, we have changed our approach and outlook as a more customer-friendly organisation."

Al Ahlia Insurance, which had a fort as its logo for more than two decades, did away with that image in favour of a vibrant and bold logo that reflected the company's global profile. A modern logo, according to Srinivasan, represents his company's global approach to local problems or insurance requirements. "Each company's insurance requirement is a problem for the management, which we want to resolve using our global reach and experience," he says.

Pankaj Chugh, general manager of National Mineral Water Company (NMWC), which underwent a total revamp of its packaging and logo, says three factors prompted them to go in for a rebranding exercise. There was a need to project a more contemporary image and also to keep in mind consumer convenience when drinking water.

There was also the desire to be in line with, or ahead of the competition. Several aspects like how to hold a bottle easily to pour water into a glass were taken into
consideration, while designing the new bottle. "We had to change the shape of the bottle and label from paper to BOPP. It was a tedious exercise, which took more than a year. We had a series of group discussions and consumer research," explains Chugh.

But the effort has been worth it. "There has been a very tangible benefit after we changed our packing and logo. Sales have picked up substantially with a healthy two-digit growth. However, the most important benefit is that rebranding has given us an edge in a competitive market," says Chugh. "There are many single brand companies. However, in our case, we have three brands - Tanuf, El Jabal el Akhdar and Salsabeel - each with different brand positioning and different target market.

While Salsabeel is offered in bulk packaging of five gallons, Tanuf is the premium brand and Jabal Akhdar targets the mass market. Chugh says the company has been successful in positioning them differently with pricing and package design.

The Oman Development Bank (ODB), which has undergone a rebranding exercise early this year, was able to reinforce the bank's achievements in the past three years, says Samir al Bashir, general manager. "Our customers started looking at the bank as a major institution that offers various loans to development projects. The role of the bank is completely reflected in the new logo." The logo was designed keeping development in mind and therefore, extra emphasis has been given to the letter 'D'.

It signifies the bank's entry into a new era to become more customer-oriented and offers quick and quality services to its customers by professional and qualified staff. The three Ds in motion stands for the bank's high aim and the colours, blue, golden and green are indicative of the three main areas financed by ODB - fisheries, industries/handicrafts and agriculture, respectively.

Concern areas
Experts agree that rebranding is an expensive and difficult exercise, which calls for massive media campaigns. "Five years ago, some companies took a bold step and the results were not very encouraging. They knew there was a need to change for a contemporary look. But only if the consumers can perceive the change and appreciate it, will any rebranding exercise become successful. In the interiors, many people correlate products with the visual graphic…give me this or that. If it is changed, people will not be able to correlate a brand with certain colours. However, this tendency is changing with more educated customers and the development of the market," says Srinivasan.

If a product's brand equity is not strong enough, it could be a risky idea to change the logo or colour. Chugh says, "As people are getting more educated, they accept the change in the design, knowing that it is the same product. In some developed countries, packaging keeps changing." According to him, consumer goods manufacturers should not go for rebranding unless they see a tangible reason for change.

The experience of several firms shows that they have gained from rebranding. Yet it is an attempt fraught with pitfalls and the danger of failure. One thing everyone is clear about is that any rebranding exercise needs to be supported by a well-calculated advertisement campaign to create awareness. It is a costly and lengthy process, but done the right way, it is indeed an exercise that will enable companies reap rich dividends."

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