The New Year is a time for individual reflection and re-evaluation. But in addition to plotting your personal progress, what about your business? When was the last time you sat down and examined the progress and health of your brand?

"Health of my brand?" you ask.

Yes. Just like people, businesses and markets change over time. And sometimes those changes are so slow and so gradual that we wake up to find our products and services outdated, out-of-step and out-of-shape. In short, our brand has become "sick." Here are some of the most common culprits.

Geographic gridlock

In this scenario, your company started in one locale and has simply outgrown the market. It's easy to see this trend in larger companies, such as Southwest Airlines, which now flies all over the U.S. Not only are these names restrictive, they are also uninspired. If your company has a city, state or regional name, you may be telling potential customers to go elsewhere.

Product paralysis

Much like geographic gridlock, product paralysis starts with all the right intentions. A company wants to be known for their star (and sometime their only) product. So they include it in the name. Once they've achieved success in capturing that market, they naturally want to expand into others. The problem is their name. So companies such as Just Brakes develop a tagline to overcome the problem. "We're more than Just Brakes." The irony is that marketing dollars are then spent trying to shed the now suffocating stereotype caused by their core product. Better to re-brand with a more open and encompassing name. It's better to communicate who you are than explaining who you aren't.

Attribute aches

This is another easy trap in which to fall. In place of a product, companies associate themselves with one key attribute -- and then pay the price. What if EconoLodge ever wants to improve its rooms and raise its rates? Is Quality Inn really the luxury leader in the hotel business? It's not that these names can't work, they often do. It's just that they forever commit a company to that strategic positioning. And sometimes companies outgrow one mode of service. They may no longer want to be the low price leader. Or they may find it difficult to meet the expectations created by words such as "superior" or "ultimate." If you find yourself tired of jumping through hoops everyday, it may be time to lose words such as "Sonic," "Speedy," or "Express" as part of your name.

The Identity Crisis

This is perhaps the most dreaded category of branding dilemmas. It happens when a company's core competency evolves to the point where they are basically in an entirely new business. In this scenario nearly everything in their business has changed over the past several years -- except for their name. For instance, a web hosting company may gradually transition to providing offline IT consulting. But with "web" in the name, they would forever be fighting to explain their current business. Imagine if 3M had not re-branded and stayed with their original name . . . Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. It would take more than a Post-it note to make that name stick.

Keeping a brand healthy is really no different than keeping yourself healthy. It just requires a few checkups and some simple exercises. Make sure to ask yourself, your current customers and potential customers if your name, tag line and logo really reflect where you are as a company. Does the name evoke the right feelings, convey the right ideas and make your customers want to know more about you? Or does it mislead them, confuse them and require constant explanation. The first few seconds of an introduction are the most valuable real estate in the branding world. Make sure your brand image is healthy and vibrant, and you'll not only liven up the business -- you'll revitalize the bottom line.

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