Adopting a new name is hard work.
It requires that you pursue the right strategy, AND it demands that you also prepare your staff, board, and stakeholders for the emotional stages that lie ahead.
We all expect that it requires skills such as research, strategy, and creativity to launch a new name, but what many organizations fail to recognize is that name changes also require emotional skills like grief, acceptance, cooperation, and courage.
Here are the 10 stages you can expect as you change your organization’s name:
As with any process of change, the first step is to admit that you have a problem that you want to solve. Whether through formal research or anecdotal data, your organization must firmly believe that the name it has can no longer continue to serve the organization well. As a leader you must acknowledge and accept that the status quo is not acceptable. List the reasons why you have come to this conclusion, and refer to it as often as needed as you move forward, and especially any time you notice that you start to second-guess your decision.
This is a stage marked by a sense of vision, pride, and optimism.
Prepare your team for the road that lies ahead. Set realistic expectations, including the fact that it may not be easy and that not everyone may agree with the final choices.
Set realistic budgets and timelines that will allow for the transition to take place. Though it may seem simple, it takes time to prepare your audiences for change, to allow everyone a chance to voice their opinions, to select a new name, and then to design a new logo, website, signage, uniforms, and letterhead. For a large organization, this process may take close to a year.
Now is also the time to determine your decision-making process. Who gets to advise, and who will ultimately decide? Does your board have to approve the decision? Are there legal ramifications? Will your founder re-emerge at the last moment to protect their legacy? Know this now, and map your stages of approval.
Once you have committed to the process of adopting a new name, you will feel excited by the possibilities that lie ahead. You’ll find yourself brainstorming possibilities during your daily walk and discussing ideas with your colleagues.
In partnership with your agency you’ll outline criteria for determining a successful new name, brainstorm options, narrow down possibilities, seek your lawyer’s counsel about trademarks, and whittle the options down to your final choices. This is the fun part!
I just walked around my house looking at every brand name I could find—Apple, Google, Cuisinart, Bosch, Subaru, LG, Starbucks, Nike, Fender, Frisbee, Lucky Jeans—and I was struck by this realization:
Most names are meaningless until they aren’t.
With a very few exceptions, most names when taken out of context have very little meaning. Who could have guessed that names like Red Cross, Sierra Club, or Kiva would become part of our everyday nonprofit lexicon? The words on their own, taken in the abstract, without their logo or what we actually know about these organizations, don’t tell us much at all. It is only because they have become associated with help in times of need, fueling grassroots environmental action, and support for global entrepreneurship that they hold meaning for us.
The same will be true as you consider your name options. None will feel perfect as you look at the words on a page. There will be reasons to doubt and criticize every option. But there’s good news: the name will begin to feel meaningful to you once you commit to it and infuse it with your brand’s attributes.
Because of that, this stage is marked by a need for faith and trust. Choose the name based on sound strategy and then go for it. It won’t feel like your organization yet because it isn’t. But it will be. Just keep moving forward.
Before you move forward, though, you have to mourn the loss of your old name—the name that carried meaning for you for years still has value and holds a place in your heart. Take time as a team and as a board to acknowledge what the old name has meant to you. Appreciate it for what it was and what it did. Vow to carry that positive energy forward into the new name. And then say goodbye as a group.
This may feel hokey and contrived, but taking time as a group to formally say goodbye to your old name helps your stakeholders move confidently forward with the new name.
Now that you have chosen a new name and mourned the loss of the existing name, as a leader it is almost certain that you will experience a moment of doubt and worry. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night certain that you’ve made the wrong choice, and that the valuable brand that has been entrusted to you will come to a quick and bitter end.
Does it help to know that all leaders experience this fear and dread? It’s natural. So remind yourself that you have to move on and that your old name no longer serves you. Review your strategy and list of reasons why the name change is needed and then remind yourself of the reasons you chose the new name. Get grounded on why you believe your new name will succeed, and then start working to bring that vision to life.
Now is when you’ll need to be on the lookout for barriers. It may be a staff member, a board member, a founder, or a funder. Someone is likely to be fearful about moving forward with the name and may begin to try to hinder or slow the process, suggest watered down versions of the name, or suggest that your brainstorming needs to begin anew.
In the book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead outline 24 different objections and how to respond to them. If you don’t have time to read the book, I’ll summarize by saying that questions are a gift. They provide you an opportunity to restate your case, to remind people why you need a new name, your strategy and criteria, and the reasons your new name will work. Respond politely and acknowledge their concerns, but show resolve. Don’t let these questions stray you from moving forward with the process.
After the last two stages of self-doubt and public questioning, you will now go through a period of acceptance and recommitment. Doubters within the organization become resigned to the new solution once they’ve had a chance to air their concerns.
At this stage, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Stay resilient. Set a launch date for your new name and create a launch plan. Then start to work backward from your launch date. Get to work!
Finally, your launch date is here. You should feel excited and proud of all that you’ve accomplished. As you see your new name made real through a new logo, website, banners, video, and collateral, you’ll feel as if it had always been this way. Your new name will already feel like a familiar friend and a powerful way to communicate the great work you do. And you’ll find that some of the people who were your biggest challengers about a name change early on are now your best advocates.
In the weeks and months that follow your launch, you’ll hear accolades and support from your donors and other stakeholders. As they herald the new name, the question you’ll ask yourself is “Why was I ever worried about this?”
4 Recent Mission Minded Brand Updates That Include a Name Change:
More From Mission Minded
Have a name launch story you want to share? We want to hear from you!
Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.
See all posts by Zach Hochstadt