brand identity Tag

Corporate Naming Lessons From Naming People

Marilyn Monroe

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. For example, Marilyn Monroe’s real name is Norma Jeane Mortensen.

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.

Lessons Learned
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.

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3 Signs You Need to Reconsider Your Identity

 

Courtesy Brian Talbot

Courtesy Brian Talbot

We’ve written before about the ways that a strong identity benefits leaders. Identity work can have tremendous positive impact on internal audiences, but it’s more likely that clients will come to us because they’re being misperceived by their external audiences. Here are three of the most common scenarios that signal it’s time to reconsider your identity:

  1. You’re losing business because of how you’re perceived: We’ve seen clients have multimillion dollar deals killed at the last minute because of how the brand was perceived in the marketplace. Other times, misperceptions can slowly erode your relevance with key audiences.
  2. You’re too narrowly defined: We’ve had clients with a great set of services and products, but they’re known for only one thing. If you’ve made your name in one area, great. But it might be time to communicate that you’ve got more to offer.
  3. The market you’re in is changing: Maybe you’re in an industry undergoing significant change. To stay relevant you need to be ahead of that curve when markets shift.

Transforming Into Something New
When you do change your identity, whether the change is evolutionary or revolutionary, it needs to be communicated in a way that is relevant. An identity change signals to both internal and external audiences that something is fundamentally different about your company. You need to make that difference as clear as possible.

One of our clients had acquired several regional cold-chain supply companies to create a cold-chain logistics company with national connectivity. The challenge for this client was that even though they were bringing together multiple smaller companies, they didn’t want to be perceived as a big, impersonal corporate roll-up and lose the family-owned, regional heritage of the acquired companies.

We created the name Lineage Logistics to convey a sense of history and legacy coming together to form a fully connected, forward-looking service business. The new name communicated to employees that the heritage of their companies was important to the new company, and signaled to customers that existing relationships weren’t going to go away. The benefits of the new company–increased efficiency and coast-to-coast continuity–were established without sacrificing regional understanding and local relationships.

Making Change Successful
An effort to change your identity involves more than changing your logo or tagline. To make the shift successful, you must understand how it will affect your people, your culture and your customers. When you communicate a clear a reason for change, you can effectively engage both internal and external audiences. Customers, prospects and clients understand where you’re going, and your internal audience sees that there’s something they can believe in and get behind.

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