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What's the Meta with you?

Words by Tom Robinson
Date 2022-01-17

One of the big corporate stories in the last few weeks was Mark Zuckerberg announcing that Facebook, the parent company, is now called Meta. There has been a lot of reaction about the news, with people questioning everything, from Zuckerberg's motivation to the execution itself. Let's ignore the logo for now. There are numerous reasons why a company would want to rebrand, but they all have a central theme. Change.

Rebranding can occur because people see you as you were, not as you are. Internal change has occurred but external perception lags reality. That's why British Aerospace became BAE Systems. Statoil became Equinor. General Electric, British Petroleum, International Business Machines, and American Telephone & Telegraph Company became initials. The names tied them to a past that was no longer relevant.

It can be done as a catalyst for change. You want to shift internal and external perceptions going forward and reposition for the future, especially into new areas of growth. This can be especially true at a corporate level, where a dominant operating brand is limiting the perception of the group as a whole. The one everyone is referencing is Google Inc becoming Alphabet because Google was more than Google Search.

Clearly, it's often a combination of the two. You've changed, your brand no longer reflects who you are and is limiting future progress. It's time to change. The greater the change you are reflecting, or aspiring to, the greater the amount of repositioning needed.

Big events like mergers or divestments create significant change. The company is no longer what it was. It is bigger/smaller and does more/less in more/less places. Some sectors, where surnames were involved, got long names such as SBC Warburg Dillion Read or PricewaterhouseCoopers. Others found new names, as when Guinness and Grand Metropolitan became Diageo.

Some companies didn't follow this logic at all, to greater or lesser success. Amazon sells more than books now but is still Amazon. Volkswagen Group sells more than VWs and owns, amongst others, Bugatti and Škoda. Carphone Warehouse didn't just sell car phones in a warehouse.

A more extreme version of the catalyst is where you have become tainted and want to slough off negative elements of the past and be more favourably considered in the future. The Lance Armstrong Foundation became Livestrong Foundation, Valeant Pharmaceuticals became Bausch Health, Phillip Morris became Altria. Sometimes pressure to do this can be external. Organisations such as The Rhodes Trust or the Nobel Prize face pressure to change their names due to their distant past.

Whatever the origin of the rebrand, the desire is to change people's perception of, and therefore behaviour towards, you. However, there needs to be enough goodwill towards you for people to reconsider their understanding. Will they be able to relook at you and reassess? How will they view the motivation behind the change? Is it an honest attempt to keep people's perception in line with reality or will it be seen as a cynical ploy to diminish and distract?

Critically, your brand is more than a visual identity and a new name and logo. It's your beliefs and behaviour, your culture, your approach to what you value and therefore the types of value you create (or destroy). It is who you are and what you stand for. You can change your visual identity much more easily that you can change your belief system, your business model or your culture. How much of this has changed too?

So, yes, Facebook have just announced that they are changing the parent company to Meta. They have signalled change. What change are we going to see? A new name will not be enough for many people.

First published in Transform.