I got a letter from Norwich Union the other day. Actually, it was from Aviva. It was explaining that they were changing their name so their increasingly global customer base would see a consistent branding wherever they were in the world. It’s the old ‘Marathon, internationally known as Snickers’ story.
So, the company which employs 50% of the population of Norwich (or something like that) is changing its name to sound like a rubbish 70’s car so that when its French customers come here, they don’t get confused?
It made me think about what value there is in names – after all, that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.
Names are just hooks – places where our brains hang all the physical and spiritual attributes that go to make up our sense of what that name stands for. When people think of Ross, they think of tall (physical), intelligent, wild-at-heart (spiritual)…. but what do people think when they think of your company name?
Construction suffers a lack of verbal differentiation between companies – that lapse into jargon means a lot of companies names sound similar. McAlpine and McNicholas are just two examples where the ancient legislation that enshrines “a mans right to trade under his own name” has produced more than a little confusion.
I was chatting to a friend the other day, who works for one of the many companies with ‘Urban’ in the name. He says they often find themselves on tender lists competing with one of the other Urban Somethings. This leads to client confusion, and often to margin compressing price competition. This is a Bad Thing.
Should we change the name, he asks? Well, it worked for Snickers, and it may yet work for Aviva, but it’s an expensive and risky process. If a name is a hook, then changing it is rather like moving a coat hook with all the coats still hanging on it – it’s difficult, and you’re probably going to drop a few of them on the floor.
Changing your name risks losing all the loyalty and understanding you’ve built up over a period of many years. Aviva need now only make one mistake, and a century of value in Norwich Union will be dispelled in seconds.
It’s better to try to get the differentiation working properly. The staff refer to their employer as ‘Urban’ apparently. When they make a call they’re ‘Steve from Urban’. Urban what? By using this lazy shortening of their employer’s full name they are destroying all the differentiation they might employ. That’s one thing to stop for a start.
What else? Well, focus on the key element of differentiation – what used to be called the USP. What is it that uniquely distinguishes you from all your competition, the thing you do better than anyone else? It’s this thing which you can charge a premium for, simply because no-one else delivers it. And charging a premium is, of course, a Good Thing.
Can you express your differentiation in terms your customers understand? Try a tip from Boddington’s Beer – they took a simple approach with their branding a few years ago, combining one physical attribute with a spiritual one to create ‘the cream of manchester’ - a creamy (physical attribute) beer that imbues the lively spirit of Manchester (spiritual) when drunk. A creamy beer that talks funny and walks with an odd side to side motion? Look – it’s just an illustration.
And what if you haven’t got a USP? Or if your USP is something no-one wants to buy? Oh dear. That which we call a turd, by any other name would smell just as crap.