What’s in a name?

(Way more than you might think...)

To tell the truth, I wince at some recent articles describing a financial institution’s renaming initiative – and the time, money and expertise that were surely spared on the effort to create their new name. Unfortunately, short-changing on strategy almost always comes at the detriment of the organization’s brand. When it comes to something as momentous as a new name, especially for an organization that is steeped in 40, 70 or more years of history – with stakeholders equally entrenched in that legacy – shortchanging so vital a process is the last thing to do. 

Consider a credit union’s rich history: perhaps the original sponsor was a large employer, a school, or military base. Perhaps it was a bank connected by geographic and local community boundaries. Either way, the institution has worked a long time to bring financial success and trust to the people it serves. And because of these long-term connections, all stakeholders have some skin in the game, which really is a good problem to have.  

Still, there are challenges in determining if 50 years later, you still have the right name.

Reminds me of a story about a guy (I’ll call him “Jeff”) who had this fantastic idea to sell books online. Of course, his brainchild deserved a catchy name. After some serious deliberation, Jeff decided upon Cadabra, short for abracadabra. 

Seems pretty cool, right? 

Jeff loved this name, and the story behind it: the customer could order a book online and voila! It would magically appear on the customer’s doorstep within days. As you might imagine, the crux of Jeff’s problem was not in his business model but the name itself; specifically, how someone could muddle the pronunciation of ca·dab·ra.

Try saying it aloud a few times. One of Jeff’s friends thought he said, “Cadaver” (as in dead body, stiff, etc.). Not so cool, right? I’m not sure if Jeff was amused but he got the message, it wasn’t such a great name. A year after starting Cadabra, Jeff changed it to its current name: Amazon. 

Why Amazon?

Just as the Amazon is South America’s largest river and the lifeblood of one the world’s most massive ecosystems, it’s also portrayed in books and lore as a romantic destination; somewhere mysterious, fierce and extraordinary. Jeff had similar visions of “his” Amazon becoming its own major destination, and eventually the world’s largest retailer. The rest is history.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to creating the right name, at the right time. 

Every week, I come across new bank or credit union names. Some make perfect sense for them, but quite frankly, many give me pause. Of course, it’s not up to me to judge (at least too harshly), especially when we at Strum weren’t the ones to help create that new brand. I don’t know the processes they followed, research or testing conducted, measurement and strategic criteria selected, who their targets are, and the other integral practices that are part of a legitimate renaming initiative. Then there are the more severe consequences to weigh, names that border on trademark infringement or copyright law that can trigger a cease and desist order, but that’s a discussion for another day.

While Amazon owns a lot of brand equity, it doesn’t own this process. Any company can try to pick the right name on their own – but will it be one with nuance and verve that represents its values, principles and the audience it hopes to grow with?

At Strum, our portfolio includes a large collection of successfully executed renaming and branding initiatives; names that we helped craft and brands that resonate and elevate an organization’s value proposition and growth. Consider our client Red Canoe Credit Union, with a new name that focuses on the legacy, ingenuity and adventurous spirit of its members living in the Pacific Northwest and of its founding wood products employer, Weyerhaeuser. Also befitting is the credit union’s simple yet highly memorable icon, the red canoe.

Great names should be rooted in strategy, vision and sometimes rich history. Vital (a nod to their healthcare legacy), Naveo (a coined word from the root word “navigation” for a Portuguese-based credit union whose ancestors have always been sailors navigating the seas of the world), Frontwave (just as the Marines always lead the first wave, so is their credit union, the leader in its SoCal surf culture towns), Veridian (“verdant” a color of green, and an Iowa original just like their founders at John Deere Company), and iQ (celebrating their educational roots – and smarter banking). We’ve had the privilege to help build distinctive brands for all of these fast-growing financial institutions. Each has a unique story behind its name, and a bold and authentic brand that represents individuals as unique as the organization itself.

Our work with US Federal Credit Union (now Firefly Credit Union) is another fascinating rebranding story.

Continued market confusion, mistaking the credit union with federal government agencies, stifles growth and detracted from all the great things the credit union was doing for its members. The final straw occurred during a gathering welcoming a new Mexican Consulate. Attending credit union staff sported corporate gear with the US Federal Credit Union logo. They received an icy reception at best, and many guests were going out of their way to avoid them. One attendee approached, pointing at the US Federal logo, and asked, “Immigration?”  It was only then that staff realized their confusing name predicament. Market research confirmed the deep name confusion.

The good news for Firefly is that a data analytics-led naming and brand strategy helped create a new name and brand that distinctly celebrates the warmth and joy of Minnesota’s lifestyle, surrounded by 10,000 lakes.

Like the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed…try an agency who knows how to get it done right the first time.”

An effective renaming and branding initiative takes vision, research, consumer and cultural insights, and commitment to the future. Strum is ready to make any bank or credit union’s renaming initiative a success.

For a free industry white paper, “Is your Name Helping or Hurting your Future Growth and Success,” or to learn more about the process the transformation, click HERE.

Randy Schultz

Randy Schultz

Randy has more than 30 years of financial industry marketing experience.  His unique “out-of-the-box” approach to exceeding clients’ expectations has garnered him numerous industry accolades. Having worked as a marketing ... Web: www.strumagency.com Details

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