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Brand Dilution: The Dangers and How to Create a Potent & Powerful Company Identity for Your New Startup

Phillip Davis

With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phillip Davis has been quoted in, Bloomberg Businessweek, American Express OPEN Forum, Entrepreneur, Newsday, MediaPost, AllBusiness, and other leading business publications. During his career, Phil has named over 250 regional, national and international companies, products and services, including the likes of PODS, TradingBlock, and TeamLogicIT. In addition to leading a creative team, Phil is a frequent keynote speaker and blog contributor on the subject of brilliant branding. He resides in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville, NC.

“I want to be different, just like all of my friends!”

This common lament of teenage angst is similar in nature to the quandary facing many startups – how to create a unique company brand identity while simultaneously “fitting in” with others in their industry. The fear of being different runs deep in our collective DNA. Staying with the masses offers a sense of belonging and protection, but it comes with a cost.

Developing a sound-a-like, look-a-like company brand, however, results in company names that are predictable vs. memorable. This group-think formula produces brands that are familiar sounding precisely because they follow in the footsteps of previous leaders, thus reaffirming your position as a follower.

The result is brand dilution – having a company name that is watered down by similar sounding businesses in your industry.

Insurance Name Brand Dilution

  • AllState
  • State Auto
  • State Farm
  • Farm Family
  • Farm Bureau
  • Farmer’s

A good many of these are legacy names, from a day and age when being literal made sense. There wasn’t nearly the noise or competition in the marketplace. So it made sense to put “farm” in a name when many Americans were farmers. But that’s all the more reason why not to anchor your name to an industry or trend – they change with the times!

By contrast, the awkward but original sounding Geico leveraged the image of a talking gekgo to aggressively grow its share of the market. Their name wasn’t perfect, but in a sea of sameness, they took what they had and made it work.

A similar trend developed in the 90s with the emergence of office superstores. These businesses launched with industry descriptive names that soon blurred the lines between them, resulting in brand dilution.

  • OfficeMax
  • OfficeDepot
  • OfficeWorld

By contrast, Staples makes use of a double entendre name, (staples as in supplies and staples as in a stapler) These two points of reference help to anchor and differentiate the brand from the other carbon copy names.

And it doesn’t stop at office supplies. In an attempt to attract the penny pinching consumer we now have…

  • Dollar Tree
  • Dollar Store
  • Dollar General
  • Dollar Days
  • Family Dollar

And what if, (heaven forbid,) the prices go over a dollar!

The convenience market business is perhaps the most fraught with industry buzz words.

  • QuikStop
  • QuikTrip
  • KwikTrip
  • QuickChek

When starting a new business, ask yourself “Is it more important to fit in, and gain acceptance, or to stand out and gain recognition?” I tell clients that, much like riding a bike, it may feel safer to start off branding in first gear, with a name that’s safe and predictable. But just like an 18-speed bike, you won’t build momentum if you stay in that gear. You’ll pedal your heart out while spinning your wheels. It’s really pretty simple –

Branding Truth: To be memorable, your brand must be remembered!

So whether it’s geographic references (e.g. Southwest, MidCounty, Downtown) or industry descriptor terms or a keyword-stuffed brand name, avoid the temptation to dilute your brand by making it sound like others in your space. Instead, think of more novel naming solutions. For instance, make use of a metaphor, like some well known brands have done…

  • Amazon (abundant source of supply)
  • Apple (appealing, consumer friendly)
  • Crocs (rugged, durable, earthy)

Look for company names that point to the attributes, the benefits behind your products and services, to underscore their value. Paint a picture, tell a story, use the imagination and create a memorable and distilled version of who you are and what you do. Rely on your tag line, or insert a literal descriptive phrase under your brand name, to provide specifics about your business.

  • ParkPlace… “The Ultimate Garage Space.”
  • OneLily… “Making Brands Bloom”
  • EarlyMoments… “Sharing the Gift of Reading”

Most people searching for your company will search for your name. And if your name blends in with highly competitive search terms, you’ll have to fight with every other SEO-optimized web site out there. So don’t be driven by this need to put keywords in your company name. Be who you are! Express yourself creatively in a way that makes your customers want to inquire, know more about you, and tell their friends. Instead of brand dilution, your brand will pack a punch – one that delivers its message full strength for years to come.

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