Branding Isn’t As Important As ‘Experts’ Say?


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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!

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10 responses to “Branding Isn’t As Important As ‘Experts’ Say?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Branding Isn’t As Important As ‘Experts’ Say? | David Cameron's On Brands Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. I read the article and agree with you, David. Smart Bear is a great name and the story sort of proves it. In fact, it shows how a good name like Smart Bear helped the company along. No one involved with naming would argue the name is a company’s most important feature. But a good one can put the wind at your back. Just because a silver-haired sales guy thought STDS would be a better name, doesn’t make it so.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Bob. You are right… naming is quite subjective… and a good name can really help move things along, put “the wind at your back,” as you say. I do think a name can work against you as well. That’s why I think it’s wise to invest energy and time in considering name candidates, testing, etc. Yes, this involves cost… but if you have the right naming specialist(s) on board, the cost may be less than you think. In the case of Smart Bear, the founder didn’t go through a formal naming process and I think this more than anything led to his conclusion that “branding is not as important as ‘experts’ say”…

  3. This is a very good post, short and to the point, a good explanation of how certain things, like names, work in branding.
    It will be a nod.
    Also a link from my blog.

  4. Branding remains important if it genuinely reflects what a company or organization stands for and if the visual and descriptive representation of the brand (logo and tagline) are emotive and memorable. Attractive logos and cute taglines that do not reflect the brand are meaningless. Branding needs to take into account a company’s reputation — i.e. how consumer view it. A brand is how a company wants to be perceived. A reputation is what consumers actually think of the company.

    • Hi David. I always say that it’s important to put things in the context of the brand, both the current brand state and the desired brand state. By doing so, you can assess any actions or plans in terms of whether or not they will help you get closer to the desired brand state. Like you said, a brand is not a logo, a theme line or a name. Can they help in brand building? You bet. But they are signifiers and tools only.

  5. Really clearly and lucidly thought out. One of the more disturbing trends of the social media bubble is the dismissal of traditional marketing concepts by folks who don’t understand traditional marketing. As you suggest, Smart Bear shouldn’t throw the brand baby out with the bathwater.

    • Thanks, Patricia, for contributing. Good point. Though the tools are evolving and some new principles have come to light, the fundamental strategic underpinnings of marketing are largely intact.

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