After a 20-month process, the DC-based NFL team has a new name: Washington Commanders.
Although the team’s previous name, Washington Redskins, had suffered decades-long charges of racism, it was the USPTO’s canceling of its trademark registration that forced the organization to finally do the right thing and rebrand. Once it embarked upon the renaming process—during which it used the temporary name, Washington Football Team—its experience shared traits common to rebranding projects in every industry.
If your business is considering a rebrand, here are some key takeaways from the Washington Commanders’ project that could help you approach yours strategically and bring it to a successful conclusion.
1. It’s not about finding a name everyone will love.
“What this effort really is at its core is not landing on a name that was going to be unanimously loved by everybody but to start a process by which we can continue to preserve what’s best about the burgundy and gold.” – Jason Wright, team president
Not everybody is going to love your new name—not even everybody on your decision-making team. That’s OK. Very soon, the conversation about the new name will be over, and if your core business and mission have not changed, the perceptions and emotional resonance of the legacy brand will transfer to the new one.
2. You can’t always get the name you want.
While we typically advise our clients not to reveal names until the process is complete, the NFL team’s leadership believed that audience feedback and acceptance were critical, and potential names were tested in market research groups. Leaks were inevitable. Reportedly, “RedWolves” or “Wolves” was both a fan and internal team favorite.
But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, a naming project ain’t over until it’s over. Turns out neither “RedWolves” nor “Wolves” was ever a real contender, because both had potential trademark issues. Never fall in love with a name until it passes the final trademark hurdles.
3. There are no perfect names.
The ink was barely dry on the announcement of the new name when some pundits and fans found reasons to hate it. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s abstract and doesn’t lend itself to visual imagery. And its obvious nickname would be… “Commies”?
But the name checked some important boxes on the decision-makers’ wish list. Most significantly, it was available for trademark. It sounds strong and dominating. And it alludes to the military, connecting to the geographical area’s considerable armed forces presence.
How people will shorten the name for casual references (as with Bucs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Pack for the Green Bay Packers, the Vikes for the Minnesota Vikings, etc.) remains to be seen. Ditto for the stadium chants and rallying cries. The team’s fans will find a way.
4. People need time to adjust to a new name.
“Give it a little time. I say to everybody just give it a chance to seep in a little bit.” – Joe Theismann, former Redskins quarterback
Like breaking in a pair of new shoes, a new name often needs time before it feels right. “Washington Commanders” is still new to our ears. Let the brain get used it. Let the team demonstrate how they have embraced the spirit of the new name. And let them command a few games next season.
You’ll be used to it in no time.