Try a thought experiment with me.
Let's say you had to change your name in six months. No, not your company name--we'll get to that soon--I mean your actual birth name. How would you prepare yourself, your family, strangers and government agencies for the unveiling of the new you? How would you pick a name? How would you explain why you changed your name? And how would you react to people not liking the new name?
Now let's say you're going to tattoo your new name somewhere on your body (you pick the location). Yep--you are going to signal to the world through a creative design that you love your new name. You have to pick the design and be prepared to live with it, because while making tweaks to the design will be possible, completely changing it in the future would be a lot of work.
Lastly, you need to tell the government and every service you use that you are now going by the new name. You'll need a new drivers license, credit cards and a ton of other documents. You must change your name everywhere, right? Wrong? Does changing your name mean changing your birth certificate? Can you use your current passport for your vacation overseas next week, or must you wait weeks for the new one?
As you can see, changing your name is amazingly difficult, tedious and nerve-wracking.
I did not change my name recently, but we did change our company name. The Resumator is now Jazz--and I bet your immediate reaction was, "Huh???" or "Jazz hands, anyone?" What if I told you that reaction was actually all part of the plan? Would you believe me?
Welcome to the amazingly difficult, tedious and nerve-wracking task of rebranding a company. It's just as challenging as changing your own name, but remember a brand is more than a name. We have a long blog post that explains why we chose the name Jazz, so you can read the rationale there. This article is an unfiltered, tactical, behind-the-scenes look at rebranding a company, step by step, and full of tips.
1. Calculate the value of your brand equity before you start worrying about a name change.
Brand equity is a measurement of the value and exposure of your brand name, brand logo and other customer and partner-facing brand elements. More recently, a brand's search engine optimization (SEO) plays a factor in brand equity as well. Equity is value--ultimately cash value. Before considering a new name and logo, you need to determine how much equity your brand has accumulated so you can assess the risk of rebranding.
For Coca-Cola, this answer is easy. There's TONS of equity in their name and that "dynamic ribbon", as they call it, and it can be easily calculated in dollars. The company would lose a lot if they rebranded or changed their product. In fact, Coca-Cola actually tried to change their product. The disaster of New Coke is why your Coca-Cola can says Classic today.
Resumator has tons of value for our company, so rebranding was not taken lightly. It's was a multi-million dollar enterprise with close to 100 employees. We had considerable name recognition. We assessed how a rebrand would affect our new customer acquisition, looking at both positive and negative scenarios against our revenue forecasts. We became very optimistic that although a rebrand would create an initial dip in SEO and name recall, the long-term benefits were enormous. So we had tons of brand equity, but we saw tons of opportunity to increase the value of the true equity--our stock--through better positioning of our company in the market.
What about your company? If you don't have a lot of customers, nor a lot of brand equity, it could be a great time to reset your brand with minimal impact on your business. But if you have a lot of customers, or perhaps your business is not online, you'll need to carefully consider the direct and indirect costs of investing in a rebrand.
So how do you know if your rebranding for the right reasons?
2. Make sure you're rebranding to ensure success, not prevent failure.
One of our investors, John Greathouse, wrote a great article that states rebranding a company should never be done in an attempt to save it from failure. I agree. Rebranding should only be done if doing so will accelerate your company's success. Even if you're dealing with a brand that has some tarnish, you need to think of a rebrand as ensuring success, not preventing failure. If you think a pretty logo is all you need to prevent failure, perhaps how you're thinking is one reason you're failing. Stop reading here.
There are a lot of good reasons to go through a rebrand. Perhaps a new name will eliminate confusion in the minds of potential customers. Maybe the service you offer has changed so much that your current name just isn't a good fit, or it's too descriptive of your previous service. You might also want a brand that is more extensible, that is, allows you to offer diverse services that are all endorsed by your corporate brand. Remember, a rebrand should clarify, strengthen or reposition your company's place and narrative in the market.
And yes, sometimes a name is just a bad name. I used to worked at the virtual phone service GotVmail. People would often mistake the name of the company--ironically over the phone--as "got female." The company provided a very sophisticated phone system for entrepreneurs, but the brand's emphasis on voicemail, while descriptive, pigeon holed their value proposition into one narrow feature. The company eventually rebranded to Grasshopper, and was just recently acquired by Citrix.
It was almost 2 years ago when we suspected that we might need to make a change from the name Resumator. At that time, our business had evolved from a simple tool for posting jobs and sourcing resumes, to perhaps the industry's most popular, modern recruiting platform. We were the service used by great startups like Tumblr, Instagram, a surprising number of larger enterprises and even both 2012 Presidential campaigns. We serviced thousands of companies, big and small, under this clever name.
But soon it became clear that in head-to-head sales on larger deals, our clever name was being used to successfully position us down-market. Even though our product had evolved and was a robust offering, it was hard for us to be taken seriously in larger organizations. Our name was just too clever and too "consumery" for even our savvy marketing team to overcome this perception.
Let's be clear: I am not saying a good name is the secret ingredient to winning a market (Lyft is a much better and appropriate name than Uber), but a name that was as descriptive as Resumator made it harder to evolve, as our name was not a reflection of our evolution to focusing on who to hire (what we call Performance Recruiting), not just how to hire (Applicant Tracking). We needed a brand identity that was a representation of our future, not our past.
3. Start working on any technical challenges to rebranding immediately.
Whether you're rebranding a coffee shop, or a web app, there are technical challenges that will take time to overcome. That's why it's important to start thinking about what needs to change to implement the new brand as soon as you realize a rebrand is necessary. The sooner you start working through these challenges, such as changing your web app domain name, deciding if you should legally change your entity name or file a DBA (doing business as), and even manufacturing new signage, the greater the chances your timeline for launching a new brand won't slip.
The most daunting aspect of our rebrand was switching everything in our web app to a new domain. We didn't have a new domain name yet, but we knew it was changing, so all of the technical challenges could start to be addressed. The app had to become "domain agnostic." We also realized that we would need to update our marketing website and tons of lead-generating landing pages. And did I mention every instance of the word Resumator needed to be replaced once we had a new name? It was hard to imagine being able to accomplish all this, but because we identified these huge hurdles early, we actually completed them over a month before launch. We had enough time to over-test.
4. Form committees to oversee the three key aspects of the rebrand.
If your company is bigger than two gals in a garage, you have both a gift and a problem. The gift is you have more minds and diverse skills to help with different aspects of a rebrand. The problem is the politics and logistics of getting a larger company comfortable with a new name and logo can be quite the challenge.
With a leadership team of seven, and 10x that in non-executive employees, we knew a game plan was needed for rolling out a new brand. We established three committees, each with a committee chairman, and each responsible for managing the projects (and politics) of the rebranding efforts:
Renaming Committee - These people are responsible for managing the process of selecting a new name for the company. The team should include most or all of the executive team and a few creative employees who can keep a secret. It's the responsibility of this team to socialize and sell the new name within the company. Consider hiring a naming or branding agency to help you think more creatively. We used Uppercase Branding because they specialize in naming and have a great process for exploring many different "sandboxes" in search of the right name. They also will help with cursory trademark searches and domain availability.
Rebranding Committee - This committee is responsible for taking the name and turning it into a logo, color palette and design aesthetic. Members of this team should have a good sense of design and branding. Unless you have in-house designers who, again, can keep a secret, this effort will often be outsourced to a creative agency. If you're on a tight budget, try 99designs, an online service that connects you to thousands of designers who can create a logo and website at affordable prices. If you go this route, it's only fair to invite your in-house designers to also work on logos so they never resent the process.
Relaunching Committee - This committee is responsible for the actual timing and implementation of the rebrand. Any technical or logistics issues related to the rebrand are the responsibility of this committee. In software companies, your engineering leaders and customer support leaders are important team members. In all businesses, anyone customer-facing should be on this team, as their coordination will be the difference between confusion and celebration. This team needs to make sure the Renaming and Rebranding committees stay on schedule because it's impossible to move forward without a name and a brand identity.
Although we did not choose one of the names Uppercase proposed, the process gave us confidence that we were thorough in our exploration. It also prevented us from making the common mistake of coming up with what I call "infomercial names" such as "RecruiterBin," "QuickRecruiter" and, "Hirefly." People inexperienced at branding will think these are great names, and they can be, but they are very limiting if your "pony" does more than one "trick." Salesforce.com has no doubt worked hard to overcome a limiting name. Renaming the company to "Jazz,"--a provocative word that we could own and systematically move from being just "music genre" to "software,"--was an informed, strategic decision.
After agreeing on a name, we used 99designs to generate over 1,000 logotype designs of the letters "Jazz" in seven days for just $799. From there, our design team helped us pick out the right logo and then made significant tweaks to get to the final identity. We then did all the actual brand aesthetic (fonts, colors and brand elements) in-house.
5. Lock down any potential names with a trademark application -- or else.
The government provides very strong protections for a company's brand through the federal trademark system. This system prevents you from opening a coffee shop called "Starbucks." It's meant to prevent market confusion and unscrupulous entrepreneurs from hijacking your brand equity. If you have even a sneaky suspicion that you found a name that you like, it's never too early to apply for a trademark, even if you have no definite plans to use the name.
To emphasize the importance of trademarking potential names immediately, let me tell you what I call a horror story. While Jazz was actually the first name that really resonated with me, the truth is we actually had another name that was great as well, maybe even slightly less abstract. We always wanted a name that was not immediately descriptive of recruiting software or human resources, but inferred "performance", and we found a winner.
Here's the horror story. I was in Santa Barbara, and I was sitting in this restaurant when I thought of the name. I think it was a Tuesday. I did a cursory search of the U.S. trademark database (always do this) and did not find any use of the name in commerce for recruiting or HR software. Because I have a background in branding, I was able to quickly think through the brand architecture and saw that the new name was easily extensible. I even pinged one of my executives and we bantered back-and-forth over text about how appropriate and exciting the name was.
I spent Wednesday preparing my presentation of the name to leadership. It was simply a hand drawn brand organization chart, that showed how our name would extend into new products and services. After presenting the brand identity on Thursday, everyone was really excited about the name and we couldn't wait to push forward. I emailed my finance guy the same day and told him to file a trademark. Only 48 hours had passed. All of the stress of figuring out what we were going to be called was behind me.
Unfortunately -- and I tell you this nearly killed me -- another company filed a trademark for recruiting software under our new name on Thursday -- the same day I gained executive consensus! Such cruel timing. No matter what we did, our trademark application for the name would be dated two days after this mysterious company, so unless they pulled their application, we would never be able to claim first usage and ownership of the name.
Naming a company is so hard that this setback was almost devastating to me. I laid in bed over the entire weekend, amazed at the cruel timing and dealing with the fact that we were back to the beginning. But for some reason I forgot about the name "Jazz" during the renaming process. When we revisited this name, we recognized this name would need to be carefully curated into a brand, but we also agreed this name was a better fit for our long-term vision.
We were sort of lucky by being unlucky, but I would not recommend this approach. Lock down potential names with a trademark immediately, or else.
6. Help employees through the process of embracing a new brand.
At some point you're going to reveal a new name to your employees, and they have a right to go through the same adaptation process as you did in embracing a new name. Remember, at least you had the opportunity to influence the naming decision. They have to simply accept the name, and in most cases you're going to have critics. That's why it's important to help employees understand that a brand is more than a name.
I remember when the founders of Grasshopper revealed the new name for GotVmail. Some people were very upset that we would rebrand the company as an insect. All they heard was "insect." I had 10 years of experience in design and branding, and I didn't get the name either. I thought we were a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs. I questioned how we would get to the top of Google search results with such a generic name.
It was only until I was able to spend time with the brand and see the brand elements in use did it all start to make sense. They explained that entrepreneurs are like grasshoppers in that they look small but have tons of kinetic potential to leap forward, unlike "small business owners," which we did not serve. We wanted customers who sought growth for their company because they didn't cancel their subscription. Grasshopper was a clever name that resonated with our target audience while standing out in the Virtual PBX market, where we had to battle RingCentral, a company that had plenty of money to outbrand it's very infomercial name, and Phone.com--which was as descriptive as names come.
Now faced with my own company's rebranding, we faced a similar challenge. I first started by sending an email to everyone revealing the new name. This is counter to what many people will tell you, but embracing a name is a very personal process, and it's better to give people time alone before an actual logo reveal to get criticisms about a name off their chest. I knew that people inexperienced at branding would immediately say things like "jazz hands" and "jazzy." You can't help but react this way when someone simply says "the new name is Jazz."
Before the murmuring got out of hand, I brought everyone into our main assembly room and conferenced in the West coast. I presented the new logo, and then had everyone perform an experiment. I asked our East Coast office to tell me what products they assumed a company named "Safeway" would sell. I then asked our West Coast office to tell me what they assumed "Giant Eagle" was selling in Pittsburgh. When the East Coast employees answered "security," and the West Coast employees answered "birds," each office corrected the other with the same answer: groceries. The lesson was clear: a company name, stripped of its brand elements, can often sound weird.
Once our people had embraced the Jazz brand, or at least were on the path to embracing it, we then made sure everyone was brought up to speed quickly on how to discuss the name with the outside world. Anyone customer-facing needed new talking points, and there was a lot of collateral that needed to be redesigned. We made a point to remind people that the brand Jazz was going to come out of what they produced over the next few months.
The leadership team was responsible for the name Jazz, but they were responsible for the brand Jazz.
7. Don't give your customers too little time to prepare for a rebrand -- nor too much.
It's your responsibility to give customers a rebranding that's worth looking forward to. It's also your responsibility to make sure customers don't worry about a rebrand. That's why it's important to communicate with customers early, but not too early.
Once your Relaunch Committee sets a date for the switch, you need to choose an earlier date for when your customers will first receive notice that you're rebranding. A general rule is the shorter you can make the "between brands" period without upsetting customers, the better. If the rebrand is going to require a lot of work on the part of customers and partners, you may want to start teasing the rebrand early. People don't want to wake up and realize you've dumped a bunch of work on their lap simply because you wanted a new brand. But if the rebrand requires little effort on the part of a customer, and no customer experience changes dramatically, you can actually shrink the time to as little as three weeks or less.
Resumator customers received about two weeks notice that we were rebranding. We had recently made a significant amount of improvements to our platform, and our customers were a little fatigued with change. We didn't want there to be a significant amount of time for them to be aware that change was looming on their horizon, because the feeling of waiting for unknown, inevitable change is often worse than the actual change itself. That was very true with our rebrand.
We decided to offset the short notice of our rebranding with an abundance of support. Our support folks set up daily webinars that would explain the small tweaks we made to the user interface, and we prepared literature that explained our new product: Performance Recruiting. We were fine with overcommunicating because we'd rather have our customers annoyed than surprised.
8. Prepare yourself--and employees--for mixed external reactions to the new brand.
Just like your employees need time to embrace a new brand, the rest of the world will need time, too. Unfortunately, people outside your company will often be much more vocal in their critique of your new brand. They will use tweets, customer support tickets and even news articles to imply or directly ask, "What the hell were they thinking?" more so than "I really like it!" It's important to communicate with your employees and insulate them from the criticism that can happen during a rebrand.
Shortly after we relaunched as Jazz, I sent an email out to all employees and warned them that there's always a chance that the most vocal voices in reaction to our brand will be negative. I stressed how important it was for everyone to defend the brand from naysayers, and even provided a few talking points to explain our evolved mission and new products.
In explaining and defending the new brand, our people started to embrace the brand more quickly. Even better, the reaction to our brand was overwhelmingly positive because -- and I've said this multiple times now -- a brand is more than the name. Along with a new name, our customers received, new features, a 100% refreshing of the application user interface and a whole new thing: the world's first performance recruiting platform. Our customers had so many new toys to play with, they almost took the new wrapping for granted.
Adoration is the best reaction to a rebrand. Silence is the second best reaction. We sort of received the best of both worlds.
9. Cut over to the new brand and don't look back.
When my friend Margaret changed her name to "Zuri," I protested. I refused to call her by this new name. I may have even been rude enough to ask "Why the name Zuri?" as if she hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about what to call herself for the rest of her life. I had known her as Margaret for a decade, but she would always be that name to me. Yet every time I called her by her old name, she politely said "Zuri." Zuri never let anyone call her Margaret. No one got a pass. She made sure every facet of her life used her new identity. She never looked back because she knew the key to being Zuri was to be Zuri--and no one else.
Once you complete a rebrand, you need to move as quickly as possible to transfer all the brand equity from your old name to the new one. That means your company needs to carefully consider when and if its ever known as "formerly Resumator." Our old website redirects everyone to our new site with a banner announcing we've rebranded. It's working. Traffic has only increased, and our bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave your site right from your home page) plummeted.
Today, the woman formerly known as Margaret, who has the wittiest sarcasm, the funniest jokes, and the biggest smile, is my beloved friend Zuri. I can't imagine calling her any other name. She has successfully rebranded herself, as I feel we have with Jazz.
If your company is going through a rebrand, I wish you the same success.