#1 You’re forced to change your name.
Other than a tax audit notice from the IRS, a cease and desist letter might be the worst piece of mail a business can get. Unless you can come to an agreement with the trademark holder, you may not have the legal right to use your name. This one is pretty clear-cut and can’t be ignored. A name change for legal reasons can cut deep; taking a big chunk of brand equity with it, since there may be no other issues with your existing name.
To prevent the same thing from happening with your next name, you’ll want to vet any potential names for availability and secure a registered trademark. This is especially important if you are currently, or have plans to, operate or sell your products and services in multiple states.
#2 Your product has changed.
If you’ve changed your product, you may want to change your name to reflect that. For example, Sierra Mist, the lemon-lime soft drink from PepsiCo, has long trailed its rival, Sprite, a Coca-Cola brand. In 2023, Sierra Mist was retired, and Starry was unveiled. Importantly, Starry isn’t just a name and packaging update, it’s a new flavor formula.
As reported in USA Today, “since Sierra Mist only accounted for about 0.2% of Pepsi’s total revenue, ‘it probably makes sense to discontinue the brand and then maybe try something else that’s new to the market, which consumers tend to like,’ said Gerald Pascarelli, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. ‘It’s a low risk move.’”
#3 Your positioning has changed.
This is an interesting one. If you have decided to serve a new audience, change your offering, or otherwise shift how you’re going to market, your name may no longer serve you. For example, you may notice a steady stream of interested leads that aren’t a good fit. Or, clients say, “I didn’t know you did that,” when you mention your core services.
Or, maybe your customers don’t want donuts and you make more money when they buy coffee anyway. When Dunkin’ Donuts pivoted to a beverage-first business strategy, the brand slowly dropped the donuts from its name, becoming just Dunkin’. Note: they didn’t change everything about their name – and you might not need to either. Sometimes a new modifier (or none, in Dunkin’s case) is enough.
#4 Your name is sending mixed signals.
Even if it didn’t start out that way, your name may be scrambling your communications. Perhaps it sounds religious, but you’re a secular brand; luxurious but your products are accessible. Or, there’s another similarly-named brand in your market with a very different or very similar mission.
Maybe your name has even taken on a negative connotation, thanks to a militant group or a pop culture phenomenon. If your name is causing confusion, or downright outrage, change could do you good.
#5 You’ve merged.
So, you got business-married. Congratulations! (Or, best wishes?) A merger doesn’t automatically trigger a name change. However, if you’re trying to combine the best of both brands to bring a new SUPERbrand to the world, it’s worth considering. A straightforward version of this was when equally matched heavyweights Kraft Foods Group and H.J. Heinz Co. merged and became Kraft Heinz Company.
Your brand name is valuable. We know that changing it doesn’t come lightly or without risk. With proper strategy, planning, and reintroduction to the market, the benefits of a name change can outweigh the costs.