Apr 14, 2015

Think Twice Before Changing Your Brand Name

Changing your brand name is an expensive proposition. It’s definitely not a decision to make lightly.

In 2004 I lead the rebranding of my family’s business. We did a complete rebrand:

  • New name: Changed the company name from Miller & Associates to LEAPJob.
  • New positioning: Repositioned the business from IT Staffing to Sales & Marketing Recruiting.
  • New identity: New logo, tagline, and imagery.

The new brand was brilliant, especially when compared to where we came from. But the transition was costly. It was like hitting the reset button and becoming a startup all over again.

A Name Has History

Most aspects of your brand identity are relatively easy to change. Customers don’t think twice about a new logo, new website, or new marketing campaign.

But a name is packed with meaning.

Imagine what it would be like if you changed your first name. How would friends, colleagues, and family respond to the new name? How long would it would take for them to start referring to you by the new name?

A brand name, even a boring brand name, gains meaning over time. The more people interact with your company the more they get to know it. Those experiences build upon each other and become associated with the name.

For example, when someone asks, “Have you heard of [insert brand name]?” A common response will be “yes” followed by a story or example of what you know of the business. The name is the focal point of the brand experience.

When you change the brand name you risk losing all of those past memories and experiences.

When to Change a Brand Name

Changing a brand name is drastic and should be only used in very specific circumstances:

Mergers & Acquisitions: This is the most obvious reason for a name change. One plus one does not deserve a hyphenated name. A name change following a merger is a logical process with the integration (or absorption) of the firms.

Product Growth: There are several examples where the product brand outgrows the company brand. 37Signals changed its company name to Basecamp. Basecamp was its flagship product and what the business became known for. Research In Motion changed its corporate name to Blackberry for the same reason.

Repositioning: In drastic cases, like what I did with my family business, a name change fits the repositioning strategy. The name change signals that the business has reset and is serving a new market.

Geographic Expansion: The other major reason for a name change is to serve different geographic markets. Not all names translate well across languages and cultures. You may choose to change your brand name in order to compete globally, or develop localized brands for each market you serve.

Transition the Name Slowly

If you make the bold choice to change your brand name, transition the name deliberately:

  • Over communicate internally and externally.
  • Clearly articulate the “why” behind the name change.
  • Maintain links, especially in Google, to the old name.
  • Transition the name slowly (9+ months).

A name change is different from a new logo or tagline, because it functions as a mental reference point. You’re going to need to educate your customers on the new name and help bring along as much of the history as possible to the new name.

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