imageI was asked at a branding conference whether it is advisable to change the name of a business when it no longer seems to convey a strong, compelling meaning to the target consumer.

While this seems like an odd question, marketers like to rename things. Brand names are names – that is all.  The power of a brand is in the relationship,the associated meanings attached to the name — not the name itself.  Changing a name erases all associations in an instant.  In 90% of cases, therefore, the answer to the subject question is no.

Would you rename your dog after a few years because she no longer had a contemporary name that conveys a benefit?  I am warmly reminded of my old family pet lab, Speed, aptly named when he was a pup.  When he was 12, and rested in the yard of every third home, we laughed about his name, but he was still ‘Speed’. 

However, it might be appropriate to consider changing a brand or company name when:

 

  1. A significantly large set of consumers overwhelmingly associate a name with a negative attribute or incorrect offering that would take unrealistic resources to correct.
  2. A business has completely changed its line of business – and consumers would be confused by use of the old name (I still think of Singer as a company that makes sewing machines, although I am not their customer).
  3. A business wants to stand for something new and can afford losing a substantial percentage of current customers.

It is NOT appropriate to rename a company based only on the following:

  1. The current name is not seen as modern and contemporary. The purpose of a brand name is to be longer lasting.
  2. The current name is not descriptive enough.
  • While descriptive names are widely used, they can be poor brand name choices as they limit evolving consumer needs.
  • The current name has a few negative associations or is declining in sales
    • Business cycles change the fortunes of businesses over time, both good and bad.  Trading in loyalty because of being temporarily out of favor is not always wise.
  • The current name is silly.
    • many great names are silly…and silly names benefit by being memorable.
  • When the named owner or a partner leaves. 
    • Still not a good reason to change.  While customers might see the logic in the change, the equity is in the associated qualities, not the name itself.    Ray Kroc did not rename McDonalds to Kroc’s when he bought a 4 store burger chain in the 1950s.

    I once re-branded and re-launched a line of products with a modern name and new packaging.  The brand was old and not very well known and was a low risk of losing loyal consumers.  The result was significant loss in distribution as our category was put up for immediate competitive review by most of our retailers.  They figured if we didn’t believe in our brand, then why should they?  I realized that even in a low awareness category, a bad name is better than the no name – which is sometimes the result.

    In a nutshell, the benefit of new business with a new name will usually not outweigh the risk of lost identity and resulting loss of loyal customers and consumers.

     

    Door photo courtesy of Same Indifference

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