Corporate Naming Lessons From Naming People
Back in the 1970s, Herbert Harari, a psychologist at San Diego State University, found evidence that teachers discriminate against “oddly” named pupils. Eighty teachers were asked to grade four different papers written by fourth and fifth grade students. No matter which papers the names Elmer and Hubert appeared on, they averaged one full grade lower than the same papers attributed to Michael and David.
Since that time, other researchers have noticed the strong first impression that names create and demonstrated their role in creating expectations for the people they’re attached to (“What’s in a Name? Maybe it’s a student’s grade!”).
Corporations can also have loser brand names, something that can be confirmed by research or general intuition, and such names can unfairly and negatively influence perceptions of their performance or potential.
Changing a “Loser” Name
Many Hollywood stars have changed their names and gone on to successful careers that would be hard to imagine if they hadn’t made the switch. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Marion Morrison became John Wayne. Norma Jeane Mortensen became Marilyn Monroe.
While name changes in the corporate world are possible, the process is more complicated. New corporate names need to be accepted and supported by employees, customers and investors, and they can’t infringe on the good will of other corporate names.
Professional firms and corporations often get consumed by trying to preserve equity in existing names. Advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn had a name that was a tongue twister, so they switched to the initials BBDO, just as PricewaterhouseCoopers became PwC.
But if thoughtful enough, corporate name changes can benefit corporations as much as—if not more than—they benefit individuals.
Through the work we’ve done with past clients like GE, Disney and Adobe, we’ve put together a list of tips that may help you through a name change:
- Individuals and companies have a choice in how they name themselves
- Some names can be perceived as losers and some as winners
- Loser names can be successfully changed to winning names
- It’s important to live up to the conveyed or implied promise of a name
- Short names are generally more impactful than long names
- There is a fine line between names that are unique and names that alienate
- Don’t let “equity” in ineffective names prevent you from developing better names
The main reason companies give for not fixing a sub-par name is that they don’t want to lose their “brand equity.” But, you have to give up something that’s not working to gain something that’s better. Advertising and promoting an ineffective name is throwing good money after bad.