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Your brand – what’s in a name?

It’s happened again. I’m staring blankly at a store assistant as I try to remember the name I booked my order under. Such is the woe of the recently married woman who, rather unfashionably nowadays, chooses to take her husband’s surname. It got me thinking about identity. Who am I? Am I a new person just because my surname changed?

What’s in a name anyway, asks Nikki Oji, Future Trends Manager at O2.

Nikki Oji, Future Trends Manager at O2


Change for improvement

Last August, not long after my own ‘rebrand’, Google renamed itself Alphabet. Alphabet is actually a holding company, with the Google search business and others forming new subsidiaries, in the mould of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (which has a complex mix of interests from insurance to clothing manufacture).

Clearly it’s positioning itself for many and varied things in future and the new structure will give it the ability to silo or spin off loss-making enterprises at will. But did you know that back in 1996 the world’s favourite search engine was created under the name BackRub?

Indeed, many a household name started out under a completely different guise – Pepsi-Cola was originally known as Brad’s Drink; Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo became Sony Corporation in 1958; and Blue Ribbon Sports took on the name Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory.

Change because you have to

Marketers know that brand identity is more than just the brand name – it’s logos, personality, tone of voice, pantone references, positioning and more. Apart from having changed their name, one other feature these brands have in common is that they all rebranded within just a few years of being established*, so minimising the potential loss of brand equity.

In fact, brand name changes are relatively unusual and tend to happen when brands are backed into a corner with no other recourse (except perhaps in the instance of global brand consolidation).

A Belgian chocolate brand found itself in such a corner last year. Famous for its pralines since 1923, the chocolate-bunny maker struggled to come to terms with the sudden, and unwanted attention it was getting, for no other reason than its name: Isis. The transition to Libeert, the family name associated with the brand, was completed earlier this year at an estimated cost of 2 to 3 million euros.

Consequences of change

Tom Sepanski, naming and verbal identity director for global branding business, Landor, regularly counsels companies to find a way to avoid changing names:

“It’s a pretty serious undertaking, just from a tactical standpoint, let alone an emotional one,” he says. “Are you prepared to leave every cent of the equity that you’ve built up on the table? Because, as soon as you change your name, the brand you were no longer exists.”

And the commercial case for sticking with the devilish name you know bears out his advice. A recent study by UK research firm Millward Brown found many brands that change their names can expect an immediate 5-20% drop in sales, and that the new brand image “may not be as strong as it was before”. Sobering stats indeed.


Brand of the year

When O2 won Brand of the Year in 2015, our brand awareness reached 29% last November, an eight-month high, with EE, our closest competitor, trailing ten percentage points behind us. Similarly, we outperformed our rivals on brand attractiveness, consideration and trustworthiness – no mean feat during the golden quarter of megabucks advertising.

Your name – and brand – counts for a lot. I may have lost four years’ worth of online blogs and profile building, but I definitely don’t regret my choice to become Mrs Oji, the trends expert, formerly known as Webster.


*Name change timelines: 2 yrs for Google; 5 yrs for Brad’s Drink; 12yrs from founding as a radio repair shop but only 3yrs after creating Japan’s first transistor radio for Sony; 7 yrs for Nike, a former footwear distributor.


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