Signing out of account, Standby…
Considering changing a company or product name? Stop. Before you jump to conclusions, use this framework to conduct a name assessment and think through your options carefully.
Maybe it’s a trend, maybe it’s a coincidence, but lately I’ve seen an uptick in companies reaching out to me for “name assessments.” In each case — based on a hunch or a few too many snide comments from customers — the client was seeking an informed opinion on whether or not it was time to change their company name. If you’ve ever wondered whether a company or product name needs to change, this article provides some of the basic considerations I’ve shared with my clients and an overview of my approach assessing a name.
To provide a recommendation to my clients, I pore through any existing research, conduct some of my own, and look at how a name stacks up against its competitors’. On one recent project, I recommended the client keep their current name. They did. On another, I recommended a slight tweak to the company name, but the client decided against the change. In other words, despite legitimate concerns around both of these company names, neither of them wound up changing. And, big picture, that’s a good thing; brand names should almost never change.
When clients ask about changing a name (or a logo, for that matter), I always remind them that their default position should be to avoid change. Both long-standing marketing wisdom and recent marketing science point to the importance of consistency in building strong brands. In their 1981 classic, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote, “More than anything else, positioning requires consistency. You must keep at it year after year.” And more recently, Dr. Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute advised, “When assets have been embedded for a while, it is tempting to tinker with them. Don’t. … Fight the natural urge … to change your Distinctive Assets.” (Building Distinctive Brand Assets)
Related: When Is It Time to Rebrand? Lessons From Meta, Block and More
Don’t change a long-standing company or product name simply because you’ve grown tired of it or a handful of customers have pointed out its flaws. Name changes come with many costs — time, money, lost brand equity — and risks. And there is no perfect brand name. (Upon hearing “Nike,” founder Phil Knight said, “I guess that’s the best of the bunch. Maybe it’ll grow on us.”) Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, work to build awareness, associations, and preference around the existing name.
Whether a brand name works depends on context, so the first step in evaluating a name is learning about the underlying company or product, the audience(s) for the name, and the competitive landscape. You may want to start by conducting some interviews, reviewing marketing or strategy materials, and checking competitors’ websites.
Rooted in an understanding of the context, brand names should be assessed in each of three categories of qualities: strategic, creative, and technical:
To conduct the assessment, assign the name “grades” in each of these categories of qualities. The grades should be informed by your understanding of the context, including competitor names and objectives for the brand name. Your work may highlight the name’s weaknesses, but don’t jump to the conclusion that a change is necessary. Many brands have succeeded despite seemingly problematic names, including Google (too cute to be taken seriously), Netflix (no longer descriptive of everything the company does), Nike (unclear pronunciation), Kodak (meaningless), and Diesel (negative connotations).
Related: When to Consider a Rebrand (and How to Do It Right)
Of course, there are situations in which a name change is recommended, or even necessary. Here are six situations in which a name change may be required:
Related: More Than Changing Racist Names, Brands Must Create New Social Footprints
Name changes, whether at the company or product level, need to be assessed on a case by case basis. Assessments should be informed by the brand’s context, and the default position should always be to avoid change. If you’re debating the pros and cons of changing a brand name — maybe for one of the reasons listed above — the steps and framework above will help you make the right call.
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