New directions: Why a change of name helped rebrand our company

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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare had a pretty good turn of phrase, but if he was speaking his mind when he put those words in the mouth of one Juliet Capulet then it’s a good job he never had to work in the world of 21st century branding.

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Back at the start of 2013, we changed our company name to Axonn Media. Before that, we had been called Adfero since 2005. We had decided at least 18 months before then that we wanted a new name – the challenge was coming up with one which would smell at least as sweet.

The name “Adfero” came from Latin – one of its multiple meanings was “I bring news”. Adfero’s origins were as an online news agency which gradually transmuted into a content marketer, so the name seemed appropriate. At the time, there was a big trend for companies to rebrand themselves in pseudo-classical garb: British Steel became Corus; Royal Mail (briefly) became Consignia.

Ever the faithful student of the zeitgeist, I whipped out my tatty Latin dictionary and conjugated a whole host of news-related verbs – and Adfero came out of on top of those for which the domains were not already taken.

By 2012, it was clear that it was no longer accurate to characterise ourselves as a news agency. Yes, we still wrote news content for many customers, but news had become just one of the many types of online content we were producing. We felt it was time for a change – but it took us a year to come up with a name that everyone could agree on and which was available.

If you have a name that attempts to reflect what you do, and it ceases to do that, you have two choices. If you have significant brand recognition, then it makes sense to take the “Carphone Warehouse” option* – you keep the name, despite the fact that the numbers of people who even remember what a carphone was are diminishing daily.

But if you don’t have significant brand recognition, it can make good sense to change – to put a visible stamp on internal renewal and change, if you like.  That’s why we did it. We had struggled to change the internal and external perception of our company away from that of “news content provider” to something more reflective of what we were actually offering to our customers – and the name change marked a definitive break with the past.

And that is what actually happened. I’m not going to deny that there were conspiracy theories that sprang up and which, I expect, some people still take seriously. But that’s what it boiled down to in the end.

So, how did we settle upon the name Axonn?

Well, that turned out to be a long process. As I said before, we spent over a year failing to come to any agreement before we got there.

Where did Axonn come from? I’d love to be able to relate an account that tells a better story than what actually happened, but unfortunately, it happened like this.

I was sat on a train from London to Leeds one evening. For two hours, I jotted down bits of words and sounds which I liked the sound of. I think I had my iTunes library open in front of me, and I was flicking through song titles looking for striking syllables. Here’s the list I drew up.

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Clearly, most of these are awful. Thank god we didn’t call the company Urch Media. In my defence, anyone who does creative work who denies that they come up with ten awful ideas for every decent one is probably not telling the truth.

But a handful of them were not awful. And I fiddled around with them to find forms of the sounds that were available as .co.uk domains. Hence the extra “n”.

Everything else was retrospective justification. I vaguely remembered from GCSE biology that an axon is a kind of nerve cell in the brain. So there was a “connectivity” metaphor to be made around the nerve cell image – which resulted in one (mercifully rejected) draft logo which looked eerily like an alien virus. That was not really the image we wanted to put across.

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Once we had decided on the name, everything else fell into place very easily. It’s remarkable how, once you have an established fact, all the other things that had seemed utterly contingent seem to naturally begin to pivot around it.

Naming companies has been like naming my kids. The absolute freedom you have beforehand drives you crazy. But once you’ve decided, you wonder how you could have ever considered anything else. 

*Incidentally Carphone Warehouse became Dixons Carphone just last week.

Learn more about the history of Axonn

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