How Product Managers Can Deal With Product Name Changes

by drjim on April 20, 2009

Product Mangers Know That Renaming A Product Can Be A Big Deal

Product Mangers Know That Renaming A Product Can Be A Big Deal

Just image this scenario: you’re sitting there at “mid-sized company, Inc.” when one day your boss walks up to you and says “we’ve just been bought by really-big-company, Inc.” Ok, you say to yourself, how much of a big deal to my successful product can this be? Well one thing that you may not have thought of is that although your product name worked for your previous company, it may not fit with the branding of the new company. This means just one thing – it’s time for a product name change.

Early on in my career I was the product manger who was responsible for a small utility that pre-formatted code to prevent too many warning error messages from showing up. I had somewhat whimsically named this product “NUKE216” for a variety of youthful and technical reasons. This name was ok when only hardcore developers were the market for it. However, when it got bundled with other products, then it started to get more exposure and, you guessed it, the name had to change!

So what steps should a product manger take if it comes time to rename his /her product? Here are the most important:

    1. Buy In, Buy Early: Since many different people in your company deal with your product, they may all feel some sense of ownership of it (although, of course, it is YOUR product). You need to make sure that they feel included in the renaming process even if only means that you keep them informed about the process as the new name is picked.

 

    1. Direct Mail Is Your Friend: In order to prevent your existing customers (and potentials) from becoming confused, the old standby of direct mail is a great way to get your new (and old) name and logo into their hands.

 

    1. Press Time: Getting word out to the industry press about your name change is critical. The key will be to tie the name change into something more newsworthy – a big win, a local community event, etc.

 

    1. Be A Tortoise: Nobody ever said that you had to change everything all at once. One approach is to change it slowly, over time. Like the next time you get brochures printed, you use the new name.

 

    1. Go On A Name Hunt: You would be amazed at how many places your old product name exists. When you change the name, you need to find ALL of these hiding spots and change them to the new name. Perhaps offering a reward for staff who find missed names can help to speed up the process.

 

    1. Ask Your Customers: The experts say that it will take AT LEAST a year for you to fully change the name of a product. Keep checking with your customers to find out how the name change is going. They are the only ones who will be able to tell you how much farther you have to go.

 

Have you ever had to rename a product? Why did you have to do it? How did you keep the internal team informed about the process? How long did the whole thing end up taking? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Paulo April 20, 2009 at 10:25 am

This is a very interesting article. Do you have anything about choosing/defined a product name?

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson April 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Paulo: Oh my! Many books have been written on how to choose the best name for your product – and they do a better job than I ever could. However, here’s an important point – it has been my experience that the name of your product really doesn’t matter. If the product is good, then it will do well. If not, then it won’t. A name can make life easier for a product manger but in the end, it’s the value that the customer puts on your product that will determine its success or failure.

Pick a name and then move on!

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Lena May 6, 2009 at 8:50 am

Hi
Interesting post! We split The Motley Fool (UK) into Fool and new company lovemoney.com (so lovemoney.com could focus on personal finance and Fool on investing). My colleague Verity Payne here illustrates how we went about it;

http://veritypayne.com/2009/02/06/whats-in-a-name/

Reply

Scott July 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

What would be your top reasons for changing a product name and pitfalls with a product name change?

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson July 23, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Scott: Ok, but only because you asked. Top reasons for changing a product’s name:
1. The product has changed significantly and you want to communicate that it now has more value.
2. There is a bad association with the old product name (“ValueJet” -> “AirTran”) and you need to get away from it.
3. You want to reach a market segment that wouldn’t even consider your existing product (“Ben-gay”).

Pitfalls:
1. You could lose the customer base that you currently have.
2. The rebranding doesn’t capture the customers that you were hoping for (the “G2” failure)
3. The new name has a bad association that you didn’t know about (“Nova” car name means “no go” in Mexico)

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