What’s In a Name?
I’ve been directing a production of the classic musical, South Pacific, for the last few months; our first performance was Saturday and opening night was everything I hoped it would be, except for one major exception. Instead of sitting in the crowd, enjoying the fruits of my labors and the responses of an enthusiastic audience, I was onstage, playing the role of Captain Brackett. You see, I had the unfortunate experience of having to let an actor go only two nights prior, and it proved much easier for me to learn the lines, jump onstage, and perform, rather than find a replacement and teach him the role in such a short amount of time.
As I was donning my military garb, my stage manager came to my dressing room and asked me if I wanted him to make a pre-show announcement – something like “The role of Captain Brackett will be played tonight by Craig Joseph.” The programs had been printed a week prior and the fired actor’s name was still listed. Terrified that I was going to forget my hastily-memorized lines and make an absolute fool of myself, I opted to remain anonymous.
This experience got me thinking about the process of re-naming. I’ve had several clients over the past few years who’ve considered re-naming their businesses. In some cases, we moved forward with the name change, and for good reason:
- to signify a change in leadership / ownership which resulted in major differences in how the business operated
- to more accurately capture an enhanced or diminished lines of products or services
- to convey a merger
- to differentiate the business from another similarly-named business in town, reducing confusion
- to move past a public relations debacle
More often than not, though, conversations which start with “We need to re-name our business” end with “Let’s keep things the way they are.” Why? The answers can be surprising, but seem to be consistent whenever the Cassel Bear team begins conducting surveys about a potential name change for our clients. We call a large cross sampling of their customers and we almost always hear:
- “Call it whatever you want; I’ll probably still refer to it as (old name here).”
- If the name changes, will I still get the same quality service I get now?”
- “Why would you call it that? The old name is just fine.”
- “I don’t even really think of the name. I think of the (service, quality, friendly staff, responsiveness, etc.)”
What’s in a name? It seems, surprisingly, not much. At the end of the day, what that name means or stands for is far more important to an audience. What they want to see is a good show; they don’t really care about the actor in the role, so long as he’s skilled.
And so, we often steer clients away from re-naming and toward re-branding or re-messaging, encouraging them to speak with laser-like focus about what differentiates them from the competition, what they do better than anyone else, their core identity – in essence, what the name means. A new name can have negligible or – in rare cases – a backlash effect, but a clear message and identity can serve your business for the long haul.