The Relaunch of Syfy: When Search Shapes the Brand

How do you define a “brand?” Traditionally when you think of a brand, you might envision a logo, a sponsorship, perhaps even an ad campaign. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

That definition is a good start. But a brand is really more than that, isn’t it? It’s the long-term equity and associations that help formulate an identity. So what happens when you want to change your identity?

Last year, cable television channel the Sci-Fi Channel announced plans to shed its genre specific name to create a more brand specific name: Syfy. Opinions on this change ranged from “great idea” to “are they serious?” It was a decision loaded with risk.

A colleague recently mentioned that this brand relaunch decision was partially driven by its search strategy. Given the increasingly important role that search plays in the way we discover and interact with brands, the decision begins to makes more sense.

Would you rather own a brand, or are you content to just take a piece of “genre pie”? Syfy decided it wanted to own its brand, and maybe help itself to some leftover genre pie at the same time.

To determine whether this re-branding strategy was a success from a search perspective, let’s dig into the data and evaluate exactly what happened.

On July 6, 2009, Syfy officially relaunched its brand.

As the chart shows, there hasn’t been a noticeable attrition in the number of searches on the genre-specific term “SciFi” subsequent to the launch, which suggests that the genre itself was driving much of the searching behavior. The number of monthly searches on this term has generally varied between 600,000 and 800,000 a month, both before and after the Syfy launch.

Now if we look at the number of searches on the term “Syfy” post-launch, we can see that it went from virtually non-existent to between 300,000 and 500,000 a month.

If we combine the two terms, the total search volume has effectively increased demand by about 40 percent per month. Even more importantly, there has been a significant net increase in clicks of more than 20 percent. Clearly, the rebrand is consistently paying dividends from the standpoint of search engagement and reach.

Syfy created demand in the marketplace for its new brand and become more relevant to its search audience, while also increasing its consumer reach substantially via search.

To bring us back to the original AMA definition: a brand is an identity, and an identity can easily get lost in the clutter of search. The reality of branding today is that search is now a fundamental component of brand identity. If you can’t differentiate your brand in the search environment, you don’t have much of an identity.

Syfy’s risky brand relaunch makes a lot more sense and it has clearly been successful in helping differentiate its identity from the genre, enabling it to cut through the clutter and reach more people. And isn’t that really what a brand is all about?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go watch some “Battlestar Galactica” reruns.

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