Monday, May 25, 2009

By any other name

A client of mine that's been in business for nearly 20 years is going through a bit of what I'd diagnose as name anxiety disorder. They're pretty well convinced that their current corporate moniker is confining them to a very specific market and inadequate to appeal to the market that they'd really like to go after.

It's a challenge--their name is indeed bland, and contains a word that is both overused in the business world and says nothing about what they do. At the same time, they're torn, because the owner of the company is well known and well liked in the business community, so there is equity in the name that they've been using for two decades.

Even as we go through the exercise, I'm from the camp that it's the company itself that ultimately determines the success of the name, not the other way around. But surely one of the lessons, when naming your company, is to not paint yourself into a corner from the outset.


  1. OOohh... do they have the word "solutions" in their name???

    Personally, I find changing a name a hint that things aren't going 100%. If you're unsatisfied with your main feature, what else are you unable to nail down behind closed doors?

  2. Bingo! In their defense, it wasn't as horrifyingly overused 20 years ago, right?

    Long story short, they believe the name--which includes a modifier that's not quite as outdated as buggy whips, but close--limits the number of meetings they're getting, because people can't imagine them doing other things. And as far as experimenting (!!!) with marketing and advertising ideas rather than changing names...well, don't get me started.

  3.'ve got a real problem all right, if they don't believe in solid marketing. A rose by any other name just gets the same results w/o good marketing. "Nike" never would have meant anything to 90% of the population if they hadn't had a good product, backed by solid marketing.

    I still remember one meeting at a client's where they were trying to name a new division of the XYZ company (with XYZ being well known in the field). I don't even remember what the division was; let's pretend it was for consumers.

    One of the execs kept dragging in all sorts of mythology--Greco-Roman (a la Nike), American Indian, etc.--and G-d knows what else to find a name that would "create an impact". We were bandying about all sorts of nonsense. Finally, I forget who (it might have been me, or maybe I was only thinking this) but someone said, "I don't understand. Why don't we just call it XYZ Consumer?" Everyone looked at each other and sort of went, "Duuuh"--and thus XYZ Consumer was born.

    And that division went on to become one of the client's best recognized--NOT because of the name, but because of the marketing we put behind that name. Newsletters, brochures, web content--all of it had solid content (aka good writing!) that truly knew how to reach its intended market. Some of it even won awards (and I'm proud to say I had a hand in that).

  4. Exactly. Nike is a classic example of a name that would be meaningless without outstanding products and superior marketing.

    On a side note, we had a good laugh a couple weeks ago in French-speaking Canada when saw a sign for PFK ("Poulet Frit Kentucky," oui). That's when you know your brand is strong, that it can withstand translation to a new language and a new acronym and still be instantly recognizable.

  5. Quebecers get understandably up in arms when English-speaking companies don't adapt to the French culture. You should have seen the uproar when "Les Caf├ęs Second Cup" opted to drop the first bit.

    Language here is a great, deeply-rooted, raging debate.