I've grown accustomed to her face: Rebranding raises delicate customer issues.
Today we'll talk about brand, brand migration, and how to structure a multi-channel marketing campaign that eases users from one brand to another. The example is Mailboxes, Etc.'s (MBE's) migration to The UPS Store. We'll examine several different channels, including the Internet, the stores themselves, and TV.
MBE moved into my neighborhood a few months ago. I've come to rely on its services for all my postal needs. In fact, I love the store, its owner, and its employees. The people are warm and friendly. The owner even offered me a soft drink on a particularly warm day. Now many MBE stores are changing their name to "The UPS Store." Will their Web sites also consolidate? Do I track packages at UPS.com, TheUPSStore.com, or MBE.com? Is a store by any other brand still the same? My needs haven't changed, but the store has. Are we still compatible?
On the surface, I can understand why the folks at UPS would want MBE's branding to change. UPS needs a competitive advantage over the FedEx stores. MBE is the largest chain of its kind, offering many more services than shipping. Clearly, an MBE has more to offer than a FedEx store. Unfortunately, the UPS brand isn't clearly linked to any of these other services.
MBE's press release states, "The UPS Store increased their overall UPS shipping volume by 70 percent," also mentioning store traffic increased. I'm curious as to what other branding tests it did. I have to assume a company as large as UPS has done its homework. It wouldn't make such a huge branding leap without a lot of research to back up its proposal. So I can't tell you UPS is wrong or in the long-term the idea is unsound. What I can tell you is I'm confused, and so is everyone I spoke to before writing this column.
My fears over the name change concern my basic daily needs. Will the UPS store still offer all the services I use MBE for, including, postal mail, FedEx, shipping supplies, packing, and mailbox rental?
Will store policies remain the same, or will there be new UPS policies? Will pricing change to reflect a stronger affiliation with UPS, and (therefore) a weaker affiliation with other carriers and brands? Will UPS competitors currently part of MBE (e.g., FedEx) stop providing services to The UPS Store? Will the entrepreneurial spirit I sense from the people who own/run the store near me be squelched under UPS? How will the Web sites converge? Will I still be able to track a package from any carrier service via the site? Will everyone wear those ugly brown shorts?
I've seen TV spots announcing the brand change. They say things like, "Now get even better prices on all your UPS needs." I usually use FedEx, not UPS. Can I still do that at The UPS Store? The marketing campaign for this brand migration doesn't address any of the needs I listed above. Any brand migration marketing campaign must take into account customer fears about the new brand. Why is it "bigger and better," not a cause for alarm, but for excitement? UPS failed to mitigate user fears and generated no excitement.
Part of the brand migration campaign is taking place online. Visit www.TheUPSStore.com, and you'll see a Flash presentation introducing you to the new store. Notice how everything is branded UPS. No other carrier or service provider is mentioned. The online marketing initiative reinforces my fears about the new store.
I did a little research and spoke to some owners of New York City MBE stores. I heard a statistic from one of them. It's anecdotal, but this guy is more in the loop than I'll ever be. He told me of 40 MBE stores in New York, only 10 decided to make the change to The UPS Store. The other 30 opted to remain Mailboxes, Etc.
Turns out my needs aren't so unique. When I asked why he decided to forgo the UPS name, he mentioned just about all the concerns listed above. As an entrepreneur, he likes running his own store. He feels he'd be just another employee working under UPS uniformity. He's sure he'd lose customers, as people walking by would equate The UPS Store with the FedEx Store, not realizing his store offers many other services. He also worries FedEx and other carriers will pull out, distancing even more customers from his business. After investing $250,000 to become an entrepreneur and his own boss, the idea of UPS coming in doesn't sound appealing.
To properly migrate a brand, you must do a lot of research, speak to your clients, and speak to partners before deciding on a new brand. We just completed this process in our company, now called The Aaronson Group. We understood how people viewed us, how we wanted to position ourselves, and what name best achieved that goal, in our eyes and in the eyes of our clients, partners, and prospects. The change was relatively minor. We certainly thought about a drastic name change, to something like "Interactive Loyalty Inc." Instead, we decided on a small evolution to connote our larger size.
That's what UPS should have done with MBE. Instead of completely changing the brand, it should have migrated MBE in small steps, connoting an expanded suite of UPS services and pricing. Just as there are Starbucks in Barnes & Noble stores and Dunkin' Donuts in some Stop & Shops, I could easily envision a UPS Store inside an MBE. Tucked in a corner, this store-within-a-store would give UPS the physical presence it craves, without sacrificing the MBE brand upon which users rely.
Your brand is the first, and arguably most important, part of your relationship with your customers. In the course of writing this column, I examined micro-details of brand management as well as brand management across multiple channels. Taking a step back and looking at the macro-brand management issues that MBE now faces when deciding whether to adopt the UPS brand brings us to a core issue that's familiar to readers of this column:
Your brand must address the core ways in which you serve customer needs. To create a good brand, it's necessary to understand those needs. The move from MBE to The UPS Store is based on UPS's need for a retail foothold, not the needs of MBE customers or prospects. The brand migration marketing strategy doesn't address user fears and, therefore, does not soften the transition. That's why this rebranding campaign will fail.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Until next time...
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