What's in a name -- and a logo? Plenty. Your company's core identity, for one. Your name and logo (your branding, taken together) represent the first glimpse potential customers get of you, and longtime customers take comfort in the stability and reassurance your branding confers. If you're thinking of altering it for whatever reason -- a desire to be more descriptive or visually contemporary -- here are some key considerations.
1. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENTMENT.
However long your company's history, its name is an invaluable commodity. You've made a substantial investment in establishing it in customers' minds and the broader marketplace. Older company's risk deemphasizing decades of hard-won recognition; newer ones risk a step back to square one. A branding overhaul can be invigorating, but be sure you're ready to make it happen.
2. HALF A LOAF, OR WHOLE HOG?
Might a partial branding shift meet your needs better than a wholesale switch -- perhaps shortening to an acronym rather than changing the name outright? A roughly analogous situation cropped up in January, when floundering smartphone pioneer Research in Motion changed its name to BlackBerry, rebranding itself after the classic product that brought it to prominence. Consumer confusion was likely to be minimal, but the move gave off an unmistakable odor of desperation. How much of your company's current branding ought to be kept, and what is the reaction likely to be? Perhaps leave the name intact but give the logo a fresh, contemporary makeover. Half-measures are sometimes more effective than complete transformations.
3. LET'S GET WHIMSICAL?
A law practice should never sacrifice solemn professionalism on the altar of irreverence, right? Well, maybe: Consider Morrison & Foerster, a prominent firm specializing in finance, technology and life sciences. It refers to itself, with a hint of salaciousness, as "MoFo," and it doesn't shy from the term: "About MoFo." "MoFo Women.""MoFo Foundation." Risky? Sure, a little -- but also an artful balance of the madcap and the serious. And it's nothing if not memorable. The firm's logo remains crisp and professional, its credentials beyond dispute. Such cheek might be too much for many companies, but it helps underscore that creative branding and beautiful design, while a modest component of client service, are essential all the same.
4. THE AFFECTION CONNECTION.
Customers, especially longtime customers, often feel tremendous loyalty to a company's name and, somewhat less overtly, its logo. But don't discount the almost familial connection such things can inspire: Twitter's bluebird. The playful sound of "Google." Coca-Cola's timeless script lettering. Increasing customers' fondness for your company is one of the more subtle benefits of a high-quality rebranding.
5. DIFFERENTIATE THE POSITIVE.
The above are all crucial elements of brand differentiation, a vital consideration when your company mulls a redo of its overall look. A stellar example of differentiation is designer Paul Rand's two transformations (in 1956 and 1972) of the logo of International Business Machines into the blocky, then striped, IBM logo still instantly recognizable today. (IBM had first abbreviated its corporate name in 1947 -- a highly uncommon move at the time.) Similarly dramatic changes for your company must take into account sensitivities, as well as the potential effect on your relationship with current and prospective customers. Done thoughtfully and artfully, though, brand differentiation of this nature can ultimately, like Rand's iconic IBM, become a classic.
Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world's most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brands.