Is your company brand stuck in first gear?

Phil Davis

Branding & Naming Expert President of Tungsten Branding

When company renaming, create company brand names that keep you moving forward

When it comes to company renaming or rebranding, one of the most common complaints is that the current name is too limiting, confining and restrictive. This is often a result of very literal, descriptive names that succeeded initially, but then couldn’t make the shift. The original owner(s) spelled out in no uncertain terms exactly what the company did or what services they provided. It made sense at the time! But as companies grow and gain speed, they often expand their product lines, or change their business model. When this happens, these “first gear” names can’t keep up the pace. Owners begin to spin their wheels.

If you approach company renaming and rebranding from the perspective of “gears,” you will have a better understanding of the short term and long term impacts of naming a company.

In a rush to get to market, most business owners desperately want to convey exactly what they do. This often proves short sighted and leads to names such as Radio Shack, Books-A-Million, CompUSA or Linens & Things. These product based names have as much longevity as the products themselves. Radios lose out to 8-tracks, which lead to cassette players, that become CDs, which turn to mp3 players and iPods, etc. Books become e-books and e-readers and podcasts. The first gear names quickly become outdated and outmoded. What’s more, additional products come along. Eventually Burlington Coat Factory is more than “just coats.”

So what to do?

The answer is to look for names that are in the six to twelfth gear range. These names are based not on what you do, but how you do it. They point to your company’s key strengths and core attributes vs. the current product offering. An example is Amazon, which communicates a huge source, a massive river, an unending flow or goods and services. It’s a metaphor vs. a description. Imagine if Amazon had gone with Books Unlimited as their company name? (After all, books were their original focus.)

What’s the difference between a mid range gear name (say gears six through nine) vs. a high gear name (ten through twelve)? The top end names are typically invented with little hint of what the company does. These would be names such as Xerox and Kodak, which were devoid of any meaning at all. These names are sometimes referred to as “empty vessel” names, with little to no inherent meaning. Companies can then fill these brand identities with any messaging they desire. They are in essence, blank slates, upon which to write your story. The problem with these names, just like pedaling a bike, is the difficulty that comes with starting out in twelfth gear. Unless you have the budget to infuse the brand with the intended meaning, the names give no hint as to the purpose or mission of the organization. These names can scale without limit, but getting them there is a challenge.

A more realistic approach when company renaming, is to go mid range. Brand names such as OnStar provide a sense of navigation and direction, without limiting the brand to a navigational system.

When it comes to company renaming, these “positive connotation” or evergreen names are good mid range strategies to help launch your new brand, provide a sense of your benefits, without being bereft of meaning.

Example of some mid range “gear” names we have created include…

Early Moments – A preschool reading portal selling brands such as Dr. Suess and Baby Einstein

Beacon Path – An employee benefit provider that helps to lead and guide clients for better outcomes

College Spring – A non profit that helps to prep high school students to launch their education

Some high gear names we’ve developed include…

Cerora – A medical device company providing cognitive measurement and assessment services

Revecent – A sales training and management consulting firm specializing in driving the bottom line

Brillium – A knowledge assessment and testing platform for providing insight into human behaviors

The higher you go in gears, the more ethereal the names become. Note that you can still provide a hint of the attributes of the company in these names – Brillium give a nod to intelligence and Revecent to revenue. But overall, these type of names require more upfront work in explaining and promoting the brand. To make the analogy, you have to run along side the bike for a while, before jumping on to pedal. These names need some additional assistance in launching but once they take off, rarely require rebranding.

So when considering a company renaming, or rebranding of an existing business, what gear do you want to start off in? Do you want immediate traction only to face the challenge of pedaling your tail off to get somewhere? Or do you want to start in twelfth gear and perhaps have to grind out the first few months to get up to speed? These are tough choices and it really comes down to fit-to-concept. If you envision a company that can scale to where it appears in a Super Bowl commercial someday, then a big, open concept, high-gear will suite your purposes better. If you have something with more immediate, direct benefit to a customer, then a mid range name that underscores that benefit is the way to go.

So choose the right gear, choose the right name, and then go! Higher gear names are not inherently better names, they just serve a different purpose. By aligning your company naming strategy with your needs, you’ll create a name that is both long lasting, as well as the right tempo to move you forward!

About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal,, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.

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