I recently came across an article on VentureBeat.com with the same title as this post: Branding Isn’t As Important As ‘Experts’ Say. The only difference in the titles is the question mark that I’ve added to my own above. Clearly, I don’t agree with the big idea put forth in the article.
You can read this perspective on the importance of branding for yourself, but I’ll give you the short version. A guy founds a software business and names it Smart Bear without much regard, as he says, to marketing and business sensibility. The company experiences growth and success, even though a potential partner at one time claimed it wouldn’t unless the name changed to something less “silly.” The founder’s conclusion: some branding principles aren’t as vital as we may have been led to believe.
What’s wrong with this thinking?
As one person in the comments area correctly notes, the name of your business is not your brand. A name is a name, a brand signifier without doubt, but it’s not the brand. The brand is a different animal altogether and it’s not something you own or have much control over. You can work hard to create, nurture and influence brand perceptions, but you don’t own the brand.
I’ve been involved in a few naming projects and I’ve picked up one fundamental principle along the way: it’s not the meaning of the name that’s important; it’s the meaning infused into the name over time that counts.
The acronym BMW has come to mean the ultimate driving machine.
Volvo came to be known as safety.
Starbucks, a character in Moby Dick, came to be known as luxury coffee.
Smart Bear is an excellent name in my view because it’s simple, distinctive and highly memorable. Smart and bear are words that conjure up some positive associations, but even those don’t matter. The name was essentially meaningless to customers from day one. The name only began to take on meaning as Smart Bear launched and the Smart Bear team began infusing meaning into the brand by telling their story and building a history with prospects and customers. Smart Bear began to become truly known as smart software development tools.
The name was born first. The brand came later. Did the name help develop the brand? Absolutely. But it wasn’t the meaning of the name that helped because it had little to no meaning in the minds and hearts of the audiences that mattered. That meaning came later.
The name was created in the mind and heart of the founder. The brand emerged in the minds and hearts of employees, prospects and customers.
Smart Bear a silly name? I think not. The name is brilliant, as I said, for its sheer simplicity, sense of mystery and, perhaps most importantly, it’s memorability.
Who intrigues you more? The folks over at Smart Bear, or those at STDS? We tend to gravitate towards names and things that seem more comfortable or familiar.
Contrary to what some may think, branding is not advertising. Branding is not naming. Branding is about everything you do and say, and that includes informal sales by the way.
In sum, the headline is misleading because it’s not the importance of branding that’s in question, but naming. Who knows if STDS would have worked as well as Smart Bear. No matter. Because at the end of the day, the brand was built not in the creation of the name, but what that name came to represent over time in the minds of prospects and customers.
Have a thought on this? Share your thinking… the love, the nod of approval, the head shake of dissent, whatever!