What’s in a Name?

Throughout my career I’ve been involved in numerous naming and branding initiatives and am always struck by not only the intrinsic challenges of getting a group of people to agree on a particular name/brand for a company, product or service – but also by the enormous amount of angst and emotion that becomes part of the process.

In truth, the process of coming up with a name – whether for a company, a product, a campaign, a department or whatever is a process that is virtually destined to be an emotional and difficult one from the get-go. Why? Because everybody has an opinion, everybody has an emotional stake in the outcome and everybody wants their brand to be the next Nike.

But what struck me recently when listening to a group of executives respond to a branding initiative for their parent organization was how little the *name* really matters. The name is not the brand. The logo is not the brand. The brand is the brand. And the brand is defined by the consumer or target audience based on the totality of their experiences with you. It’s consistency and the ability to meet or exceed expectations that really matter. Not your name.

Think about it. Before Nike became *Nike* what inherent meaning did the word Nike have? Before Microsoft became *Microsoft* what did Microsoft mean? Nothing. The company could have called itself Gatesco or Billco or just about anything. The same is true of Xerox and Kleenex and IBM and dozens of other brands whose names have come to mean something not because of the name or logo that was used but because of all of the myriad of other activities that, together, begin to form the brand.

It’s not the name, the logo or the tagline that will define your company, product, service or cause. Yet that is, unfortunately, where the majority of time, angst and effort is spent. In the meantime, other more important activities are overlooked. Activities like:

  • Having something to offer that makes you different – and better – than other available options (or that is *perceived* by your target customers to be different or better). Indistinguishable brands do not become powerful brands.
  • Achieving consistency in message (that’s where the logo, colors, etc. come in). It doesn’t really matter what they are, just that they’re used consistently so that consumers come to recognize you, whatever you call yourself, when they encounter anything related to you.
  • Delivering on your “brand promise.” That means that whatever you say about yourself in your messaging, in any format – whether online, in interviews, in your brochures, or in actual interactions between you and your customers – needs to be real and needs to be realized by those who interact with you. Any disconnects damage the brand. Not your name – but what you do to support what that name eventually comes to mean (based on what you’ve said about yourself!).

Somehow the process of gathering a group of people together to come up with names, logos and taglines has become the focus of far too many corporate activities, in my opinion. Maybe because it provides a tangible focus. Maybe because we all identify so strongly with those brands that have become strong.

But, I think our time and money could be better spent focusing on what really matters – the quality of the product/service, the consistency of the consumer experience and the use of your brand image (whatever it may be!) to distinguish yourself from other available options.

Apple. Coca-Cola. GE. Intel. Nokia. Toyota. McDonald’s.

None of these names meant anything when they were first selected to represent their respective organizations or products.

Brands do not become “the best” because of their names, logos or taglines. They become the best because of what they deliver.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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