BRAIN FOOD: Crash Course in... Renaming your company

You've just been handed market research that shows half your target audience has never heard of your company, and the other half thinks it is a small antipodean rodent. The bloke it was originally named after left the firm 10 years ago, and you've since changed beyond recognition.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Time for a new name?

Consider not changing Good reasons for changing names include a significant strategy shift, a merger, simplifying your corporate structure or global harmonisation. The worst reason is because you are negatively perceived.

Says Peter Shaw, a director of consultancy Corporate Edge: 'If you're not changing anything apart from the name, it's like putting lipstick on a pig.' Even if you have changed strategy, consider giving the existing name a new slant. 'Getting a new name is a huge undertaking involving huge investment in financial and human resources,' adds Shaw.

Discretion rules Avoid announcing that you're planning a name-change.

That creates a vacuum and leads to uncertainty and speculation. Far better to consult internally, but keep it quiet. 'If you get an early buy-in internally, when the name-change takes place people will rally behind it,' says Yannis Kavounis, associate director of Interbrand.

Be flexible Descriptive names are helpfully self-evident but they can also fence you in. 'You don't know exactly what you'll be in 10 years' time. But a name like Starbucks or Virgin can go into any category,' says Kavounis.

Name for attitude 'Some of the most powerful names describe an attitude,' says Nigel Markwick, a senior brand strategist at Wolff Olins, 'such as lastminute.com.' It should be pronounceable and memorable. 'It doesn't matter how unusual; if it delivers on a brand promise, people get used to it.'

Check it out Now you have to register the trademark in 75 countries, ensure the name isn't slang for dysentery in Denmark or necrophilia in Nepal, and negotiate to buy the domain name. Perhaps hiring a consultancy isn't such a bad idea after all?

Consult, then decide It's one thing to ask for ideas from the shop floor (as Accenture did). It's another to let the people vote. 'You need your strategic direction to come right from the top,' says Markwick. 'If your CEO won't stand up and announce it to the Stock Exchange, it won't work.'

Announce your new strategy If you don't want your moniker makeover to be slated by the media, present it as part of a bigger change. Says Simon Knox, professor in brand marketing at Cranfield School: 'If you have a story with real benefit for your customers, people are less likely to focus on the name and more likely to focus on the strategy.'

Do say 'We're announcing a big change in focus, including new products and the sale of non-core businesses. The restructured firm will be called...'

Don't say 'I'm sick of our boring old name; here's one I came up with in the bath.'

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime