by Keshen Teo, August 2016
Many years ago we were approached by an ambitious startup called Asuitthatfits.com. We were excited about the prospect of working with them, not least because they were just around the corner. It would have made a nice change from City Airport several times a week.
I made a mortal mistake when I told them their name was wrong, because it’s a descriptor not a brand.
Quite apart from the fact that we were too expensive, they felt insulted. They loved the name and were (and are) totally committed to it because it’s very search-engine friendly.
But I think today this is a big dilemma for many online businesses. The SEO-driven naming approach has led in some areas to a proliferation of bland, descriptive labels that fall short of becoming memorable brands. They have become a genre in their own right. A genre that is fatally generic.
And although I don’t mind giving a free commercial to asuitthatfits.com (yes, I was wrong, and they’re still going), I nevertheless am still convinced that a name that is NOT descriptive is better than one that is.
Back in the noughties a Swedish skincare product maker called Dermanord approached us. Their name was the problem. For legal reasons it was unavailable in markets where they hoped to expand. I recommended branding in the classic Fashion and Beauty sector manner (think Chanel, Dior), with the founder’s name: Maria Åkerberg, naturally with a strong strapline and brand look and feel. Since then the business has grown 20% year on year. The point is the more generic the name the harder it is not only to register but also to remember (and distinguish from dozens of lookalikes).
Take Booking.com, Bookatable and Justeat, for instance (the list could go on). All of these businesses were conceived from a service innovation perspective. But as their concept and functional features get copied and evolved by competitors they need to try very hard to build an emotional connection with customers in other ways.
It’s not impossible to do this. I once rebranded Movistar, the mobile arm of Telefonica. Across Spain and Latin America it was seen as boring and generic. The Gaudi-inspired ‘M’ logo I created made it a huge hit overnight. It transformed directly from tired utility to most fun mobile network and made Orange, then considered funky in Spain, look corporate. As many of these online businesses mature they are going to need to look beyond SEO and find ways to make themselves brands that will be recognisable and, ideally, loved.
Expedia.com triumphed over Booking.com, just as MacDonalds has over Burger King and Starbucks over Coffee Republic. But it isn’t impossible to shift the game, if more effort is made to develop character, voice and energy in the brand. For years Vodafone invested heavily in their brand to fend off Orange. Eventually I think it succeeded. It is today powerful, sophisticated and winning its fight to build brand equity and enterprise value through focused, impactful brand expression as well as improving service and customer experience.