Green the new name for Red

This really would be a brave name change.

This really would be a brave name change.

“We’re thinking of changing our name, what do you think?” This is a question I’ve been asked a number of times, by a number of different businesses and organisations. Whilst there’s no set answer, because circumstances differ in each case, I always go into proceed with caution mode. For the simple reason, this is a big change even for a small organisation, and it really pays to adopt a highly objective mindset to the process from the outset.

From experience, I begin by interrogating the reasons why a name change is being considered, these can include:

  • The ability to achieve more with a new name

  • The current name is deemed to be holding back the business

  • The name no longer reflects the business or what it does

  • Awareness for the brand is low.

These reasons suggest to me the enterprise is frustrated and looking to achieve more. However, it overlooks the fact that your name can’t do anything. It has no ability to apply brand values to itself, it can’t align itself to your values, it can’t tell your brand story, and it can’t develop its own communication and marketing strategies.

So if there is a feeling that the name is hindering performance, it’s important to examine how you are managing your brand. As your name may well have been with you for a number of years it’s easy to become complacent, and over familiar with it. This can result in a lack of investment to develop and enhance your existing name. Changing your name won’t automatically resolve this, after all logic suggests if you don’t currently have a strategy in place to effectively promote your brand to existing and potential customers a new name itself won’t change that.

I’d always recommend undertaking an audit of marketing activity to identify new opportunities to support more effective use of the current name, as this should be a powerful and valuable asset to the business. This audit can also help to evidence if there is a genuine need to change the name. This should help to ensure that the decision to change the name is based on facts, not feelings. Ideally, you need to develop an evidence based business case that confirms the need for a change.

Care needs to be taken to avoid adding ambitions to what a new name could achieve, and it’s important to reiterate the fact that the name itself can not achieve anything for the business. It’s the work your team undertakes that will determine the extent to which your name is understood, recognised and respected by your audience.

Even if you come to the conclusion that your name has to be changed, you then face the very real challenge of identifying a new name. This is far from easy because you need to be able to secure the URL, and short literal names that relate specifically to what you do are almost certainly going to be impossible to acquire. This is why you often see new brands using adapted words or juxtaposed combinations of words that aim to grab attention and have URL availability. These are the, Deliveroo and Yellowpenguin type names. Whilst adapted word names allude to what the business does, the juxtaposed ones show that your name doesn’t have to be literal to your activity. These names do need to be supported by a clear and compelling brand story, communications strategy and launch activity to ensure they are understood, resonate and generate awareness for you.

When considering a name change, it’s also helpful to be mindful of the following considerations:

  • Your current reputation and awareness are based on your existing name. The new name will need an innovative launch programme for it to successfully eclipse the old name

  • Do you know what your name means to your most loyal customers and/or stakeholders? Have you consulted with them as part of the process? Do you know the strength of feeling for the current name?

  • For charities and organisations that rely on donations or public funding, it is imperative to be able to qualify why you are making this investment in the name change

  • In many cases a new strapline, supported by a new comms strategy will inject fresh interest into your brand. This can save a lot money and encourages you to take a fresh look at your existing brand

  • Don’t underestimate the work and budget needed to successfully execute a name change

  • Have a plan in place to deal with any criticism when your new name is launched. Agree messages and closely monitor social media activity for negative as well as positive comments

  • Dig deep to identify the reasons why your current name isn’t working for you. If you can’t qualify the reasons, then it’s highly likely your name isn’t the issue and instead focus on re-energising your marketing activity.

The real acid test for a new name comes once it’s in place. Whilst this change will be important to you, it will be viewed and experienced by people who live very immediate lives, and only your biggest fans will give it in-depth consideration. The challenge is to make the new name and its story compelling, immediate and attractive to your wider audiences.

A case in hand is John Lewis, where they have changed their name to John Lewis & Partners. This will be understood by people who know the business is a partnership whose staff are owners of the business. Whilst this is a great story, the retailer has made their name longer and to those customers who don’t care (and there will be plenty of them) it has little meaning. As a long established retailer, I doubt that customers will start referring to them as John Lewis & Partners, so they’ll still be known as John Lewis. I’m sure there’s plenty of documentation to support the reasoning for this name change, however to the outside world this is irrelevant, it shouldn’t need a lengthy explanation. Importantly, I can’t see how this makes the retailer a more compelling place to visit, and this is an instance when a new strapline could well have offered greater potential to engage with customers.

As changing names is risky and costly, it is essential to be very considered, and to ensure you have a solid evidence base to support the decision. Even then, it is worth looking closely at your existing name and identifying ways to overcome any of its perceived limitations before taking the brave decision to go for a completely new name.