Successfully Navigating a Name Change By Yannis Kavounis
If you think creating a brand new name is a nightmare, think again… A name is the first public act of branding and serves as a customer hook. It is perhaps, the one and only branding element that you wish you’d never have to change. “Wish” is the key word here! Unfortunately, this is far from today’s marketplace reality. Corporate history has taught us that there are several instances where an existing name can be problematic and a name change is required. So, how do you effectively navigate a name change? Let’s see… What do you want to accomplish by changing the existing name? Understanding the objectives behind a name change is the first crucial step. Research on your existing name can provide valuable information on key areas such as existing equity, differentiation, relevance with the key target audiences, and communication issues. The feedback will help you establish a “navigational map,” highlighting the issues you need to address - what to do and what not to do. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common reasons for a name change: Has your business strategy and/or strategic focus changed? In order to succeed in today’s demanding economy, a lot of companies undergo major changes in the way they do business. Very often their existing names are limiting and do not support the shift in their business strategy. This may require a more “flexible” name to capture and address the evolving nature of their business. For example: After splitting up with sister company Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture, to communicate a “new company that places emphasis on the future.” The Royal Mail (UK) became Consignia to reflect the shift to a more commercial and international approach to business. Boston Chicken changed its name to Boston Market to communicate the company’s shift from rotisserie chicken to family meals. It also maintained the "wholesomeness and freshness" of the brand. Bass changed their name to Six Continents Hotels to expand perceptions in the eyes of the consumer from a brewer to a global hospitality group. Till death do us part? More and more companies decide to join forces to become stronger in today’s highly competitive market. Oftentimes, the marriage of two existing names into one can result in a lengthy and undifferentiated name that does not build off the true essence of the new company. Furthermore, a new name can also assist a smooth transition by allowing a fresh start, one that places emphasis on the importance of the new united entity. For example: The merger of Pacific Enterprises and Enova Corporation gave birth to Sempra Energy. The name of the new company was to express the company’s commitment to providing customers with the highest quality energy services and products. With the merger of Siebe and BTR, a new corporate name was required to communicate the new vision – a fresh way of looking at the engineering industry. The new name, Invensys, suggests invention, innovation and systems.
Does your existing name have negative associations? Sometimes a name can be a roadblock due to its association with a controversial product or a black period in the company’s history. If the association is strong, any effort to regain momentum or move forward may prove to be extremely difficult. For example: The Philip Morris name is equivalent to cigarettes. The decision to change the name to Altria, helped disassociate the holding company from the negative image of cigarettes, indicating that it is made up of several other brands beyond cigarettes. Has the .com bust made you rethink your naming strategy? In today’s reality, “seussical” names, such as kozmo.com and zap.com are often associated with the downfall of e-commerce. Many companies that had made a move to trendier names are changing their names back to their original ones. For example: Wunderman Cato Johnson had initially changed its name to Impiric to reflect the new, futureforward personality. It recently went back to Wunderman since it realized that the old name had a lot of equity in the marketplace that the new name lacked. Does your existing name have legal issues? With virtually every word in the English dictionary registered, the legal battle is getting tougher and tougher. In this case, a name change may be forced onto the organization due to trademark conflicts. Securing a trademark is an extremely expensive process. This is why a thorough legal investigation during name development can save you a lot of money in the future. If any of the above sounds familiar, perhaps it is time you invested in a name change. Here are some critical elements to consider in order to ensure a successful and smooth transition to a new name: Look two steps ahead, not one First and foremost, you should identify the long-term business objectives, with the intent to create a name for tomorrow and not just for today. Spend enough time analyzing the market, identifying opportunities for differentiation and setting the appropriate strategic naming objectives to be used for the name evaluation process. In today’s highly competitive environment, the strongest brands are the ones that transcend the physical attributes of a product or service to form an emotional connection with the customer. Think creatively The key in name creation is to think outside the box and not be tempted to play in the comfort zone of your competition. Look for inspiration outside your category and learn from completely unrelated brands. Names created in this way have the advantage of being more readily available from a trademark perspective since they go beyond the common category descriptors into fresher territory. At the same time, be realistic, and make sure that you have a well-planned and well-executed communications campaign to support the new name. Think of “Verizon” and its potential for failure if the new name wasn’t supported by one of the biggest and smartest marketing campaigns in the history of branding. Avoid the “my wife said” syndrome When it comes to evaluating the names, avoid subjectivity. And for God’s sake, don’t let bed talk determine the future of your business –whether it is a wife, husband or a life partner for that matter. Do not evaluate the names based on a like/ dislike basis, but more on an “fit to concept” scale. Remember the strategic objectives you set up at the beginning of your process? Now is the time to use them. Check each name against these criteria. Also remember that names that
make you feel uncomfortable at first, should not be dismissed…usually these are the ones with greater impact and differentiation in the marketplace. Finally, allow the names to sit with you for a while; favorites don’t always rise to the top immediately, they need time to sink in. Don’t forget the legal battle Names should always be pre-screened for legal availability to avoid the risk of falling in love with a specific name, since it probably isn’t available. If you are also interested in a URL, remember that if the standalone URL isn’t available, you can always modify it (for instance www.NewCoOnline.com). Build in enough time for full legal investigation. You don’t want to rush in this phase and risk missing a potential conflict already out there. Listen to your target audiences Test the old name alongside new alternatives. The key in naming research is to listen carefully for things that can be overcome (e.g., neutral name, reminders of different category etc.) and for things that can’t (e.g., negative associations, inappropriate meanings). In addition, pay attention to key languages for linguistic issues. Even if you are solely US-based, we live in a very diverse country and cannot ignore key languages such as Spanish, French, etc. Don’t ask for everybody’s opinion When it comes to final name selection, it is not a democracy. The final name should be selected by a small team of the key decision makers, who have a good understanding of the business and strategic objectives. In addition, in the case where senior management is not involved in the development process, make sure to build in enough time to strategically introduce your new name choice and gain their approval. And finally, let everybody know the smart, strategic vision behind the new name Your internal audiences are the most critical for the success of the new name. Employees are the ones who have strong emotional attachments to the old name; they are also the ones who will “live” the new brand on an everyday basis and they should feel good about it. The goal is to effectively use internal communications to raise employee morale and excitement about the name, by building awareness, generating acceptance and sustaining commitment. In this way, you enable them to better understand the transition, the new brand promise and create a “rally call” for success. In addition, never be apologetic. Instead, use the press from a name change as a smart opportunity to communicate a new or refreshed point of view. Name change doesn’t have to be a nightmare after all. However, it does involve a lot of hard and meticulous work. A carefully planned strategy, with a step-by-step methodology will ensure a smooth transition to a new name and will lead you to success. Oh! And, of course, help from a brand naming professional wouldn’t hurt at all. _____________ Yannis Kavounis is a branding consultant at Interbrand.