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March 4, 2021

So you want to change your organization’s name

When healthcare, behavioral health, affordable housing, food shelf, or other community-based organizations addressing social determinants of health decide to rebrand, part of the process may include a name change. Reasons to do so vary – it could be that the mission or vision of the organization has evolved, its services or products have expanded or changed, it’s merging with another organization and the parties desire a new name for the merged entity, and the list goes on.

The process for a name exploration can take many forms, depending on the culture and type of organization (e.g., is the organization generally collaborative in its decision-making on major matters or does it take more of a top-down approach), budget (if using an outside agency) and deadline. There are some basic steps, however, that should be incorporated in any name exploration. Here is a list of things you may want to consider to ensure a successful process.   

  1. Due Diligence. Do your due diligence first. For any rebrand, you must conduct the research and critical analysis first to pinpoint who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go, and who your target audiences are. This information is not only important in defining your brand and developing your brand identity, it will also inform or confirm whether a name change is warranted and, if warranted, will provide valuable insight into what the name needs to reflect. Due diligence should not only include internal analysis but also input from external stakeholders. 
  2. Communication. It should be crystal clear why you are changing the name and what goals you are trying to accomplish in doing so. This should then be communicated to all stakeholders, although the timing and nature of this communication will vary and depends on the process adopted.
  3. Too many cooks. This is where balance and finesse are required. Naturally, you want your stakeholders (especially employees) to feel included and, obviously, to support the name change. If there are too many people involved in the actual decision-making, however, then the process becomes cumbersome and reaching a consensus can be difficult or, at times, even impossible.
  4. Establish decision-makers. Establish the process for the name exploration upfront. We recommend creating a group of 5-9 people that will be the ultimate decision-makers, as any larger and the process can easily become unmanageable. If possible, keep the group at an odd number in case it is decided that there won’t be an ultimate decision-maker (e.g., CEO, CMO). That way, if a consensus is not reached and a vote is required, the possibility of a tie is avoided. At a minimum, the group should be composed of a variety of members of leadership. You also may want to consider including some employee representatives that are not part of leadership. This will provide valuable insight and feedback, and help ensure employee adoption. Another possibility is to include community members. Obviously, anyone with some awareness of the organization will work but, ideally, it is someone with some level of marketing experience or awareness (e.g., a marketing professor from a local high school or college; a member of a local organization that’s been through a name change). That way you can get input from informed, outside perspectives.
  5. Employee Buy-in. We do not recommend having the name chosen by a vote of all the employees. This is where the “too many cooks” concept can really get out of hand. Undoubtedly, there will be differences of opinion, and those who “lose” may not be willing to fully accept the selected name. Additionally, focus on the reasons and goals for changing the name can be lost or compromised in larger pools. Also, a chosen name that meets the criteria sought often needs time for employees to digest and accept. 
  6. Internal Brand Launch. Once the new name and rebrand are approved, we recommend an internal brand launch to help acquire employee buy-in. This would be an organization-wide presentation that, at a minimum, goes into detail about the (i) reasons for the name change, (ii) goals for the change, (iii) criteria the name is designed to meet, and (iv) process undertaken to choose the name. The presentation can take a variety of forms, from a PowerPoint to a video story (a format we’ve found particularly powerful and not too costly to justify) to something even more creative, like a live performance of some sort. It really depends on your organization’s culture and what you think would get the most engagement. 
  7. External Brand Launch. For most, but not all, rebrands, a brand launch campaign is advisable, particularly so for rebrands that include a name change. Conducted after the internal brand launch, an external brand launch campaign is designed to inform and educate outside stakeholders. The campaign should be integrated in a way that ensures you are reaching all stakeholders, not only the people that you treat or provide services to (existing and potential), but also donors, referral sources, applicable government entities, community-based organizations, and other key community players. The communication plan developed for the campaign will identify the platforms to use to best reach your stakeholders, the messaging to be used on those platforms, and a schedule for the campaign. 
  8. Agency. While I know, as an agency, we can’t be totally objective, we do recommend that you retain a branding agency to help develop names and guide you through the process. Not only do they have the expertise to develop names that meet your goals, but they bring professional insight and an outside perspective that results in greater illumination of the possibilities. Plus, as the expert, an agency can provide the “cover” needed to support acceptance among internal stakeholders.                    

A rebrand, involving a name change or otherwise, is exciting and provides an opportunity to align values, refine positioning, clarify direction, and inspire employee engagement. But, it does require walking a fine line between attaining your goals and getting buy-in. A productive and successful process demands collaboration. Yet, at the end of the day, it can’t be a democratic process to be truly effective. Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln – “You can please some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”