Understanding Rebranding

name tag

One of the toughest challenges companies face is rebranding. Leaders ask “should we change our name, or shouldn’t we? If so, why? If not, why not?” These are hard questions to answer. It’s not arithmetic so there is usually more than one right answer. Fortunately, we’ve helped companies navigate this process and learned a few things along the way.

Rebranding is challenging because it almost always involves giving something up. For example, it’s hard not to lose some of the equity in the current, retiring brand. Of course, sometimes the old brand’s reputation is so bad that creating a new brand is a no-brainer (Philip Morris changing its name to Altria, for example). However, often the decision is not so obvious. The question to ask yourself is this: will the short-term sacrifice in brand equity pay off with a long-term improvement in your reputation and value?

I equate the rebranding process to the modern-day equivalent of “running the gauntlet.” While no one is exposed to physical pain, it can start to feel that way when your eleventh idea is disqualified, and you have to start over. Again.

Fortunately, you can minimize the pain of rebranding / renaming your company by following a few pointers.

Let’s start out with a few fundamentals about your idea(s) for a new name:

  1. Do any of your competitors have a similar name? You’ll want to make sure your new name does not sound like a competitor’s name or reflect their reputation.
  2. Can you register your name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office? There are a few simple online tools that can help you answer this, but we always encourage consulting a trademark attorney before getting too far down the path.
  3. Can you secure a .com domain name? For now, it’s still hard to settle for alternative domains (.biz, for example), because unless you are able to devote some serious resources to search marketing, another company with the .com version of your name still has an advantage in people’s minds – and, consequently, in search engine algorithms.

Here are a few other considerations:

  1. Don’t base your name on a well-known geographical region. If you ever want to prevail in the online search world, stay away from the same name hundreds of others have used. Don’t believe me? Open an incognito window on your web browser and search for the word “northern.” Trust me on this. Your Google Ads team will thank you, and so will your budget.
  2. Keep in mind what the use of phonetic shorthand will do to your name. People will immediately look for ways to shorten your name. Your Denver Uber Drivers Etiquette School will become known as D.U.D.E.S. Kentucky Fried Chicken finally gave up and changed its name to KFC in 1991. There is a reason that names like Amazon, Google, Walmart and Target prevail: they continue just as they did on their first day.
  3. I’m a big fan of made-up words, as long as they don’t sound wonky (yes, wonky is a word). If you can come up with a word that makes sense, and no one else is using it, it’s a win. You can protect it. You can kill it in digital searches. No one else can use the word. You will OWN it. Google, eBay, IKEA, SONY, Accenture, Verizon: They all sounded ridiculous when someone first said them, but after a few years of use, they sound correct (and like they’ve always existed). The key is to get past the stage where they sound ridiculous. Nonbelievers tend to give up before the new word catches on.
  4. Avoid using partner names as your company name (sorry law firms). There is a reason you won’t find a band called Harrison, Lennon, McCartney and Starr. It’s because the Beatles meant so much more to the thousands of screaming young girls that bought their albums. It also makes it easier to transition to include new members. Maybe it’s a good thing that Carlos Santana has never collaborated with Miley Cyrus. Who would buy an album by Santana Montana?
  5. Make sure your brand is customer-centric. If you can find a name that reflects why your customers value you, it provides a foundation for your brand story that is meaningful to your customers. It will make your efforts to write your core-purpose statement much easier. Compare “we are called Amazon because we are Earth’s biggest bookstore” with “we are called Northern Valley Books because we are in a northern valley.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are ordinary names that are the foundation for great brands, but it’s not because of the name. It’s because of something even more important: the reputation they earned and associated with their name. It’s that simple. Names are important, and the reputation you build as a company is infinitely more important.

Rebranding doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, it can be fun, especially when you’ve provided everyone on your team with a brand story that makes your customers pay attention. Contact me if you’d like to find out how our anchoring principles can contribute to a successful strategy for your company.