Online directory company Hibu recently announced that two years after changing to this name from Yell it is planning to ….. wait for it ….. re-change the name back to Yell. In addition to online directories, the company still produces paper directories under the famous Yellow Pages name, and website creation for small businesses.
Here are a few learnings from this branding balls up.
Memory structure matters.
Brand properties such as the Yell name become hard-wired into peoples’ brains over time. In the case of Yell the brand name had been around for a while itself. It also built off the associations with the old name used on paper directories, Yellow Pages. In some cases companies fail to appreciate just how much time and money is needed to help people forget the old name, and learn the new one.
Measure your memory structure.
The u-turn back to Yell was prompted by a recognition that "Our Yell brand has a strong history, awareness and loyalty amongst our customers”, according to a Hibu spokesman. But how come they had to throw away the Yell name and create a new one to find this out? This suggests the original decisions to change the name was done without the right data. Hibu are not alone in lacking a proper quantitative process for tracking the strength and meaning of brand properties; few companies have a system in place to do this, according to research we will publish later this year.
Name changes should be a symbol of true change.
Changing name should be a last resort, given the time, effort and money needed to make it successful. And a change of name should be the symbol of a more substantial organisational change. The original change from Yellow Pages to Yell made sense, as it was part of the company trying to cope with the disruptive change brought on by the internet. The company had to transform itself from a paper-based directory to an online one. And compared to Yellow Pages, Yell was quicker to type, easier to remember and not linked to paper pages, whilst still having “an echo” of the old name.
In contrast, there was no substantial change in strategy to accompany the Hibu name change. Indeed, the name change did turn out to be a flimsy “image wrapper” covering up a mortally wounded business model. At the end of 2013 Hibu want into administration with debts of over £2 billion, as reported here
In conclusion, the next time you are in discussion around a name change, yell out “stop” and make sure the change is really needed.