Issue 23, Summer 2011
"The name of our organization is too long, too hard to remember and doesn't reflect what we do." Or….
"Our name is too similar to that of a local competitor's, which confuses folks, including our clients and donors." Or….
"The name of our organization is Atlantic County Human Services. Over the years we've expanded to provide services to people in adjacent Pacific County, but because of our name we're finding it challenging to raise funds there." Or…
"Our name can be misconstrued to imply that we limit our services to people of a certain religion or segment of the population when in reality we offer our services to anyone in need."
Regardless of the reason(s), getting everyone in the organization to come to consensus on, then rebranding to, a new name is one of the hardest things an organization can undertake. I had one executive director tell me that the 12 months it took her to get her organization to change and rebrand to a new name was her "year from hell!"
Yet, as noted above, there are many good reasons for wanting to change an organization's name. For those considering the task, here are just some of the things you'll need to consider:
Do you know for a fact that your organization's name is a problem, or is it simply an assumption on the part of staff?
And have you asked the right questions of the right people — namely your donors, clients, partners and others — and gotten their perspective on your organization's current name?
For example, how much brand equity — namely, how much name recognition and value do your target audiences place in your current name, and how will they react to your organization changing it?
Assuming there is good reason for a name change, is your board agreeable to the idea?
Many board members, especially those who might have been around when the organization was founded, may resist the change. For them it's a deep-seated ownership issue. "This is our baby and we're not going to change anything!"
Fact is you're going to need board approval for a name change. That's why it's important that your research produce objective, hard evidence that a name change is necessary for the ongoing sustainability of the organization.
Once your organization is in agreement that a name change is necessary, do you need to change to an entirely different name, or can your organization maintain its identity by simply using its acronym?
For example, realizing that its acronym had lots of brand equity, the once-named American Association of Retired Persons now legally does business solely as AARP.
Doing so essentially accomplished several things for the organization: (1) without having to go through an overly massive marketing, advertising and PR campaign, the organization was able to maintain its basic identity because many people were already informally referring to the organization as AARP; (2) AARP is a lot easier to remember and less a mouthful than its original name; and (3) the acronym eliminates the word "Retired", a good thing for AARP since it offers many of its programs, services and products to members who have yet to enter into retirement.
National Public Radio is another example of an organization that realized it could do business as its acronym, NPR.
If you're interested in this strategy, do the research to determine how well your target audiences would accept this. Since some acronyms are better than others, this is probably not an option for every organization, but it's worth exploring.
Because people identify with, and are often loyal to, the names of places in which they live and work, using a place location — such as a neighborhood, city, county or state — in your name may seem like a good idea at the moment.
If, however, over time your organization expands its base of operations to include other locales, its name may ultimately limit its ability to raise funds in these new areas of operation and make it difficult for the residents of those areas to identify closely with the organization.
My advice: Unless it is absolutely, unequivocally necessary to use a specific geographic location in your name, don't! It may save you a lot of hassles — and money — years from now.
When you take on a name change, everything from business cards to stationery to signage needs to be reprinted and reproduced. This can turn into quite an expense, especially for organizations with lots of employees and multiple sites.
You also will need to budget in the additional marketing and promotional costs necessary to get your target audiences acquainted with your new name.
If you're changing your name because the organization is having a difficult time overcoming bad publicity or a bad image problem due to mismanagement or malfeasance on its part, think again. It may be that the organization needs to be changed; not its name.
As always, I look forward to receiving your feedback, questions, success stories and branding challenges. Also, if you are in need of a motivational speaker, trainer, branding consultant/coach, or management consultant who can help you answer the questions: Who are we? What do we do? How do we do it? And should anyone care? I invite you to for more information.
In the meantime, good luck with your branding! — Larry
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