The sign at the entrance states proudly “New York Board of Trade”. Yet the financial exchange in lower Manhattan where futures contracts for commodities including coffee, cocoa and frozen orange juice are traded has not been known by that name since 2007.
In that year, the InterContinental Exchange, a company based in Atlanta, purchased the Nybot and changed its name to ICE Futures US. While the new name has been accepted by the traders who work there, the entrance sign remains a thorn in ICE’s side, thwarting its attempts to rebrand the exchange fully.
It illustrates the challenges for companies that change their names, even for one like ICE, which has considerable experience in such exercises – having acquired nine companies and undertaken seven corporate rebrandings since it was founded in 2000.
As the global economic downturn reshapes the corporate landscape, such renaming exercises look set to become more common as companies are bought, sold and struggle to emerge from bankruptcy. And obstacles may lurk in surprising places.
“In this day and age, you’d think the hardest thing would be to handle the proliferation of the Nybot brand on the web, with all the millions of documents already out there,” says Kelly Loeffler, ICE’s vice-president for investor relations.
“But actually the hardest place has been the Nybot building – the landlord won’t let us change our sign. We ordered the sign nearly two years ago and we’ve been petitioning for 18 months. That’s one of the challenges you wouldn’t have foreseen.”
Such frustrations are familiar to Edward Snyder, dean of the University of Chicago’s business school (pictured above). He recently oversaw the rebranding of the Graduate School of Business into the Booth School of Business. The new name came from a $300m donation by David Booth, founder and chief executive of Dimensional Fund Advisors, an investment firm with $120bn under management.
Changing signs on the university’s campus, however, was one of the more straightforward elements of Mr Snyder’s rebranding campaign. The name change was reinforced by commissioning merchandise. “Getting the T-shirts, the sweatshirts, the hats, the mugs in place was very important,” he says. Prompting students, faculty and alumni to use the Booth name was no small, or cheap, task – “we’re a 50,000 person community,” he remarks.
However, as with ICE, some details took him by surprise.
“Soon after the change, we had a talk and in the front row, three of our students had the old Chicago GSB sweatshirts on,” he recalls.
“I can do some things from the top, but then I have to get other people to complement the efforts we’re making,” he says.
Giving the faculty new name cards for their office doors was easy, but getting them to replace the old ones was a struggle: “It’s not so much that they resisted but in many cases they don’t even think about those things.”
“Even if you can pull the levers in an execution sense, getting the buy-in from a broader array of people is critical. That’s the more challenging part.”
He was helped by a 50 per cent increase in the school’s marketing budget, which allowed him to run an 18-month, $5m (£3.3m) advertising campaign. Also critical, he says, was that alumni, staff and students recognised the legitimacy of the name change, which reflected the magnitude of Mr Booth’s donation – the largest gift ever given to a business school.
Harris Diamond, chief executive of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, the public relations group, agrees. “You have to understand the value of the name you already have,” he says. “In whose mind does that value exist? Among consumers, shareholders, regulators? Then [how do you] enhance it?”
Ms Loeffler believes the logic behind a rebranding is critical to its acceptance. In the case of Nybot, the new name acknowledged the exchange’s global reach. “The Nybot wasn’t only about New York, it was about the world,” she says. “The markets traded there aren’t US products, so the idea of it being tied to a certain city seems almost quaint.”
When JBT (John Bean Technologies), a manufacturer of food-processing machinery and airport equipment, was spun off from FMC Technologies last year, it delved into its history for a new name.
The decision came after Charles Cannon, chief executive, met a small creative firm from Sweden. “They suggested all sorts of creative names, most of which sounded like medicines to me,” he laughs. Going through the process of rejecting names helped him concentrate his mind on the company’s values and traditions, which led him back to John Bean, the company’s founder. Bean was a farmer and inventor who developed the continuous spray pump in 1884, technology subsequently adapted by the company in the 1960s to become an aircraft de-icer.
“The more we spoke about John Bean, it made sense,” he says. “I had two different areas of the business – aero technology and food technology. Some names would be good for one and not the other. By going back in our history we were able to find a common heritage for the two segments.”
Mr Cannon says his main challenge was not so much his customers, who were more concerned with performance than branding, as his own staff, who had developed a strong attachment to the FMC brand.
“The first battle for me was my own organisation,” he says. “Internally, to get your organisation excited – that becomes really important. First, I had a lot of hands-on with my senior executives in the process of creating the brand. By the time we got to the end they were pretty jazzed up and they helped me carry the message to the rest of the organisation.”
Meanwhile, Mr Cannon says he spent a lot of time reassuring customers that the product quality and service they were used to would continue unchanged. “The business-to-business marketplace has had so much turmoil that it’s pretty jaundiced [about] branding,” he says. “Their main concern was that we were going to continue to focus on delivering high-quality products and service.”
Mr Cannon, who had just six weeks to create a brand new corporate identity, says he would have preferred more time to prepare.
“If you’re going to do it and you have control of the timing, you need to give yourself enough time to plan it well,” he says.
Ms Loeffler says patience is important. “People may adopt that brand in different ways; they may reject it, but if it’s a brand that works for the company, over time it will be adopted.”
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