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By Any Other Name
Linda Formichelli, Deliver Magazine

It seems that businesses these days are changing their names more often than gas prices change at the pump. “I think that we’re seeing an uptick, and there’s certainly cause,” says Tate Linden, president and managing principal of the boutique naming firm Stokefire. “Many of those wild and crazy firms from the dot-com era are now looking for respectability. And many of the stuffy traditional firms are thinking that they want in on the new Web 2.0 trends.”

Companies change their names for many reasons: They merge or are acquired by a new company. They shift their business focus. They seek to distance themselves from other companies with similar names. But no matter why they do so, the ones who change their name successfully — that is, with minimal disruption to business — are often those who market the change well.

No matter what the reason for the change, businesses that undergo an identity shift need to take steps to make sure everyone is on board. The good news is that it’s not only possible to get customers to embrace a name change, it’s also possible to use the process to boost the brand identity of your business. Here are six steps to take to ensure you do both:

1. Get Buy-In
Take the company formerly named The Bankers Bank, which provides financial services to small and medium-sized banks. When it went national, its officers discovered that 20 other businesses had the phrase “bankers bank” in their name. So the company changed its name to Silverton Bank and launched the name change on January 1, 2008, with press releases, Web notices, e-mail blasts, and letters to customers, vendors and partners.

When The Bankers Bank was thinking of changing its name, officials’ first strategy in coming up with a new company name was to run an employee contest. They gave the employees criteria to abide by — names had to be available, trademarkable, and not have the words “bankers’ bank” — and 123 employees submitted more than 1,000 names. While this tactic didn’t turn up a usable name, it did get employees involved in the process, and Silverton Bank conducted a drawing of everyone who submitted names and rewarded one person with $500.

“It’s important to get commitment from the internal people — the people who are going to be interacting with this brand every day and taking it out there to the rest of the world,” says Dave McMullen, principal at the branding company redpepper. The trick is to include them in the process. “If people inside the company, who basically are the brand, are brought in and have full commitment and really believe in what you are doing, then they will be the ones who will make sure that people understand why the change happened,” McMullen says.

To get employees involved in the name change, start from the top down by making sure the leaders in the company agree on the new direction that’s causing the name change; include key employees in research and brainstorming; poll your entire staff about what they think is special about the company, as any insight may help you pick a name and roll it out later; roll the new name out internally first; and give workers a way to talk up the new brand, such as letting them give out logo merchandise.

2. Go Direct
Direct mail is, well, the most direct way to help customers understand your name change. When Silverton Bank was faced with customer confusion, they hired redpepper to create a direct mail piece. The piece features the old and new logos side-by-side and asks, “Can a company change its name and still preserve its identity?” When opened, the piece answers, “Absolutely.” It goes on to explain that only the name has changed, and everything else is business as usual. The direct mail piece was sent to 24,000 customers, and its success was immediate: The number of calls from concerned customers sharply decreased.

Some businesses are getting even more creative with their direct mail tactics, using designs that visually demonstrate the name change. BidShift, a leading provider of software tools and staff services for the healthcare industry, changed its name to Concerro when it went from mainly a technology company to a business that offered multiple services. As part of a broader multimedia marketing effort, Concerro used a three-phase changing-picture direct mail piece to announce its name change; the piece had overlapping panels that flip over, revealing new graphics. The front of the piece read “BidShift led a revolution. Now experience our evolution.” When the reader opens the cover, the copy changes to “BidShift is now …” Open the last section and the copy changes to “Concerro.”

Concerro printed 5,000 pieces, delivering some by hand at trade shows, mailing out some, and using the rest as promotional pieces for reps. “It is vital to be creative in the strategic and tactical approaches to a name change,” says Patricia DeAngelis, principal and creative director at The MadisonWest Agency, which created and drove the entire Concerro campaign. “You must bring forth not only the essence of the company’s service offerings, but the people behind it.”

3. Meet the Press
Many companies that are rebranding target the press with the news. Of course, the basics here would include sending a press release to the newswires that are relevant to your business, as well as writing bylined articles for local newspapers and magazines. But to really get your name change in the press, sometimes it takes a little extra effort.

Ken Meyers, partner at the business services franchiser SOHO Hero, formerly Mail & More, wrote articles about the franchisees who run various SOHO Hero franchises, including why the franchisees changed from Mail & More to SOHO Hero (the name change was optional), what they’re doing in the community, their backgrounds in the business, etc. The articles appeared in numerous trade publications, and not only reinforced the name change but also got the company itself out in front of the industry-reading public.

SOHO Hero also engaged in event marketing to garner press attention. To introduce the public (and the press) to SOHO Hero, the company held a local carnival near the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga. The carnival included branded collateral, prize giveaways and a chance to get an autograph from a major league baseball player. SOHO Hero also raised $5,000 in two hours for a local charity, boosting press coverage for the event and the company.

4. Mix and Match
There’s no rule that you have to switch to your new name cold turkey; some businesses change over gradually so customers have a chance to get used to the new name. When BidShift changed its name, MadisonWest created a logo with the tagline “BidShift is now Concerro.” After 60 days, the “BidShift is now” part dropped off.

Another approach is to keep your original logo, or at least part of it. For example, says McMullen, Silverton kept its logo’s graphic icon and changed only the name in the icon to Silverton Bank.

5. Remember the Little Things
When your name changes, everything must, too, from your e-mail signature line and outgoing voicemail message to store signage and letterhead. “As soon as you change your name, if you’re still talking about your old name, you’re wasting money investing in a brand that is no longer there,” says Stokefire’s Linden. “You’re getting people to pay attention to something that does not exist.”

Some marketers may be surprised at how pervasive the company logo can be. At Silverton Bank, marketing and corporate communications manager Cristi Kirisits assembled a Name Change Committee that included a representative from each internal department. These reps were responsible for seeing that the name got changed everywhere within their department. For example, the marketing department handled ads, tradeshow booths and graphics, as well as the corporate Web site, new PowerPoint and Microsoft Office templates, directory listings and letterhead.

6. Poll Them
Most experts will tell you that it takes about a year to fully market a name change, though it may take longer in the retail and professional services industries. During your name change marketing campaign, poll customers to get a handle on whether they’re on board with the switch. “Start that in the beginning and then keep testing as you go forward,” says McMullen. “But I also think there are a lot of ways to feel whether you’re having success; if your communications with your customers feel smooth, feel like they understand it, you can pretty much know you have done well.”

---Source: USPS® Deliver Magazine Oct. 6, 2008 (










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