What's in a name?

What Brand Ain’t:

In last week’s post, we clarified that “…neither logo, name, image nor messaging make a brand. At most, they play a small part in supporting a brand.”

This is so important that I’d like to devote an entire blog post to this. Because, in many people’s minds, brand is just that: name, logo, tagline, and graphic design — and that strong brands got that way because they have catchy names, logos, taglines and graphic design.

I’m here to tell you that this isn’t true.

Volvo is a very respected automobile name. Do you think that’s because of its name? “VOLVO?”
That’s not exactly the most catchy or sexy name — at least not in English.

Or perhaps it’s because of Volvo’s logo?


While this may remind some of a gender symbol, (— the symbol for “male”), one would have to stretch far to make the case that Volvo’s brand depends on the strength of this logo. In truth, Volvo’s brand depends on having consistently delivered a pleasurable, safe driving experience in its cars for many decades.

What about some other powerful brands that are household names? Let’s look at Interbrand’s top brands for 2013 – from second place to tenth place (out of their annual 100):

Interbrand's Top Brands - 2-10


Today, these brand names and logos are very familiar to all of us, and they conjure up very strong associations. Yet, if you’d never heard of these companies before, what would you associate with them based purely on their names alone? Would the names matter if you knew nothing about these companies?

If you were naming your company today, would you name it something like, “General Electric” or “International Business Machines?” Or create a logo for your soda that looks like something from two centuries ago?

Most folks would probably try to find the sexiest, hippest name they could for their companies, and put a lot effort into creating a really attractive, modern logo.

Unfortunately, these things have very little impact on brand. Such a shame, to see such wasted effort.


Before They Were Big

Believe it or not, there was once a time when all of the brands mentioned above were unknown. They were startups. And as startups, they were primarily concerned with creating and delivering the products, services and experiences that would make their customers happy.

Not company names. Not logos. Not taglines. Not graphics.

What’s in a name? What about Disney, named after Walt?



Disney could have just as easily been someone we’d never heard of. Instead, Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth, Disney movies are among the most loved, and Disney is #14 on the list of top brands. It isn’t because of the name, or the cursive logo. It’s because of the experience Disney has kept on delivering, year after year.

The same goes for Ford, #42 on the list — named after a person, with an old, stodgy logo, and a rather generic tagline: “Go Further.”

What Made Them Big
Google started out in 1996 as a humble search engine. But the team of Larry Page and Sergey Brin were on to something. They worked to provide something we really need, even if we didn’t know we needed it. Then they relentlessly improved it. They’ve given us something we literally can’t live without today. And they’ve done it well. From Gmail and Google Maps to Chrome and Android, and of course, search, Google helps us run our lives, get things done, and have fun. That is the strength of the Google brand.

And what if Google had opted to call themselves “SearchKing” and had a crown for a logo instead of its now-familiar multicolor logotype?

It wouldn’t have made a difference, as long as they executed everything else exactly as they have. The only difference is that we’d be saying “Let’s SearchKing it.” instead of “let’s Google it.”

Google demonstrates that it’s not the name, logo, tagline or graphic design that make the brand strong. It’s the experience delivered. By and large, Google delivers a really great experience to most of us. And we’ve rewarded Google for it, by using its constantly and making it the number two brand of 2013.


What about #1?

Oops, sorry, we forgot about the number one brand of 2013 in Interbrand’s list. OK, here it is, and it’s probably no surprise:


Apple is all about design and making things easy. Apple’s been delivering on this brand promise for most of its time on earth. But even Apple was once just two people in a garage with no customers, at a time when the brand “Apple” meant “Apple Records,” the record label created by The Beatles. We hardly need to explain what makes Apple the strongest brand in the world today. And to ask the obvious, would it have mattered if they’d called themselves “Pear,” “Peach” or “Pineapple?”

What This Means For The Rest Of Us
When new companies start up or established companies rebrand, the people involved tend to obsess about their company’s name, logo, tagline and graphic design. They think that by creating or evolving these branding components, they’ll fundamentally affect the way customers perceive their companies.

They’re mistaken.

What will fundamentally affect the way customers perceive their companies is the customer experience these companies deliver. Things like product quality, product benefits, product delivery, customer service and support, the company’s viability (i.e. its ability to support customers in the future), its ethics, and its stance on political and social issues — and, the consistency with which these companies deliver these things.

In other words, brands build themselves based on their actions, not on their names, logos, taglines and graphic design.

You can tell customers whatever you want about yourself, but its what you do that will build your brand. Over time, your name, whatever you call yourself, and your logo, whatever it looks like, will come to mean everything your brand stands for, simply by being attached to the experience you are consistently delivering to your customers.

So, if you’re in the process of building a new brand or re-invigorating an existing brand, don’t spend so much time on what to call your company, having a cool-looking logo, or crafting a snappy tagline.

You’ll be much better served focusing your energies on what customer experience you need to deliver and how you’ll consistently deliver it.

(Does that mean company name, logo, tag line and graphic design don’t matter? Stay tuned for our next blog post to find out.)

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.


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