What’s in a name?

As a designer who does a lot of logo designs, a common dilemma that many businesses face are names that limit what kind of logo design will work for them. I believe the main reason I deal with this so often is that people don’t understand what a brand image is; they start with the notion that their name and logo are their brand image when in fact no new business starts out with a businesses and non-profits. A brand image is something that exists in the mind of your customers and a business with no customers has no businesses and non-profits.  For a new business an apt analogy might be to think of your business name and your logo as a first impression, it’s the hand you extend when you introduce yourself to a potential customer. Your brand image is the feeling people are left with once they get to know you.

It often seems that the motivation for people in choosing a business name is simply to sell a product or service when in reality your product or service is not really what people buy. People buy for a number of reasons but if you could boil all of them down into one primary reason you would end up with “results”, people buy results. People purchase a product or service because in some way they believe that it will improve their lives and any decision affecting your life is an emotional decision so you need to appeal to people on an emotional level. If you consider the products you see advertised on television the advertisements always show the results. If you buy a certain beer your friends will think you are cool and all the girls will want you; swap the beer out for a car and the message is the same; buy our product and all your desires will come true. When the name of a business contains a description of a product or service chances are it’s not only going to be forgettable but it’s also not going to help sell anything.

When people review the logos in my portfolio they are usually drawn to designs that have very little, if anything, to do with the product or service of the company they represent. I think the reason for this is primarily because those designs aren’t descriptive of the business so much as they are artistic and aesthetically pleasing and they don’t impose the company’s motivations or expectations. The primary goal of a logo is to make a positive lasting impression and a logo won’t accomplish this if it’s busy telling a potential customer what to think and how to feel. It’s kind of like telling an unhappy person to cheer up, it doesn’t work and it’s annoying.

When you name your business you are planting a seed that will either flourish or whither depending on how passionate people feel about your product or service. Your business will build a strong brand if your customers love you (Apple) or you will build a weak brand if your customers hate you (Enron). Apple and Enron, beloved and loathed, but one thing they have is that the names and logos of both businesses say nothing about what the companies do and neither one of them attempts to tell people what to think or feel. Ultimately if you choose to develop an identity for your business based around your product or service you’ll be ruining an opportunity to make a great first impression.

One Response

  1. Just stumbled across your site in random googleness – and your writing inspired me. Just to know my ship, in the sometimes murky abyss of design, might see a beacon from a passing comrade. I agree with all you say – yet there is one thing missing. The client understanding or even may I say having a slight grasp on their target audience. It is such a huge mistake for a company to take on an identity which just dosen’t work – but for them it dosent matter because the “visual” or “eye candy” approach is what they want. Or what they saw on a site or show or album etc… Repeatability, consistency, and constant placement is key for any marketing tactic – even gorilla. But c’mon people – truly if the design dont fit – you must quit. (sorry O.J.) – know your target, understand your message to that target = Identity = its what you say to them every time visually – over and over again when they see it – new or old client – it must carry and at the same time appeal. That my comrade is what we do – and sometimes to the blind!

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