So your business made it off the ground, you’re generating revenue, but you’ve hit a roadblock with your company name. Perhaps it’s too niche, or misleading, or tied to a geographic location - what to do? Changing your company name requires careful consideration and planning to achieve a successful outcome and take your business to the next level. Before you make the move, here are five key considerations to achieve optimal results.
1. Evaluate the Pros and Cons Before You Begin
Company name changes are prompted by a number of factors such as the business name being too common, too literal, too generic, geographically limiting, a meaningless or former surname, an acronym that requires explanation, (e.g. Does anyone really know what TIAA-CREF really stands for?) Some business name changes are prompted by legal threats and trademark disputes. Whatever the reason(s), make a list of them in order of importance and evaluate the pluses and minuses of moving forward. One on hand you may gain greater name recognition and pick up a matching .com domain to boot, but you may also lose potential customers who know you by your current name, or may think the business has changed hands or been sold.
Often the long term benefits of greater name recognition and higher customer recall can outweigh the temporary cost of transitioning from a limiting or misleading company name.
Discuss the potential risks and rewards with your management team and gather feedback from the rank and file as well. Often the long term benefits of greater name recognition and higher customer recall can outweigh the temporary cost of transitioning from a limiting or misleading company name. So look at both short term disruption and expense as well as long term brand positioning and equity to gain a good overall perspective.
2. Establish a Plan of Action
If you decide to move forward, layout a definitive course of action to accomplish your goals. Decide the who, what, where, when, why and how. List out the key branding criteria that will be the drivers for the project. Is the goal to obtain a solid trademark? Or to have something more catchy and memorable? Is it to better position your company to take advantage of new markets and opportunities? Do you need the matching .com? Who will spearhead the name change? And will you do it internally or hire outside expertise?
Map out as many of the objectives and action steps that you can. Decide who will head up the project and who will be in on the decision making process. The fewer decision makers, the easier the decision. A camel is a horse made by a committee, so take in lots of input, but try to limit the final decision to those who understand the company's goals and objectives.
3. Generate the new company names
This step can by done internally or with the help of outside vendors. Start by writing a definitive creative brief which details the branding criteria from step 2 above. Distribute the brief to team members or to branding firms that you engage. Have a firm list of deliverables that you expect at the end of the process, (e.g. the new company name, a matching supporting tag line, a new logo design, a matching domain name, trademark clearance, etc.)
If choosing an outside naming firm, look for similar work in similar industries and ask for pricing and examples, as well as references from previous clients. Set up a reasonable timeline that allows for multiple rounds of names, with time for team members to review and digest the names (from one to three months for smaller companies, three to six months for larger firms.)
Some of the best company names are ones that take time to grow on the group, gain traction, build a back story and generate enthusiasm.
Make a short list of the best naming candidates and let them "soak" for a while before making any immediate judgments. Some of the best company names are ones that take time to grow on the group, gain traction, build a back story and generate enthusiasm. Don't set unrealistic expectations, such as waiting for a name that "jumps out." New company names are inherently unfamiliar. It's doubtful that a name like Verizon jumped out of a huge list of names. Give it time and let the good ones rise to the top.
4. Pick the Winner
This seems obvious enough, but change can be scary, and the fear of the unknown can cause undue hesitation. Remind yourself of the missed opportunities and the potential gains you listed when first starting out. If you've set clear branding criteria that addresses the issues with your current name, then your top picks are almost certainly better than what you currently have in place. Run through the mental exercise of introducing yourself with the new name. Try out the transition from the name to a short explanation of what you do - your "elevator speech." See if the name provides an overall platform that allows for future growth and expansion, such as brand extensions and sub branding.
Some names may seem like sleepers, but they have "legs," or the ability to keep on giving and giving. (Metaphor names are a good example, such as Apple, Amazon and Midas) Other names can grab initial interest and then fall flat. (This tends to be the case with coined or invented names which require marketing dollars to imbue them with meaning, such as Xerox, Kodak and Accenture.) Screen the final three to five names from your short list for trademark clearance and then pick the best of the bunch.
5. Implement the Plan
From step two, your plan of action, look at all the various stakeholders and touch points that your new name will affect. Take care to introduce your new company name in a way that underscores the positive goals and outcomes behind your decision. Have a press release in place to highlight the benefits of the new name, and how that will help both customers and staff moving forward. Have all the various branding elements in place and ready to go, from the company web site and social media pages to internal documents and vehicle signage. Have your legal counsel file any local, state and federal documents required.
Take care to introduce your new company name in a way that underscores the positive goals and outcomes behind your decision.
Realize that you will encounter some initial resistance from some customers and staff that have grown accustomed to your existing identity and may not understand your long term strategy. Remain positive and upbeat in all your communications and demonstrate a sense of leadership. In a matter of a few short months, most company name changes seem like they are a distant thing of the past. Typically there is a release of new energy with a company name change, as staff can now refocus on other key areas of the business.
The Big Picture
Through careful planning, creative strategy, and consistent execution, you can successfully rename and reposition your company to build greater awareness, recall and profitability. By following the above five steps, you and your team can better anticipate and manage the renaming process to achieve your desired results.
If you've been through a recent company name change, feel free to share your experience. What lessons did you learn? What advice would you share?
About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.
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