LAST FRIDAY SONY DSCWE HAD AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION over lunch, about the value of identifying your brand with your own name.  It’s a conundrum, so I thought I could throw it out for a larger audience.

Here’s a range of examples:

  • Joe’s hot dogs
  • Smith investment strategies
  • Fred and Wilma accounting services
  • The Jones consulting group
  • Marvin Winklestein and sons

These can be a great part of your branding strategy, if you want to communicate a unique personality and relationship with your customers.  When I walk up to Joe, it’s great to call him by name – and remember him as a person – rather than just “that hot dog stand down the street.”  When I call up your consulting group and I talk to Fred Jones personally, it feels like I’m important and have direct access to the brain trust of the company.

The problem comes when you want to incorporate people who aren’t listed in the name of the company.  When I call up F&W and don’t talk to either Fred or Wilma, it feels like I’ve been pawned off on someone and given lesser priority.  And the company employee senses that.  At work every day, they’re reinforced with the message that “you work for this company, but it sure isn’t YOUR company.”

If you’re a big name, of course, that’s expected.  The Big Wig in town gets to claim the title, and any assistants just get identified as being attached to Big Wig.

This is also an interesting conundrum if you ever want to sell the company.  Any buyers might well be worried that they’ll lose their customers, who might be more attached to you personally than to the company.

It’s fascinating to see how companies navigate this space.  Legal firms have trained the market to expect the principles to be named in the company title, which gives them the ability to charge more.  It incents other associates to strive to, one day, be important to become a title figure.

Many companies which want to remain small and personal like to use names.  It’s friendly.

My barbershop changed ownership and name a few years ago from Max’s to Dean’s.  But they’re mostly known by their location, and Dean had been a prominent figure in the business for many years.  It made for great conversation.

Some businesses will make a gradual migration from “Bob Jones” to “The Bob Jones Group.”  This gives them the ability to retain continuity for customers, reinforcing that the company has now “grown up” which is presumably a good thing.  But it’s still saying that Bob Jones is the most important person; if he leaves, the group might just fall apart.

And then, some just use growth as the opportunity to make a more radical name change.  “Jane and Janet Massage” might become “Western State Massage”, which could be a great name for many many years to come.

It’s interesting, huh?  Is your company name prepared to take you to the next stages of growth?