Item: San Diego's Wild Animal Park changes its name to "The San Diego Zoo Safari Park" Good move? No.
Item: The YMCA changes its name to the 'Y" Good move? Yes.
In the last half-century, the bank currently known as Union Bank, has changed its name approximately a half-dozen times. From National Bank of San Diego, to Southern California National Bank, California Bank, Union Bank, Union Bank of California -- and now, back to Union Bank.
I'd like a dime for every hour I've spent discussing the pros and cons of name changes with clients -- and a quarter for each that didn't heed my advice. Because, while excitement and creativity abound around a potential new name, I more often find the rationales for doing so weak -- and avoidable. Often, too, companies lack a corresponding commitment or know-how to effectively drive a new name home in the marketplace.
Not that there aren't good reasons to consider a name change.
A Bloomberg News report once noted that of those companies changing their names, 52 percent changed because of mergers or acquisitions; about 44 percent wanted to better define themselves.
These may indeed be viable reasons. Others may include:
While these may be compelling reasons to change, avoid it -- if possible:
If you decide to change
Your choice of a new name is another -- and exhaustive -- subject altogether. But, evaluate for yourself the decisions that led to the following changes -- and I guarantee that the decisions cost countless hours and dollars!
The merger of Coopers & Lybrand with Price Waterhouse became "PricewaterhouseCoopers," really (check out lack of spacing and sudden caps). In San Diego, the Centre City Development Corp. proposed changing The Embarcadero to... the Waterfront, (yawn). (This subject miraculously -- and sensibly -- evaporated.)
Some changes may have substantive rationale, but to the consumer are gratuitous and unintelligible -- Datsun to Nissan, Lidak Pharmaceuticals to Avanir Pharmaceuticals, and the most unexplained of all: The National Conference of Christians & Jews (NCCJ), to The National Conference, to The National Conference of Community & Justice (still called NCCJ) Radio Shack, which by now pops easily into our consciousness, calls itself "The Shack," but may have gotten cold feet, since it's still unclear whether the change has actually taken place. The only rationale to imagine is that it's a "shorter" name, or that the word "radio" is passé.
ResearchWorks (a San Diego-based company), whose president Dr. Moshe Engelberg developed an Identity Touchstone System to help organizations capitalize on the marketing equity in their names, says, "Ideally, a name should distinctively position an organization, product or service based on what makes it most unique to its target audience. "
Engelberg often advises clients that "if you can't fix it, feature it!" as Smuckers has so successfully done with its tag line, "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good!" Most important, he says, don't risk guessing or acting on what you think internally. Undertake research to understand the perceived value of your name.
The process of deciding not to change may also be exhausting, but in most cases, it is reinforcing, inspires marketing creativity -- and, at least from here, comes highly recommended!
And, the validation for the change of Union Bank of California to Union Bank? The bank now has branches in numerous other states. I'll buy that change.
Walcher is principal public relations counsel to JWalcher Communications.