Rebranding has been a noticeable trend over the last few months, particularly in the mutual fund arena.

Just last week, executives of The Reserve Funds of New York, creator of the first money market fund, announced they would drop the "Funds" from the firm's moniker and become the shorter "The Reserve" to reflect an expanding business. And this past Fall, with the spinoff of the American Express financial advisers unit from the American Express card and travel unit, the asset management and insurance division was rebranded Ameriprise Financial, while its American Express Funds were renamed RiverSource Funds.

Adopting a whole new identity gives firms a chance to differentiate themselves in a commoditized market, said David Kendall, principal and creative director of Kendall Ross Brand Development & Design of Seattle. "Brand used to be associated with marketing, but people now understand it as a strategic, organizational tool." Rebranding has to be appropriate, allow a firm to connect with its audience and be something it can deliver on, he added.

Last year's rebrandings included the April 1 change at Pimco, whose Stamford, Conn.-based equity funds were rebranded as Allianz Funds, and its advisory unit renamed Allianz Global Investors Fund Management. That initiative allowed the multi-managed funds to be more closely aligned with parent Allianz AG. Meanwhile, Pimco Funds of Newport Beach, Calif., the group's bond funds led by celebrated manager Bill Gross, remained unchanged.

In June, National City of Cleveland rebranded its investment management subsidiary from National City Investment Management to Allegiant Asset Management Group. In tandem, its proprietary mutual fund unit then shed the name Armada Funds and adopted the Allegiant Funds banner.

Reserving a New Brand

"We reached a point in our evolution where we were explaining the meaning of the word funds' in our name," said Bruce Bent II, vice chairman and president of the newly renamed The Reserve. While the group began by creating the first money market fund, it has since added a suite of non-fund cash management products and services and has, literally, outgrown its name, he added. "Where once The Reserve Funds name had been an identifier, it became something that was holding us back," Bent said.

So the firm conducted an in-depth survey with both clients and prospects and found that while "The Reserve" was a strong, well-known brand name, the "Funds" portion was not essential. It also evaluated whether to stick with The Reserve label "or completely reinvent ourselves," Bent explained. However, since the firm had built brand equity in The Reserve name, it chose to stick with it.

The Reserve hired Interbrand of New York to help the firm determine a new name and logo, which went from "Founders of the World's First Money Market Fund" to "A Tradition of Financial Innovation."

Now, without its "Funds" nomenclature, The Reserve has spent much time communicating the reasons behind the change to its clients, Bent said. But shedding the Funds moniker doesn't mean The Reserve is shunning the funds business. In fact, on Jan. 11, the group launched a new institutional money market fund, the Reserve Liquid Performance Fund, which, for the first time ever for Reserve, will invest in corporate commercial paper.

Last year's spinoff of the newly named Ameriprise Financial asset management and insurance division of American Express, involved rebranding its 66 mutual funds, said Andy Washburn, vice president and head of marketing for RiverSource Investments of Minneapolis. American Express considered renaming the funds the Ameriprise Funds, along with other names: Accelus, First & Main, Luminous and Oakbridge.

"We had a real branding opportunity with the February 2005 announcement of the spin-off," Washburn said. The firm spent weeks deciding whether to assume the parent's name or create a two-brand strategy, he noted. "There are not that many good names left," he conceded. "We were given an opportunity to start from scratch. We've come out of the gate fresh."

American Express finally settled on the RiverSource name because it represents Ameriprise's home location of Minneapolis, which is the source of the Mississippi River, Washburn said. But it was also designed to represent the vastness and authenticity of the river, and that the firm is the source of innovative financial products that will allow clients to, figuratively, drift down the river toward goals. The firm has since developed four specific brand attributes that the new name will embody, he added.

That new RiverSource moniker was applied to the names of all of the funds as of Oct. 3, 2005 and carried over to the new RiverSource insurance and RiverSource annuities units.

Washburn agreed that there was an "awkward transition stage" that included not only rebranding but also changing the descriptive names on 10 of the funds to better label them.

Other than communicating the name change to fund shareholders, the RiverSource brand has so far been played down, but a 2006 initiative to make RiverSource known will begin with ads in adviser-targeted trade publications, he said. Mainstream ads targeted to consumers are being planned now, with product-level ads for strong performing funds in the wings, he added. The next three to six months will be spent getting both consumers and financial advisers to recognize the Ameriprise brand name and will include a television advertising campaign, he added.

Also in development is a new RiverSource Institute, which will house all of the firm's market and intellectual musings, writings, white papers, along with research from the firm's investment professionals.

There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into a rebranding, said Jacqueline Maurer, head of marketing for Babson Capital Management of Boston, which, 18 months ago, rebranded from David L. Babson & Co., a firm named after its founder. Six decades since its founding to service investment trusts and wealthy individuals, the firm was sold to Mass Mutual and subsequently merged with another subsidiary unit. The company then acquired several of its own firms and evolved into many different product areas including sub-advising a family of mutual funds that carried the Babson name for a while, Maurer said.

In 2004, a survey that showed people didn't understand what David L. Babson & Co. was all about, led the firm to consider rebranding. "We wanted the opportunity to redescribe ourselves and explain what the cohesion was, what the reason was that these companies are together," Maurer said. So the firm first developed a new message and then a new brand, along with a logo of a three-dimensional box to suggest thinking outside the box. The initiative took six months of planning, and then several months more to develop corporate brochures and a new Web site.

"You must embody who you are, and continue to tell your internal people the story," Maurer said. "You can't rebrand to something you aren't."

(c) 2006 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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