What's in a name change? CEO buy-in, an outside consultant and a hard deadline
For many CMOs, there’s a moment of dread when considering a rebrand. Whether in response to market confusion or business expansion, it's an arduous, expensive process filled with irrational input and expectations with no guarantee of success. The journey requires a leader with a sense of purpose to navigate the challenges.
CMO Dave Deasy led the name change at TrustArc, a privacy compliance technology company formerly known as TRUSTe. He explains why the change was necessary and describes the process. He emphasizes the critical importance of involving the CEO from Day One, having a clear set of objectives, bringing in outside experts and setting a firm launch date. For TrustArc, the new name helped drive significant market expansion and preceded a $70 million Series D investment by a private equity firm.
When did you know it was time to change names?
As we began to build out technology products and platform, we were having success selling the product to customers. But it was difficult to convince a lot of companies that we were a technology company ... when they would hear the TRUSTe name, they would immediately think that we were just the certification company. We kept pushing forward for a couple of years, but eventually came to the conclusion that, as hard as we were trying, it was simply an uphill battle that was becoming more and more difficult to overcome. That's when we began to actively evaluate our options, among which was the rename.
What was the first step?
Once we decided that we needed to undergo a major transformation, we decided that there was enough historical heritage in the company name that we needed to get some outside help. We hired an outside brand agency and brought them on board to help us go through this this process. Part of the early process was external validation—where the agency did interviews with customers, with partners, with salespeople and other employees—to see if the idea of a name change made sense. Overall, the information that came back confirmed what we thought, about how TRUSTe really meant just certification. Once we had that information, the brand agency started to explore new name possibilities for us.
What were you looking for in your new name?
We wanted something that was going to help convey a tech company, a growing company, a new and innovative company. But we also wanted to leverage some of our history, like the word “trust,” which was a key ingredient in the original brand. They came back to us with a pretty wide range of options, one of which was TrustArc. It was one of those moments where we had our entire executive team sitting in a conference room, and they said this one last, and immediately everyone looked around the room and said, “Hey, that's not bad.” We immediately fell in love with it. The domain wasn’t available, but we loved the name enough that we paid out $5,000 for it.
Any surprising hurdles in this process?
Once the name change part was agreed to—which to be honest, was surprisingly easy within our executive team—we started looking at the broader identity. Logo, tagline, colors, things like that. That’s one of the more challenging things because everybody, in their spare time, is a designer. There was maybe more internal debate on the logo than the name change itself.
What was the conclusion?
Part of what we concluded was, while we wanted a big transformation, we did not want to throw away the past. We wanted to still benefit from the overall positive sentiment toward the TRUSTe name and brand. From there, we discussed where the logo would be. To the left of the font? To the right? Then it was: What symbol? Which color? And so on. The agency gave us a bunch of options, and there was one design people seemed to like: a single arc. Simple, conveyed what we wanted it to. But it wasn’t quite there for everyone. Then our partners did a simple change where they introduced a second arc. For some reason, people were getting a little bit warmer with this.
How did you get to the final logo?
One day I gave the group a task. I said, “Look, I see a lot of companies where they've incorporated animals and different things like that. Why don't you just get crazy and see if there's something like that that you can do.” Then, after just that crazy little gamble, the agency added a little bump to the second arc and suddenly it was a fin. They said, “That’s a dolphin fin.” They wanted to do something creative and different. Dolphins fit with the arc: They’re smart, friendly, and fierce when appropriate. Plus, people just like dolphins. And even though there isn’t a firm connection between dolphins and privacy, we went for it.
How did you launch you new identity?
To start, we did two weeks internally. As a 350-person company, we can move a little quickly there. We did meetings, FAQs, gave away swag—the toy stuffed dolphins were especially popular—and it went well. We then actually did a big launch party. We did that in San Francisco at a nice event space downtown. That was a great opportunity for us to bring all the employees together and bring past employees together. It was a good way to network and bring a lot of the former employees back together for a big celebration. And then we also invited all of our customers and partners from the local Bay Area to the event.
From a timing perspective, what drove your decisions?
What I have found with this project and most projects is, you ultimately need a launch date or things can kind of move on forever. And so ultimately for us, we picked a launch date when we had to put the deposit down and reserve a place that could hold five hundred people. Then that became the crowning moment where everything had to be done and in place.
What key advice do you offer fellow CMOs?
First and foremost, you need a strong buy-in by the most senior person in the company. In our case, it was the CEO. Second, you've got to have a strong set of objectives that you're trying to accomplish, because there were many times throughout the process of the project where you would start to go astray and you needed a strong objective to keep you in line. Third, strongly consider bringing in some outside expertise. There's often just a tremendous amount of emotional equity that people have invested in what's currently there, and it's a very difficult process to get people to change some of those thoughts working from within.