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Playing, and winning, at the name game

glenda-legendre-copyThe name research itself was an interesting and important undertaking — there was not an identifiable individual associated with the selected name. In order to fix on Stevenson, I worked from a list of 80 suggested names posted by stakeholders to an online bulletin board and utilized the services of a historical research firm. Ultimately, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the research showed that one name stood out as the strongest choice for broad appeal, geographic sensibility, and even for branding availability.

Stevenson’s name change is a success story. Many people tell me they don’t even remember the original campus name thanks to a very focused, consistent, and interdisciplinary branding campaign. The new name was ultimately selected for the locale of the campus. The new university status, plus loss of a perceived feminine name, assisted the school in growing its student population and expanding its sports teams and facilities. Today, Stevenson is a vibrant place with additional growth soon to follow on the adjacent Rosewood property and a new president, Elliot Hirshman, appropriately focusing his attention on academics while sustaining the career focus brand that was first part of Villa Julie and now Stevenson.

Clearly, marketing is an important part of any name change. Institutions change their names for diverse business reasons. A new name for a law firm may be needed after a merger or when named partners depart. Financial service firms may merge with out of town companies.

An organization’s leader recently told me he was all set to select a name for a merger when a local microbrewery picked the same name for a now popular new ale. He wasn’t worried about confusion of the product with his services in the local market, but spending the time on message and name recognition might be a challenge or disruptive in the regional market.

Naming an organization is a significant decision. There have been some historically amusing naming blunders. My favorite is the former vehicle, the Chevy Nova. “No Va” in other languages means “doesn’t go.” Not helpful for international car sales.

Market research firms are helpful with the process of testing names for perceptions and fit; law firms can help with trademark and name checks. Let’s see how “IHOP” to “IHOB” goes for that longtime brand.

Once a name is researched and selected, it is time to create an enduring and professional brand identity system. There are a lot of amateur designers around, but avoid them — professionals know how to design logos and collateral material to work effectively in the print and digital world without pixilation. Colors, font or type style, and other factors can create a distinctive brand for your organization. In some cases, you may want to register the logo as an intellectual property mark, so again, a lawyer would be of value.

With a name change and new identity system, it is important to get the word out efficiently and economically to your base business clients and prospective ones. In Stevenson’s case, we held interdepartmental meetings to determine how to use up materials a year in advance of the name change, shortening inventory orders and so forth. The printed enrollment admissions materials even pre-marketed the change, highlighting to prospects to watch for a name change in the coming year.

Among the top strategies, we created a public relations “teased” interest in what the name would be, and held a dramatic media and internal constituent event to reveal the new name.

It is always valuable to budget and develop a full marketing/public relations communications plan to help with rapid name recognition and continued brand awareness. Properly executed, a name change will lead to business growth and longevity.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Marketing & Strategic Communications and can be reached at [email protected]