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International Business: AtTask, @task and rebranding for international growth

Published: Friday, April 12 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

The new AtTask brand overcame the challenges of the former logo while still preserving the strengths of that same former logo.

AtTask, Inc.

When project management software developer AtTask, Inc. first launched using the name “@task,” the brand was certainly a unique and digitally clever play on the U.S. English pronunciation of “@.” However, following successful growth in the United States — including three consecutive years on the Inc. 500 and five consecutive years on the Inc. 5000 — the SaaS developer has seen increased interest overseas.

Rebranding for international markets

International attention presents additional challenges in branding for non-English-speaking audiences. For example, how would the @task name be pronounced in Dutch or Japanese? The @ sign is usually pronounced “at” in English, and some other languages borrow the English pronunciation. However, multilingual AtTask employees knew early on that this symbol is called something completely different in other languages. Would the company be well served if customers essentially understood its name to be something like “monkey task”?

“The original @task name may have been good branding in 1999, but times change, and companies must adapt to remain successful,” says Scott Johnson, founder and chairman of AtTask. “We knew for some time that the brand eventually needed a refresh, and we finally came to a point when it was a good time to make the change.”

Interculturally savvy marketers realize certain words, letters and symbols do not carry the same meanings and pronunciations in all international markets. Prior to global expansion, brands will benefit from performing a check to identify possible need for a change.

At least a dozen languages call the “at sign” a monkey or monkey tail, while others refer to it as a snail, dog, elephant, cat or duckling. The symbol’s non-animal names include non-English equivalents for “crazy a” or names of foods with a similar swirled shape, like a sliced strudel. These words do not necessarily have negative connotations, but you can imagine they could create confusion about AtTask’s product.

Rebranding for domestic markets too

“Even in English, many customers did not know what to call us,” explains Johnson. “People who saw the logo for the first time would regularly assume the @ was an icon or logo mark, like the asterisk no one pronounces in the E*TRADE logo. They would ask us, ‘So what does "Task" do?’ ”

As many Utahns have seen from the billboards along the I-15 freeway, AtTask made a smart move by rebranding to a moniker that removes any potential confusion. As the company expands, new international customers never need wonder, “do I pronounce that ‘elephant task’ or just ‘task’?” Many English-centric factors were the primary drivers for the brand update, but these additional intercultural factors make the change a brilliant move for business abroad.

“Our marketing and creative teams worked very hard,” says Johnson, “to ensure the new logo not only overcame the challenges of the former logo but also preserved the strengths of that same former logo. It can be challenging to get buy-in for any new branding, but the resulting AtTask logo has received overwhelming support both internally and externally.”

International SEO

AtTask’s rebranding also makes the software easier to find online. Potential customers in any country now know exactly what to type to reach AtTask.com or to find search results via Google, a search engine that does not index the “at symbol.”

“Years ago, the @ sign was not so inseparably associated with email addresses, and Twitter handles did not even exist,” adds Johnson. “Now those factors also complicate any branding with the @ sign.”

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