How to Rebrand Your Company Using Chocolate Covered Grasshoppers, Homeland Security, and Guy Kawasaki

Last Updated Sep 30, 2010 12:41 PM EDT

David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos are two of the smartest young entrepreneurs I know. I featured them in my book, Upstarts! and since then, I've watched them do a brilliant job of rebranding the company formerly known as GotVMail (RIP) as Grasshopper. I asked David Hauser to tell you about why and how they did it. And yes, I did receive the grasshoppers and yes, I ate them. Think Nestle Crunch.
By David Hauser
My partner, Siamak Taghaddos, and I worked for six years to build up a successful company with a solid product offering, happy customers and a strong SEO strategy. But two years ago, we realized that our company, then called GotVMail, had outgrown its identity. We sold virtual phone systems to small businesses, but wanted to expand into a global brand, offering a suite of products for entrepreneurs. However, rebranding a company is a huge and risky undertaking: it can cause confusion in the marketplace; upset existing customers; and jeopardize the reputation you've worked so hard to build up. GotVMail is now Grasshopper, and we think we managed the transition pretty effectively. Here's how we decided to rebrand, and the strategies that drove our success:
To rebrand or not to rebrand? The name GotVMail worked to help build our brand as a virtual phone system; however, it didn't describe us. We were more than a just a voicemail provider; in fact, we wanted to grow into a "brand for entrepreneurs," offering services such as a simple recurring billing system and a word of mouth tool. Realizing our name limited our ability to grow was the first sign we needed to rebrand. As GotVMail, no one knew what we did. We were spending 15 seconds of a 30 second radio spot spelling out our domain name, and even then people were still confused. We wanted a name that was recognizable, had a domain name we could purchase and was not heavily saturated in the marketplace by other brands. We came up with Grasshopper because not only did it meet our requirements, but grasshoppers have an uncanny ability to take large leaps, do really well for their size and are always on the move - just like entrepreneurs.

Give 'em something to talk about. To communicate our rebrand, we knew we had to take a risk and create something both unique and outlandish. Something that you would go home and just have to tell a friend about. Something so crazy we'd have Homeland Security calling us (yes, this really did happen!). We sent a package of edible chocolate covered grasshoppers, along with a note including a link to an inspirational video about the power of entrepreneurship, to 5,000 most influential people in America. This list included business leaders, journalists, politicians, celebrities, authors and bloggers. From Guy Kawasaki, to P-Diddy, to President Obama's best friend.

By numbering each package, we made people feel exclusive, which in turn made them want to talk about it even more. With no indication of who sent the package, people were forced to go online, check out the video and start asking questions to their communities. By the way, we sent the grasshoppers via Federal Express, which allowed us to eliminate office gatekeepers and suggested urgency. When you receive a FedEx package, especially one that's unexpected, your curiosity is sparked and you feel a need to open it immediately. Or if you are a United States Senator, you call Homeland Security!

Refuse to let the buzz die. When media coverage started to trickle in, we hit the phones and followed up with our influencers. We egged them on to eat the grasshoppers and even got multiple national news anchors to eat a grasshopper live on TV. We got those who weren't already talking about it to pay attention and those already spreading the word to keep talking. As a result, we received over 75 videos and images of people joining the fun and eating the grasshoppers! We also developed a case study, which broke the campaign down into important facts and figures, from our increased website visitors to the exact costs of the campaign. We not only posted the case study to our website but also actively sent it to those outlets that had covered the campaign; this resulted in some great follow up coverage.

Learn from our mistakes. Probably our biggest mistake was getting so caught up in the secrecy of this campaign that we decided to wait to tell our customers the big news. This resulted in a handful of calls from customers wondering how this would affect them. Fortunately, our rebrand also included a new, user-friendlier interface, so we were able to quickly convey the benefit.

We also experienced a pounding SEO headache. In our case we went from a term -- "GotVMail" -- which was very cheap to bid on, to "Grasshopper" which was extremely generic, so PPC costs skyrocketed. Organic traffic took a big hit initially because our keyword ranking was so much lower.

Lastly, we really dropped the ball on re-ramping up our affiliate/partner program. So we found that three to four months after our rebrand, there was still tons of copy and logos out there reading "GotVMail". We had to completely revamp our affiliate process and ask for forgiveness. We were able to recover from that mistake, but it took a good amount of time and resources.

Measure the impact. In the first three months of the campaign, we had over 170 unique blog posts written about us, more than 5,000 referrals to our website from Twitter/Facebook, and a 93% increase of traffic to our "how-it-works page." We received more coverage in our first three months as Grasshopper, than we did in the first six years of GotVMail, and we were able to get Grasshopper to an equal SEO standpoint at GotVMail in just six months.

Part of the rebrand is also getting your employees to buy into it. While the rebrand was happening our office was getting painted, new counter tops were getting installed, pictures, logos all sorts of things were changing. So it really was fun to come to work and see what was new that day.

The birth of "grasshopper group" and introducing the two new products really wasn't a part of the rebrand. We KNEW it was coming, which was a big reason for the rebrand but it wasn't part of it. We knew that continuing to do things like the Entrepreneurs Can Change the World video that just associated "Grasshopper with entrepreneurship" would be infinitely valuable as we were moving toward a brand for entrepreneurs. And that "trust" in our expertise would be what eventually makes us money.

So, do you think it's time for your company to rebrand? Do you have a crazy campaign in mind? We'd love to hear about it.

David Hauser is passionate about helping entrepreneurs make their dreams a reality. Fortunately, as co-founder of Grasshopper Group, he gets to do this each and every day. Check out his blog, or follow him on Twitter: @dh