Thursday, September 26, 2013

Think Before Changing Your Association’s Name or Logo

Rushing into a name change can create problems. 

I know. 

One of my associations changed its name (to broaden its reach) and lost its identity with its existing members!

Back in June, I wrote Rebranding Can Cause Controversy for Associations Too.
and focused on the swift criticism of The Phil changing its name to Artis-Naples.

Then in September, Katie Bascuas interviewed me for her Associations Now story about the potential name change for the American League of Lobbyists ALL. Association Weighs Letting Go of “Lobbyists."

This post aims to put all this information in a single document.


First, do NOT confuse renaming with rebranding! See my post of September 24.

You’ve got to be careful when you change a name because it’s not easy, and it takes a long time.

I’ve been involved in name changes for multiple associations:
  • Association A: A national foundation with fund use restricted to scholarships. To broaden how they could use the funds, they created an entirely new foundation with a new name and new purposes. The change worked. One cautionary note for foundations: This organization maintained the legal name and structure over time. Good thing: Nearly 20 years later, they discovered they received more than $350,000 via a will naming the old foundation.
  • Association B: Desired to get more of its “why” into the name. The old name focused on who the organization members were. The new name focused on what the organization is and what it does. And, this name change was successful. 
  • Association C: The St. Louis Society for Association Executives (SLSAE) changed its name to the St. Louis Institute for Association Leadership (STIAL) to appeal to a broader base within the association community; especially younger members who were not “association executives.” It’s too early to gauge the results beyond positive comments.
  • Association D: A national association whose name represented a very specific segment of its industry decided to change the name to make it appeal to the broader industry. While the concept was sound and the launch strategies good, the new name caused problems because the specific segment no longer saw “themselves” in the name of the association. The problem: the board conducted no research prior to making the decision to change the name.
Those I’ve observed include:

  • The American Society of Association Executives to ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. I like the change. Yet, how many of us still say Society of Association Executives. Old habits are hard to break. So, don’t assume your old name will go away just because you announced a new one.
  • Leaders at The Philharmonic Center for the Arts announced in June that The Phil was no longer “The Phil.” Now it would be called “Artis-Naples.” The idea was to rebrand the 24-year-old Naples Arts Center as more than a place for retirees and more than a home for the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. But, these leaders and their agency confused a new name with rebranding. And, the backlash of the name was swift and damaging.

Steps & Lessons for Renaming Associations:

#1 Have a specific, valid reason for changing your association’s name!

  • Carefully consider the rationale and need for a change. What will you gain vs what will you lose?
  • Has the scope of the organization changed? Has your vision/mission changed? What is the real reason for changing?
  • Example: In market research, the St. Louis Society of Association Executives (SLSAE) uncovered that younger members were not joining because “we’re not association executives so we didn’t know we were eligible.” Using the expertise of Jim Schnurbusch and OrgStory, SLSAE’s process led to renaming the organization the St. Louis Institute for Association Leadership or STIAL.
  • Weigh the choices and how they will impact your current membership along with your intended membership.

#2 Don’t take Shortcuts: Conduct market research

  • Talk with current members, former members, prospective members and other stakeholders. Ask them about the current name as well as concepts for a different name.
  • Determine the potential effects on key stakeholders. Get association leadership/board to describe how they feel the association is perceived/positioned and why -- then, take what you learn and go to membership to validate and/or challenge leadership's perspectives. This will usually identify gaps that need to be addressed in a multitude of ways: vision, mission, values, product/service offerings, membership value, communications, etc. -- and all of these, addressed appropriately, will lead to moving an association's brand forward to become the type of experience members are seeking.

#3 Carefully Consider Both Name and Acronym

  • Another thing to consider when changing names? Despite how small or short they may seem, don’t neglect your acronyms. Pick one that you want as opposed to letting people pick one for you. 
  • Example: When switching to the St. Louis Institute for Association Leadership (STIAL), rollout information included sharing that STIAL is pronounced “style” so members and others would know and use this acronym.

#4 Create Launch Strategies/Tactics

  • You’ve got to be careful when you change a name because it’s not easy, and it takes a long time. Corporate America throws lots of money behind a name change with the objective of making us forget the old name. Most associations don’t have that kind of budget for the marketing.
  •  Develop a launch strategy that does not incorporate surprise.

#5 Consider the New Logo Options for Your New Name

  • If you determine a name change creates added value, it is then time to determine what colors you want to use as you develop a new logo for the new name.

Finally, do NOT use a contest to create names or logos.

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