Fish too big for the fishbowl

“What Does It Stand For?”

This was the question that plagued our client, a global consulting firm that had recently completed a series of transformational acquisitions. It was a question employees received anytime they met a new prospect or told someone where they worked. The company’s name was an acronym that stemmed from the original iteration of the organization, a descriptor that no longer applied to what the company did today. And so, while the origin story may have been an interesting one, it took up precious minutes in any sales interaction without adding anything to the conversation. It left prospects saying, “That’s great. But so what?”

A new name seemed like a possible solution. In fact, it was something our client desperately wanted. “Give us a name that means something. A name that people can understand. A name that won’t raise so many questions,” employees told us over and over again.

A Name Does Not A Brand Make

But we didn’t recommend a new name: their name was not the real problem. Dissatisfaction with a company’s name is often symptomatic of a deeper issue with the company’s brand. Confusing the concepts of a company’s brand with its name is common, and not surprising, given that a company name and logo are some of the most obvious associations with the brand. But a company’s brand encompasses all that the company stands for. It gives meaning and context to a name – not the other way around.

Think about it: Do you know what CVS stands for? Probably not – but you do know that the brand stands for offering convenient access to value-priced necessities. (For your next trivia night, CVS stands for “Consumer Value Store,” though more recently the company has stated that stands for “Convenience, Value and Service.”)

The fact that the second T in AT&T technically stands for Telegraph, or that the three M’s in 3M were Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, hasn’t prompted either of these companies to change their acronym names.

Solving the Real Problem

The solution, as these companies and others have found, is not to abandon your name, but to invest the time and resources to uncover, develop and build your brand, creating meaning and building a story around the brand. Without a story, any acronym name is as meaningless as a random combination of letters. But with a strong and defined brand, those letters take on the meaning you give it.

Developing a strong brand and defining what a company stands for is important, especially for companies with acronym names. It empowers employees to deftly shift the question from “What does your name stand for?” by responding with “What does our brand stand for?” – and that’s a much more powerful story to tell.