Should I Rename My Company?

Thoughts are different at night. They somehow skip around like a record and simultaneously burrow like a termite. You’re half-awake, half-sweating through your pillow. You know the thoughts you want to avoid. The ones you try to push back when you wake. Because you know that if you give them any room, you will be up the rest of the night.

Deciding whether or not to rename your business is a good example of this type of thought. The name has a history. Employees connect with it. Your customers know it. It has equity online. But, you still have the nagging thought that it needs to change. It is one thing to cite successful businesses that have changed names: Esso to Exxon, Datsun to Nissan and back (in some places), Andersen to Accenture, Philip Morris to Altria, Kraft to Mondelez. But, it is quite another thing to rename your company.

So, before you lie awake another night, ask yourself these five questions. They might give you some resolution.

Is my brand name offensive?

If the answer to this is yes, you can get out of bed and head straight for the renaming process. You may hate the Cleveland Guardians, but it is better than the Indians. Aunt Jemima changed to Pearl Milling Company (an older brand name owned by Pepsico). That is a weird choice (why not just Pearl Mill?) but a necessary step. Waiting and hoping that controversy doesn’t strike is not a strategy. Take proactive steps. It will be a little painful, but your customers will respect it.

Is my brand name limiting business opportunities?

Businesses change. And sometimes, as they change, they outgrow names. Names that were relevant are no longer. You would not expect to buy sandpaper, sticky notes, or masks from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. The name is a barrier to marketing those items. However, buying those things from 3M feels natural. The somewhat sterile name fits the multi-national company. If you are limiting your growth, think about making a change. A short-term strain can pay off big in the long run.

Is my name limiting recruitment?

Hiring is one of the biggest current business challenges. Don’t make it harder on yourself. Maybe you named the business after yourself, and it makes it harder to attract partners. Maybe the name is misleading. Maybe some groups of people find it offensive or generally negative. A company with a benign name like Altria could more easily attract talent than the tobacco magnate Philip Morris with all of its negative connotations. If your name is a barrier to finding the talent you need, make a change.

Does a change in our leadership or core offering impact our brand name?

Is your product line expanding beyond its initial scope so that the name no longer makes sense? Are you working for a service company that has been successful for decades? When the next generation takes over, they want to show their customers and potential customers that they create momentum, not stagnation. In these cases, a name change can be a powerful internal catalyst and a strong external signal.

What if I don’t like our brand name?

So, this is probably not the best reason to make a big change. However, it can be a reason for inquiry. If you don’t like it, you probably aren’t the only one. What is it about the name that is bothersome? Dig into it. Send a survey. Create a focus group. Uncover what people really think. And, if there is a sound strategic reason, make that switch.

Changing a brand name is a big decision. It is big because anything new feels risky. Also, it is usually expensive and can have long-reaching implications. That said, there are still good reasons to do it, and many companies have successfully done it. We repeatedly hear that our clients were dreading it, but it turned out to be no big deal in the end. And, they slept much better afterward.