Should You Fiddle With Your Brand by Renaming Your Company?

Hightail brand name change

The old

Hightail logo

The new

You can imagine the anguish companies experience when they decide to change their names to more accurately reflect the services and products they’re offering.

Will the new name convey the company’s new direction? Does it mean something offensive in a foreign language? Will customers go elsewhere? Does it accurately reflect the brand?

Or sometimes a company will change its name because the old one has negative connotations. Philip Morris (smoking and cancer) became Altria.

Should You Change Your Name?

I was prompted to write this post when learning that the trusted YouSendIt is now Hightail. Most of the company’s 43 million customers use the service to share large files. One-time use was free – I’ve used it to email large files or PowerPoint presentations. It’s a great service.

Has the company adequately explained why it changed its name? See if you can understand what’s new in this video on Hightail’s website.

The speakers would have benefited from presentation training. Their key services are listed on their website. The video offered an opportunity to expand on the key benefits instead of discussing their aspirations for the company. Customers don’t buy aspirations, they buy products and services. Where was the what’s in it for me?

I get that the company sees its future more broadly than just sending files. But someone – most probably the CEO – should explain clearly just what the new brand stands for.

Like most organizations, Hightail paid a corporate identity firm to help with the name change. The company could have chosen “Hightail It.” That might have been a more descriptive name. The Thesaurus definition “flee; take to one’s heels; cut and run” probably ruled that out.

I wonder if customers outside the U.S. will understand what Hightail means? The word comes pretty close to being jargon.

If You’re Thinking of a Name Change

If you’re thinking of changing your company’s name, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it really necessary to change the name or are we doing it because we’re bored with old one?
  • Does the new name accurately convey our brand essence?
  • Have we tested the new name with our customers and do they feel it reflects our new services?
  • Are we changing our name simply as an excuse to jack up our prices?
  • Have we changed all our corporate signage, logos, stationery, and business cards?
  • Are our advertising and promotional materials ready and in place for the launch of the new name?
  • Do we have adequate budget to promote the new brand name?
  • Have we explained to our own staff why the name change and what it means to them?
  • Have we engaged our employees as brand advocates on social media to promote the new name and services?

Changing a company name – or even a logo — is fraught with peril, as the Gap learned when outraged customers forced the company to revert to its former logo.

Some companies make up new names combining letters such as Verizonveritas (truth) and horizon (think sun). Another company – the former Andersen Consulting – paid a corporate identity firm to help with its name change, but also crowd-sourced its own employees.

Turns out they had the answer within their own ranks. The made-up name Accenture was submitted by an employee and was the overwhelming favorite of the firm’s 2,500 partners.

I just decided to see if anything has changed for folks like me who use YouSendIt, now Hightail, to send an occasional large file. So I emailed a file to myself. Still free. Arrived immediately. Worked like a charm.

Thanks, Hightail. Good luck with your new name and services.

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Comments

  1. Personally believe a company with 43 million customers should only change their name if the old one suddenly has a negative connotation. But even then it’s not always a good idea.

    By the way, the video they made is really annoying since it starts the minute anyone clicks on your website. Presumably that’s because of Hightail.

    • Catarina — I personally think YouSendIt told me exactly what the company does. I understand why they felt they needed a more hip name as they expand their services. But as I understand it, they are still selling cloud-based services so the old name wasn’t so far off.

  2. I think if it’s a large and long established company it might be more difficult to change the name, logo well, not so much.

    If it’s a small growing company then it likely won’t be noticed as much.

    Those are great questions to consider. Thanks Jeannette.

    • Pat — I agree. It’s easier for a small company to change its name, especially if the company starts moving in a different direction.

  3. I guess it is all in the how established to name and the company is. For example. It would be much harder for Apple to embark on a name change without serious consequences where their logo has gone through a metamorphosis over time.
    Not to compare, for me I now have a brand in my logo. I can easily tweak the name (if I choose) and leave the image and it would still be recognized. Just my thoughts at first blush. 🙂

    • Susan — You make an interesting point. Nike certainly has brand equity in the name but even without the name people recognize the “swoosh” logo. Apple’s name is intrinsically linked to its logo. I just went to look at your logo again — like it and you could change your name and the logo wouldn’t be affected.

  4. Hi Jeannette: Interesting post.

    I’ve had the Wizard of Words persona and logo pretty much since I launched my writing biz 20 years ago. I’ve kept it because people remember it (easier than they remember my not-too-easy name) and it’s kind of catchy. I even modified the name to now become a publishing house, when I launched my latest book as being published by Wizard of Words Productions. I think if it works, why change it?

    • Doreen — I love the name of your company. It exemplifies what you’re doing and it is catchy. Don’t change it!

  5. There are times when a name change or modification can seem like the right thing. Kentucky Fried Chicken becoming KFC, was I think a good idea. We were going through a health food, get fit craze in North America and “fried” anything was a bad plan.

    Unfortunately I don’t think Hightail has made the argument for change clear, I’m not even sure how it helps them. One speaker said that what people were sending was, “their passion, their life’s blood and work” and they wanted the name to reflect that, I was intrigued but then stumped that in response to wanting their name to reflect the importance of what people were sharing they came up with “Hightail”. Whether they add the “it” or not, it still meant “get out outta town, run or flee” to me. So the speed was clear, but so were the negative connotations. Perhaps if they had played with the spelling and made it, “Hightale” that might have worked but then people would have a devil of a time finding them. Perhaps it will all make sense when their new services become available. Great post!

    • Debra — I know Hightail can have a negative connotation. I’ve worked at agencies and I know when you get a group of creative people in a room who start throwing out names/ideas it becomes a herd mentality. You justify why you think that name works. Everybody gets on the train and that’s the name that’s chosen.

  6. Hi Jeannette,
    Boy I can relate to this article. When I first started our business we didn’t think about having any meaning to selling promotional products. We were Wilar Entereprises which was William and Arleen. When people started saying like Willard the rat, we immediately changed our name. We then used Garrett Collections, with Garrett being my husband’s middle name and then people thought we were a collection agency. We ended up by calling it Garrett Specialties. I really don’t like the name and the url is too long, but I do have name recognition so I can’t change it now. The name of your company should be the most important thing you do. Great article.

    • Arleen — so you’ve been through the naming mill! I like Garrett Specialties, actually, although you might have chosen Garrett Promotions. That might have make people think you put on promotions for companies so that might not have worked either. Tiz a problem!

  7. I think they have been reading too many articles about vision etc and over thinking. When they talk about passion etc it seems as you wrote it was about them. Changing a company name is expensive and years ago one consulting firm did (which I can’t remember) changed and after a backlash changed back. It will be interesting to see what other services they add and I wonder why they didn’t keep the company name and introduce other services under their own brand names.

    • Susan — changing a name is very perilous when you’ve built brand equity over the years. The consulting firm I mentioned, Accenture, had to change its name from Andersen Consulting, because the audit side of the business, Arthur Andersen, owned the Andersen name. Accenture spent millions building that new brand. Unfortunately, Arthur Andersen was driven out of business by the government for supposed infractions. Years later the Supreme Court overturned the government’s case but 80,000 employees had already lost their jobs. A real tragedy.

  8. You ask good questions and bring up excellent points in this post. I have been planning to change the name of my business, but I never really use the current one except when I need to legally. So I can get a little exposure off announcing the new name (whenever I decide to do this – I’ve been too busy with work to follow through).

    I never thought of Verizon and the Latin for truth. I had some lousy experiences with them recently – they practice some less than truthful business practices that rip off their clients in small ways (hidden fees for one). But it’s not like there is a better option for us.

    • Leora — I think Websites for Small Biz says exactly what you do. I’m surprised you want to change it — curious, if you don’t mind letting the cat out of the bag — what is the name you are thinking of changing it to? Glad you’re too busy to do it!

      • Websites for Small Biz is the name of my blog, and no, I’m not changing it! I have an LLC name that I plan to change. Maybe in December – I predict that will be my next “slow” period.

  9. There’s pros and cons to this obviously, but in this case I don’t think it was entirely necessary to change the name. Especially to get the desired effect of the name becoming a verb. If I hadn’t read your post I would have never known that Hightail is YouSendIt. I would have passed it by without a thought. Plus, I use Dropbox. 🙂

  10. I’ve wondered if I should just go with my first name and maiden name as a writer. The whole hyphenated last name seems a bit much. Then I think about how I’m JeriWB on all of my sites, so for now I guess I’ll keep my inch-long name 😉 At least until a literary agent might suggest I do otherwise…

    • Jeri — Once you’ve got a recognizable name — even it it’s hyphenated — it’s your brand so you might as well stick with it. In the early days of Hollywood, actors were required to change their names to something catchy like Rock Hudson or Tab Hunter. Now actors keep their names even if they’re unpronounceable or very ethnic.

  11. Dan — I actually like the Accenture name, too. Shows you don’t always have to pay a powerhouse branding firm. The answer was right inside the firm. Can you believe how different your life is now from when you worked there!?