In January 2016, we killed-off our old brand and emerged with a new name, logo and vision.
In this post, I'll explain why we (and thousands of other businesses) have to make the difficult decision to reinvent: looking at the problems we've encountered through the years, and providing step-by-step guidance for a successful rebranding project.
There's just one question left: is it time you rebranded?
How We Came Up With The Iconsive Name
It was late 2012, and Martin and I were trying to come up with a name for the digital agency we were launching.
We had customers, but no brand. We felt many digital agencies sounded the same, and wanted to be different. We hated acronyms (unless you're huge, they're too easy to forget and confuse), and finding names that were available as .com's -- even 4 years ago -- was difficult. Owning your .com is still very important, irrespective of the rationalisations some use to convince themselves otherwise.
So -- like many brands before us -- we took the decision to create our own word.
We thought carefully about how we'd help our customers, and what success would look like. We settled on "Icon" as a good word to describe what we wanted to help our customers become: Icons within their industry.
We experimented with dozens of prefixes and suffixes, eventually deciding to turn "Icon" into an adjective: Iconsive. Businesses that worked with us and employed our methodology would become Iconsive.
The Branding Problems We Encountered
Initially, we were relieved to have settled on a name, and rushed out to register all the Iconsive domains & IP we could. By this point:
- The company was registered with companies house (the UK's central government registered company directory)
- Contracts were signed with our customers
- Our website was designed, developed and launched
- Paid advertising campaigns had begun
- Social media profiles were secured and promoted
- Business cards and stationary were printed
It was only then that we began to notice the problems with our name.
What started as a small trickle grew -- over several years -- to become a torrent. We'd get daily reminders of the problems our name was causing, in the form of invalid links, missed Tweets and incorrect email introductions.
We identified 5 key issues at the root these problems:
1) People misspelled our name when they heard it
Not once do I recall telling someone our email address, website address or company name without being asked to repeat it. When they wrote the name down, I'd have to spell it out to them letter-by-letter.
2) People couldn't remember it
When I'd tell someone about the company and what we were doing, they'd remember me and what we did, but forget the company name. I've heard everything from "Iconosphere", to "Iconstance" and "Ico ... something".
3) People thought we were Inconsive
This was a psychological quirk we didn't initially notice, but it didn't take long until we spotted people subconsciously changing our name to include an additional "n".
This happened when people linked to our content, emailed us, mentioned us on Twitter; even long term customers would sometimes refer to us as Inconsive!
4) Many capitalised our name incorrectly
Sometimes we became iConsive. Shows what a great job Apple have done with their branding.
5) People didn't understand it
No one intuitively "got it". We'd always have to explain the full story of naming the company, and even then, responses tended to be: "What?", or "I'll nod and pretend I understood what you just said, but I regret ever asking you about your name. Please can we move on?"
The "Right" Time to Rebrand
These were big problems. Here's a marketing agency with a name people can't spell, remember, or understand.
As the company grew, the problems got worse. I'd tabled a rebranding discussion a number of times since our founding, but the timing was never right.
- We were always too busy to rebrand.
- It would always cause too much confusion for existing prospects, leads, or customers.
- There were SEO considerations.
The problem is that there's never a perfect time to rebrand. It's always disruptive, and providing there are major problems with your existing name, the right time to rebrand is always as soon as possible.
The bigger you get, the more expensive it is to change everything; so in late 2015, we bit the bullet. Our team embarked on a formalised rebranding process, which I've detailed below - wrapping up with some pointers that could help you assess whether you should change your brand name.
How to COme Up With a New Name
Failure happens. Though it's not an excuse, it can be a great way to learn.
We started out by doing a lot of research around branding and naming, to identify:
- What a good brand name would mean for us.
- The root of our existing brand problems.
- How to Name a Startup: The S.M.A.R.T Checklist - a simple 5-point naming checklist created by HubSpot co-founder, Dharmesh Shah. We used this to design our key naming criteria.
- How to Pick The Perfect Name for Your Business or Startup - a great piece by Will Mitchell which shares tools that are helpful for brainstorming and testing potential names.
- 15 Domain Name Generators - Shopify's round-up of 15 awesome tools you can use to come up with available domain names, combined with some quick naming tips at the end. We tried most of these tools at some point in our naming process.
- How to Choose a Company Name: A 12-Point Test - a simple 12-point test you can run on names to rule them in/out. This was a final check we ran on our shortlist of names.
- How to Scientifically Pick The Best Domain Name - I love statistics, metrics, proof, and challenging assumptions, and this article helped me design questions I could use to test our name on people.
After compiling our research and thoughts, we began a 4-step process to brainstorm as many names as possible, and narrow it down to one.
Step 1) Articulating Our Vision
We began by articulating our vision as a company. We agreed the following:
"We help great SaaS products to disrupt markets, reduce inefficiency and accelerate human progress with better growth strategies."
Our vision doesn't restrict us to what we're currently doing: providing growth services. You should be able to test any additional product, service or feature offering against your vision statement. Your vision statement should be generic enough to be valid for at least 5 years into the future, but specific enough to be useful.
So long as we're helping great SaaS products to acquire or retain customers in some way, we're moving closer towards our vision. We could end up selling training videos or hosting network events. Heck, we could start doing their laundry or selling them furniture -- if it helped them grow, and there was a business case.
It's therefore important that our name doesn't restrict us to only doing what we do now.
We wanted a name which clearly indicated partnership and growth, and articulating our vision allowed us to focus on a few key words: grow, partner, accelerate, fuel, achieve, progress, help, scale, disrupt, bud etc.
Which leads us nicely to our next step: thesaurus.com & domain name generators.
Step 2) Thesaurus.com & Domain Name Generators
Once you've articulated your vision and identified a few words which are synonymous with it, Thesaurus.com is an excellent way to expand further.
We found that putting our key words into the Thesaurus was an excellent way of identifying root words that would work well as part of our new brand name. Whilst we're a creative bunch, we wouldn't have come up with so many ideas without it.
It's very easy to obsess over one word when you're brainstorming. For example, we got obsessed with the word "Scale".
Scale is a great word within the SaaS community: it's the goal for most great companies, so it tied in well with our vision. It wasn't the only possibility, however, and ultimately it was a word thesaurus.com gave us that formed a core part of our new name.
verb (DEVELOP) › to grow or develop successfully
noun (GOOD HEALTH) › literary health, energy, and good looks
The tools Shopify mention in their blog post here are great for identifying available .com domains that contain the words you've come up with. Our favourite tools were Lean Domain Search and Name Mesh. Name Mesh was the tool that ultimately suggested the name we chose.
Three members of the team worked individually to compile ideas, and shared new key words upon stumbling on something tangential. On exhaustion, we moved onto the next step.
Step 3) Collating Our Names
As I worked through all the name ideas generated by the team, I put them into a spreadsheet and filtered out any which failed Dharmesh's SMART test. For example, I removed all those that were 10 characters or longer.
Having a short name is essential. Dharmesh suggested 9 characters or less, but aim for less if you can. In our mobile world, less characters mean less typing, and a short name can make the difference between a quick search/visit or an "I'll look it up later".
With long names filtered out, I reduced our ideas down to a total of 60.
Each member of the team then went through the list and scored them out of 5, where 5 is best, and 1 worst. The scores had to be proportional: meaning each team member had to contribute an equal number of 5's as they did 4's, 3's, 2's or 1's. With 60 names, that meant each of us selected 12 names of each score. Everyone was told to score based on Dharmesh's SMART criteria.
We then calculated the average (mean, but on reflection, the median may have worked better) of everyone's scores to create a spreadsheet containing each name scored out of 5. Everyone was given a chance to then review the final spreadsheet, and identify names they felt particularly strongly about that scored badly overall.
We then hosted a meeting to discuss, pick out favourites and scrap most.
Things to watch out for at this stage:
Any introduction of bias
People will get emotionally attached to their name ideas, and -- especially if you have a large number of people involved -- some may (often unintentionally) try to bias others.
Watch out for ways bias could be introduced into your naming process: friends supporting each other, or more junior employees agreeing with their boss because they think that'll help their career. Read this to learn more (it may help you with a lot more than your name).
The "least worst" names being selected
Whilst averaging scores across your team is great for eliminating the worst names, it probably won't help you to pick the best.
This effect gets more pronounced for each person you introduce to the scoring process. If you have a small decision making team (5 or less people), it won't cause too much concern: just don't blindly pick the highest scoring names as your shortlist.
Ensure people have an opportunity to present a case for lower scoring names they feel strongly about. We had a number of names that scored badly, that after further discussion we grew to like.
Picking too many names
After this stage, you want a short list of names, I'd say 5-15 max. If you have more than this, you'll draw out the decision making process, and have too many to test properly.
Not securing favourite .com's
If cash is a major concern, then just be careful about who you speak to, and register a few of your favourites. In an ideal world you'll want to register at least the .com's of the leading favourites at this stage.
The meeting helped us further define which names were "good" or "bad": there were patterns in those that scored highly. If people came up with ideas they loved after the meeting, they could be considered for the next stage of the process too, providing there was consensus.
This worked well for our small team, and our final name was one of (a very few) spin-offs that came from this. If we were larger, I'd have introduced the ability for each team member to contribute a very limited number of additional ideas by a specific date, and repeated this step on those names. You can tailor this process to suit the size of your team.
Step 4) Identifying The Best Name
By the end of this stage, you want a final decision.
How much effort or cash you put into this part of the process depends on what you have available, but don't drag the process out too long. You should already have at least a couple of workable brand names within your selection. A week or two should be long enough for you to sleep on your ideas, and appropriately test them.
It's at this point where the 12-point SMILE & SCRATCH test works well. Our chosen name was the only idea that I felt confidently met all the criteria. One point that many companies don't think too much about is the imagery of their name:
- What picture does it invoke?
- Can it be used to convey a strong theme?
- Does the name invoke feeling?
Here's a few pointers for testing your names at this point:
1) Google them
What shows up? What does Google try to suggest instead of it? (if anything).
One name we liked was Coscalers. We eliminated this idea by performing Google searches for similar names, which included Coscale. We quickly found a company called Coscale -- nice name, guys! -- that did Web Performance Monitoring. A similar enough company for it to cause brand confusion.
If there are companies with very similar names that could be (even slightly) confused with your business, scrap it.
2) Search trademarks
A cursory trademark search for your name will help you identify IP your name could infringe upon. A worthwhile check, but not necessarily a blocker.
To be sure, a proper search can be done by a legal professional. We did a few cursory checks ourselves which surfaced nothing for our favourite name, which was enough for us. Don't take this as legal advice, though!
3) Write it as one word in lower case
Look at it and see if other people might look at your brand name and see combinations you hadn't thought of. This is a great tool for exhaustively identifying words within your name.
You don't want to be the next Experts Exchange (Expert Sex Change), IT Scrap (It's Crap) or Pen Island (you can work that out yourself).
4) Test your favourite name on everyone you can
Casually plant it into a conversation and see if people remember it the following day. Ask people to spell it, without repetition. Ask people what they picture when they hear it. Don't tell them why you're asking the questions.
5) Run automated tests
If you're even slightly unsure about spelling, recall, or imagery, Customer Development Labs have published a great guide to testing names online with surveys.
Just be careful with this. Your survey candidates likely won't represent the people who will engage with your company on a regular basis well (unless you already have a large customer database you can anonymously survey), so ensure what you're testing doesn't depend on that.
6) Be careful about asking what People think of your name "overall"
This will often result in biased/ill-informed answers. Many people won't know enough about your business to give much valuable insight: it's difficult to know if a name really suits without a full understanding of your vision, target market and the competitive landscape. Those that do understand all these things may not be honest with you. Customers might not provide much input either: out of fear of upsetting you or being held responsible for the decision.
After all this, there was one name which didn't fall down: Cobloom.
Initially there were some concerns. One member of the team thought it was "too flowery", but we eventually agreed that the strong visual image of "bloom" complemented our very data-driven, scientific approach to growth.
It added colour, and is extremely visual. It also works on a lot of levels: "co" can mean company, or "together". This symbolises partnership well. Likewise, blooming is strongly associated with success, wellbeing and growth.
How to Decide Whether You Should Rebrand
To wrap up, as promised, here's a few pointers to help you decide whether a new name is appropriate for your brand:
1) Are you experiencing problems with it?
If not, then it's probably not worth the disruption. Be pragmatic, but honest with yourself. How often does someone type in the wrong name? Do you keep having to spell it out to people over the phone? Is it really long? Do people remember it incorrectly?
Monitoring social media for misspellings of your brand can be a good way to assess this if you have reasonable scale, as well as asking people who don't know your brand to spell/remember it.
2) Does it no longer represent you?
Your brand has probably changed a lot if you've been in business for more than a couple of years. Make sure your name doesn't cause confusion by conveying an irrelevant message.
3) Can you acquire the .com, or see a path to doing so?
It's essential to get a relevant .com: any other extension will always result in lost traffic, and it's easy for entrepreneurs (who are typically early adopters) to think other extensions are more accepted/understood than they really are. Does your mother know that .io is a domain extension?
A great example of a business that secured their .com after starting out with a less ideal domain is Buffer. They started out with Bufferapp.com, before moving to Buffer.com when they could afford the (very significant) purchase. This was only possible because "Buffer" wasn't already a major brand.
4) Does your name contain non-alphanumeric characters?
This represents a problem in terms of recall. A great example is Radian 6 (acquired by Salesforce).
If you can buy both radian6.com and radiansix.com this may not present much of a problem. Likewise, if you were tweet-full.com and you also owned tweetfull.com, there's little issue. It's a major problem if another company owns the domain and you can't acquire it though.
I'd also welcome any thoughts you may have on our new brand name: good, bad or indifferent, and would love to discuss yours!