Ask Leela : Changing from SurveyMonkey to Momentive
SurveyMonkey is one of the most recognized brands in tech—right up there with Salesforce and Amazon.
They created the self-serve online survey market back in 1999 and have continued to lead the survey and feedback market ever since, fueled by innovation, acquisition, and a growing product portfolio.
So when I heard they were changing their name to Momentive (keeping the SurveyMonkey brand for the self-serve survey product), I wanted to find out more.
At Velocity, we’re micro-geeks about branding, rebranding and renaming companies (check out our 3-part series on Renaming a B2B Brand). Weirdly, we’ve done lots of rebrands and renaming over the years even though we tend to advise against it more than we advise clients to do it.
We often advise against it because of the obvious downside (losing hard-earned brand equity) and the not-so-obvious downside (it can be a major pain in the ass, diverting hundreds of hours of management time. See Death by Stakeholder). All for an upside that’s hard to measure.
Still, there’s often a really, really strong case to be made for the nuclear option of branding: sloughing off the ill-fitting suit that you (or some founder) once thought would be perfect for your company but didn’t stay so.
SurveyMonkey was clearly a good candidate for renaming: they do WAY more than surveys. And the monkey thing was great for a dotcom era startup but today is kind of limiting for building credibility as an enterprise software partner.
But is that enough reason to fold a well-loved, universally recognized brand—built over twenty years—under a new, wholly unknown brand?
Doing their homework
Being SurveyMonkey, they weren’t about to make such a big move on a hunch. As Morgan Molnar and Inga Vallionis outlined in their recent Fast Forward Live session, this was a 14-month journey that included ten research streams (both quantitative and qualitative) reaching 22,000 respondents in seven countries.
In short, they listened hard. To employees, executives, current customers and potential customers. That included brand tracker research (they do awesome brand trackers) and name testing for the shortlist of ten candidates (I’d love to see the other nine).
The results validated the case for changing the name and also helped surface the clear winner: Momentive. (Coined words always sound funny at first but the world gets used to them in about a week. For me, Momentive feels like a good one. Easy to remember, say and spell. Lots of postive connotations. And its not descriptive so they won’t outgrow it.)
All good but I still wanted to ask five questions of Leela Srinivasan, Momentive’s brilliant CMO. Here are her answers:
Did keeping SurveyMonkey in the portfolio confuse the transition?
When we made the announcement, wherever possible we emphasized that this was about ‘SurveyMonkey Inc.’ or ‘the parent company of SurveyMonkey’. Like in this press release, Survey Monkey Parent Company Relaunches as Momentive.
The SurveyMonkey brand is beloved, so in the initial days we tried to emphasize that SurveyMonkey is still very much a key product in the portfolio. For instance, see the ‘PS’ in my LinkedIn post:
Of course, the rebrand narrative doesn’t lead with anything related to SurveyMonkey. For instance, our new site. momentive.ai, is intended to focus on our enterprise story, so SurveyMonkey isn’t prominently featured.
Was there any one moment or data point that convinced you to take the plunge?
There were a couple of moments that were particularly influential in our decision.
First: early in the process, we conducted 1:1 interviews with every member of our executive team, and the need for change was both clear and consistent in feedback across the board.
Second: feedback from enterprise customers over time, both those who chose our solutions and those who didn’t, contained plenty of evidence that while the SurveyMonkey name did open doors for us, it didn’t align with our enterprise capabilities.
One of the most exciting and gratifying things in this first month following the rebrand is how receptive those same enterprise customers and future customers are to this change. I’ve already participated in multiple meetings in which it’s clear our enterprise clients understand the rationale for the change and are excited for this next chapter.
In retrospect, do you think it was a mistake to call the company Survey Monkey in the first place? Would a less descriptive name have made it easier to grow and change?
SurveyMonkey remains an iconic and memorable name which served its original purpose well. It made plenty of sense back in 1999 when the company launched—at the height of the dot-com era, every second company had an animal in its name. For the first 15 years of the company’s existence, it really was all about surveys, and two decades in, the brand still has a lot of fans. So I wouldn’t say it was a mistake—the name’s distinctiveness was in part what drove the company’s meteoric rise—and we’re retaining that name in the portfolio as a result.
That said, this rebrand does highlight the limitations of having such a descriptive name. We do so much more than surveys! As we narrowed our list of potential names for the rebrand, we were careful to steer clear of anything overly descriptive that would simply put us in another box that we might outgrow down the line. Part of the appeal of Momentive, which is a made-up word, is that it doesn’t carry such limitations.
Of course, other companies have made different decisions. ‘Salesforce’ is a notable example. These days they lean heavily on their ‘clouds’—Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Commerce Cloud and so forth—to break through the limitations inherent in the company name. We’ll never know, but had Benioff called the company ‘SalesSquirrel’, I imagine they’d be looking at a rebrand too.
For Velocity clients who face this kind of issue, we always explore the option of educating the market to re-think, for instance, what “survey” means—instead of changing the name. Did you consider that option?
We did take considerable steps to educate the market that SurveyMonkey was about so much more than surveys. We also pushed to uplevel the value of surveys —for instance, in 2019 we spent time talking about ‘the Feedback Economy’. As an example, I gave a variant of this talk about The Feedback Economy at SaaStr, Traction, SaaStock, Hubspot INBOUND and other events.
Ultimately though, ‘SurveyMonkey’ was so effective at online self-serve surveys—the category we invented—that even with that education, the name didn’t make sense at the company level for our future direction.