Rebranding -- where a business chooses a new name, symbol or design in order to develop a new identity -- is one of the most difficult and uncertain business decisions entrepreneurs face. In addition to overcoming the loyalty and nostalgia of your founders, the name and brand modification you make could potentially destroy years of accumulated brand equity.
There is also no magic formula that tells an entrepreneur when and how to rebrand. As evidenced by a number of recent rebranding strategies that failed miserably, even large companies with the staff and resources to implement such an effort sometimes fail to get it right.
So, what is an entrepreneur to do when he or she believes it is time for a transition? Plan.
One such company that recently went through a successful rebranding is HireOwl, an online marketplace that connects businesses to talented university students who take internships and help with freelance marketing, graphic design, market research and content creation projects.
HireOwl was founded by John Lidington, a former Harvard University student who paid his way through college with freelance jobs. Upon graduation, Lidington saw a need to facilitate students' career starts; so he created a marketplace to match businesses to young talent, while allowing students to benefit from the attractive wages and flexible scheduling freelancing allows.
Although he initially named his effort HireU, Lidington quickly began to sense that the name did not fit; early this year, he set out to rebrand his company. Though initially confident in the decision, Lidington and his team were not without their concerns and doubts during the transition, which ended this past July.
"Now that our rebranding process is complete, there are many reasons we are very happy with it," explains Lidington. "Of course, our new brand better reflects our evolution and plans moving forward, but we were also happy that the immense amount of consideration and planning we put forth made the entire process very smooth and successful."
If you are considering or moving forward with renaming your own company, here is a checklist Lidington recommends that will help you make the process as smooth, efficient and budget-friendly as possible.
1. Notify important business stakeholders.
As you consider and plan your company's rebranding strategy, it is important that you notify your most important stakeholders, including clients, vendors and partners, of your plans to change. Send those notifications before you make the change, so they do not create any surprises for them or make their jobs any more difficult.
2. Identify your new business name.
Decide and develop your brand architecture.
Examine naming guidelines that consider the current mobile and digital era.
Brainstorm as a team as many names as possible, including anyone with even an ounce of creativity.
Check the availability of URL domains, and make sure they fit your price range.
Check the availability of social media handles. If you cannot secure the exact name you want, consider an iteration thereof. At the very least, this might be the tie-breaker between finalist names.
Check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database to make sure the trademark is available.
Once you have narrowed down your list:
Review at least 10 pages of online search results for each name (HireOwl searched 25 pages) to make certain there are no surprises that could cause you pain later.
Develop an online survey to get feedback from family, friends, clients, partners and anyone whose opinion you value.
As you bring others into the process, keep in mind that you will receive a wide variety of opinions. It helps, therefore, to consider what you're doing as more of an exclusionary exercise, so you'll find reasons you may have missed for omitting names altogether. Also, don't get bogged down trying to find the "perfect" name. Ultimately, your brand is what you make it.
3. Implement your new business name.
Purchase your new domain immediately, before the price increases due to SEO crawlers noticing your inquiries around the web and registering social media handles. Do not cancel your old domain, as you will need to redirect traffic to your new domain in order to capture any lingering hyperlinks.
Switch your social media profiles to the new name in order to retain fans and followers. Check out the site’s FAQ or online message boards for advice on how to do this or get in touch with someone from that company. If this option is not available, claim your new name immediately, but keep the old name in order to redirect conversations to your new accounts.
Create new email addresses for each old email address. Change automated emails, including their content, if they refer to the old name. Create an auto-response on your old email address, notifying people of the change of address, and forward all old emails to your new account. If you use a third-party email newsletter provider, update your address with the provider. Change email signatures. Update important email subscriptions with the new email address.
Design a new logo. If you have the resources, consider retaining a talented graphic designer; otherwise consider any number of the available crowdsourcing or freelance sites, such as HireOwl, that could help at this stage.
Update your website with the new logo, content text and contact information.
Update third-party technologies that are integrated into your site, such as Paypal.
Update your URL on your social media profiles, both business and personal.
File trademark materials to protect your new name.
Update your marketing materials. Record and post new promo/explainer video(s). Rewrite or update old blog posts to account for the new name. You never know when those will resurface.
Update your website, business name, and other info on all third party sites. Start with Google My Business. Search your old company name and/or URL and contact anyone who has a link. Monitor your old company name online, with aids like Google Alerts, so you are aware when it is mentioned. Change the name on all legal docs.Update your bank accounts. Order new business cards and letterhead, as well as any marketing swag.
As happens with any list, you'll think of other tasks and steps specific to your business and industry that need to be considered. In the end, the lesson is that rebranding can be a very effective tool for growing your business, but it should be given a great deal of consideration and planning in order to make it successful.
What other tips do you have for entrepreneurs considering a rebranding? Please share your tips with others below.