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A sign of Research In Motion (RIM) is seen at its headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. (GEOFF ROBINS/REUTERS)
A sign of Research In Motion (RIM) is seen at its headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. (GEOFF ROBINS/REUTERS)

What’s in a name? Maybe corporate survival Add to ...

Research In Motion Ltd. is betting it all on the BlackBerry brand – retiring the corporate name it has had since its founding in 1984.

The company will henceforth call itself BlackBerry, chief executive officer Thorstein Heins announced in New York on Wednesday.

The change was just one part of a major event to unveil the new BlackBerry 10. The Waterloo, Ont.-based company is depending on the new operating system and a host of products to remake its image and to compete more capably against rivals such as Apple and Samsung.

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The name Research In Motion, chosen by co-founder Mike Lazaridis, was reportedly inspired by the phrase “poetry in motion,” used in a news story he saw about football players. The official name change will take place at the company’s annual shareholder meeting later this year. But the company’s ticker symbols will change next week: On the Toronto Stock Exchange, RIM will become BB, and on the Nasdaq, RIMM will be replaced with BBRY.

In rebranding, RIM is looking to turn the tide against a wave of negative press that has tarnished its name in recent years. As the company mismanaged its new product releases with delays, bungled some marketing efforts, and watched its stock price fall, the message about RIM was all about a floundering company falling behind the times in the fast-paced smartphone wars.

“They haven’t been doing a lot of research, and they’re certainly not in motion, at least forward, lately. A lot of people feel they should have done this years ago,” said Alfred Dupuy, president of brand consulting firm Interbrand Canada. (The U.S. division of Interbrand was called in to consult on the high-profile rebranding of WorldC om to MCI in 2003.) “At a time when they need to focus, this is exactly what they’re doing.”

In October, a report by Interbrand found that RIM had lost more than a third of its “brand value” in just one year. Its decline in the rankings of Interbrand’s global list of the 100 most valuable brands was steeper than any the firm had seen in its rankings since the economic crisis hit brand values hardest in 2009.

What will be key now for RIM will be to ensure that the move is not just cosmetic – and that requires an internal effort to ensure the company’s employees are on board with the marketing strategy, Mr. Dupuy said.

“They actually have to carry it out. The company has to let them talk,” he said. “At the end of the day, if there’s a new strategy in place from a brand perspective, the way they can build that momentum is to integrate whatever those strategies into the performance of their people. It’s really a marketing effort.”

Nina Beckhardt, founder of Naming Group, said rebranding is the right move for RIM. But she also criticized the company for a lack of consistency in naming its family of products. She signalled out the formidable competitor, Apple Inc., for having a simple, unified “namescape” – courting imitation with its “i” prefix but also naming the rest of its products with simple brands that fit into a wider pattern for the company. New product names such as the BlackBerry Hub, she said, do not fit into any consistent suite of brands the company can call its own, and do not create name recognition for consumers.

“Ideally you want to have a brand that doesn’t have to change its name, because it has solidity that builds over time,” said Ms. Beckhardt, whose New York-based brand-naming agency has clients such as Chevrolet, Nestlé and Capital One. “But they are the underdog right now, and they’re grasping at something that’s going to put their most well-known brand equity at the forefront.”

A corporate name change like this is certainly not unheard of. Sometimes it can be for purely utilitarian purposes. But it can also represent an attempt for an embattled brand to rise from the ashes of some problematic history.

“A logo refresh can happen. It’s no big deal. A corporate name change can be very powerful, because it’s the company saying, ‘We’re serious enough about revamping this company that we’re starting from the ground up,’ ” Ms. Beckhardt said.

Typically, a company has only one chance to do a corporate rebranding of this magnitude, and doing it to coincide with this launch was “absolutely brilliant,” said Edgar Baum, managing director of consultancy Brand Finance Canada.”

“Blackberry came to define RIM and generate the bulk of its profits,” he said. “It gives them a brief window of opportunity to shed some of the negative association with the past year. For many people it will likely raise the question ‘Are they really different? Maybe I should check them out again.’ That is exactly what Blackberry needs. Also, the recent press that Apple may have reached its limits, definitely didn’t hurt.”

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Rebranded: Three companies, three new names

Mondelez: A corporate rebranding is sometimes purely utilitarian -- such as when late last year Kraft Foods Inc. spun off its U.S. grocery business, and renamed the newly separate snack foods business Mondelez.

MCI: Companies can also use renaming to make over their image. A decade ago, following its massive fraud scandal, telecom company WorldCom took the name of its MCI division as the new corporate moniker to shed associations with the troubled past. (It was a lesson later satirized in HBO drama The Wire when drug kingpin Stringer Bell gives a marketing lesson to his underlings to sell their unpopular product under a different brand.)

Altria: In the same year, 2003, Philip Morris changed its name to Altria Group, but was criticized at the time for what was seen as a public relations move to gloss over associations with its tobacco products.

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