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When Naming or Renaming, Go Short

Brand logoIs there a correlation between the length of a name and success? It is human nature to shorten words to make communication easier and more efficient. People will eliminate the unnecessary part of the word, while keeping the meaningful part:

  • Omnibus becomes bus
  • Motion picture becomes movie
  • Television becomes TV
  • Gasoline becomes gas
  • Coca-Cola becomes Coke

Since companies don’t want to put obstacles in the way of communicating their names, short communicative names of one or two syllables are generally more successful. For example:

  • Apple
  • Target
  • Chevron
  • Dell
  • Nike
  • Visa

Short and Successful

This human tendency to shorten names can have a direct impact on your organization’s value. A recent story in The Harvard Business Review noted new research demonstrating that companies with short, easy-to-process names were more likely to attract investors, generate more stock trading and have higher valuations.

According to the study “Company Name Fluency, Investor Recognition, and Firm Value,” corporate renaming generally increased a name’s “fluency” and as a result translated into more value. Shortening name length by one word could result in a $3.75 million increase in value for a mid-size company.

Renaming

If your organization doesn’t have a short, simple name, what can you do?

Sometimes the public renames your organization for you. The San Francisco 49ers become the Niners. Nicknames like this convey fondness and familiarity. Sometimes they can be prompted. One of my favorite billboards in New York read: Our name is The Irving National Bank and Trust Corporation (You can call us Irving.)

We often see a long, cumbersome name as the result of a merger or acquisition. The investment bankers and lawyers who are involved aren’t thinking about corporate identity strategy. They’re thinking about closing the deal, and they don’t want the name to get in the way.

Yet this creates problems down the road in ways that end up costing the organization. If a company name is long and difficult to shorten, often the only hope is to go to initials. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers goes by PwC. But initials make weak names. They are difficult to remember, easily confused and hard to relate to—unless billions of dollars are spent over decades to make them familiar (e.g., IBM, NBC, GE).

The better course? Even in the case of a merger or acquisition, it’s usually better to look forward to the opportunity of a shorter, more fluent name instead of backward. When in doubt, go short.

Learn about Marshall’s work in naming and naming systems.

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Who Owns the Letter X?

Logo_XIt’s no longer “X” marks the spot on a treasure map. The use of “X” first increased as it became a go-to variable in beginning algebra. Then it evolved to become a secret ingredient of success, someone’s “X factor”. Now “X” seems to mark every spot, having found its way into the identities of a slew of companies, products and even universities in an attempt to create the perception that they are on the cutting edge. But what does it mean anymore, and can anyone rightfully own it?

There are several ways in which “X” has been used:

  •  Xerox was one of the first and logical users of “X”.
  • For EXXON, one “X” was not enough.
  • The X Games drew a new breed of sports enthusiasts to ESPN.
  • Microsoft wisely left its brand off the naming of XBox, the company’s successful entry into the gaming and entertainment market. But now it needs wordier names, such as XBox One and XBox Entertainment Studios, to explain why XBox still matters.
  • Comcast launched its Xfinity service to divert attention from its troubled brand though a new, hyperbolic and space-aged entertainment sub brand. In the end, it just confused a lot of people.
  • Ted, a set of global conferences, used TedX presumably to indicate an extension or auxiliary to the original, exclusive event.
  • Space transport company SpaceX seems to say it is headed to places unknown, perhaps in the same vein as the algebraic “solve for X” mode. It is instructive to think of the context of the X PRIZE, and www.x.com, Elon Musk’s first startup.
  • Universities are now joining the fray, each with its own purpose. Stanford’s StartX is an investment fund for student entrepreneurs. HarvardX is “a bold experiment to push the boundaries of learning through reimagined teaching, unprecedented research and cutting-edge technology,” or a response to the quandary of online learning.

With so many uses, all saying different, but ostensibly trendy things, is “X” going to go the way of “e”? Does it still add the desired magic to any identity? Can any one company or project really own it anymore? Or, is it really just a weak substitute for a creative expression of unique value?

If you’re thinking about using a trendy letter in your name, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are you using the letter to say something meaningful, or just to get attention? Attention getters typically have shorter shelf lives.
  • Does the use of a trendy letter create sustainable differentiation, or do you risk blending in over time as others adopt the same idea? This tactic has a very low barrier to adoption.
  • How long will it be before the trend is over and the market has moved past your naming convention?

Some companies have managed to take true ownership of trendy letter. Apple has done quite well (and protected itself very aggressively) with “i”. VMware has made a strong case for its ownership of lowercase “v”. The bottom line: be sure that what you’re doing is relevant, ownable and works with your overall brand strategy.

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Sound Bites, Slogan, and Political Positioning

Advertising Age recently listed the slogans of 21 presidential candidates.

Forgetting who these slogans represent, if you know, or can tell:

  • Do any of these messages differentiate their candidate?
  • Are any of these campaign messages relevant, or compelling to you?
  • Which messages seem most credible? Least credible?
  • Which message would interest you in its candidate?
  • Reigniting the Promise of America

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Brand Impact of Mergers

The Brand Impact of Mergers

Last year saw a n ear-record high in M&A activity, which at $3.5 Trillion was the highest activity recorded in seven years, according to the New York Times. Tiny startups (WhatsApp: $19 Billion) and major blue chip companies (DirecTV: $49 Billion) were swallowed up by larger acquirers for astronomical sums.

The conventional wisdom fueling these buying sprees goes like this: once a company gets to a certain size, organic growth becomes very difficult to sustain. Acquiring into new areas or capabilities is a much faster route to growth in revenues, capabilities, and ideally profitability.

But what happens to brand value in these transactions? How should brands be managed to retain or augment their combined value? Which company gets to keep its brand name and promise, and what happens to the other? In our experience, too few companies invest in the upfront strategic thinking and decisions required to get full brand value, and hence business value, out of their mergers.

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