Shakespeare answered that question with, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, that was then, but today that question has taken on new import. For brands, the question is will a name change affect the marketing, positioning, and awareness of a business or product? You need to be cautious because, as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “We do what we must, and call it by the best of names.”
Does doing what you must always work? Well, in hindsight it worked pretty well for Brad’s Drink, which became Pepsi-Cola. And for Tokyo Telecommunication Engineering Corporation, which changed their name to Sony when their products become more famous than the parent company. It worked out really well for Haloid, which ultimately changed its name to Xerox. And really, really well for Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, which ended up as IBM. There were rationales behind those name changes, but sometimes corporate and brand name changes are just a form of duck-and-cover.
Cigarette giant Philip Morris changed its name to Altria Group, claiming the name change was made to emphasize the company’s wide array of products. But an anti-tobacco group called the change “a PR maneuver meant to distance the corporation’s image from its deadly business practices” — selling tobacco.
Accenture was created when Andersen Consulting disassociated itself from accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which was embroiled in the Enron scandal. That tarnished the Andersen name — particularly when they were found guilty in of improper auditing of Enron and had to surrender their license to audit companies, thus putting the company out of business. Andersen Consulting hoped Accenture would connote “putting an accent or emphasis on the future, just as the firm focuses on helping its clients.”
During the most recent presidential campaign, Trump Hotels announced that a new brand of hotels would not bear the Trump name. Instead, the new line of luxury hotels — aimed as Millennials — was to be called Scion. That stands for “offspring” biologically or a “graft,” botanically speaking. At the time, Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger said, “We wanted a name that would be a nod to the Trump family and to the tremendous success it has had with its businesses, including Trump Hotels while allowing for a clear distinction between our luxury and lifestyle brands.”
Smith & Wesson, the 165-year-old gunsmiths and the nation’s largest armorer, asked shareholders to approve changing the name of the S&W holding company to American Outdoor Brand Corporation, although it will continue to use Smith & Wesson for its best-selling handguns.
The rationale for the name change is based on the company’s diversification plan to move into the recreational market via acquisitions of makers of hunting knives, flashlights, and camping equipment. According to a spokesperson, S&W believes “the new name really better reflects our many brands and products and our growth strategy.” See, it’s a business strategy, which has nothing to do with the rise of gun violence in the United States. And it mirrors the strategy of Vista Outdoor, one of the largest commercial ammunition makers in the United States.
Logo changes are a familiar sight on the brand landscape, and do not strictly fall under the rubric of “name change,” but here’s a recent one too good not to mention. Lyft, the ride-share brand established only five years ago, decided to shave off their pink mustache, its signature car decoration.
They’re replacing it with a glowing dashboard amp that can change colors to match the display of the message on the passenger’s phone. The company’s head of ride experience said the new look would help passengers match up more easily with drivers in crowded pickup areas like airports, concerts, and sports events. Makes sense to us. Also, who wants to show up at a business meeting in a car festooned with a pink handlebar mustache?
Bottom line: Sometimes changing a name can be a powerful move and sometimes it’s a risky proposition that can confuse loyal customers, as well as prospective customers, and interrupt the sales process. Also, successful name changes usually require significant investments of time and money and an entirely new set of off- and on-line marketing materials.
So, before you decide to tilt at brand windmills, it’s probably a good idea to remember what Miguel de Cervantes wrote: “Words have meaning, but names have power.”