Strategy & Marketing

When It’s Time To Change A Business Or Nonprofit’s Name

Google was originally named “Backrub.” Best Buy began as “Sound of Music.” Sony was originally “Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo.” Nike started out as “Blue Ribbon Sports.” Sometimes the need to change a organization’s name is obvious, but more often, leaders feel the desire, but can’t always put their finger on a good reason. In many cases, there’s so much equity and goodwill in a name, it’s not worth changing, but in other cases there are very good reasons to consider a switch. If you feel that urge, here are some circumstances where I’d strongly recommend you consider changing your organization’s name:

1. When the mission has changed. Perhaps you’re a nonprofit that began building water wells in Africa, but now you’re moving in a different direction. Your name should be identified with the organization’s mission, so when that mission changes, it may be time to change the name as well. A friend of mine launched a nonprofit that sent American physicians on short term trips to Third World countries. But after a few years they switched to a strategy of recruiting and training local physicians in those countries to do the work. As a result, they felt it was time to change the name to reflect a different purpose and mission.

2. When you expand or contract. Sometimes, an organization grows and offers new services or products, and sometimes an organization specializes so they can focus on a more narrow niche. Either way, it’s often time to change the name to reflect that shift.

3. When your current name is hurting your business. For instance, Phillip Morris, the tobacco industry behemoth, changed its name to Altria in 2001. Their goal was to move away from the negative perceptions people had about the tobacco industry. I’ve seen other situations where a company named for a founder became mired in controversy when that founder was arrested or experienced a public humiliation. In other situations an organization’s name can be caught up in negative publicity because of political or cultural changes. Changing a name can help improve that perception.

4. When there’s a major shift in culture or technology and your name becomes outdated. UPS was originally the American Messenger Company, but delivery services experienced a radical shift so they changed their name. In a different way, names like “First Baptist,” “Third Presbyterian,” and other legacy denominational church names don’t seem to resonate as much in today’s culture. Changes in these situations can often reinvigorate an organization.

5. When your name doesn’t translate internationally. Today the world is global. There’s an iconic story about Chevrolet launching the Nova model in Spain only to see sales tank. That’s when the marketing department realized that in Spanish, “Nova” means “no go.” Needless to say, they were forced to call it something else.

6. You can’t get the URL. Owning the website based on your company name (or a variation of your name) as well as the social media platforms are critical in today’s digital world. If you haven’t been able to secure a URL and the appropriate social media handles that work with your name, then it might be time to change.

7. Shorter and simpler is almost always better. A good example is Bearing Point. It started when two companies merged: Peat Marwick International and Klynveld Main Goerdeler. They could have been “Peat Marwick Klynveld Main Goerdeler,” (how about the web address for that!) but changed the name to KPMG Consulting, and eventually Bearing Point. (It was a good move.)

The question is: Is it time to change your name? There are many other reasons as well, and our team has a proven process to help you discover a more effective and compelling name, so reach out to our team at Cooke Media Group and we can walk you through our unique strategy for finding the right name for your organization.

Photo by Nicolai Berntsen on Unsplash

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