How to rename a brand

Renaming a brand is a risky business. As many companies know, a brand name can make or break them. Would some of today’s global giants be so successful if they hadn’t renamed? And would some old favourites still be going strong if they hadn’t made the change?

The right name

A brand name is key to any company’s identity. It’s what gives the business its personality, makes it recognisable, and sets it apart.

So, imagine if Google was still called BackRub? That was its original name when it launched in 1996, referring to the web’s ‘back links’.

However, a year later, the domain took up too much bandwidth on the Stanford University servers and a replacement was needed. Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hit on ‘Googol’ which means the digit 1 followed by 100 zeroes. By fluke, they searched for ‘google.com’ instead of ‘googol.com’ and Google was officially born.

eBay also had a clunky original name – auctionweb. But when customers and the media started referring to it as eBay (after umbrella company eBay Internet), the name was changed in 1997.

Recognising the need to rename early on was key to helping Google and eBay turn their respective brands into multi billion global corporations.

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The right time

Some established brands decide to rename at the height of their success. The main reason being that their business offering has evolved.

Take Apple. In 1997 – 21 years after Apple Computers began – Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone and announced that they would be dropping ‘Computers’ from the name. This subtle, but strategic name change showed that the company was confidently heading in a new direction, and needed a future-focused name to better reflect its product mix.

But it’s not just big corporations that have made this bold decision. Wonderbly, formerly Lost My Name, was born out of the huge success of its eponymous personalised children’s book.

The success of ‘Lost My Name’ led to the creation of other books, but soon the brand name was misleading, with customers thinking they only made one book.

Wonderbly – a combination of Wonder and Impossibly – sums up the brand’s purpose to help customers make impossibly personsalised books that bring wonder into their children’s lives. This has always been at the heart of the business, and now with a more meaningful name and brand, the company is able to move forward.

The right reasons

Making the decision to rename your brand is a drastic step, and there needs to be good reason for the change.

As Ken Pasternek, Managing Director of Marshall Strategy says: “A name change can help connect a brand with its audience and position a company for greater success in the marketplace. Be clear about why change is needed. You need to have a compelling reason and clear user benefits for going through the renaming process because it’s a big investment.”

Depending on the size of the business, the cost of a new name can be eye watering. For example, Anderson Consulting spent a staggering $100 million to change its name to Accenture in 2001.

Not only that, but a recent study by research firm Millward Brown revealed that brands that change their names can expect to see an immediate five per cent to 20 per cent drop in sales.

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When it goes wrong

While some household names have enjoyed huge post-name change success, others have failed. Marathon, Opal Fruits, Jif and Midland Bank were all well-established British brands that made the wrong call to ditch their name and lost their customers in the process.

After 350 years, the Royal Mail decided to change its name to Consignia in 2001. A move that cost £1.5 million. Its chief executive said the new moniker was ‘modern, meaningful’ and appropriate’. But the bewildered public disagreed and just over a year later, a further £1 million was spent on changing it back again.

If done properly, a name change can be the key to reinvigorating a brand, better reflecting its purpose and pushing the company in a new direction. But with such high stakes, it’s a costly gamble that for some brands may not be worth it.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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