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June 23, 2007

Brand Naming: Can Too Many Names Dilute Your Brand?

Even though we make our living creating them, there's such a thing as having too many brand names-at least when a company uses different names to refer to the same product or service. Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc told it this way at Book Expo America on June 12th:

By 2004, we had 18 total imprints... I remember being at a meeting in New York with Barnes and Noble. Several of our executives had gone to that meeting, and as we presented our newest products with some enthusiasm and fanfare, we did the traditional business card exchange. The Barnes and Noble executives looked at the cards kind of quizzically, puzzled by them, and then they looked up at us and said, "Do you guys all work for the same company?"

Every imprint had a different name, so every executive had a different business card. And while those names were meaningful to the executives, as far as booksellers were concerned, they were clutter. They served primarily to confuse the stores about where to order books. To make matters worse, there was no meaningful distinction between many of them, and they were competing for internal resources.

But back to the names. A name that doesn't mean anything to your clients and customers isn't very useful, and having too many names for subdivisions that customers can't tell apart just undermines your primary brand name. Thomas Nelson recognized that it had a problem and got rid of most of its separate imprints and sub-brand names, keeping only a few, like children's books and big-name authors. That gave the name "Thomas Nelson" more prominence with the likes of Barnes and Noble.

HallmarkBy way of contrast, Hallmark Cards has created several successful imprints which cater to different markets. They've been creating cards for African Americans under the name "Mahogany" since 1987. That name resonates both with elegance and good taste and with darker skin tones. It tells shoppers who to buy these cards for. "Shoebox" (named for the fact that it is, or was, "a tiny little division of Hallmark, and for the shoebox of postcards Hallmark's founder started out with) is now the nation's number one brand of humor cards.

Multiple brand names can work either for or against your company. The moral of the story: every name has to have a good reason for its existence.

Posted by Diane Prange at June 23, 2007 8:19 AM
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1 Comment

Really helpful observations.

I think that Hallmark has done a great job of pouring meaning into the imprints they have created.

A question that comes to mine is "did Hallmark start only a few imprints that became successful like Shoebox, or did they start more than a few some of which became successful?"

I don't know the answer. But I could see a strategy where you start imprints realizing that all will not succeed.

I'm not sure that would be a good strategy. But your post got my mind wondering.

Thanks for enlarging the conversation.

Keep creating,

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