Over the past 5 or 10 years, I've had the opportunity to be on both sides of the brand change process: changing my own and helping others change theirs. I want to share with you some of the things I learned in that process. I'm not claiming that these are hard and fast rules. This is just how we've done it and how we've helped others do it. If you're considering a change, I hope you'll find this article useful.
A Rose by Any Other Name
You would be surprised at the number of business lessons there are buried deep within the literary genius of Shakespeare. Ultimately, the name of your business will not affect the kind of product and/or service you provide. You could very well be called ACME Photo and Video and still be considered a top-notch provider of unique services. That said, I still believe a name is important. It plays a huge role in making that first impression with a prospective client. It helps prospects remember you and brag about you. It helps them find you on the internet. And it plays a role in setting you apart.
For a significant part of the 9 years I've been in business, the name of my company was Cinematic Studios. That was a name that evolved from Cinematic Video, which in turn had evolved from Don Ron Entertainment. We had invested a great deal of time, money, and brand equity in that name. But 2 years ago, I realized it was time for another change: from Cinematic Studios to Dare Dreamer Media.
There were three reasons I decided to make the switch:
Too many "cinematics." More and more companies were putting "cinematic" in their name. In fact, at the height of my use of that name, I was doing a lot of work for the pro photography world, and so was my good friend and fellow EventDV 25 All-Star Joshua Smith. The name of his company? Cinematic Bride. I'd frequently get comments from people saying they loved a video I had done, but it was one of Josh's. Or I'd read a comment on a photography board about this cool video by Cinematic Bride and I knew, based on the description and client, that it was referring to one of mine. The market was getting flooded with Cinematic this and Cinematic that. It was hard to stand out.
A new direction. I was also taking my company in a new direction. I no longer wanted to have the term "studios" associated with my company. Studio suggested a specific media (either video and/or photography). I knew that even though filmmaking would be the primary medium in which I worked, what I was selling, or rather, what I am selling my clients are ideas. First and foremost, we are a company of ideas. And we can and do use any medium at our disposal to execute those ideas. My strength happens to be filmmaking. But I found that if you're known as just a video production company, people will often think of you as just a "camera jockey." That's not what we're about. I wanted a name that would express that.
A fresh start. Lastly, I wanted a fresh start. This name change occurred right after we had made the cross-country move from Silicon Valley to Atlanta. There were a lot of things I was looking to leave behind. There were also pain, hurt, and frustration tied up in the old name that I wanted to put behind me. There's nothing like a new name to give a person a sense of a new lease on life.
Over the past few years, I've seen a number of event filmmakers change their company names either to get rid of the term "video" or to create a brand that they believe will appeal to a higher-end clientele. This is typically done by adding the word "Films" to your name (e.g., david robin | films, Loyd Calomay Films, or Dawson Signature Films). This is actually an example of those of us in the event motion picture world taking a cue from event photographers who for years have traditionally named their studios after themselves.
The logic behind this strategy is that the thing that separates your business from everyone else is, in fact, you. It's also akin to fashion designers naming their
businesses after themselves (Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, etc.). It works for restaurants too (Ruth's Chris, Wolfgang Puck, etc.). Simply put: The public is used to associating higher-end brands with the name of the auteur behind them.
I strongly considered changing my company name to something along these lines (e.g., Ron Dawson Films). For various reasons I went with Dare Dreamer Media. Given the kind of work and clientele I was going after (corporate clients), it seemed to fit. (FYI, Dawson Signature Films is the brand name we use for our wedding and event filmmaking services, but it's not the name or brand in which we've invested the majority of our rebranding and reinvention efforts.)
Making the Change
Once you're ready to actually make the change, here are some things to do and/or keep in mind. Again, this is just based on my experience.
Get the .com. Make sure you can get the .com URL of the name you want. While you're at it, get the .net and .org versions too. If you can't get the .com but you can get the .net, that's probably OK, so long as the .com is not used and/or owned by someone in a similar business. At the time we changed our company name to Dare Dreamer Media, http:// daredreamer.com was not available, so we went with http://daredreamer.net (yes, I do also have www.daredreamermedia.com and .net). I was actually fine with this since .net usually is used by companies with a strong online or web-centric strategy (which we have). Eventually, the .com became available, and I grabbed it right away. If you can't get either the .com or .net, strongly reconsider the importance of the name. I'm not a fan of makeshift URLs (e.g., dare-dreamer.com or thedaredreamer .com). I want the obvious choice to lead directly to my site.
Notify everyone. Send a mass email to everyone (clients, friends, family, etc.) about the name change. Blog about it. Celebrate the change and provide a clear reason or explanation for it.
Keep your old site for a year. Assuming the name change comes with a new site as well, keep the old site up for 6 months to a year. Make it one page with an explanation of the change and a link to your new site. After a year, that's a good time to have the old site automatically forward to the new site.
If you go to www.cinematicstudios.com, you will end up at http://dare dreamer.net. Speaking of forwarding, make sure your old email address forwards to the new one.
Train your clients. Once you start using the name, train your clients to use it too. If they send emails to your old email address, remind them to update their contact info with your new name and email address. Use your new name in your email signatures.
Update everywhere. Update all the relevant social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. To aid in communicating the change, if there's room, write the former name as a "formerly." For instance, for almost 2 years, my LinkedIn entry for Dare Dreamer Media said "Dare Dreamer Media (formerly Cinematic Studios)." I did the same thing in my email signature. It was only about a month ago that I removed the "formerly Cinematic Studios." Don't forget any old advertising sites or directories.
Loco for Logos
The next part of your brand change will most likely involve your logo. I hope you know by now that a logo does not a brand make. I read or hear a lot of comments by videographers that equate the two. Your logo is just one aspect of your overall brand. And here's another point that you may find shocking: As far as your business is concerned, I would argue that a logo is not necessary. I'm not saying it's not helpful, just that if push came to shove and you got rid of your logo altogether, I don't think it would hurt your business. When going through the process of creating a new logo, keep these four things in mind.
We originally invested $5,000 in our Cinematic Studios branding and design (bottom). We invested less than one-fifth of that for Dare Dreamer Media (top).
It's the process, not the payment. There's a lot of controversy in the design world over sites such as LogoSauce and LogoTournament. These are places where you get low-priced designers to bid on your logo job, and you choose the best one. You can end up spending as little as $200-$300 to get a logo that you'll use for years. Naturally, if you're a branding company that charges $10,000, you'll see sites like this as the dregs of your industry. But when it comes to consumer event work, I believe that how much money you're investing in a logo is less important than the process in which you develop it. Do the designers you've hired have a good understanding of your business, your brand, and your clientele and their interests? Are you developing this logo in a vacuum, or are you doing it in conjunction with an entire campaign (website, collateral, copy, etc.)?
In this business, the mark doesn't matter. I'm sure this may ruffle some people's feathers. But I contend that for businesses that cater primarily to brides and families, the actual visual mark they create for their logos is probably one of the least important aspects of their brands. I believe a memorable logo is best suited for products or services where there is frequent and repeat business from the same client, or if that logo helps the product/service stand out in a sea of competitors. When you're driving down the I-5 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, your stomach grumbling from hunger, you want to quickly notice those "golden arches" in that oasis of fast food restaurants. When you're on the fifth hour of your drive to Las Vegas for some convention and you need your caffeine fix, your eyes start darting back and forth for the familiar green circle of Starbucks. In both of these cases, the associated marks drum up feelings and thoughts about the product instantly that help in making a decision.
Edify the experience. I think the entire experience in dealing with your company is way more valuable than a cool logo. From the first encounter with your brand on your website, to his or her meeting with you or telephone calls, to the experience on "the set"-all of these are facets of your business that will have the greatest impact on whether a prospect hires you (maybe even more so than your actual work.
Follow your own advice. How many times do you tell prospective clients the importance of hiring a pro over having Uncle Charlie shoot a wedding? Follow your own advice. Do not attempt to make your own logo if you don't have design experience. Whereas not having a logo won't necessarily hurt you, I do think having a bad logo can hurt you. If you come off cheap and uncreative with an ugly, cartoonish mess you threw together with Microsoft Clip Art-especially if you're aiming for a high clientele-you can expect some prospects to pass you by.
For the Dare Dreamer Media logo, I got a referral from a photographer friend. If I had had the budget, I would have used the designer who originally created our Cinematic Studios branding. We invested $5,000 back in 2006 for her work, and it was great. That kind of money was just not in the budget this time around. The referral I got was a freelance designer who had done a lot of T-shirt design work for this photographer. I liked his style. We invested about $900 and got what I think is a unique design that is simple, yet does a great job of communicating two key aspects about our business: our ability to be daring (i.e., the upside-down A) and our emphasis on filmmaking (the slashes along the top reminiscent of a film slate). When we showed this design to fellow colleagues during the 2009 EventDV 25 cruise that February, there was a lot of discussion about that upside-down A. That, alone, made me want to go with it (despite the fact that out of the five or so design candidates, it was only the second most voted-on among the informal survey my wife and I took among our colleagues).
Redesigning Your Website
Your name change is a perfect opportunity to get rid of that old, tired website you've been meaning to update for years. There are no more excuses. When we changed our website to the current Dare Dreamer Media site (http://daredreamer.net), we made the following key decisions:
Hire a pro. In the past I had always used the DIY web program Dreamweaver to create and update our Cinematic Studios site. This time around I hired a pro web designer. We have a Showit website, and I used Spilled Milk Designs to create it the summer of '09. Its artists were fast and demonstrated a great design sense.
Remember that simple sells. I'm a huge fan of simplicity. It's the aesthetic I go for in my films, my blog, and my site. I wanted something that would be easy to navigate and really highlight the work. Our homepage has a huge featured video and short description. We have five main navigation buttons along the top: home, about, portfolio, buzz, and contact. That's it.
Go self-empowered. Showit is also a DIY solution, so once Spilled Milk Designs finished the main site, I was able to easily update it thereafter.
Be consistent. Your new site should be consistent with the rest of your branding. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've been to videographer conferences and have gotten business cards that look nothing like their websites. I loved how our web designer worked in the "movie slate slashes" from our logo into the web design. He also created a very cool page-loading graphic based on our logo where the upside-down A spins.
Include your contact info. Make it easy for people to contact you. I'm always surprised when I come to a site that has no phone number, or only a contact form instead of an email address (use both). We designed our site to have our phone number and email address accessible on every page. We also have all of our social media links on our contact page (e.g., blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn).
Our old website was designed and maintained by me using Dreamweaver.
As I mentioned earlier, once the new site is up and running, keep the old site for 6-12 months (I actually kept my old site up for about 18 months). I deleted all the old Cinematic Studios pages and just left up the homepage. It said, "Cinematic Studios is now Dare Dreamer Media" with a link to the new site. The purpose of this (as opposed to just having it forward automatically) is to avoid confusion. You want old clients and referrals from old clients to know for sure they found the right company. If your old site redirects immediately, they may think your old company went out of business and this new business just bought your domain.
Our current homepage displays a large featured video. Navigation is simple. Contact info is at the bottom of every page.
Theoretically, you could have the old site redirect immediately and put a message on your new site saying "Formerly [OLD NAME]." I chose not to do that for two reasons: First, I didn't want to take up more space, and second, I didn't want new clients thinking Dare Dreamer was a new company, or an old company with new management. As far as new clients were concerned, I've always been Dare Dreamer Media.
Lost Brand Equity
I know what you're thinking. "Ron, what about all the brand equity I've built up in my old name and logo?" I can understand that concern, but to be frank, your name and logo equity are not that valuable. (I mean that in the nicest possible way.) That is not the same thing as saying your brand is not important. It is. It will have a significant impact on your prospective clients and will help you stand apart from the pack. But, the actual value in your specific name or logo is not so high that changing it will hurt sales. Even among Fortune 500 companies, name and logo changes happen without companies going under or losing customers.
I remember when there was a lot of brouhaha over the Sci Fi Channel changing the spelling of its name to Syfy. Oh my goodness. You'd think it was taking up cat-juggling the way some people reacted. Guess what: All those people still watch their favorite geeky TV shows. Just recently, Starbucks changed its logo to get rid of the "Starbucks Coffee" wording around the circle. It's just the inner circle and siren now. As you may have already guessed, the number of trips we take to get our frappaccino and caramel macchiato fix has not subsided. As long as you continue to offer a great product and customer service to match, you'll be fine. And the tips I mentioned previously will help you through the transition.
The homepage for our wedding division retains the old Cinematic Studios mark (the “infinity” film reel).
Change Is Good
Change is a good thing. It keeps life fresh and interesting. You don't have to change, but if you do, and if you do it right, I'm confident you'll find it rewarding and worth the trouble and investment.
Ron Dawson (ron at daredreamer.net) is president of Dare Dreamer Media, a new media marketing and video production agency. He and his wife, Tasra, are co-authors of the Peachpit Press book ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business. Ron is also a two-time EventDV 25 honoree.