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Ernie Williamson Music owner Donovan Bankhead says unifying his stores under one name required a brand overhaul.
Rebecca Green | SBJ
Ernie Williamson Music owner Donovan Bankhead says unifying his stores under one name required a brand overhaul.

Dropping Names: Marketing considerations for businesses contemplating a name change are extensive

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When the day finally came to unite the four stores comprising the former Springfield Music under one name, the tough decision ultimately came down to a good story.

Springfield Music opened in 1961 and added locations in Joplin, St. Louis and Kansas City over the years. The new locations purchased were already established music stores, so the company decided to keep many of the original names. Owner Donovan Bankhead said this often resulted in confusion about one company running multiple locations, all with different names.

“Anytime we would ever talk to a marketer,” Bankhead said, “the first question everybody would ask is, ‘Why do you have so many brand names?’”

The history was a charming story, he said, and it was the musician behind it that convinced Bankhead to rename all four locations to Ernie Williamson Music after one of the original stores.

Ernie Williamson Music started in Pittsburg, Kansas, after drummer Ernie Williamson struggled to find an adequate replacement for a stolen drum. As a solution for other musicians like himself in need of supplies, Williamson opened the store in 1935. The Joplin location opened a few years later and was purchased by Springfield Music from Williamson’s daughter, Lois Williamson-Bellm, in 2002.

Aside from renaming to eliminate brand confusion, Jeremy Wells of marketing agency Longitude LLC said there are many reasons businesses opt for a name change.

One such reason is a “triggering event.” For example, a change in ownership often sparks a change in name to mark a fresh start. Or a name change may be used to reflect a shift in a brand’s reputation. Renaming efforts are often enacted as a result of a company adding new products or services, as well.

At first glance, a simple name change may not seem like a difficult endeavor. Changing a name, however, is often a lengthy and expensive process.

“The name change is a very big decision, obviously,” said Wells, Longitude’s managing partner and brand strategist. “So, I would just make sure that if somebody is considering a name change, they go into it thoughtfully and strategically and don’t take it lightly.”

Branding logic
Changing the name of Springfield Music and its other locations meant rebranding the entire company. Bankhead said the business worked with SJC Marketing in Kansas City to make it happen. The team guided the whole rebranding process, from updating signs and flyers to contracts and social media accounts.

“It was an unbelievable amount of work,” Bankhead said.

Wells terms this part of the process as updating a brand’s visual identity, and it includes elements such as the logo and colors. If the new name hasn’t been decided first, however, the company must go through a naming process before reaching this stage.

Groundwork for renaming includes examining the intent behind changing the name, and a company’s goal in making a change can help determine the new name. The story a company tells through its products and services is often summarized in the name. Wells said gathering data about the company’s market, including its competitors and customers, is another essential step.

Brainstorming name ideas is next. Names can be drawn from virtually anywhere, including the geographical location, the company’s history or words that conjure a company’s desired reputation. For example, Longitude has taken Budget Lodging to be renamed as Pinemark Inn and Good Eats Eatery to Yoke Social Table, among its client rebranding work.

On the more practical side, companies must make sure social media handles and URLs with the potential name are available. Once there are only a few name ideas left on the table, Wells said the preliminary trademark research process begins. The company must consult an intellectual property attorney for an opinion letter giving approval to move forward with a specific name.

After the name is chosen and the visual identity refreshed, a transition strategy is put in place to help employees, customers and clients adjust to the new look and feel of the brand.

“If you rename and rebrand yourself and then swap out your website and your social media,” Wells said, “and just do it without really telling that story and planning it, then you have a lot of other challenges.”

Spreading the word
One of those challenges is the possibility of leaving behind a brand’s reputation. This can happen when customers aren’t educated on new branding and identify the company as an entirely new one with a track record they know nothing about.

At advertising agency Supper Co., Digital Director Kyle Drenon said that if a brand is in good standing, the prestige is often associated closely with the name.

“There’s always a risk that changing a name can lose the equity that a brand has built since it started,” Drenon said.

That’s where the communication strategy comes into play. He said public relations efforts, like contacting publications to announce the name change and advertising on social media, broadcasting, print and billboards, are recommended.

“All sorts of different advertising channels can help tell that story,” Drenon said.

Better left unchanged
Sometimes, companies opt to change as little as possible to avoid the complications associated with a name change. When QCR Holdings Inc. acquired Guaranty Bank and decided to merge it with Springfield First Community Bank in 2022, it was decided that the 14 Guaranty Bank locations would keep their names and the single Springfield First Community Bank location would take on the Guaranty Bank name. While mergers often result in total rebranding, the decision kept rebranding efforts minimal.

Carlye Wannenmacher, the bank’s vice president of marketing, said the history of both institutions was taken into consideration. Springfield First Community Bank opened in 2008, while Guaranty Bank had been in business since 1913. She said it made the most sense to use the name of the bank with the longest legacy.

Even though the change was minimal, communicating the change to customers was necessary to maintain the images of both banks. Wannenmacher said the goal of Guaranty Bank’s communication strategy was to present both banks united as one team.

“It was just leveraging the best qualities of both brands,” she said.

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