A rose by any name would smell as sweet. But when you’re renaming your business, watch out for the thorns.
10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. — William Shakespeare
A strong business name identifies your business, tells customers and prospects something meaningful about your brand and helps to differentiate your business from your competition. But what should you do when the name you’ve been using isn’t effective at achieving those goals?
While it’s unwise to change your business name just because you’re in the mood for something new, there are times when a change is in your business’s best interest. Here are four reasons when a new name truly is the best choice, and seven tips to help you pull it off successfully.
Occasionally more than one company has the same name. Or, the names are so similar that they may as well be the same. When this occurs, there’s a good chance that one company will get a cease-and-desist letter requesting that the other stop using that name.
And there’s no surprise there: Your business could lose money if someone else operates under the same name as yours.
This actually happened to Jacob Childrey and his established food spice company. He received a cease-and-desist letter from a much larger competitor. That’s how Childrey came to leverage (my employer) Crowdspring’s global community of 210,000-plus creatives to create a fresh, powerful new name for his company.
Scandal. You are at a big disadvantage too if another business with your name is caught up in a scandal. The resulting reputational blow will affect your business as well! So, it’s important to protect your business name to control your brand’s message and ensure that you’re not sharing your profits with a competitor. (For information on how to properly register and protect your business name, check out “What Small Businesses Need to Know about Trademarks.”)
2. Your name no longer reflects your business.
Businesses grow and change over time. Some business names are adaptable enough to survive this growth, some not. If your business has outgrown its name, it may be time to think about renaming.
Nellie Akalp, entrepreneur, author and small-business expert, has written on SmallBizTrends, “It’s only natural for a business to grow, evolve or change direction over the course of its lifetime. The name you hatched in the early days may no longer fit your business’s market, activities or brand personality now.” Questions to ask yourself include:
- Have you recently switched to a new product or service?
- Did your business merge with another?
- Has your business philosophy or mission changed significantly?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, a new name may better reflect your brand’s current identity.
3. Your name is not unique.
Your business name needs to stand out. It needs to be unique and support your business’s overall brand identity. Generic names like “Publishing Services” or “Professional Tax Accountants” don’t differentiate you from the competition. And they certainly aren’t memorable.
So, even if you deliver fantastic service, well-meaning customers may get your name wrong when they’re asked for referrals. Or they may not remember it at all. That means your word-of-mouth marketing will suffer. And so will your web marketing. If yours is one of 10 variations of the same generic business name, you will find it nearly impossible for customers to find you on the web. You don’t want them to sift through a full page of search results to find just the right “ABC Plumbing.”
Not to mention that no one really wants to do business with a generic, lackluster company.
Your business, your brand and your customers will all benefit if you switch to a more unique name that really embodies your brand.
4. Your name is confusing or hard to spell.
If your business name is confusing or hard to spell, customers may be unable to find you. It’s that simple. A business name that doesn’t make sense and confuses consumers won’t be remembered.
In fact, there are aspects of brain science to consider here: Mariano Sigman, founder of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory of UBA, has written, “A memory is a network of connected elements.” The human brain stores and accesses memories based on associations between two or more pieces of information.
So, if your business name is confusing or unrelated to your business, chances are that consumers’ brains won’t form the necessary connections to see your business name and your business as linked. And, if the name is hard to spell, they may end up finding another business and sticking with it.
How to rename your business
If it’s time to rename your business, you’ll want to be careful to get things right this time around. You’ll also want to be realistic: Changing your name requires thought and work, not just on your part, but that of your customers. They’ve gotten to know your old brand; now, they’re being asked to unlearn all of that and start over.
This time round, then, follow these tips to name or rename your business to ensure that your new name serves your business well for the long run. For a longer, more detailed version, also be sure to read “10 Tips for Naming Your Startup or Small Business” — both are from our company.
Start with your brand. Your business name should be an extension and representation of your brand essence. So, start by thinking about your brand:
- What does your business do?
- How is your business different from your competition?
- What is your brand’s personality? (Quirky, Solemn, Formal, Playful, Aggressive, Warm)
- What is your unique value proposition?
Take your time. You knew your old brand, so you may be tempted to blow through this process. Don’t. Once you’ve defined your new brand, brainstorm names that support the most important elements. If a name doesn’t relate to your brand in a meaningful way, cut it from the list.
Make it easy to pronounce and spell. Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. In the age of Google and the internet of things, it’s vital that your business be easy to find online.
Margaret Wolfson, founder and chief creative officer of branding/naming agency River + Wolf, pointed out that “a visible digital presence is absolutely critical to the success of any business. You want people to be able to search for and find you with little effort.”
So, don’t choose a name that makes it hard to find you, or is something even a Rhodes scholar can’t spell.
Avoid too narrow and too wide – aim for the Goldilocks zone. Choose a name that is unique, but flexible enough to allow your business room to grow. Review prospective names to ensure you avoid names that are:
- linked to specific technologies likely to become outdated (remember Radio Shack?)
- have a focus so narrow that they preclude future evolution (i.e., “Just Cabinets”)
- contain geographical references that may make your business irrelevant in a broader market
- so broad or generic without personality that they don’t tell consumers anything about your brand
Wolfson noted that a name should be able to embrace eventual product extensions. A notable example is the name change Steve Jobs made from “Apple Computer” to “Apple.” This gave the company room to grow into not-yet-imagined watches, iPads and iPhones.
Don’t forget to differentiate. Do you know who your competitors are? It’s vital that your new business name help your brand stand out from them. So, get to know who they are. Then choose a name that can’t be confused with theirs.
Otherwise, you’ll be back at this renaming rodeo again before you know it.
Get your logistical ducks in a row. Renaming your business isn’t just a creative branding endeavor — it’s also a practical one. Here are the logistical and legal chores you’ll need to complete:
- Ensure the name is available to trademark (Check the Trademark Electronic Search System [TESS] on the USPTO website).
- Check to see if an appropriate domain name is available. I recommend searching here.
- Register the new name with your state and/or the Federal Trademark Commission. You can read up on the basics of trademarking here and research the requirements for your state here.
- Update or amend any legal documents to reflect your new name.
- Notify the IRS of your new name.
For a more in-depth look at all of the practical steps to fully updating your business name, check out this article.
Remember to tell your story. Renaming your business isn’t ever just renaming – it’s also rebranding. And part of a successful rebranding process is figuring out the authentic brand story you want your audience to associate with your business.
Since your business name is a central element of your brand, it’s essential that you figure out how your new name relates to that brand story. Alina Wheeler’s recently updated book Designing Brand Identity addressed this issue, pointing out that names are powerful tools, but they don’t tell the whole story. A name change alone — that neglects to consider all brand communications — could be seen as superficial.
Whether you opt for a social media campaign, an email series to existing customers, a television or radio ad, make sure your customers can see and understand the new you.
Update all branding elements. Sharing your brand story is an important piece of the renaming/rebranding process. To make it stick, you’ll need to update all of your visual branding elements. This includes updating your business logo, business cards and stationery, your website and any other visual collateral like data sheets, or marketing collateral.
As Wheeler recommends that you:
- Consider how new taglines, design, communications and other context-building tools should work with the new name to build a rich new story that you can own.
- Think holistically. Whenever you rename a business, make sure that name is part of a complete, authentic brand.
- Recognize that every aspect of your brand will be impacted from start to finish. Make sure to complete the transformation your name change will start throughout your brand.
Changing your business name is a hassle. It can be tough on your business to rebuild relationships after a change of that magnitude. So, if you can avoid it, don’t do it. But, if you find yourself facing a cease-and-desist order or running a business that just doesn’t match up with the name it’s operating under, you may have to.
When you realize that a name change is in your future, gird your loins and make sure to get it right this time around.