Five Lessons Learned On Rebranding

James Legg, President, Delinea

What’s in a name? In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare offered the now-famous opinion that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But does it really? 

Consider business names. Some are anachronistic, and others are silly. Some are straightforward, and others are downright puzzling. Organizations come by their names in different ways, but there’s often a great story behind it. Look at one of the world’s most powerful brands: Google. According to Britannica, the name was derived from a misspelling of “googol,” a mathematical expression for the number one, followed by 100 zeroes.

I find that most business names fit one of three categories. They’re either descriptive of a product or geography, as in Detroit Diesel; suggestive, as in Groupon; or seemingly random, as in Apple. No matter which route a company takes, its name can become a significant business asset. But it almost always requires a major and sustained investment to make it that way.

I was CEO for six years at a company that was not among those fortunate few whose name immediately drew an enthusiastic following. For most of our 15-year-plus history, it had been “Thycotic.” As with most brand names, there’s a unique story behind it. But our company name had nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of our business, which is safeguarding access to data networks, and it didn’t translate at all into other languages.

In April 2021, we merged with another company whose business involved a complementary aspect of network security, and we adopted an interim brand name. We saw that name as merely a placeholder because, by then, we recognized that a huge rebranding opportunity had presented itself. 

So, we started down that path, and after a minor misstep—which I’ll get to in a moment—we landed on a new name, Delinea. Along the way, I learned some important things about the rebranding process.

1. Understand why you’re going through the exercise in the first place.

The goal of rebranding is not just to get a new and better name; it’s to build market awareness, help drive demand and fuel growth. A better name is something that’s nice to have, but it’s generally not a must-have. Our company, for example, wasn’t broken. Instead, we wanted to start with a clean slate as a newly combined company, tell a fresh story, signify a new chapter and take our business to the next level.

2. It’s a long-term investment, so consider hiring experts who can help.

Creating a new brand is not something that should be taken casually. It isn’t the sort of activity for which you would hold a competition among employees or simply entrust to your young nephew who’s good with graphic design. From my perspective, it pays to work with an agency that has done this sort of thing before.

In our case, we worked with a well-respected organization. It wasn’t cheap, and it involved a significant effort from agency personnel, our business leaders and multiple focus groups. But these actions helped ensure the new name was the right one. We were able to verify the name could be pronounced by non-English speakers and that it didn’t contain any surprise negatives or translate into something crude in another language.

3. Plan, plan, plan.

Rebranding a company is similar to a creative rebirth you want to celebrate and let the world know about. But rebranding has a lot of moving parts besides the creative ones. Names need to be vetted carefully, including how they translate into other languages, if they are legally available and if they are ownable.

Once decided upon and secured, then the real work begins to bring it to life. Plan how you’ll send emails and press releases. Prepare for building a new website, creating new social media presences, debuting the brand at trade shows or perhaps even launching an international brand awareness campaign that includes advertising in more than a dozen languages. Meticulous planning is required from beginning to end.

4. Embrace mishaps.

Mistakes are going to happen. Roll with them. This includes the possibility of prematurely leaking the new name. That’s sort of what happened in our case. We were conducting a LinkedIn integration test using a fake company name, and a cute animal picture appeared and actually went live. Instead of panicking about it, we pulled the post down, paused and waited to see if anyone noticed.

What we then realized is that in the 40 minutes it was live, a lot of our employees saw it, pointed it out on our messaging platform, our CEO laughed (thankfully), and animal meme madness ensued. We call it our “happy accident,” which leads me to the final point.

5. Have fun.

In our case, while our fake name leak was unintended, our employees grabbed onto it and began having fun. They made unofficial company mascot drawings and stickers—even after they were told the real name had yet to be disclosed. Keep employees engaged and make them your brand ambassadors by encouraging them to have fun. Doing so can bring positive benefits—even if they come about by accident.

Renaming a company is not something you’ll want to do every year—maybe only once in a lifetime. But when the time comes, do it right and have fun with it.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

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