Brand equity for better or worse

mynameisEveryone knows it takes time and effort to build brand equity. Or do they? I’ve watched over the years as both good and bad brand decisions were made, and usually with predictable results.

Brand equity covers a number of things. It is the value that you get from how your customers perceive your brand as identified by a name. It is different than their opinion of a specific product, although we can look at brand equity for a name that applies to a single product. We can also look at brand equity for a name that describes a product line or even a company. As a company, Apple and Google have enormous brand equity. As a product, a Mustang (the car, not the horse) and a 747 both have enormous brand equity. I’ll be there are people who know of the Mustang but don’t know it is made by Ford, and I’ll definitely bet there are people who know what a 747 is but don’t know it’s made by Boeing.

Naming a brand, whether it’s a company or a product, can be tricky. Lots of companies spend lots of money in consulting fees and agonize over “just the right name”. This certainly has an impact on the B2C world, where many purchases are based on emotional attachment, but B2B is not immune from this either. B2B buyers may not be quite as attached to a cool name, but they will certainly remember or forget a product based in part on its name, and an unfortunate name can still hurt you.

Naming is a complex subject, but here are my top 2 tips for naming. I would think they are obvious but I have seen them violated time and time again, so perhaps not.

As the saying goes, put all your wood behind one arrow-head. Pick a name and use it everywhere. I’ve seen software products that had one name that it was marketed under, and yet you accessed the service using a portal or app that had a different name. Guess what customers thought the name was? If you call your music playing service “Fred’s Music System” but the app is called “Internet Tunes” (probably a bad name in itself), people are going to think the product is “Internet Tunes” because that’s what they use, not “Fred’s Music System” which it is marketed under.

And by the way, when it comes to trademark infringement, the courts are going to look at what your product is commonly referred to as well as what you actually call it on your web site. If you call your music playing service “Fred’s Music System” with the app called “Internet Tunes” and all your customers abbreviate it to “ITunes”, you have a problem. The commonly used name is clearly a trademark violation, and it doesn’t matter whether you did that intentionally or it just happened.

Pick a name, use it everywhere. Be consistent. And be consistent not just in three dimensions, but in four as well. Everyone loves to change names. There is nothing more exciting for a fresh VP of Marketing or new CEO than rebranding the world in your image. Replacing old names from the previous regime with really cool, impactful new names as part of your house cleaning. I appreciate the desire to rename something and make it yours (and prove that you have better names than your predecessor), but this is a risky business. Sure, the existing name might not be awesome, but do people know it? It takes a long time and a lot of effort to establish brand equity. Do you *really* want to give all that up just to come up with a cooler name? Think carefully on that one.

It takes a really, really long time for people to associate a new name with your existing product. Unless you are planning on spending a boatload of money on advertising the new name, expect to simply confuse your audience with a name change. Of course, there is the opposite problem where you do want to hang on to the brand equity in a name but you have changed the underlying product or service. Sure, people will know the name, and it might well get them to answer your call or open your email. But be prepared for a lot of confused conversations after that when they find out what you really do today. Getting those doors opened might well be worth it, but again you should think carefully about that one and make sure you (and your sales team) is prepared to open all of your customer conversations with “we are not that company anymore”.  Just as people will continue to use an old product name for a long time, so too will they continue to associate an old name with an old product or service.

Pick a name, any name, and don’t stress about it. It really doesn’t have to be a great name, just try to avoid using a bad name. And then use it. Everywhere. And forever. And slowly, but surely, you will build up that brand equity that makes your life so much easier. And sure, break the rules when it makes sense. But make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and not just because someone came up with a really cool new name that is just too hip not to use. Save that for your next new product launch, or even your next startup.

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