Business Column: Re-branding has pitfalls, potential

Both the Historic Triangle and Hampton Roads are considering ways to re-brand themselves.

Perhaps the first challenge is getting over those names, which mean little to anyone outside Virginia. Hampton Roads seems to have settled on "Coastal Virginia" as a new moniker. The Historic Triangle, a name that's never really been used in a marketing sense, is still unsettled about what to call itself.

The brand people know nationwide, of course, is Williamsburg.

Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg are strong, established brands. They've got either 70 or 350 years of history behind them, depending on how you look at it.

However, research conducted by the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee last summer showed that the brand has acquired some unwanted baggage. Surveys of people who did not vacation in Williamsburg showed that a good number said they'd "been there, done that," and that among people who haven't visited, "boring" was a term frequently associated with the destination.

Noting that Colonial Williamsburg is a strong, well-known brand, Colonial Williamsburg President Colin Campbell noted, "There may be perceptions associated with the brand that we need to change."

That may well have led to the foundation contracting with Richmond's Martin Agency — known for Geico's gecko and caveman campaigns — to create Colonial Williamsburg's advertising. The Martin Agency's ads have been humorous and hip. Hey, if the company can make car insurance interesting, why not history?

In seeking to change perceptions of the brand, rather than a re-branding, Colonial Williamsburg is on solid ground.

"Is it possible to change a company's brand image?" asks Go-To-Market Strategies, a resource center for marketing professionals, on its website. "We often answer that question with a question, 'Do you need to redefine the brand itself, or the perception of the brand?' And, 'How far apart are you now from the brand you want to be?'"

In this case, perhaps not too far, since the new marketing plan for the destination seems to be "History Plus."

And, it is possible to change perceptions on an established brand.

Business Insider notes that Old Spice — once thought of as "your grandfather's" cologne – reinvented itself with an advertising campaign in which former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa told women to "Look at your man, now back at me."

"Old Spice is suddenly a new Old Spice," said Business Insider. "Since the first commercial launched a year ago, the 70-year-old brand's ad campaign generated tens of millions of online views and a new catch-phrase: 'I'm on a horse.'"

Not that re-branding campaigns always work. Remember "New Coke?" Radio Shack's efforts to get hip by re-branding as "The Shack" didn't take either.

But re-branding efforts can work. Apple was almost out of business before re-branding itself as the cool computer choice. And Target was just another discount department store before it found a way to reposition itself as the yuppie alternative to Walmart.

Business Notes:

Safe & Sound Home Watch of Seaford has gained accredited member status in the National Home Watch Association. Safe & Sound was founded by Jim Hughes in 2008 in New Jersey. Having recently relocated to Hampton Roads, Hughes announced the expansion of Safe & Sound Home Watch services. Hughes has been involved in residential construction since 1980 as a carpenter, roofing and siding contractor, construction project manager, executive protection and security specialist and construction consultant. He has also performed work in the area of estate property management.

Brian T. Wells of The Structures Group Inc. recently passed the two-day structural engineering exam and has been promoted from engineer in training to structural engineer. Wells has been with The Structures Group for five years and has worked on many projects, including Williamsburg Landing, Kingsmill Resort and Conference Center, Settlers Market, King of Glory Church and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. He earned his master's degree in structural engineering and bachelor's in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. As a structural engineer, he is responsible for the structural analyses and detailed development of the construction documents of major project designs.

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the state agency that administers Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center living-history museums, recently recognized 60 employees for reaching service milestones and 128 individuals for commitment to the foundation's volunteer program. The foundation also presented merit awards to three employees. Director of Finance Jean Puckett of Williamsburg was named Gold Employee of the Year, and Associate Director of Development Christina Dominguez of Poquoson was named Silver Employee of the Year. Outreach Education Supervisor Susan Horne of Williamsburg received the Gold Customer Service Award. The awards were presented by Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman H. Benson Dendy III and Executive Director Philip G. Emerson. Thirty-five full-time employees were recognized for state service milestones, among them Assistant Curator Daniel Hawks of Williamsburg for 45 years of service.