This post is in some sense an addendum to “On Naming And Branding,” which you can find on the JDI website here.
It is not uncommon for people (execs, advisors, investors, Board members) to suggest a name change for the wrong reasons. Many of the companies we come across ought to rebrand. But, there are just as many who should stick to their guns.
This post was prompted by a situation in which the company in question was tempted to change its name in order to solve a messaging and positioning problem that sat considerably downstream. In this case the name change would have been a band-aid at best. It would not have treated the root cause of pain. In fact, a rebrand would have rid the company of one of its very best attributes.
I can’t reveal specifics here, but the example applies generally to any company that attempts to solve a problem with name or brand that name or brand cannot solve.
At JDI we’ve been a part of many rebrands, many of them to great effect, I’m proud to say. As such it’s not uncommon for us to suggest a change. But what’s not emphasized as much (because the outcome is invisible) is how often we counsel clients to stay put.
Names and brands will always have a hard time playing the role of cure-all. Names and brands are opening arguments — overburdening them with problems they are ill-equipped to solve is a common mistake.
“You should change the name” is one of the easiest pieces of advice to give, and yet one of the most commonly wrong as well.
A brand should be judged primarily on being memorable. What the original mad man David Ogilvy said of advertisements, can also be said of names (which can be thought of as advertisements at their core).
"The role of advertising is not to persuade people to try your product, but rather to persuade them to use it more often than the other brands in their repertoire."
—Confessions Of An Advertising Man
That’s what a great brand is good for. Nothing more, nothing less.
If there is indeed a deeper problem that is impeding the business, you generally fix it best at the exact juncture that such an issue rears its head.
You’ll do better to think through what’s really going on — is onboarding vague? Are superusers passing along the wrong message to friends? Has an off-label use eclipsed the intended one? Is your language and vocabulary misleading, or too much like your competitors’ version of the same? Are you losing credibility by pretending that customers assume no risk by adopting your technology? Are you having difficulty summoning the courage to walk away from one customer segment in favor of another?
Very rarely is changing the name or re-doing your brand the intellectually honest solution to a complex business problem.
Think of Virgin Airlines, which seeks to question assumptions in a legacy business, generally break rank, and renew your faith where scar tissue otherwise pervades.
Virgin implies freshness, naivety, purity, inexperience, newness, sexuality, etc.
That is not in general a set of traits I would assign to my airline of choice — my life is at stake, for starters. And yet I use Virgin substantially more than the other brands in my repertoire…
Virgin has come under their fair share of scrutiny along the way — but they’ve stood their ground. It would have been easy at many junctures along the way to rejoin the peloton. And yet, they’ve weathered storms (marketing, product, financial, regulatory) far more elegantly than their peers, in part because we believe in the Virgin brand more than we do others. In a commodity business, Virgin stands for something. It has an enduring point of view, through thick and thin.
Don’t get squeamish, or interventionist. And don’t take the easy way out.
Let name and brand do what name and brand do best. If you have a naming and/or branding problem, fix your name and brand. But don’t make them do more, and don’t let them do less — be sure the treatment fits the disease (and is worth the cure).