The time for change is now.

August 27, 2008

0 Ries Pieces final banner red   

No, I’m not talking politics, I’m talking branding. And I’m talking specifically about my brand, my blog brand.

Branding is not easy. Sometimes you don’t get it right and you need to make a change. For me, the time for change has come. Let me chronicle for you how, when and why I made the change and why you might need to make a branding change, too.

The beginning

In the beginning, many companies are so excited about the potential for their new product or service they believe the name won’t matter. As long as they have the latest and best technology, beverage, service or widget on the market, consumers and the media will knock down their doors.

Sometimes they are right. Bud Light, Treo, Quiznos, Southwest might not be the best names, but consumers were so excited about light beer, smartphones, toasted sandwiches and cheap airline tickets that these brands rose to great heights.

But in the long run, competitors jump in, categories get crowded, the playing field gets leveled and your brand name becomes increasingly important. So much so that, in the end, the main difference between you and the competition usually comes down to the name alone.

Back in the summer of 2004, when the Internet was a buzz about a new thing called blogging. It was then that I decided I needed to jump in. I asked Seth Godin if he enjoyed blogging and if it was helping his brand. Of course, he said yes. So I immediately signed up with TypePad.

When you register your account, the first thing you need is a name. A name that cannot be changed. Luckily I used Ries, a name that I would likely never want or need to part with. But the name I gave my blog was a poor choice. I was only thinking short term; I had a new book coming out “The Origin of Brands” so I saw the blog as a way to promote the book. What I should have done is to select a name that would have made the blog a brand of its own apart from a simple book promotion.


The middle

Like many brands, my blog has had moderate success mostly because I was an early entry into the blogosphere and because I tirelessly promote it and because it gives the unique Ries perspective. But that success is hindered by my poor naming choice. Today, there are millions of blogs, many with fantastic names. Just having a blog doesn’t help you, you need one with a great name.

It happens often. A great idea will initially take off, but will eventually stagnate held back by a poor naming choice.

Southwest is a good example. The pioneer in low-cost airlines, they have grown rapidly over the decades. Today they are a national airline and they face tough competition from JetBlue and AirTran. The problem is the name. With a name like Southwest, you don’t think about using them to fly from New York to Miami. Today, they need a national name.

For me, The Origin of Brands, was a fine name to start with. It strongly linked to my book the way Southwest’s name linked to its original location. But sometimes you need and want to move beyond that.

The end

Even if your brand name is not great, sometimes it is not worthwhile making a name change. Changes are hard, they cause confusion, they are time consuming and they are expensive.

The deciding factor on whether or not to make a change is this: What would you change your name to?

Your name is only as good or as bad as opposed to what? Like so many other issues in marketing, naming is not black or white. Names are not good or bad, they are all shades of grey.

Changing your name from one mediocre name to another mediocre name is unlikely to help you.

It is only when you find a name superior to your current name that it pays to make a change.

In 1948, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel called their new multi-level marketing distributorship Ja-Ri (get it Jay and Rich.) Clearly this was not a powerful name. Wisely, in 1963 they changed it to Amway. The company went on to dominate the category and today operates in 80 countries around the world today. I don’t think Ja-Ri would have ever become that successful.

In 1999, with the rise of the internet, Amway launched the internet-focused brand Quixtar. Then in 2001, all the North American distributors changed from the Amway name to Quixtar. Quixtar? Are you kidding me? Apparently not.

This is an example of going from a fine name to a terrible name. Not good strategy. The better move would have been to just move Amway to the Internet and to forget the second brand strategy.

Not every company is in a position to successfully launch a second brand. Three airlines, Song, Ted and Continental Lite didn’t get off the ground either. Note: None had decent name.

Initially, The New York Chemical Manufacturing Company make chemicals like alum and saltpeter. In 1824, the company entered the banking business and by 1851 left manufacturing altogether although they kept the Chemical name.

By the early 1990s it was one of the richest and most successful banks in the U.S. But after 173 years you don’t just change your name on a whim. One great strategy that helps with a name change are mergers and acquisitions. You have a bad name, just merge with or acquire a company with a better name and use that. In 1996, that is exactly what Chemical Bank did. It acquired Chase Manhattan and changed from Chemical to Chase.

My original name, The Origin of Brands has remained for four years, because I could not think of a better one. Some website names I considered were taken, Branding Babe Blog, for one. But on second thought I don’t think that would have been a wise choice.

Last week it occurred to me what the perfect name would be. Ries’ Pieces. Pieces is a great triple entendre that describes my blog posts, TV appearances as well as the correct pronunciation of my name.

Of course, there is one problem. You can’t use apostrophes and other punctuation marks in a website address. But you can cover your bases by buying close but incorrect names and redirecting them to your main site. I got and to cover my new name and address RiesPieces.

No name is ever 100% perfect, but Ries’ Pieces is a name that I think is worth moving to.

Have you ever changed your brand name? Are you thinking about it now? Send in your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.