9 Reasons to Rename Your Brand

Thinking about changing your brand name, but wondering if your rationale makes sense?

Here are nine different reasons other companies have renamed:

1. Your business just pivoted.

Yes, pivoted is jargon. But it is shorter than saying, “your business model wasn’t working so you changed it.” If your business just pivoted, then a new name is a great way to signal the change. Take Flickr for example.

Stewart Buttterfield originally created a massively multiplayer online game called Game Neverending, which contained many of the tools that powered Flickr. But when Butterfield and co-founder Caterina Fake decided that the photo-sharing was a better business path, they shelved the game and Flickr was born.

Also, did you know about Odeo? You know the network where you could find new podcasts to subscribe to? Yeah, they pivoted. Based on a two-week company jam session, two employees had a better idea: micro-blogging. The employees? Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone. The pivot? Twitter.

Just pivoted? Or needing to pivot? First, pray the next Jack and Biz work for you. Second, new name time.

2. Your name is too long.

How long is too long? More than two syllables. Just ask Federal Express, which had consumers saying “FedEx” long before the company officially renamed. The Computing Tabulating Recording Company (14 syllables) became International Business Machines (still too many at 9 syllables) and later IBM. Which is too many and an acronym. But we’ll let it slide.

Are people shortening your name for you? Are they using your initials? If so, then consider renaming yourself to the shortened version if you can own it. And consider a new name altogether if they are shortening it into an acronym.

3. Your name gives the wrong impression.

You could also call this the “if you wake up and realize you are evil” reason in the case of Phillip Morris. They renamed themselves Altria in 2003, and to be a little more balanced than the evil comment, they do own a winery.

But if your brand means something it shouldn’t, then consider a new name. We’ve all heard the story about the Chevy Nova meaning “no-go” and not selling well in “Spanish-speaking markets.” Turns out it’s not true. It did sell well. But the point still resonates.

We recently developed a name we loved for a new breakfast food, only to find some rather obscene slang definitions of the name online. So, we selected another option.

Scott Belsky’s popular 99% online magazine and conference go co-opted by the 99% and Occupy movements. So, he switched to 99u out of respect for the movement.

If you find your name meaning something it shouldn’t; if you find yourself on the wrong side of a product strategy; or if you learn that the name means something you’d rather be confused with, then it is time for a new name.

4. Your name is descriptive versus proper.

Names should be proper and not descriptive. Yes, you can show me exceptions to this rule. But that doesn’t make it any less of a rule. Clever rule breakers aside. The name should come to stand for the product or service you are selling. It should name it.

But if it is overly descriptive, then it is going to risk becoming too generic. Just ask Rollerblades. Or it will not be very memorable like your dry cleaners. Or is probably going to be too long anyway. Like Blue Ribbon Sports.

Those aren’t Blue Ribbon Sports shoes in your closet. Those are Nikes. And even though Nike didn’t mean as much as a blue ribbon in sports when you first heard it. It sure does now.

So, for all you SuperClean’s and GoodTime’s out there. Do yourself a favor. Put on your Nike’s and walk to your local design firm for a new name.

5. Your company just merged or acquired.

If you really geek out on M&A histories, then feast your eyes on the tale of John McAfee’s company. And if you like tales of company founders turned America’s most wanted, then feast your eyes on the tale of John McAfee himself.

We’ll focus on the former.

Born McAfee Associates, the company eventually landed at Intel, but went through a long circuitous number of mergers and restructures before settling down on the name McAfee. Once they were acquired by Intel, the tag “An Intel Company” appeared under the logo, but that’s just hubris and nothing to do with the name.

(If you are reading this and you happen to be the corporate historian for McAfee Associates, then please email me all the permutations. I would enjoy reading it.)

Suffice it to say. M&A equals renaming. A lot of it. And those of us in the brand business thank you.

6. Your company just spun-off.

This is the other side of the M&A coin. The spin-off. And there are any number of high profile spin-off’s we could talk about. But one stands above the rest for me: Accenture.

Accenture originated from the spin-off of Andersen Consulting from Arthur Andersen the accounting (and eventually business consulting) firm. Accenture dodged any of the nastiness of the Enron scandal that ended up dissolving Arthur Andersen and a lot of investor dollars and careers as well.

I remember the launch of Accenture. I remember not liking the name. I remember a lot of people not liking the name. And then, it was not a big deal. And then, it seemed like a good name. It was a real lesson to me in the change cycle of names.

It also shows that good ideas can come from anywhere. The name Accenture supposedly derives from “accent on the future” and was submitted by an employee. Nicely done.

Spin-off’s become new companies and require new names most of the time. It makes sense. And in the case of Accenture, ended up saving the company from reason to rename #3.

7. Your brand went national.

Often companies can launch with a regional identity that needs to grow as the company becomes a national player. This was certainly the case for the St. Louis Bread Company. Never heard of them? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of Panera?

Au Bon Pan bought St. Louis bread and they renamed the company as they expanded outside the St. Louis area.

Or perhaps your company has a very localized name. Or your brand has connotations of a certain geography. Like regional airline or transportation companies that expand their routes.

Of course, there are exceptions like Southwest, which has a national footprint with a regional name. If your brand is as strong as Southwest’s, then you have permission to keep it regional sounding.

And then there is Air Pacific, who leveraged the allure of Fiji when they renamed themselves to Fiji Airways. With a beautiful new identity to boot.

The point here is that you should know what you stand for, know what your vision is, and then determine if a geographic name fits. If so, then go for it. If not, then rename.

8. Your brand went international.

Perhaps you just opening up international markets and you have US in your name. Or perhaps you have a name that references a culturally-specific idea that just doesn’t translate. Then you might need a new name.

Pan American Airways started life running freight between Florida and Cuba, but it shorted its name to PanAm as it grew – much the same way Federal Express became FedEx. And in the same way made itself more global at the same time.

GoldStar was founded in Korea to make electronics and home appliances. It was a part of the Lucky (Lak-Hui) Group of companies. But they decided to land on the globally friendly LG as they entered foreign markets.

Moving into new languages or international markets? Make sure your name translates (loads of failure stories here) or that it can be trans-national like LG or Nike. Or even better, find an icon like the swoosh that transcends language. (yeah, small order, I know)

9. Your name is dumb.

If you wake up one day with the aspirations of being one of the most valuable, most influential and most important companies of your generation AND the name of your company is Backrub, then change it.

Of course, you won’t be able to change it like they did—to Google. Even so, if your name is dumb, then change it. How do you know if it is dumb? Well, if you have to ask…

***

Okay, so that’s 9 of the certainly 100’s of reasons to change your name. But I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the #1 worst reason to change your name is that you are bored with it. Now, if your customers are bored of it, don’t like it, make fun of it, laugh at it when they shouldn’t…well, that’s another story.

***

And feel free to share this with your colleagues. Or let me know if you’d like to chat about your brand situation. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about a new name.

This post originally ran on LinkedIn.