Bad image: Is rebranding the answer? | Kelly Maloney

In business, your image is everything. Essentially, image is the word people use when describing their perception of what you offer and how you offer it (your brand).

So when your image is tarnished, it’s up to you to make it glow again. Sometimes the damage is so great it requires rebranding.

The private security firm Blackwater is an interesting case. Hired to protect diplomats in Iraq, Blackwater guards conducted a mission there that left numerous innocent Iraqi civilians dead and blackened their image forever.

In response, the company will no longer offer classified security services, electing instead to focus and expand on other service lines, and it has changed its name and logo. Whether these changes will be followed up with definitive actions by the company to truly change the organization’s image is yet to be seen. Some in Congress believe the company will never overcome its badly damaged image.

Another interesting case is Puget Sound Adventure Boot Camp (ABC), owned and operated by Clem Lafrades and Alfred Ra’oof, Jr.

Initially, the vigorous, women-only, outdoor camps were overseen by certified fitness trainers. Women from Kent, Federal Way and Renton were eager to work out in all temperatures at all hours, propelling the camps toward success the first several years of operation.

However, when one of the trainers left ABC to start a similar camp in the same location and allegedly made negative posts on a Web site about ABC and its owners, they had to do damage control. With their reputation in tatters, but with the knowledge that none of the posts about them were true, they were determined to find a way to overcome the negativity of the situation.

Retaining all that was good about the camps, Clem and/or Alfred also attended or ran more classes in order to build a bond with campers. They increased their advertising, joined networking groups, offered discounts, started allowing men to participate, and more. But the negative posts still haunted them.

So they reassessed their messaging, listened to their loyal customers, and gained insight as to why some women didn’t join even though they were interested.

In the end, they decided to continue subtly rebranding ABC, and to also create a new company, Victory Get Fit Club (VGFC).

As ABC phased into becoming a co-ed camp, VGFC became the women-only club — an offering for women who were worried about joining a “boot camp,” but were excited about getting fit in a club atmosphere, which connotes belonging and friendship.

In assessing their image, they realized there were four key reasons they needed to rebrand ABC and spin off a new brand: damage control; relating the companies more to their core values and mission; taking advantage of the down market; and a better understanding of their target markets.

“Our business took a huge dive (50%+ decrease) due to staffing issues. It took a year of learning, re-staffing, and re-vamping... now we’re bigger than ever and growing. Now that I have defined what the spirit of the company is and am very clear, I will not make the same staffing mistakes or be easily swayed toward other ideas, products, or services that don’t match the spirit and soul of the company, Victorious Lives LLC,” said Clem.

Rebranding is a viable solution to overcoming a negative image, but not always the only or best choice. Blackwater may never recover from a history of malfeasance, regardless of what it does. But, like ABC, businesses can and do overcome negative perceptions by dealing with the issues, assessing components of their business model and branding, and strategically applying relevant tactics.

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