Don’t ask me how it popped up or what convoluted string of searches led me to it six months after it was posted. But I think I died a little inside today after reading for the first time that the YMCA is now rebranding itself as simply “The Y.”

That can’t be right, can it?

I saw the summary on my Google results page, had absolutely no choice but click, and read the headline about four times before it sunk in. How is it possible that a brand like the YMCA decides it’s time to find a new identity?  One of the most popular freakin’ songs of all-time, an international icon and a ridiculous dance that almost everyone on the planet knows by heart, was done specifically about this organization. Anyone who has been to a wedding, Bar Mitzvah and any other formal DJ-ed gathering for the past 30 years can spell the name out with their arms.  We all know that the YMCA is a euphoric place where “you can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal, you can do whatever you feel.” Right?

Am I alone here? What else could you possibly need as a brand? How could you possibly look at the omnipresent name of your organization and say, “Guys, we can probably do better, let’s change it!?”

I don’t pretend to understand the specifics of the decision process behind the switch towards the far more PC, inclusive and nebulous new label of “The Y” – but reading this got me thinking about a good point …

Even for the most established and timeless of brands, there eventually comes a point when change is necessary. When that time comes for your company, I beg you, MAKE SURE YOU DO IT THE RIGHT WAY!

If you’re in the same situation as what we’ll now respectfully refer to as “The Y” (where you’re thinking a new identity will benefit your business), make sure you’re ready before you put the wheels in motion. I’ve worked for two different public relations agencies, I’ve seen rebranding projects go well and I’ve seen them bomb. More often than not, the differentiating factor between success and failure is simple – an across-the-board commitment the concept.

Brands are more than a logo. They are more than a clever tagline and a nifty new business card. Brands tell your story, they are the face and character of your organization. Karen Klein from Business Week said it quite simply, “Your brand is what your company stands for and what it is known for.”

This seems like an elementary idea to grasp – but it’s rarely done the right way. Ask the people in charge of your business to list the two most important things your brand represents. I can almost guarantee that if your leadership team is 10 people, you’ll get at least 9 different answers.

Rebranding the right way takes creativity, commitment, and above all, research. What images are going to resonate with the right stakeholders? What values are important to your clients? What about your own people? How do you incorporate and reflect all of this and more into one concept?

There are very few certainties in the world of marketing and public relations, but I’ll give you one right now – You absolutely CANNOT rebrand your business on a whim. Branding is a wonderful thing for a business that needs to more clearly define and communicate its core messages, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way takes time, data and testing.

With something as important as defining (or redefining) your brand, you need to take your time, put in the work and get it right.

I’m sure “The Y” has done their homework in this case, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they know exactly what they’re doing and I know this wasn’t a decision they took lightly. This is a huge step for that organization, and they seem to be approaching it the right way.

I just hope for their sake that the Village People still have some ideas kicking around for a new song.