From Facebook to Meta: The Power of a Rename
by Will Straughn
When the news dropped that Facebook would be renaming its parent company to Meta, I thought to myself, “Is this too little, too late?”
In the world of branding, organizations typically rename when there has been a fundamental shift in their product offerings, mission, vision, and/or purpose, and their current name presents a roadblock to achieving those goals. Facebook has had some pretty harsh headlines recently: congressional hearings, data breaches, and most recently, a whistleblower. To overcome their reputation in the minds of many, it would take years of consistently positive action to prove that they’d truly changed their ways — and even that might not work.
Renaming without addressing the root causes of a bad reputation will only delay the inevitable departure of loyal customers, partners, and employees.
I don't want to give the impression that renaming is always a mistake. It's actually quite the opposite. If you are not battling a reputation on fire, renaming can invite a breath of fresh air for your customers and employees. Organizations pursue a renaming for a variety of reasons. The most common I've seen is that a company has expanded, evolved, pivoted, and/or acquired other businesses; the old brand name doesn’t accurately reflect who they are anymore and is holding back growth as a result. In this scenario, renaming presents the best opportunity to gain traction in their market.
This is precisely the case with Facebook's renaming. In a keynote address, Mark Zuckerberg said, "It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do. From now on, we're going to be metaverse first, not Facebook first." It seems Facebook has bigger ambitions beyond the social media network.
Another example I often see is when a company’s name either distracts from its core purpose or pigeonholes it into a singular offering due to a hyper-specific name. Imagine, for example, your brand's name was "Search Engine Experts," and after eight years in business, you realize that you're actually best at providing an email service. That name would be a massive roadblock for your marketing and sales team. They would have to spend time explaining away your name rather than speaking to the value your product delivers to your customers. Your brand name should not bear the burden of explaining what you do. A powerful brand utilizes all of its components (name, visual identity, mission, etc.) to tell that story, not just its name (Apple is a great example).
In the long run, Facebook’s rename might be a good thing — but for a different reason. As Facebook has grown and continues to acquire other organizations, its new parent brand name will create more distance between the Facebook billions of people are familiar with and its sibling brands (Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp). From a brand architecture perspective, a separate parent company allows each sibling brand to stand on its own, operate strategically toward their individual brand goals, and avoid tarnishing customer sentiment through association.
Your brand isn't your name. And it isn't your logo or color palette, either. Your brand is just as much about perceptions as it is visuals; it's the associations your customers, employees, and prospects have about your organization. Your brand's name, logo, colors, and voice exist to inform those perceptions. If the brand is created intentionally, authentically, and does what you say, you may very well hit gold. But if your reputation implodes, smoke and mirrors won’t change the way people perceive you.
Actions, after all, speak louder than words, and certainly louder than a company name.