Well baptized is half sold – The art of naming change programs

They call them “Number One”, “Perform to win”, “Global Excellence”, or “LIFT.” Companies like to dress their strategies, efficiency programs, cost-saving measures, restructurings or outsourcing campaigns in beautiful, ambitious and mainly English terms. The right name can lead to success for the program, or it can ruin it, depending on how well it was chosen. Experts can tell you a thing or two about how important the naming of a company is, if the management wants to impose a strenuous and painful act on the company and make it attractive to the outside and inside.

The ideal name is intended to summarize the program in one or a few words, to win over employees worldwide for the vision of the management and to convince the other stakeholders. It is a – perhaps THE – central component of the entire communication strategy and the flagship of the program. It is perceived first, has an enormous influence on the public image and can not only assume an independent reality, but can also be stultified by employees, as was the case with Lufthansa, whose “Score” program was renamed “Scare.” All this must be carefully considered in the thorough research that precedes the naming process. If the name is misleading, for example, if painful cuts are advertised as a fair weather program, the company can be criticized harshly or even blamed for cynicism.

Criteria Guidelines

Naming is often a controversial and emotional process. A short brainstorming session leads to success only infrequently. Most of the time, the best solution only comes after tenacious struggle because a lot of questions need to be answered: Should the name be descriptive? Or should it be generic? Is it a purely artificial word, or an acronym from the program’s main terms? Does it arouse the right associations? Or maybe none at all? The guideline is: the most effective names are short, clear and future-oriented, and they sound modern. Of course, the management has to fill them with content and life, otherwise they seem empty and implausible. A good part of the emotions during a naming process can be avoided if you strictly proceed in a factual manner and stick to a few important criteria. English titles are also the best way to communicate in times of globalization, in which most companies are invested in different countries. And if a name has an industrial context, it can help to create understanding because the employees immediately have specific associations with it. In 2013, Air Berlin launched a savings program called “Turbine.”

#1 The name must be meaningful, without raising false hopes or obscuring the cause behind the program. One example is the industrial gases specialist Linde, who in 2016 set up the “LIFT” efficiency program, which is estimated to last for three years. Linde did not only adopt an analogy to the English term forklifts, but also alluded to the upswing (lift) it intends to generate with the program. Honest, but not so happy, was the choice of the name of the “Dolores” program launched a few years ago by Dasa, which later merged into EADS. In Spanish, “Dolores” means pain.

#2 The program title should be catchy and memorable. “Global Excellence” by Henkel and “Perform to win” by Eon are examples, as is “Vision 2020” by Siemens.

#3 The name should not be susceptible to use in other contexts. The “Score” program of Lufthansa has already been mentioned here as an example. Another example is EADS´s “Power 9” program, which had to be renamed “Power 8” because the English “nine” in German is pronounced as “no”. In the case of Metro, mockers satirized the “Shape” program to “Shave”.

#4 The name should avoid to be unclear or ambiguous, because it invites to conscious or unconscious misunderstandings. The strategies management wants to implement are often difficult enough to communicate anyway.

#5 Ideally, the name can be linked to the company’s strategy and has not yet been adopted by a competitor.

How to develop the name

The name is developed in several steps. First of all, it is necessary to define what the program covers and what should be communicated. This is the only way to ensure that the name reflects the content of the program and does not remain an abstract word shell. Only then can you actually search for the name. At least in its own industry it should not have been used yet. It is a good idea to search for keywords that can be associated with the efficiency name. Then the name can be derived. In the following test phase it needs to be checked which associations the name arouses and how it is received. Finally, it must be checked for linguistic pitfalls and ambiguities.

The biggest challenge

Many names, especially for strategy programs, sound interchangeable. This interchangeability, or “arbitrariness”, should be avoided. But it is not only about formulating the objectives of the underlying program in a clear and unmistakable manner. It should also be formulated in a way that doesn´t frighten employees with regard to the planned changes. Employees should be motivated to give their best. And this is never easy, especially with painful programs.