Shame about the name

Right now, I’m going through the naming process for a new business in which I have two partners. We’ve worked out our reason for being; we have written our brand promise. We have agreed our target audience; we know how we want to deliver the service. We have done everything by the book so far … trying very hard to practise what we preach to our clients.

We’re reviewing business names and creative designs to bring them to life. It’s an enjoyable process but the pressure is on. Even between three friends it takes an effort to achieve genuine consensus. We must decide on a brand name that makes the most sense. To the target audience, not to us.

We agree the brand name must be simple and distinctive. Ideally one word, possibly two. We all feel that the longer the name, the harder it is for people to grasp it.

When your brand name becomes an acronym, your marketing must work harder. Not to create awareness; it’s easier to remember ABC than Aggregated Building and Construction. But to convey meaning.

Your sales team has to unpack the business purpose when they present to prospects. Your advertising strapline needs to be more explanatory. Later, your people may forget the original purpose and values of the business. Your culture becomes less distinctive. And all because you got bored with using the name in full.

Last week I was surprised to see a very well-known brand take a leap into the acronym abyss.

Western Union is a long- established business. Founded in Rochester, New York in 1851, it built the first communications empire and set a pattern for modern American-style businesses.

Western Union offers person-to-person money transfer, business payments and commercial services. It is known the world over, and understood to be robustly American. But someone has just taken the decision to abbreviate Western Union to WU.

Now I don’t know, but I suspect that the WU decision was based on the urge to modernise a traditional brand. Bring it into the contemporary world of apps and cool names that are ‘in’. Their meme reads: ‘My world, my WU.’

But their billboards now say “This is WU, moving money for better.’ Frankly it makes them sound Chinese.

I don’t know how many WU’s there are in the world, but their point of origin is definitely somewhere East of New York. And when you couple the name WU to their carefully crafted strapline – moving money for better – it all sounds a bit Chinglish.

In branding, it’s not what you say. It’s what people see and hear.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside


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