Thursday, July 9

Rebranding SyFy: What's In A Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." — Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Depending on the interview, Howe seems to have a different answer as to why the 16-year-old Sci Fi Channel has become SyFy.

"We want to appeal to more women and young people," Howe told The Washington Post in contrast to the myriad of answers delivered to viewers, fans, journalists, bloggers, and everyone else.

Why on planet earth David Howe didn't stick to the first sentence of the first question in SyFy's FAQ is beyond me. It states the challenge very clearly: "Although we love the name Sci Fi, because it's a generic term, we can never own it."

Never mind for a moment that the Sci Fi Channel already owned the name from a branding perspective. And never mind its global argument (all of its other foreign networks are still named Sci Fi no matter what they say).

Let's take the FAQ at face value. It alludes to the challenge of introducing non-broadcast products, parks, gaming, technology, and online networks that go well beyond broadcast programming. That logic, and only that logic, is boring but sound. The strategy to make it happen, on the other hand, is flawed.

How To Expand Before Rebranding

Rather than rename the flagship, the Sci Fi Channel could have launched its new assets under the new SyFy name, creating a distinct brand over time much in the same way Apple branded Newton and Macintosh. After the new identity took hold, they would have had the option to circle back with a name that would mean something to someone.

In fact, the Sci Fi Channel brand might have protected the network from push back if any of the new products happened to, you know, suck. (Imagine what might have happened if Apple first changed its name to Newton. Eesh.) This expand first, circle back strategy would have been cheaper too, something people like investors usually appreciate.

Instead, SyFy has locked into an expensive top-down rebranding strategy with a name that nobody seems to like. And since they can't really reverse course, the executives are left with nothing to do except push, push, push it. If that isn't bad enough, the Sci Fi Channel will also have to relive the ugliness as SCI FI UK, SCI FI France, SCI FI Germany, SCI FI Spain, SCI FI Japan, SCI FI Italy, SCI FI Australia, and SCI FI Latin America have yet to be renamed and repackaged.

Each of these upcoming events could renew the fuel of fan branding — and that brand is that the new SyFy name as a brand smacks of executive stupidity. It may even set the stage for former Sci Fi enthusiasts to be critical of any new SyFy products in order to reinforce what they seem to the be saying — SyFy is headed in the wrong direction and the name does not smell as sweet.

Branding As Seen By A Guy Named Bill

William Shakespeare isn't often seen as a marketer or brand strategist, but Romeo and Juliet ought to be thought of as a branding primer. Inside the lines of the most-produced play in history, Shakespeare clearly asks all the right questions.

Montague or Capulet? Does the name really make the brand or does the brand encompass the qualities of an individual that one might be but worn with love? Ergo, brands are not names. Rather, names and phrases eventually become an encapsulated definition of all the meaning people associate with the brand. If not, then Juliet may have let herself be plucked by Paris.

So can be said for "SyFy." There is no context to make SyFy a brand. And, if anything, the fans are not only saying the new name doesn't smell as sweet. They say it's kind of stinky. Ho hum. For want of a name, they lost a brand.

For the new marketing or advertising student, it's a good lesson to take hold of and own forever. Say it over and over again: brands are not names and names are not brands. In fact, in the case of a network, the programming and other products make the brand and the name merely encapsulates it. For example, ABC doesn't feel limited to the alphabet.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with renaming or rebranding a company. All I'm pointing out is a that a simple risk assessment might have suggested that you don't want to irritate 5 million Website visitors a month or the millions who helped the Sci Fi Channel climb to the fifth most watched cable network on television.

But alas, SyFy execs have done exactly that. According to Variety, they are even more irritated than they were when the Sci Fi Channel gave Starbuck a gender makeover.

Will they get over it? It's hard to say. Fans might have gotten over Starbuck, but this time SyFy doesn't have Kara Thrace to pull it off over several seasons. SyFy's shrug off of the fans and sell it attitude isn't helping much either. More on Monday.



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