How to Introduce a Name Change the Right Way

Machiavelli wrote, several hundred years ago, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

As a business owner, that is your job. Your job is not to maintain the status quo, your job is to create change. And of all the changes you can make, one of the most feared changes by most business owners (or executives or boards) is to change the name of their company.

Sometimes it’s the fear of losing customers. Sometimes it’s the fear of being lost. Sometimes it’s the fear of losing all past marketing and SEO efforts. Sometimes it’s the fear of losing a first love (after all, you named it). Sometimes it’s the fear of people questioning their judgment. Sometimes it’s the fear of losing key investors or contributors. And sometimes it’s simply the fear of the unknown.

But sometimes, you just need to feel the fear, and jump. Plenty of others have done it and survived—and most of the time (forgetting Netflix’s blunder with Qwikster), the change has been a very wise choice.

  •     Backrub > Google
  •     Anderson Consulting > Accenture
  •     Blackwater > Academi
  •     Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation > Sony
  •     Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web > Yahoo
  •     Brad’s Drink > Pepsi
  •     Matsushita Electric Corporation of America > Panasonic
  •     Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation > IBM
  •     Diet Deluxe > Healthy Choice
  •     AuctionWeb > Ebay
  •     DrivUrSelf > Hertz
  •     Blue Ribbon Sports > Nike
  •     Confinity > Paypal
  •     Peter’s Super Submarines > Subway
  •     Sound of Music > Best Buy

Can you imagine any of these brands growing into great brands with their old names?  Absolutely not! Sometimes you just have to feel the fear and make the change.

But, the question arises, how do you roll it out? How do you tell people about the name change? Well, this morning, I received an email from a company that I’ve used in the past, YouSendIt, that just recently changed their name to Hightail. And they’ve done so many things right, that I thought they’d make a great case study for you.

Note: I’m not privy to what they did internally. I don’t know how many clients or customers they called ahead of time or if key clients or vendors were involved in the change, etc. I’m also not evaluating whether the name change was the right change. I’m simply reflecting on the tactical issues related to rolling out the name, based on the email I received.

1. Create a Transitional Logo

When Hightail created their new logo with their new tagline, they also created a version with the phrase, “Formerly YouSendIt”. Brilliant.

As much as you and I might want to think that everyone will know. Or as much as you and I would like to think that everyone reads our emails whenever we send them out, that’s just not reality. Not everyone reads what we send out when we send it out (I know, bugs me as well :-).

So, Hightail made a decision to work with the way people are rather than the way they’d like them to be. And that led to the decision to create a “Formerly YouSendIt” tagline in their transitional logo. Brilliant!


Note: I don’t know how long they’ll keep the transitional logo up, but I’m guessing it’ll be somewhere between one to three months.

2. Create a Pop Up Box on Your Site Announcing the Change

Even though Hightail sent out an all-past clients and subscriber email (something you should do as well), they’re not depending on it to do the message work. So, when you go to their site today (when I’m writing this, which may not be when you’re reading this), you’re greeted by the following pop up.

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3. Create a Video Telling the Story

In our video driven world, telling the story on video and letting people connect to you and your people vs. just text is a wise decision. When you listen to the body language and intonation of the people at Hightail on the name change video, you not only KNOW why they made the change, you FEEL why they made the change.

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Note: While the Hightail team did the “look at the interviewer while talking” shot, I’d recommend that you look right at the camera and talk to whoever is watching. It’s far more effective and powerful.

The other thing they didn’t do, which I’d highly recommend, is have some of their customers talk about the change. And I’d talk more in terms of the benefits to the user vs. just the organization.

4. Tell the Story Several Different Ways

One of the things I enjoyed about the way Hightail introduced their name change today was that they had several of their team members write about the name change from their perspective. For example, the Creative Director talked about the name change in relationship to the logo and icon development. And the marketing guy talked about the name change from a marketing perspective.

But for me, personally, I think the best story was a video they created of Hightail being used by an ad agency or graphics firm. It made the compelling argument that Hightail is about more than just sending a large document that you can’t send as an email attachment.

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5. Refresh the Look and Feel of Your Whole Site

A name change is the perfect time to do a complete overhaul. Don’t just do a minor tweak, make it look and feel like something major has changed. Make people feel like you’ve just gone to a whole new level.

When you look at the WayBackMachine Image of the YouSendIt page, you can see it wasn’t very compelling. But when you look at the makeover, you feel like it’s a whole new company playing at a much higher level. Well done!


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6. Overcommunicate

Since I just heard about this name change this morning, I have no idea what Hightail’s plan is for the future, but as a business growth/strategy/leadership expert I can tell you that any change that has any potential for taking root has to be communicated over and over and over again—for a long period of time.

The difficulty for those of us who are part of any change is that we’ve been a part of the change process for a long time. By the time the public announcement is made, we’re sick of it and can’t wait to work on something new.

However, if you want change to stick, you have to ride that change for a long time after its introduction (think 3-6 months vs. three days). So, don’t just announce the name change and move on, keep talking about it for the next few months.

If you follow these six best practices from Hightail’s introduction of their new name, you’ll be well on your way to establishing your new brand in the hearts and minds of your current customers, as well as your future ones. And, if you do it right, maybe someone like me will end up using you as a case study as well!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If your company is constrained by your name, don’t put off making that change. Remember, fear is simply a negative expectation of a future event. Don’t assume the worst. Assume the best. A new name may be a strategic change that can unlock a whole new future for you and your company.

P.P.S. If you have some other best practices related to a name change, make sure you add them to the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed).

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