Recently I attended an introductory meeting for the combination of two arts organizations (more on that trend later) and as part of it they introduced the combined organization’s new name.

I was reminded what a difficult branding task naming is. It’s rare that entirely new names are launched in the cultural arts. More often we address more subtle, but complex, changes with very passionate stakeholders. Think about if you changed your name all the whos-its and whats-its you’d want and need to involve.

This post is not another “5 quick tips for naming,” but rather, it’s meant to come before those tasks. It’s meant to set expectations and provide a reality check. Yes, the heavy lifting of naming, the process part.

A name change is one of the most emotional endeavors an arts organization can undertake.  It requires consensus building of the highest order with a sound underlying strategy for why a name change is needed, and as important, why any particular name is the right one.

Audiences such as board members, staff, field professionals, donors, subscribers / members, and educators will all have to be convinced that the current name is not working for various reasons, and why a new one will resolve the problems.

Any potential name can accrue associations or attributes over time, so why not use one that communicates the right ones from the start? Why not use one’s name to help communicate a central idea about the organization, its purpose, its future? A potential new name should be a means to an end. A new name should reflect some larger initiative, some greater goal, something endemic to an organization.

Any potential new name will meet with resistance because it is completely new with no history or accrued associations. An existing name despite its faults is known and comfortable. If budget allows, names should be tested quantitatively through focus groups and quantitatively through an online survey. While neither of these methods singly or together will conclusively point to the right name, they will help managers shape their thinking and avoid potentially bad names.

Introducing a new name absent a context invites criticism and places too much focus on the name itself. I know I’m veering into consultant-speak, but I feel strongly that name development should stem from an underlying strategy to ensure that it’s on target in meeting communications objectives.

Implementing a new name will affect every communications that an organization produces from a website and social media to advertisements, brochures, and posters. With a new name in wings, items you are running low on order in less quantities and new pieces can be redesigned and implemented over time. Yes, there will be a disjointed transition period. However, not wasting materials is greener, more responsible, and creates less of an internal headaches from having to produce all new items in a short period, because, you guessed it, everyone still needs to do their regular jobs while playing their part in helping launch the new name.

That said, groups of materials can be implemented over time, e.g. season campaign and brochure, exhibition materials, website, stationery system and business cards, etc. Priority would depend on the relative importance of each type of communications the normal timeline for periodic updates.

Any new name will take time to get used to, but after a while, it too will seem comfortable and more right than the previous one. But it doesn’t stop there. As I said in the beginning, most cultural arts name changes are subtle, but strategic. Managers need to be diligent to ensure that everyone adheres to using the new name and not continue to use the old one. Sounds like a given, right? But I can think of at least three arts organizations who changed their name and for some reason they and others still use a combination of the new and old names years later.