Companies change names, but they shouldn’t

Every so often, you see a company “re-branding” with a different name.A few in recent memory include Ernst & Young simplifying to become “EY” and Dunkin’ Donuts dropping the “donuts”, one of their main offerings outside of coffee.

Why brands choose to change names can at times be a mystery, and also involves a lengthy process of hiring a naming consultant and recurring board meetings and approvals. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

My opinion is that more often than not, it doesn’t work. And the reasoning doesn’t have so much to do with pursuing the wrong name change or alienating customers, as it does to do with why the name change was initiated in the first place: not enough customers or profits coming in.

If you have a shortage of consistent customers or are having difficulty selling, sometimes the name is the problem. “People don’t know what we’reselling” or “our name doesn’t make it obvious what we do” are common gripes.

It is fair to say that if your customers don’t know what industry you’re in or what you sell, that a more relevant and recognizable name change could help.

However, I would argue that the reason people don’t know what you do is because you don’t have consistent messaging in your marketing and advertising efforts, and as a corollary you aren’t reaching your target audience.

Finding your target audience on the channels where they consume content and advertising to them (social media sites, industry sites/publications, etc) are a good place to start.

Another reason a name change doesn’t work is because of branding itself. They are not fearing a lack of customers or profits, they’re just getting greedy (see: Dunkins).

This is entirely opinion and speculation, but Dunkins’ name change to me is an effort to get away from their coffee-and-donut-on-the-run specialty that they’ve made into a monopoly.

Instead, it gives them the right to go in different directions, like a wider lunch menu and a more diverse offering overall. Before, a premium-priced frappe or avocado melt would’ve seemed absurd for them considering their target demo and breakfast chain brand.

Now, they are free to go after whatever they want without repercussions. Not a terrible move, and I don’t think they’ll lose many (if any) customers over it, but in an industry like theirs my advice is simple:

Do one (or a couple things well) and stick to it (the whole coffee and donuts/breakfast sandwiches thing satisfied that).

In an era where everyone wants to be everything, you’re better off just being yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being the industry leader, and being nimbler isn’t always better.

What about EY? My thoughts are that was an effort to appeal to a younger demographic and create the image of an old-school company willing to shake things up (and to become less nauseating to say).

So whether you’re EY or Dunkins’, whether you lack profitability or feel like you’re missing your niche, don’t change your name. Go back to the drawing board, make it clearer what you’re selling and meet your target audience where they are.

Oh, and maybe create a better product. If your product sucks, your name change won’t save you. Then, if all else fails, change your name.

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