Assessing a Brand’s Name

Episode 53

Derek and Tucker discuss the intricate process of naming your brand.


What’s in a name?

Tucker I think that names go overlooked, surprisingly, when we talk about the work we’ve done within branding. People don’t think of a name like they think of a logo. Everyone thinks of, okay, we’re going to rebrand. We need to change our logo. Rarely does someone say they need to relook at the name of their brand. And that’s where this conversation really starts, saying, even if you are a 30-year or 60-year or a 100-year brand, there’s always a good time just to be at least assessing a brand name to make sure that it’s still relevant, make sure it’s still working properly.


Expand Full Transcript

Derek Welcome to Brands Made Meaningful conversations with the team at Sussner about how purposeful branding inspires unity, identity, and powerful change for growth-minded organizations.

Tucker We made it past the 50-episode mark. If you would have told me that on episode one, I would have laughed in your face.

Derek Season three coming soon.

Tucker Yeah, excited about that one. We’re going to try to push into some new territories and maybe get some other voices on here. People are sick of listening to us.

Derek Does that mean we need to change the name of the podcast? Because that’s what we’re talking about today.

Tucker Oh, what a good connection.

Derek See the segue?

Tucker What a segue.

Derek What’s in a name?

Tucker What is in a name? I think that names go overlooked, surprisingly, when we talk about the work we’ve done within branding. People don’t think of a name like they think of a logo. Everyone thinks of, okay, we’re going to rebrand. We need to change our logo. Rarely does someone say they need to relook at the name of their brand. And that’s where this conversation really starts, saying, even if you are a 30-year or 60-year or a 100-year brand, there’s always a good time just to be at least assessing a brand name to make sure that it’s still relevant, make sure it’s still working properly.

Derek People think of a name as permanent – that’s never, ever going to change. But we run into it all the time, including in our own organization, where we step back and say, Is what we’re doing and where we’re going still accurately reflected in how we talk about ourselves and in the name that we use to describe that? 

Tucker And I think that if we ever do change our name, a podcast about that would be great. Just do it live. How do you change the name live?

Derek Live. Whiteboarding. Name change process.

Tucker So what I want to get into today is if you’re going to change your name, or at least look at the name. I think that a lot of people go, Well, if we look at our name, then that means we’re changing our name. That’s not always true. And so why would you look at the brand name that you have? And then in what scenarios does it make sense to say, Okay, we’re going through this type of scenario. It just makes sense for us to assess the name and make sure that it’s still doing what we want it to do. We won’t get into how to change a name. I think we had an episode way, way back about what a name-changing process looks like. And maybe we can have another conversation about that at a different time.

Derek So first and foremost, the reason you would consider changing your name, or at least looking at what your name is, is to see if it’s still relevant to what you do.

Tucker When I talk to a client about potentially changing the name, I look at two big areas. When someone asks, why would we change our name, I would say two areas are – is it still relevant/does it align with what we’re trying to do – our strategy? And then, two, what kind of market perception are we currently creating? And is it creating the right perception for us? And if we can say it’s doing both of those things really well – it’s still really relevant and on pace with who we are and what we want to be, and, two, it’s really, really good for our perception and it’s creating the right perception for us, then I would say we’re great. This is perfect. Then we’ve hit the gold standard for our name right now. We keep moving forward confidently.

Derek At a really high level, how can somebody determine whether or not the name is still relevant? Is it just gut? Is it just looking at it? What’s one tip that you would give an organization as they’re looking at their name and they’re looking at who their customers are, what their current mission statement is, what their current audience is? Is it Net Promoter Score, or is it surveying?

Tucker I would look at some kind of research, whether it’s consumer research or internal research, to ask the question, what kind of perception do we want to create? Or maybe we’ve already defined it. Define that with everybody and say, Here’s the perception we’re trying to create. And then asking people if our brand name creates that perception for us is a really easy way to start. There’s a lot of things you can do. And, like I said, I don’t want to get way into the weeds of how you do all of that. But if you start asking questions – I call it socializing the problem. Let’s just go around the organization and start having the conversation. Do you think our name does what we’re trying to accomplish within the market, within our brand? You might get people pushing back and being like, Wow, you’re crazy. But you just go, Hold on a second. Let’s just have a conversation from an objective point of view. And I think the objective part is very, very important with this. There are a lot of people who may have worked at an organization for a long time or have been a part of a club for a long time. They are attached to that name. It’s going to be really hard for them to move off of that name. If you came to the office and said, Hey, I want to change the name of the company, I’m sure that at least half of us would be like, What are you talking about? That’s crazy. And so when you talk to people, let’s live in a place of removing ourselves from the amount of work that goes into it and just say, Is this objectively helping us be where we want to be? So that’s where I’d start. Either have conversations or if you do end-of-the-year surveying of a membership, or maybe you do end-of-the-year surveying of your fan base, or maybe you do end-of-the-year surveying of your consumer base, just kind of slide the name question in there. Some organizations might think that’s crazy because people are going to start asking questions about it. You know your audience better than I do right now. So that’s where I’d start.

Derek Perfect. So relevance and alignment and market perception. There are a handful of events we’ve kind of queued up here that would trigger assessing whether or not your name still is relevant for who you are, what you do, and where you’re going.

Tucker These are scenarios that have come up over the last five years when I go back and say that name change really would have made sense there, or they did a name change and it made a ton of sense because they were going through this type of process. Just try to list them all out and say if you’re going through one of these scenarios, just have the thought that maybe your name might need to be looked at. It’s just like a website or a logo. If you would say, let’s look at that every couple of years, these are the things that I would say trigger that looking. And I think you just run through these.

Derek Yeah, but you look at these first, then you decide. Sometimes we work with an organization and they’ll actually ask us right up front, We’re thinking that maybe the name change should be part of this. And our answer is usually, I don’t know yet. Let’s first understand what these different triggers might be and what these factors are. And then we can make a better recommendation.

Tucker I think that what we’re going to come back with is there’s never a perfect time to change your name. What is the saying? There’s never a great time to have a baby or something like that. There’s never a great time to change your name. There’s going to be a million reasons not to do it. However, some times are better than others, and I would say that a name change doesn’t completely change the game for you. So I wouldn’t do it as its own event. I would tie it into something that’s a larger signal of a change.

Derek There’s a restaurant that used to be by my house that was failing, so the owner changed the name. They rebranded it – a new name, new logo, same staff, same menu, same interior, same food.

Tucker Vibe. Yeah.

Derek And it ultimately went out of business. So they weren’t effectively changing anything other than just the sign on the outside.

Tucker I don’t like to think of name changes as marketing plays. That can be the perception of it a lot of times, saying, Oh, you changed your name for marketing purposes. Like you just established, there’s a lot of, Oh, that’s interesting. There’s a new name. And then you go there and it’s just the same thing. It almost makes you feel worse about it than you did the first time.

Derek Super disappointing.

Tucker Not a great way to go about it. But anyway, going back to these scenarios, I just want to walk through them and then we can talk about them a little bit. So the first one is you’re doing a strategic shift. Think about things like you’re changing markets or you’re expanding into different areas. Maybe you’re re-diversifying your products or your offerings saying, Okay, I’m looking at what we offer and we’re going to change that in some capacity. Or we’re going to expand that. Basically, we’re trying to redefine ourselves in either this industry or we’re going to define ourselves in a new industry.

Derek You’re either going away from something or towards something usually.

Tucker The next one is mergers or acquisitions. This happens a lot when a client would come to us and say, We just merged two, three, four, eight organizations. What should we do with naming? Should we take one that we currently have? Should we build a brand new one? What is the way to go about that? Some people just take the biggest name and keep moving forward. And that can be a good option. That can also be an option that hurts things like culture and that hurts things like the perception of the company where it rallies underneath the perception of the largest one, which can not always be the right way to go about it.

Derek We’re working with an organization right now with that exact issue where three organizations merged. They took the logo from one of the organizations and combined it with the name of one of the other organizations. I don’t have clarity on why they picked which for each other than it was a concession by the owners coming together and saying, Give and take, let’s keep our logo and keep your name.

Tucker Which at the moment seems like a good idea. I think that there are a lot of logistical ways to look at a name and say that it makes a lot of sense. But the way that I would look at it, away from the financial burden that changing a name comes into, is it helping us be who we want to be moving forward? And for mergers and acquisitions, that’s a hard conversation because there’s a lot of politics, internal politics, that go into that specifically.

Derek This organization in particular continues to struggle with referring to the name of the organization that they used to work for. So I’m actually Legacy Acme Company, even though now I work for this organization.

Tucker I would never work for Acme Company.

Derek What does Acme stand for?

Tucker I have no idea.

Derek The next one. Global expansion.

Tucker Global expansion. We work with organizations that may have started in a specific country, and they get large and they have a lot of success, and that’s awesome. But when you move into a new market, especially into international markets, your name might mean something else in a different language. That is not good. That can really hinder your growth and your ability to sell and have success in those markets. I think there are a lot of people that might expand into a market and for a good reason but they overlook the ability to say their brand doesn’t mean the same thing in that culture as it does here. So when you’re going into this international market space, you should be looking for that. All of the different ways that your current brand is perceived here might not be the same way there, especially when you talk about the name. It could mean something in a different language or it could have a different slang version. Working with companies, even when they come from other countries to the US, it’s the same way. Your name is very, very popular in your original country, but when you come here, it doesn’t really mean the same thing. It doesn’t have that same level of perception.

Derek The next one is to differentiate. It’s literally to help you stand out from your competition.

Tucker I talk about this in the matter of how the competitive landscape has changed. And you’ve noticed that there are more competitors in your industry, or maybe there are different competitors in your industry than there were when the name happened, whether that was 30 years ago or whatever. This means that you should relook at that to say, Okay, we’re looking at our competitors, we’re doing all these other things. Maybe a competitor has a very similar name to you. Maybe they’re all named in a certain way, and you’re named in a different way. To start being mindful of that at least allows you to be objective saying, Okay, things are changing in our industry. How do we change or not change?

Derek I’m going to pick on the industries, but the legal law firms and accounting firms traditionally string a handful of owners’ or principals’ names together. One really easy way to stand out and differentiate from that very normal nomenclature is to name your law firm or CPA firm a name that’s not three people’s names.

Tucker Private clubs are the exact same way. They’re going to pick the name of the most popular tree on their course, and then they’re going to match it with the landscape that’s around there – like Pine Valley. 

Derek Or they’re going to name it after the nearest city in which they live, even though it isn’t a municipal golf course and has no affiliation with the actual zip code that it shares. It’s just location.

Tucker It’s just easy. It’s like, Yep, let’s do that. Sounds good. The next one is a brand evolution. Maybe you’re going through some kind of brand evolution. Maybe you’re saying you need to relook at your brand. You need to refresh it. That’s a really great time to look at the name. You’re already doing the brand-forward work. It’s just adding that onto the docket to say you don’t need to change your name but you do need to assess your name. Just like you would assess your brand. For any client that comes to us with a rebranding or a brand evolution initiative, we always say the first step in our discovery and strategy process is assessing the current brand and saying if what we look like and feel like and sound like is doing what we want it to do in the broader marketplace. And that’s an awesome time. Especially when you’re rolling out new logos and new colors and with all the graphics and the verbal changes, to say, And by the way, we’re going to be called this from now on.

Derek This is the one, of all of these, that is probably the most in our wheelhouse. It’s the one that we see the most because brand evolution and rebrand type of work are the backbone of what we do. But this comes up all the time. Earlier today we had a conversation with a golf club that we’re working with on whether or not the name should change. And so we’ve done some surveying and we’ve made our recommendation. We’ll see what the board decides. But it takes a lot of weighing in to say this is a 110-year-old golf club that has turned over 70% of its membership in the last seven years, and it’s completely redefined or refined who its target members are. Does the name that we currently call ourselves reflect the ten-year, 20-year vision of where we’re going next? And it’s a really interesting conversation because emotions come into play. People are sentimental.

Tucker History comes into play.

Derek We’ve had the same name for 110 years. How dare we change our name? It’s a complicated issue. But evolving the brand, which is what they are doing, for a lot of forward-thinking reasons, whether they change it or not, this is at least a good time to consider it.

Tucker The next one is a milestone. When you run into a milestone as an organization, it’s an awesome time to rethink some of this stuff, to say, Okay, we’re reaching our 100th anniversary. On the same note, we just talked to another private club a couple of weeks ago where they said, We’re getting close to 100 years. Is it time for us to relook at how we name ourselves, what we establish ourselves as, and is it relevant moving forward just because we’ve been here for 100 years? That was a super visionary conversation from the club to say, Hey, we’ve been this. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we always have to be this. But that next era in this organization’s life is going to be who cares what we were? Let’s figure out what we want to be and let’s move forward. So these milestones are a great time to say we’ve done this for a long time. Is it still right?

Derek So our organization’s turning 25 this year. Does that mean we need to change our name?

Tucker Oh, I didn’t even think about that. Wow. Yes, it does by the way. There are more scenarios than this. I think it’d be naive for me to say that this is it. This is all you get. There’s a lot of times where it goes, we’re changing. We should look at our name just to make sure that it’s right. But overall, I think the takeaway from this is to think about your name as another asset within your brand. It’s not the whole thing. It’s like the logo, right? The logo is an asset. We’re going to use it as a tool. We’re going to craft perception with it. Your name is the exact same way. I think of your name as the verbal logo for your whole brand, and the logo is the visual component of that. If you say this is what people say to each other, this is how they bring us up in conversation, it touches so much of how our perception is. If it doesn’t help you create the right perception, then that can be a huge miss from your team.

Derek What we talked about earlier is being able to evaluate whether or not it’s creating the right perception and doing so as objectively as possible is the way to do it. It’s so easy to get lost in the subjectivity, the sentimentality, it’s the way-we’ve-always-been type of approach, and it’s easier to stay with what you have. Changing your name takes some bravery. I don’t take that lightly. Changing the name of your organization, unless you’re a couple of months old and your name has no equity in the market, takes some guts. And so it has to weigh out the pros and the cons and the investment and the hard costs and expenses that will come with changing your name and changing URLs and communication materials, etc.

Tucker Absolutely. Signage, legal things, legal documents. There’s a lot of stuff in there. And I think that when we talk about changing the name, people go right to the big question of, Okay, we’re going to change the entire name. Maybe not. Maybe you change a little bit of it, or maybe there are multiple components of it that we change, or maybe we’re blank and blank this company and maybe we want to be switched a little bit from that. It’s not necessarily an impossible task. There’s a lot of ways around it. I would agree that it takes bravery. There are a lot of people who would say, We’re going to change our name. And everyone in the room would be like, Whoa, are you serious? There’s a little bit of stigma around that.

Derek I would think of a pros and cons list of saying, is our current name getting in the way of us growing our business? Is it neutral or is it actively helping us in our business?

Tucker That’s a great way of looking at it. If I try to remember all of the projects where we’ve at least talked about name, which is a lot more than you would think, less than 50% of them actually change their name. More than half look at the name and then go, No, it’s either doing what we need it to do or it’s not hindering our ability to move forward. And I would say out of those three it’s either helping us, not hurting us, or hurting us. If it’s helping us or not hurting us, I wouldn’t change your name. I would say that that means it’s good enough as is to keep moving forward in the direction you were going. If it’s actively hurting your perception, that would be the time to move forward.

Derek Back to the restaurant. The restaurant didn’t go out of business because of the first name that they had. It wasn’t a good name.

Tucker So you didn’t like the name of the restaurant and you said, I just don’t want to go there anymore?

Derek No, it was the food. It was the food and the service and the terrible beer tap selection.

Tucker Okay. All right. Anything else?

Derek No, this is a good one. I’d look it up if I had it here in front of me. But if you dial back, we do have a naming process conversation. It gets into the weeds if that’s what you’re looking for in the next step of a more how-to and some of the steps to go through. But at a high level, I think assessing the name and not taking it for granted and not thinking that it has to be permanently etched in stone. If there’s an opportunity to help your business evolve, I would at least take that into consideration. Maybe this is part of a great strategic planning conversation with your leadership team.

Tucker Be brave. Have the conversation. That’s it. And we’re not asking you to do anything about it, but just have the conversation. It’s not that hard.

Derek It’s not. And you’re not naming a baby.

Tucker Don’t even care.

Derek You’re naming an organization. So it’s okay.

Tucker All right. Until next time. See you. Thanks.

Derek Sussner is a branding firm specializing in helping companies make a meaningful mark, guiding marketing leaders who are working to make their brand communicate better, stand out, and engage audiences to grow their business. For more on Sussner, visit sussner.com.

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