The Pitfalls Of Using A Family Name For Your Business Name
I took a call from Jason Del Rey a few weeks back about an interesting branding story he was working for Inc. Magazine, for which he needed an expert opinion.
Skinner Baking Company had long supplied regional grocery store chains with an unbranded pastry for their bakeries. Now the owner wanted to “brand” the product by putting the family name on the label. This would be a smart move if…
1. Their current customers didn’t care (it seems that the non branded pastries give the appearance of being made fresh on site… something the stores would lose with a branded label)
2. They went to their customers with a proactive marketing campaign, talking about how the publicity around the new brand name would drive more business (otherwise what’s in it for the stores?)
3. They chose a meaningful brand name and message.
In this case, there was little to no research into the idea, even with existing customers. The desire was to create a legacy brand using the owner’s name Skinner (again unresearched and untested.) It’s not to say it won’t work, but there needs to be more thought when it comes to branding than just putting your family moniker on your products. For instance…
• Does this fit with your overall business model/strategy? (In this case, the company had made a name for itself in the industry as a supplier… now it was also going to try and be a consumer brand. Would that disrupt their current business with other customers?)
• Are legacy/family names the best ones for branding purposes? Is there any inherent value in the name Skinner if it’s never been advertised or promoted? Could there be a better name that highlights some aspect of the brand? (i.e. Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride, etc.)
• Will the brand message be supported with marketing and advertising dollars? Or is it assumed that shelf exposure will do the trick?
Many successful products have legacy/family names, but that is generally due to their longevity in the marketplace. In other words, they have gradually become known over a long expanse of time. The family name didn’t do the trick, it was the quality of the product or service. Otherwise we could all slap our names on companies and they would do well. What we don’t hear about are the thousands of companies that use family names and go nowhere… because a surname by itself is meaningless (in much the same way as acronym names are meaningless… i.e. ZQW Group and JXU Consulting.)
So unless your last name is Trump or Rockefeller (again, names that have acquired meaning over time) it might be wise to brand your company with something more meaningful, something that will give you a head start with your brand messaging, something that will provide a powerful marketing platform. Amazon provided a strong metaphor for a company that supplies a deep and diverse range of products. It’s unlikely that The Jeff Bezos Company would have been a better name. Outback Steakhouse is much more engaging, memorable and inviting than Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
The moral of the story? When starting a new business, sometimes the best thing to do with the family name is to simply keep it in the family.