Naming a company in the social media age is fraught, and this week’s unveiling of “Altaba”, the investment company that will hold Yahoo’s remains, drives home just how cruel customers can be.
On Monday Yahoo! Inc. filed details to the Securities and Investments Commission (SEC) to update the market on the sale process of its assets to telecommunications firm Verizon. Verizon indicated a proposal to buy out Yahoo last year for $US4.8 billion ($6.4 billion), and while the sale is not a done deal, if it does go through there will be some assets left over, including Yahoo’s investment in Chinese retail giant Alibaba and a stake in Yahoo Japan.
According to the SEC documents, if the sale is completed Yahoo will rebrand as an investment company, to be known as Altaba Inc.
Yahoo said a number of members of its board will also resign once the sale to Verizon is completed, including chief executive Marissa Mayer.
While none of the products Yahoo fans are fond of will have anything to do with this company, the immediate public backlash against the name was vicious. In August 2016, Yahoo provided details on what would potentially happen to its shareholders and remaining assets after a sale, and at the time it used the draft name “RemainCo” for the investment company.
When news of Altaba surfaced this week, customers, shareholders and financial media all observed that the new name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Some on social media pointed out it sounded too much like “Alt-TAB”, the key sequence for switching out of one window and into another on Microsoft programs. Others suggested it was reminiscent of an infectious disease name, Harry Potter spell, or a prescription medication.
One Facebook user expressed their objection in simple terms: “There’s no ring to it,” he said.
Will the name change actually have any impact?
It’s been a tough trek for Yahoo over recent months, and it’s still not known what Verizon’s plans will be for the company’s assets in future. While some customers are indignant at the idea their “@yahoo.com” emails will be lost forever, it’s actually not clear what will happen to Yahoo-branded services if Verizon owns them. Given this, will the Altaba company name have any impact for consumers long term?
Brand expert Michel Hogan doesn’t think so. “When people get all bent out of shape with names, I always point them back to how ridiculous it must have seemed when Steve Jobs renamed his company Apple,” she says.
While customers feel ownership over brands and will always be sad to see those change, Hogan says it’s important for those leading a business to keep focused on the strategic future after a company restructure—and in Yahoo’s case the Altaba name could potentially feed into that future strategy.
“There may be a longer term reason why they’re setting it up in this way,” says Hogan.
Marketing Angels director Michelle Gamble agrees that while emotions may be running high on a name change now, in the long term customers are unlikely to be affected, or care, about what the remaining pieces of Yahoo are called.
“It sounds like the customer-facing side of things is winding down [with the remaining parts],” Gamble says.
“But there are still people who [won’t] like the fact that the name has changed at all.”
Change names with caution—and communication
While this example might not have a lasting impact in the long term, caution should be taken if you’re considering renaming a business that will continue to be consumer facing, says Hogan.
“You might have some short term pain, but I always say: ‘why are you changing the name?’” she says.
“If the answer is there is a genuine barrier to the company starting to achieve their goals, then you could do it.
If you do decide there’s no choice but to change things up, be ready to be patient and ensure the name change is truly in line with the business values.
“It’s about having a good, strong brand story that they can take to current and new customers,” says Gamble.
“Clearly articulate what the brand is … what the heart and soul of the business is.”