SENIOR EXEC: How Fashion Giant Liz Claiborne Picked A New Name

jane randel

Fifth & Pacific SVP Jane Randel wrote this post exclusively for Business Insider explaining how Liz Claiborne Inc. picked a new name and rebuilt the brand.

Name changes aren’t new—from “Brad’s Drink” to Pepsi back in 1898 to today’s big ones (BackRub to Google, anyone?).  

At first, they often baffle. How many of us puzzled over Philip Morris to Altria or Andersen Consulting to Accenture? Now they seem so natural we can barely remember the original names.

With the twin engines of globalization and the Internet, however, it’s gotten that much harder to change a name—especially the name of a global corporation—and spread the word in a meaningful way (without a questionably effective, but very costly, $100 million ad spend, that is).

Recently, I was on the front lines of a major corporate name change. It involved giving up an extremely well known name—Liz Claiborne Inc., an icon of women’s fashion—and exchanging it for a new one that better reflects who we are today. 

Here’s why and how we did it.

First, our old name no longer made sense since we sold the namesake Liz Claiborne brand to J.C. Penney in October 2011. Second, with our focus now firmly on our three, global lifestyle brands—Juicy Couture, kate spade, and Lucky Brand—we were looking to name the holding company. And finally, after decades serving department stores, we had evolved to a direct-to-consumer retailer.  

In searching for a new identity, we—or anyone looking to change a corporate name—faced three major challenges:

1. Picking a name that will work in different markets, with different cultures, wherever we do business around the globe.

2. Finding a name that’s legally available in all these markets. The proverbial needle in the haystack (more on this later).

3. Spreading the word to stakeholders, from employees to partners to investors, without breaking the bank or confusing consumers.

What’s in a name?

Let’s start with the biggest, baddest piece—the one that sets you up for criticism from all sides: picking the new name.

A corporate name needs to be memorable, translate across cultures, tell a story and/or convey key attributes and generate buzz. There are several different ways to achieve this.

For example, you can shorten an existing name, like Ann Taylor Stores Corporation did when it became Ann Inc. You can also invent a word. The advantage? It can be designed to bridge languages and it’s more likely available for trademark around the world. Kraft recently took this path internationally with “Mondelez.” Like it or not, this new name blends Romance languages to meld the concepts of “delicious” and “world.”  At the same time, Kraft kept its name in the US, where it has such powerful resonance.

We went a different way. We chose to tell a clear story fast by selecting words people actually use.

Our new name: Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. 

The meaning? “Fifth” captures the New York-style of kate spade and Jack Spade. “Pacific” links our West Coast sensibility and the heritage of Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand. Pacific also does double-duty, tipping its hat toward Asian markets and future growth. 

Of course, you can also mix and match these approaches and get varied and vast word combinations. The key to success is making sure your choice of word type, i.e., invented, a shortening, vernacular, etc., reflects who you are as a business, from your heritage to your long-term strategic goals to your brands.

The Trademark Question

Once you have a name you like, it’s not over—not by a long shot. You need to make sure it is available in every category and market. Lucky for us, Fifth & Pacific Companies was available for use in all of our major markets. Not everyone is as fortunate, however, and the “rights” question is one you must keep front of mind throughout the naming process.

Spreading The Word, Telling Your Story

Once you’ve got your name, it’s time to tell the story, and if you want to avoid spending a fortune on advertising that may or may not work, you have to get creative.   

In our case, we wanted to reach our investors, employees, business partners, the media, and the fashion world—less so consumers. Our solution: leverage video, targeted advertising and social media channels, adding just a dash of celebrity.

Here’s how we did it:

1. Seed the influencers. A series of compelling digital ads on—our major trade website—run over the course of several months along with a brief video message from our CEO spread via the media and blogosphere.

2. Take advantage of a captive audience: 15- and 30-second spots highlighting our four brands and narrated by Project Runway star and Fifth & Pacific Companies’ Fashion Dean Tim Gunn, aired on Taxi TV and Captivate’s Elevator Network, as well as spread via social media.

3. Give a different perspective: A short video of consumer interviews, reflecting their passion for our brands, geared towards investors. 

4. Fire up stakeholders: An impactful “sizzle” video giving investors, employees and other stakeholders an extended view of the company’s direction.

Keep Telling Your Story

So what was the biggest lesson?

Changing a corporate identity is a huge undertaking and if you don’t want to be anonymous forever, awareness building needs to continue far after the initial name change is complete.

At Fifth & Pacific Companies, we’ve made some real progress in a short time—influencers and media are starting to recognise our new name (and starting to drop the “formerly known as Liz Claiborne”). But the work goes on. We have another video on the way (Tim Gunn may return) and plans for a mini-conference series, one-on-ones for our CEO and more bylines like this one.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Of course. But it wouldn’t sound nearly as good.

Now see how kate spade uses social media to sell handbags >

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