Some of us might change the logo of a brand after a number of years but are least likely to change its name. A name that has personality, is easy to remember and differentiated can often tip customers over to your side, giving you an incredible edge. Can you imagine if Mercedez Benz was simply called PremiumCars, would you have felt that sense of class? What if Apple had this name instead, ‘Simple Computing Devices – SCD’, would you have recognised it as a brand for user-friendly products? What about names that are used in movies? Imagine if Voldemort of the Harry Potter Franchise was named Genie instead, would that name have inspired fear?
In our age of twitter and facebook posts, the name has definitely become far more important than the symbol. Whenever people search for products and services, very often a unique name stands out. And if you have consistently developed content to explain the meaning of your brand name and filled it with stories, chances are, your name will own a unique space very quickly. This is very evident with a growing number of contemporary Sri Lankan companies who have began to adopt unique and culturally endemic names for their brands. ‘Chaya’ hotels by John Keels, which means ‘light’ in Sanskrit, or ‘Amaya’ hotels, which means ‘absence of delusion’ in Sanskrit. These names seek to tell a story behind their brands with more cultural attributes.
The advent of Japanese brands also started the trend of having unique Asian names. Today, the successes of Samsung, Sony or Banyan Tree prove that there is value in having unique Asian names. So if the name is such an important asset then why are so many Asian companies rebranding because of naming issues? In our work with these firms, we have identified the following causes:
First Cause: A name without purpose is like a bridge to nowhere
For many Asian companies, the approach to naming tends to be an after-thought. Entrepreneurs and business owners spend a lot of time thinking about the products and business model. But only at the last hour, when they do need a name to get out there then they think about it. So it tends to be based on gut feel and not through a scientific process. This is very risky because leaders may have underestimated the difficulty of securing a unique name. The internet has unfortunately become a place where people could invent new terms, names and words quickly and own them. This makes it difficult for anyone to simply come up with any name and expect it to be available. Like all great things, it is worthwhile to invest time to think of the criteria for the name, develop options, identify its use and evaluate its uniqueness. Most probably, if all goes well, this name is going to be with you forever.
Second Cause: A name with limits will stifle the growth of a company
Many Asian owners are relatively modest about their potential growth when they start a business so they tend to stick with family names or more descriptive ones. So most probably a technology firm will have words like innovation and technology. But when you check the competition, they all start to sound the same. In an ironic way, the branding industry which is supposed to be the expert in creating unique brand names, is guilty of the same approach, as you have consultancies with names like interbrand, futurebrand, brandunion and so on. Can you imagine if the competitors of facebook start to name themselves as facepeople, faceprofile or yourface? What a way to endorse the industry leader! The root cause of this problem is, people don’t have the faith and the audacity to choose their own paths so they tend to stick with what they know. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon was realistic from the get-go as he wanted a name to enable him to achieve scalability. The competitors to Amazon then were Barnes&Noble and Borders. With a name like Amazon, his small company stood out and went on to dominate e-commerce going beyond books.
Third Cause: A mismanaged name results in loss of opportunities
These causes show that it is important for Asian brands to use a business approach in the development and management of brand names. The following are 3 steps on how to identify and manage unique names so as to gain a competitive advantage:
Step One: Define the meaning and aspirations for the name
The ultimate purpose of any name is to carry the aspirations of the brand and not just to represent its current state. It is very similar to how we name our children. We always think of a name that we hope will best represent the aspirations for them. Therefore prior to developing any name, the important aspects such as purpose and association must be considered and defined so as to get the best out of such exercises. The following is an approach by Consulus:
Purpose: In an earlier column titled “A brand without purpose is a brand without future”, we highlighted the need to identify the unique purpose or DNA for the brand. This model is very important to act as a reference point prior to the development of the name. This helps management to focus on the desired business outcomes during the process.
Association: It is also important to define what kind of association or experience that you would like to have when the name is mentioned. This is important as it sets the tone for the creative development. A good naming exercise is not about considering a wide variety of options but about being clear which creative path to take during the process. You can use preferred images and keywords but avoid using brand names as references because it will affect the objectivity of the exercise.
Usability: You will be using the name everyday so it is best to list out the different business situations where the name will be used. Once you apply the name in conversations or to endorse products, it helps everyone who is not familiar with a naming process to look at it from a pragmatic perspective.
In our partnership with a leading stationery company in Singapore named SD Systems, the business review identified that the current name was not an effective advocate for their business. The findings showed that stakeholders tend to think that this was an IT company instead of offering stationery ideas. It also did not help in terms of promoting the brand’s unique purpose of providing relevant stationery tools for different professions. The existing house brands were also named differently and this did not help to maximise sales opportunities or brand association. Therefore the company agreed with the recommendation to go for a name change.
Step Two: Use a scientific process to ensure that the brand name is truly unique
With the purpose statement as a reference point and a clear definition of the type of ideal associations the brand needed, it was then feasible to develop options based on 2 or 3 possible name development tracks. The final name needs to fulfill the following criteria in order to be an effective tool for the brand:
- Aligned with purpose statement
- Be unique
- Be easy to pronounce and remember
- Connote who we can be
- Does not sound like a typical industry brand
- Have a clear identity
- Have internet domain name availability
- Industry comparison
- Provide a reference to the desired experience or association
In our partnership with SD Systems, the chosen name was DeskRight. The name was inspired by the ambition of the founder who was keen to provide fast and relevant stationary solutions to their customers. The fact that it was easy to pronounce helped too, as not all of the staff was proficient in the english language. So even if they were to mispronounce it, it would still sound like “That’s right!”. In addition to this, the existing in-house product lines were renamed to have a closer association with the brand name. E.g. Folders were named as FileRight. To instill a sense of common purpose, departments were also renamed. E.g. The delivery team was renamed as RightAway Specialists.
Step Three: Establish a process to manage the brand names to ensure business success
After this process, it is important to set up a framework to manage existing brand names and the development of new ones. A brand naming convention should be set up and each category should be defined with a business goal. The following is a general approach used by Consulus:
DIRECT: Refers to the corporate name and any entity that uses the brand name in its entirety with supporting descriptive terms. These are usually reserved for main products and services. E.g. Toyota After-sales Support
ENDORSED: Refers to entities that could be subsidiaries or products that need to use a part or the entire brand name for the purpose of endorsement or association. E.g. Toyota Corolla
EXCLUSIVE: Refers to entities that could be subsidiaries but does not need an associative relationship for the purpose of differentiation. E.g. Lexus
With such a framework, it will be easier to manage the brand names for business success. After the rebranding exercise, DeskRight was able to clarify the use of names and continued to name select house brands using the endorsed approach. While exclusive brands were created when they needed to introduce premium products. This made it clearer for staff to identify sales priorities and provided clarity to customers too. A review should also be done every year to ensure that the names do contribute to maximising business opportunities. The trend nowadays, is to minimise the creation of new brand names as they are costly to maintain. Therefore many companies are streamlining the brands to make it easier for customers to recall. It is better to have names that work then to have names for the sake of having them.
Lawrence Chong is the CEO of Consulus, a company specialising in helping Asian firms rebrand and redesign their organisations to be more innovative through business design. Consulus serve leaders in Sri Lanka in partnership with Shiraz Latiff, Chairman of Hummingbird International.
This article is part of a weekly column called Shaping the World where Lawrence and Shiraz share insights and ideas about building innovative Asian Brands. It is published by one of the leading dailies in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Today.