As anyone who has started a business knows, choosing a name is no easy task.
There are many considerations, such as:
- Are social identifiers and domain name available?
- Is there a competitor already using a similar name?
- Can people spell, pronounce and remember the name?
- Are there any cultural or symbolic interpretations that could be problematic?
The list goes on. These considerations are magnified when a business is already established, and even more difficult when your business serves billions of users around the world.
Facebook (the parent company, not the social network) changed its name to Meta, and we’ll look at some likely reasons for rebranding. But first, we’ll look at corporate name changes in recent history, exploring the various reasons why a business might change its name. Below are some of the rebranding categories that stand out the most.
Societal perceptions can change quickly and companies do their best to anticipate these changes in advance. Or, if they don’t change over time, their hands could be forced.
Over time, companies with more obvious negative externalities have come under pressure, especially in the age of ESG investing. Social pressure is at the origin of the name changes at Total and Philip morris. In the first case, the change to TotalEnergies aimed to signal the company’s shift beyond oil and gas to include renewables.
In some cases, the reason companies change their names is more subtle. GMAC (General Motors Acceptance Corporation) did not want to be associated with the subprime loans and the ensuing multibillion dollar bailout from the US government, and a name change was one way to start with a “clean slate.” The renamed financial services company Ally in 2010.
Press the reset button
Brands can become unpopular over time due to scandals, lower quality, or countless other reasons. When this happens, a name change can be a way to get customers to shed those old negative connotations.
Internet and TV providers rank last in customer satisfaction ratings, so it’s no surprise that many have changed their names in recent years.
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This is a very common scenario, especially when businesses are expanding rapidly or finding success with new product offerings. After a period of sustained growth and change, a business may find that the current name is too restrictive or no longer reflects exactly what it has become.
The two Apple and Starbucks have simplified their business names over the years. The first removed “Computers” from its name in 2007, and Starbucks removed “Café” from its name in 2011. In both cases, the name change involved dissociating the company from what made it initially successful. , but in both cases it was a bet that paid off.
One of the biggest name changes in recent years is the change from Google To Alphabet. This name change signaled the company’s desire to expand beyond internet search and advertising.
The backbone of the start-up’s name
Another very common name change scenario is the name change at an early stage.
In the music world, there is speculation that limited melodies and unconscious plagiarism will make it increasingly difficult to create new music in the future. Likewise, there are millions of businesses around the world and only a limited number of short, catchy names. (This is how we end up with companies called Quibi.)
Many of the popular digital services we use today started with very different names. The Google today we know it was once called Backrub. Instagram started life as Bourbn, and Twitter started out as “Twittr” before finding a spare E in the scrabble pile.
As mentioned above, many businesses start out as speculative experiments or passionate ventures, when a viable, well-controlled name is not high on the priority list. As a result, new businesses can run into copyright issues.
This was the case when Picaboo, the forerunner of Snapchat, was forced to change its name in 2011. The current Picaboo, a photo book company, was not thrilled to share a name with an app primarily associated with sexting at the time.
The fight for the WWF name was a more unique scenario. In 1994, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation had agreed by mutual agreement that the latter cease using the initials internationally, except for ephemeral uses such as “WWF champion”. In the end, the deal was largely ignored and the issue became a sticking point when the wrestling company registered wwf.com. Eventually, the company was renamed WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) after losing a lawsuit.
To err is human, and rebranding exercises don’t always hit the mark. When a name change is universally rejected or, perhaps worse, irrelevant, it’s time to put things right.
Tribune editions was forced to back down after his name change to Trunk in 2016. The broadly breaded name, which was styled in lowercase, was seen as a clumsy attempt to become a digital-foremost publisher.
Why is Facebook changing its name?
Facebook undertook this name change for a number of reasons, but the main one is that the brand is irrevocably associated with scandals, negative externalities and Mark Zuckerberg.
Even before the latest blackout and the whistleblower scandal, Facebook was already by far the least reliable tech company. Mark Zuckerberg was once Silicon Valley’s most admired CEO, but has since fallen out of favor.
It’s easy to focus on the negative triggers for the impending name change, but there’s some substance behind the change as well. On the one hand, Facebook recognizes that privacy concerns have endangered its main source of income. The company’s advertising model, based on user data, comes under increasing scrutiny from year to year.
Plus, there’s substance behind the Metaverse hype. Facebook first signaled its ambitions in 2014, when it bought the virtual reality headset maker Oculus. A significant portion of the company’s workforce is already working to make the metaverse concept a reality, and there are plans to hire 10,000 more people in Europe over the next five years.
It remains to be seen whether this huge gamble pays off, but for the foreseeable future, Zuckerberg and Facebook investors will be closely watching the media and public reaction to the new Meta name and how the transition unfolds. After all, billions of dollars are at stake.