In life you stick with the name you’re given, but in business a change of moniker can do the power of good. Or it can be disastrous. Seymour Pierce is one company hoping for the former. The City finance house has had a tough time of it recently. Heavily associated with dot com failures, it recorded “unacceptable losses” and, desperate for a change of fortune, has chosen to re-brand as Investment Management Holdings.

But as Sellafield (formerly known as Windscale before a massive leak of radiation in 1957) has found, disassociating yourself from the past, is not always that easy.

When it’s time to change

You’d better have a damn fine reason for changing what your business is called, as it’s not as simple as adopting a name you happen to think sounds good or is ‘of the moment’, such as incorporating ‘new media’ in the title and then finding the sector unfashionable. And that’s the advice of most brand consultants, who would obviously love you to spend your money with them.

“People think as branding consultants we’re pro name change. That’s not the case,” says Yannis Kavounis, associate director at Interbrand. He adds that if the need is obvious, don’t over-analyse with focus groups and surveys, get it changed and get on. “Some people get so caught up in names they delay the launch of a company or if re-naming look as if they’re more interested in themselves than their customers,” adds Ben Harris of New Brand Vision. “It looks vain.”

So in that case, what instances would justify it? For Seymour Pierce the company had already changed considerably, following a strategic review. And beyond its losses and damaged image, it had sold parts of the business, is eager to win new clients and “look to the future with some optimism,” as chairman Keith Harris puts it.

If your current name no longer reflects the focus of the business or could be misleading to your target audience then like Seymour Pierce, you may be wise to consider your options. After all, the name is most likely to be the first thing customers and suppliers come across and first impressions matter.

Other reasons, whether justified or not, include mergers and de-mergers, bad publicity or the leading figure gaining an unwanted reputation (why Ratner became Signet). Or it could be for simplicity or modernisation (BT and Abbey re-branded because that’s what their customers called them), diversification or because the product the company produces is better known than the company itself (inventor Trevor Bayliss’ clockwork radio the ‘Freeplay’ was produced by Baygen, now known as Freeplay Energy Group). Then there’s preparing for a listing (as was the case with software company Misys, which wanted to differentiate its IFA network, so ‘opened’ Sesame), targeting a new customer base, or expanding into foreign markets where the name no longer works.