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by Dr. William L. Haig
CEO Powerlogos Design
Co-author, The Power of Logos: How to Create
Effective Company Logos,
NY: Wiley, 1997 (fifth printing.)

First Impressions: Company Names and Slogans
June 2004

The Take Away

Company names and slogans, like company logos, are part of that first impression. We move on, or stop and listen. Ideally, the logo will influence your message – a sale maybe. All company identification must work together as a credible system to be effective.

First impressions are most often lasting impressions. This is partly true because many times a first impression is the only opportunity one has to make an impression. If we blow this stage, chances are we will not get another chance. It is often the same with companies.

It becomes imperative to make certain that the first impression is a good one. In the case of a business, creating a good impression begins with a name. Or, in many instances, the representation of that name which is the logo. Al Reis and Jack Trout in there marketing classic Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, McGraw-Hill, 1981, remind us that a name is the first point of contact between the message and the mind. (See my article The Source, The Message and The Receiver for more on this.) Company names communicate verbally the same as company logos communicate visually. Instilling credibility starts here.

A credibility-based name is descriptive of the company business. By describing the business, the name says what the company does. In so doing, it says that it is an expert in this business. Consider well-known names such as Toys R Us, Mail Boxes Etc. TheBus, Burger King and Zippy’s Fast Foods. These are great examples of descriptive, credible names.

In contrast, names like Cebit, Retrospex, Plasser American Corporation, Hadlex and Hebasco do not describe the company business, thus negating an opportunity to express their expertise in their respective fields. These names are also difficult to implant in the consumer mind. As such, they require huge marketing investments which really do not make sense in establishing what could otherwise be a simple descriptive and credible name.

So, company names can achieve the first requirement of being credible: communicate the company expertise. The other requirement is to communicate believability or trustworthiness. This can also be done with a little creativeness.

Names like Compaq (for a compact computer) are descriptive and say “high tech” with the clever use of the “q” at the end. Names like Zippy’s suggest “fast”, “casual”, and “inexpensive.” Contrast Zippy’s to Le Nouveau Riche Gourmand restaurant, which connotes “formal” and “better check your wallet before you come.” However, both are good examples of believable names true to the company.

Some names outlive their life and are ready for a change. In the research phase of Federal Express’s identity system, logo design firm Landor Associates found that the word “federal” was no longer serving the company well. When the name was developed in 1973, “federal” gave the company immediate equity with the US. But by the 90s, the word was often associated with “bureaucracy” and “slowness.” Wrong imagery. Further, on an international level, many people found it hard to pronounce. And, in many parts of Latin America, “federal” was linked with “federales.”

The shorter version of Federal Express – FedEx – not only was already a popular way many referred to the name, but its fewer letters worked better in various design applications, such as on airplanes and trucks. Along with the tag line, “The World on Time”, clearly expresses the company key credibility traits, this shortened version became the new public name.

The author has a similar story in changing Hawaiian Telephone to Hawaiian Tel. Alas, this company is now Verizon which is a terrible name considering the credibility point of this article!

Slogans like “The World on Time”, “Intel Inside” and “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” make a statement relative to the product or company selling point that we can understand. These are credible, believable slogans. Contrast these with BMWs “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (hello, how about Rolls Royce or those other $250,000 cars?), or Hitachi’s “Inspire the Next” (next what?), or Avaya’s “A Higher Plane of Communication” (is this an airline? Or a telephone company? What does a higher plane really mean?).

Company names and slogans can work for you. “Just do it!”

© William L. Haig, Ph.D. or Bill Haig, Ph.D. 2006

This is an original work of the author. All rights reserved. Copyright registration will be applied for. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, and recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.

© 2007 Powerlogos Design. All rights reserved. 'Powerlogos Design', 'Credibility Based Logo Design', 'Logo Implementation Guidelines' and Logo Planning Report' are registered 
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