Co-founder and Managing Partner
You don’t have to live in the Washington D.C. metro area to be aware of the fact that, due to intense social and economic pressures, the team formerly known as the “Redskins” will be getting a new name. National media, sports and otherwise, along with all manner of social media, has generated quite a bit of noise about this rebranding effort. Given all the attention, not to mention the time and effort involved in the renaming process, the franchise will be called the Washington Football team until its permanent name is unveiled in early 2022. Dan Snyder, and the team of marketing experts he’s hired, wants to get it right, right from the start.
Having overseen a multitude of rebranding exercises throughout my career, I can tell you that the most difficult part of the process is not, as you might think, generating a list of viable names. While this step is certainly challenging, if you properly take into consideration all the requisite strategic, linguistic and legal criteria, you’ll likely come up with a list of interesting options. Without a doubt, Snyder and his team are doing just that. To get in on the action, our team at Metaforce decided to have a little fun by partnering with the publication, The Athletic, to simulate Snyder and company’s rebranding initiative. After doing our research, digging into the team’s heritage and its brand equities, after performing a series of panels, interacting with fans and players, we did come up with possible new names. You can read the details – and peruse our list - in the recent article in The Athletic (Theathletic.com) documenting our endeavor.
What you will not read about in The Athletic article is the most critical lesson relative to this – or any - significant brand renaming project. Coming up with a list of names will get you to the 20-yard line. For a touchdown, the greater challenge is getting the marketplace and, most importantly, the brand’s most loyal fans to buy into and embrace the new name.
While it is difficult enough to get consumers to welcome and support a new name for detergent or yogurt, or even a hotel, a bank or an insurance company, it is exponentially more difficult to convert those who are as fervently connected to a brand name as are sports fans. To use a standard marketing phrase, athletic teams are quintessential “badge brands.” From their sweatshirts and hats, to the front-porch flags and bumper stickers, from beer mugs to baby clothes, this audience is about as passionate about their brands as an audience can get. Beneath that display of logos, there is a deep emotional bond between teams and fans. Histories and experiences and stories are passed down from generation to generation. The older the name, the more heritage there is, the harder it is to replace it.
So, where’s the touchdown? What’s the most critical renaming lesson I have for the owners of the Washington Football team? Launch the story – the rationale for the name - before you launch the name, itself. Get the story out in the marketplace and, then, after it’s settled in, reveal the name. Sure, you’ll get static and social media blowback once the new name is announced, but you’ll have a better chance of getting more people to embrace the name sooner if they have an understanding of your reasoning.
To develop your story, start with that research, the panels and the focus groups. Establish a clear picture of what you want the new brand name to communicate. Build an understanding of what characteristics you want the name to convey, about the brand and about the people who make it their own. Identify how you want your audience, or fans, to feel when they talk about and interact with their team. Delve into the heritage, yes. But, equally important, for a compelling story you also need a vision for where you want the organization to be in future.
By way of example, in the picture above, you’ll see a name we developed in conjunction with The Athletic magazine: DCFC. Literally, it stands for “DC Football Club.” The story in support of this name? “Don’t just cheer for a football team. Become a member of the club! The DCFC storyline distinguishes the team’s name from any other football franchise. Like all powerful brands, it is different in a way that is relevant to the people it wants to attract. Anyone can sit on the sidelines. The DCFC name communicates that our fans won’t just watch the games, they’ll be part of the team. We want them to be in the clubhouse with us!
Snyder and his team have their work cut out for them. They’re up against history, tradition, and a fan base waiting to pounce the moment the new franchise name hits the news. My advice, the most likely winning approach, is to seed the story before you put the name out there. You’ll still get static, but you’ll have a better chance of getting more people to accept the name and move on if they begin with an understanding of what it means. With so much emotional investment in the team and its name, you’re not going to make everyone happy. But better to launch the story first versus revealing the name and then having to run interference after the fact with an explanation.
by Allen Adamson