May 25, 2010

Rebranding Starts Inside. Why BP Stepped In it.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is heart breaking.  The level of destruction is astronomical, and the repercussions will be felt for decades to come.

How can a company claim to be “Beyond Petroleum,” and be at the center of such a disaster?  The branding and positioning just don’t fit.

BP’s Rebranding

In mid-2000 British Petroleum launched a massive $200 million rebranding project.  They changed their name to BP and adopted the tagline, “Beyond Petroleum.”  The goal of this project was to position BP as an environmentally sensitive company looking for sustainable, green energy sources.

At first the public was skeptical, and thought the company was greenwashing.  But through conscientious branding, advertising and PR, BP made significant inroads.  According to the 2007 ImagePower Green Brands Survey, BP was considered greener than any other oil company.  It was also held up for becoming the most green company in the past 5 years.  This is all very striking, and even a little startling, when you consider recent events.

Rebranding Starts Inside

BP’s rebranding efforts worked on the surface, but in the end it was all a greenwash.  No matter how much BP said it was green, it is still the second largest oil producing company in the world.  They repositioned their image, but didn’t reposition their business.

Changing who you are is difficult.  In many cases it is nearly impossible.  It requires a fundamental understanding of who you are, how you serve your customers, and how you want to change in order to better engage and serve your customers.  This isn’t an exercise in propaganda.  It’s an exercise in re-architecting a business and its go-to-market strategy.

I compare the process to trying to change your personality type.  There are really only 3 ways you can change your personality:

  1. Have a near death experience
  2. Have an epiphany and become born again
  3. Go through extreme psycho therapy

The first two options aren’t very effective, because your personality is like an elastic band.  You can stretch it for a while, but eventually your personality pulls back to center.  The reason is your personality traits are linked to your nervous system.  Therefore, to change your personality profile you need to change your hard wiring, which requires an inordinate amount of energy.

Rebranding a company is not as dramatic as rewiring your nervous system, but it’s up there.  Just look at BP.  They did invest in green energy products, but still their primary business is extracting oil from the earth.

Rebranding and repositioning is essential for many companies.  Industries change.  Companies change.  Customers change.  But before you start a rebranding project consider these questions:

  1. What does your company stand for?  What is its purpose, values and commitments?
  2. Who do you serve, and why do you serve these markets?
  3. What do you want to be when you grow up?

As you address these questions, consider how they are connected.  If there are any disconnects or discrepancies this is a serious red flag for the rebranding effort.

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