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Selecting a Rebranded Name

Jim Heininger's latest story "What's In a Rebranded Name? Hopefully Everything" originally appeared in Forbes:

Other Relevant Stories:

“Words have meaning and names have power,” states the anonymous quote. Never is that truer than in rebranding your business.

Naming is perhaps the hardest part of any rebranding exercise, but also the most exciting. Your new brand name carries a lot of weight on its shoulders. It needs to convey who you are in an energetic way, what differentiates you, and it should create a spark that drives people to action.

Rebranding is the wholesale conversion of your company’s brand to a new one, one purposefully designed to better convey your differentiators, bring energy to your customer experience and transform your business.

As my firm approaches the creative renaming process for a client as part of a rebranding exercise, we gather insights from several different sources:

· Customer research on what they value in your brand experience and relationship.

· Your employees on what it means to work for this brand.

· Leadership on the vision for the organization.

The name must mean and stand for something important to the soul of the organization.

We are energized by the process of narrowing options and watching the client’s eyes light up as they see the possibility of how hard a new name can work to convey their story in a competitive environment. It’s important to recognize first that virtually every word in the English language has been used by a company or a product. That doesn’t mean it’s unobtainable, it just means you need to ensure that it isn’t used within your industry classification, and that you have a good trademark attorney. We typically narrow the list to two options to evaluate trademark potential before selecting a winner.

Rebrand Name Categories

There are many different categories of brand names. Here are the most popular:

Descriptive: Think “Affordable Moving Company.” It pretty much defines what they do and that their key differentiator is price.

Borrowed Meaning: Where you pull the dictionary definition of a name to align with what you do. An example is ride-hailing company Lyft (“Can I give you a lift?”).

Invented: Created names are increasingly popular, as they are the most effective way to navigate an environment where many possibilities are trademarked. Elevance Health (combining elevate and advance) is the new name of Anthem, a Blue Cross Blue Shield provider.

Lexical: Two words, each starting with the same letter. PayPal or Krispy Kreme.

Geographical: American Airlines, New York Life, Southwest Airlines. All names tied to geographic orientation.

Founder’s Name: There are lots of these out there. Walmart (Sam Walton), McDonald’s (the original brothers) and Adidas, a clever mash up of the founder’s name, Adi Dassler.

Historical: Tesla is a fascinating example. The electric vehicle company is named for Serbian-American engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla who made dozens of breakthroughs in the production, transmission and application of electric power.

Compounding: Mashes up two words. TaskRabbit and QuickPay.

Aspirational/Outcome-Focused: I love the rebranding we did of the Walk-In Ministry to Prevail to better articulate how the nonprofit helped those facing financial insecurity to overcome the challenge.

Abbreviations: There are way too many abbreviation names out there, including airline Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services) and telecom provider Sprint (Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony). We highly encourage clients to avoid acronyms in their rebrand naming. Most abbreviations suck the soul and meaning out of a brand name and just become letters.

What Your Rebranded Name Must Convey

As we explore different name possibilities for clients, they have to meet the following requirements:

Aspirational: If it doesn’t move customers, it won’t move your business forward.

Differentiating: It must speak to what makes you discernable from competitors.

Meaningful: It must be packed with meaning to work hard for you. It needs a story behind its meaning.

Memorable: Your name must make an immediate impression and keep you top of mind.

Original/Ownable: Your name is yours alone. You deliver something others can’t.

Enduring: It must be able to weather future business dynamics and environmental changes.

Elastic: As you grow, it must remain relevant.

Trademarkable: If you operate on a national basis, the name must be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office if you have any intention of protecting it. Of greater concern is that the same name has already been trademarked for the same category of service as yours. The USPTO looks as to whether the similar names creates confusion among customers. And if you operate on a global basis, the name must be translatable to different languages without any improper uses of the word.

So how does the creative process originate options? We scour the dictionary, thesaurus, foreign language dictionaries, industry glossaries and historical records to put words on the table for consideration or to be mashed together.

Usually, an invented name is a merger of two concepts, like the name Bravanti (combining bravura and avanti), which we helped create for the talent management professional service firm. The coined meaning of the compound word means “to go forwardly courageously,” which the firm itself did in rebranding.

We generally advise clients to prioritize their name generation first and domain selection second. Find the most perfect name to create a forward-facing organization, and you can then create a variation of the word if needed—perhaps with an added suffix—to use as your domain.

So when rebranding or naming a new startup, remember your business name must have meaning ... and power.


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