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September 14, 2006 | Tate Linden

Based on this press release, Stokefire is tempted to put out daily press releases stating "Yes, we're still Stokefire."

What happens when your government tells you to change your name - and you refuse? Probably something a lot like this:

According to new amendments to the law "On science", all academies, which have state status, should be renamed to "state academies". [... but] "No one is going to rename the Russian Academy of Sciences", said the President [of the RAS]

The justification given was that

RAS – Russian Academy of Sciences – is a famous brand, which scientists all over the world know and respect, says the vice-president. It would be a mistake to make any changes.

We like the justification - even if we can't validate it immediately. In our engagements with our clients our first assumption is that existing names don't need to be changed. Changing names is a costly process - and it goes beyond paying the "thing namers." There's advertising, materials costs, retraining... it can add up to millions - or even hundreds of millions for the biggest companies. When you've got a brand with a significant amount of goodwill you should have a darn good reason before you rip out the recognition that the goodwill is attached to.

Perhaps the method of announcing that the change isn't happening could've been a little more delicate, but it certainly shows the risks of top-down management of identity. You can't just cram a new name down the throats of the employees that have to wear the badge. When you try it you get resistance - usually from the line workers - and that's bad for the brand. In this case it seems the entire organization - all the way to the top - is against it.

We think US company presidents and marketing heads can learn a lot from this. If you try to rebrand your organization and you don't go through the process of bringing the staff along for the ride you could end up with something like this - a pulbicly communicated rebuff of the attempt. Even if it isn't in an internationally distributed press release it'll find its way to the public - probably via the blogosphere.

So - to the Presidents of countries and companies looking to rename stuff. Make sure you talk with the people people having to live with the new name before you make the change. There's little worse for company or country image than having the constituency badmouthing the leadership and name directly to the customers.

Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group
703-778-9925