The Washington soccer team announced last week that it would unveil its new team name on February 2, 2022. The team slid under pressure from its sponsors in the summer of 2020 and announced on July 13, 2020, that it would be renamed, effectively toppled. The Redskins’ controversial name. Temporarily adopted the name Washington FC for the 2020-2021 season. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen other companies decide to rebrand and remove racial stereotypes, including the Cleveland Indians, who announced last summer that they would be rebranding to the Cleveland Guardians. The name was met with challenges, as the drum team was already using the Guardians name. It was reported that the Cleveland made an impressive announcement before their rights were closed and the Roller Derby team sued. In the end, the parties were able to settle, but with much higher compensation, I am sure, than if the rights had been secured before the huge and cheerful public announcement. This is reminiscent of the rebranding of Facebook-Meta as several companies publicly denounced Facebook (now Meta) for overriding its previous rights. In fact, to secure the Meta name, Facebook had to purchase the previously filed trademarks. As the world waits to see the new name of the Washington soccer team and whether it faces any controversy, how can your company (or client) rebrand without all the drama?
Reasons for corporate rebranding
There are many reasons why a company (or product) might want to rebrand, including: there may be a requirement to do so due to litigation, or the company (or business division) can be acquired or broken up. Sometimes the name is no longer relevant, especially if the name has a geographic reference and the company has expanded outside that area. Does anyone remember St. Louis Bread Company, renamed Panera, when California Pizza Kitchen chose to keep its name while it expanded? As we saw in the summer of 2020, sometimes names have negative connotations or have cultural translation issues as brands expand globally. Whatever the reason, rebranding is not a quick or simple process, especially in the digital age. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are undergoing a rebranding.
Steps of the rebranding process
The first step for most brand owners is choosing whether you want to work with an agency to help with the naming process or whether you’ll be working on your own. There are many agencies that specialize in naming and thinking, and they can be of great help during the process. You can choose to proceed on your own, but you will want to have several brainstorming sessions and be sure to create many potential contenders. With either method, you can choose to involve consumers in the rebranding process or have them vote on potential competitors later in the process. Which brings me to step two: make sure you engage the trademark attorney early in the process. Finding an available name is not easy. Several availability searches may be required to rule out unsuitable options and narrow down the long list of names put up in a long list of contenders. More detailed searches to discover unregistered users can help you reach the final name(s).
If you engage consumers, you will need to ensure that any submissions they make are owned by your company, so the law will play a very important role in making that a reality. Finally, if your brand has an international presence, your trademark attorney can work with its network of international colleagues to ensure that they provide the best advice on mark availability in your major jurisdictions around the world. Remember that brands are regional in nature. Depending on when you will be launching your new brand, your trademark attorney may have recommendations on how best to keep the new name under wraps until you are ready to reveal it publicly.
Consider your bigger strategy before announcing your rebranding
Most importantly, you must be patient. Choosing a brand name or choosing a brand, regardless of whether you are just starting out or undergoing a rebranding, does not happen overnight. Make sure you set aside plenty of time for the brand clearance process. There is a lot to do to research the new name for your company or brand (especially if you are changing due to a conflict with the original name). For example, a trademark attorney should ask his clients how they thought of the name and whether the name has any meaning in other languages. Before announcing the new name, you’ll want to work closely with your trademark attorney on the best disclosure strategy and timing. If you have a global brand, for example, you may want to lock down your foreign file rights before making any announcement, to prevent fraudsters from securing those rights, or you might consider registering in a country that doesn’t immediately publicize their requests. The point is that everything you say and do will be scrutinized and your trademark attorney will be key to the success of your new name. Let your trademark attorney do his job before you begin developing live websites and other marketing items, and be realistic about your schedule expectations.