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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.”

Fortunately, SEO efforts by AtTask marketing have paid off, and even Google and Bing searches for “@task” or “task” return AtTask.com as a top result. That was not always the case, but it goes to show that concentrated SEO work can help to overcome certain branding challenges.

Even more common symbols like the ampersand — & — present online branding challenges that companies must counteract with a solid SEO strategy. Johnson & Johnson uses the abbreviated domain name www.jnj.com, which may not make sense outside of English. However, www.johnsonsandjohnson.com forwards to the same corporate site, and searches for "Johnson & Johnson" or "Johnson&Johnson" return the same top result because leading search engines do recognize ampersands. Most of the company’s consumer-focused websites like www.JohnsonsBaby.com do not have the same challenge.

Other brand names that include ampersands choose other methods to represent or eliminate the ampersand from their domain name. Barnes & Noble spells it out at www.BarnesAndNoble.com. M&Ms replace the ampersand with a hyphen at www.M-Ms.com. Both Dolce & Gabana and AT&T eliminate the character at www.dolcegabana.com and www.att.com respectively.

An international brand check can identify ways for foreign customers to find and recognize you more easily online, as in the case of AtTask. Or, in the case of other brands, an international check can help prevent embarrassing blunders that might equate your name with something obscene. These evaluations usually consist of a short survey of linguists and country-specific brand checkers in various potential markets. Organizations can perform international brand checks through a translation company, a multilingual marketing agency, or their own global networks. What do potential international customers think about your brand name?

International views on branding, rebranding

Branding is not easy, and branding for international markets brings additional challenges. Learn from the success of expert panelists in Utah who will share their views with the Utah chapter of the American Marketing Association (Utah AMA) at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in Riverton. Register at the Utah AMA website for the panel discussion “International Views on Branding & Rebranding.”

Adam Wooten leads translation service departments to help international companies grow globally. He also teaches a course on translation technology at Brigham Young University. Email: adam.wooten@byu.edu. Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten.

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