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Branding: What’s in a name?

In branding everything begins with a name and, typically, whether it’s a small start-up or a large corporate, everyone gets very excited and involved in inventing new, bold and unusual brand names. However, before they get too carried away about this there are two things that a business needs to consider:

1.     Will my target audience understand my business/product/service from the brand name?

2.     If not, how much time and money do I have to invest in helping them ‘get’ who we are and what we do?

The alternative, a ‘descriptive’ name that describes what you offer, can often seem quite boring. However, the benefits of not having to invest significant budget in advertising to explain to your potential customers what you do can outweigh the downsides. In fact, we have calculated that for a large corporate business, making the decision to choose a non-descriptive name, can cost them as much as £30m in terms of the advertising they need to invest in to educate their audience about their product/service.  Clearly, the sums involved for a small local business will be less, but at the very least the extra work in educating customers will mean an extra task which they may not want to undertake.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with descriptive brand names too.  As they are often based around words in common usage it can be difficult to ‘own’ a name and there can be confusion with other brands having similar names which can be a problem, even if they are in different product categories.  It’s also increasingly difficult to find a descriptive name that hasn’t already been taken up.

However, whatever you choose, a short snappy and notable name is a good place to start.  I may have said that a descriptive name can seem boring, but it is a part of the challenge, whether you go down the descriptive or inventive brand name route, to make a name memorable.

As part of the process, think about why someone should buy from you and what you are offering.  Don’t forget that sometimes this can be summed up nicely in someone’s name if the person at the head of the company is well known in their industry or by the community.  It can be a neat way of encapsulating a company’s brand values.

When do you know it’s time to change?

Although there may seem very few reasons for a company to change a brand name - and strong reasons not to do so - activity such as repositioning, expansion of services, merger or acquisition may mean it is necessary.

Having spent the time and money in building up your brand in the eyes of the consumer, it rarely makes sense to abandon that investment and start again from scratch. 

Brands such as Norwich Union (now Aviva) and Fed Ex are examples of the rare few that seem to have made it work – notably large, corporate organisations that can take the risk. There are even a couple of big name brands that returned to their original name following public outcry, with Post Office/Consignia and Kelloggs Coco Pops/ Choco Krispies being two examples of this.

What can be useful – or even essential - for a brand is a brand refresh.  The pace of change in the world is so fast and it’s imperative for brands to ensure that they remain relevant and interesting to their target audience if they want to keep one step ahead of the competition.  This is more about the visual imagery of the brand rather than a name change though.  A great example here is the RAC which changed radically from a rather traditional, establishment-looking logo and branding to a modern, contemporary look and feel that resonated with both its existing and new customers – while keeping its name the same.