What’s in a name? Corp. identity process

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Corporate identity process is really a strategic exercise
When Pat Zander had the opportunity to buy the company she worked for last year, she recognized that the firm’s name had to be changed.
The 50-person, Madison-based management consultancy had been named after its owner – Brian Joiner. But with Joiner out of the picture, Zander saw the need to also leave behind the Joiner Associates name.
But in working with a design consultant, she saw more than that.
The change wasn’t just the opportunity to rename the company – it would also be an opportunity to redefine the entire mission of the firm, and publicly declare that mission through the name.
“You need to define and establish your company positioning before naming your firm,” says John Thiel, president of Thiel Visual Design, a 16-person firm on Chicago Street in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. “You need to identify differentiating attributes of your company – what sets it apart. That will drive everything else.”
When Zander gave Thiel Visual Design the challenge of coming up with a new name, she was thus not just asking them to look in a dictionary to find a nice word. She was asking for help in identifying what her company was all about.
“It’s more than just a sign,” Thiel says, noting that the process can involve aspects of “branding” – creating an image of your firm. “Branding occurs in the mind.”
Zander had just two caveats for the design firm, which has created identifying logos for such firms as Firstar bank, Quarles & Brady law firm, Columbia Hospital and Marshfield Clinic. First, Zander said, the name should not remain Joiner. Second, she wanted to avoid the use of her own name.
Otherwise, “we literally had the option to name the company just about anything,” notes John Leaf, marketing director for Thiel Visual Design.
But the end result couldn’t be just anything. It had to say a lot about what the company was all about. And to get to that
“You need to define and establish
your company positioning before
naming your firm.”
– John Thiel, Thiel Visual Design
end, Thiel Visual Design would have to talk to a lot of people about what they thought of the firm.
“This isn’t just artwork,” Leaf says. “We’re approaching it from a strategic perspective, forcing the company to think about itself.”
“We couldn’t identify them if they didn’t know who they were,” adds Norene Thiel, John Thiel’s wife and operations director for the firm.
Thus, naming a firm can be one of the most difficult aspects of identifying a corporate mission, John Thiel says. There are legal issues, along with creative issues. Further, there just aren’t as many names available anymore.
“A lot of the good, obvious names are taken” Leaf notes. At the same time, the name a firm selects has never been more important.
“What’s in a name?,” Leaf asks. “How much time do you have?,” he responds, suggesting that there’s a lot in a name.
“A company name is an asset – if you manage it,” Norene Thiel says. “If you don’t manage it, it can be a negative, a liability.”
For Zander, the Thiel team would talk with employees and clients of Joiner Associates to learn those people’s perceptions of the firm – what it does, what it does well, and where they see it going.
Besides the interviews, the strategic design process at Thiel Visual Design includes an analysis of existing materials, products and services, and the culture of the firm.
From that analysis a positioning statement is made to define the project, including available design opportunities and implementation strategies.
The positioning design is then carried to the visualization step, where creative development of conceptual design alternatives takes place and the options are narrowed.
Finally, the approved design strategy is implemented and, preferably, maintained. Maintenance of the strategy beyond the identification and implementation process is crucial to successful marketing, image designers say.
Zander, who told the Thiel team she would be hard to please, was given 10 options stemming from the design study. Of those 10, attention was focused on four “favorites,” Leaf said.
The winner would be a word that reflects a thought that kept coming through in the review process, Leaf said. “The client kept saying, ‘We offer a better view.'”
The natural follow-up for that was for the Thiel team to work with a “window” concept. And from that emerged the word “oriel,” a term that describes a bay window in a castle – a window which gives the view a vast perspective. The Oriel logo thus incorporates a subtle image of an oriel.
A perfect name for a management consultant firm, John Thiel says. “It’s a beautiful solution that’s perfectly logical.”
Further, “oriel” is a real word with a real meaning, Norene Thiel notes.
For most people, however, the word is an unknown. Even Zander had to ask what it means. But that can work for the company, Leaf says. “It gives the company an opportunity to explain what they do.”
While that opportunity exists for business-to-business operations, consumer-oriented firms need to be more direct with their names, Norene Thiel adds.
“But in either case, you have to go back to a client’s positioning statement,” she notes. “You can get hung up if the customer hasn’t articulated itself.”
In the legal review, the Thiel team could find only one other application of the name – that by a medical products manufacturer in Hungary. [The Hungarian firm already had taken the “oriel” name for its Website, so the Madison Oriel Website is www.orielinc.com.] Because of the dissimilarity of the two firms, no conflict in usage was seen. It’s rare to find a real word so untouched, Leaf says.
Oriel used its Website and an open house to announce the name. The Web announcement – a first for Thiel – allowed the announcement to be shared with clients outside the state and with others who couldn’t attend the open house.
Printed materials announcing the new name led off with the Joiner name. As the reader unfolded the announcement, the new name was revealed. Employees were told of the name a few days prior, allowing them to attain a comfort level with it.
Not just a pretty picture
Coming up with a new logo or design element for your company isn’t just a matter of finding or creating a nice-looking visual.
It’s a matter of looking at what you really want your company to be, and then coming up with a succinct way of expressing that vision.
“Very clearly, corporate identity is a strategic initiative; or it should be,” says Bruce Renquist, of Renquist Associates design firm on Washington Avenue in Racine. “It offers the potential to an organization to clearly say who they are. It’s not design; it’s strategic positioning.”
Adds Tim Dodge, president of Hanson/Dodge design firm in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, “Design is driven by the vision of the company; it’s a defining thing.”
In a way, designers are management consultants, helping companies determine market position and growth strategy.
“You really have to crawl under their hide and take time to understand the organization,” Renquist says. Thus, the design process involves some fairly extensive interviewing, as the design team seeks to find a central theme which a firm seeks to project.
Those interviews are conducted with external audiences – customers, dealers, end-users and others, and with internal audiences – employees.
As part of the process, Renquist makes a word list, looking for repetition of quality. “These words begin to frame the nature of the organization, and the vision.”
The internal audience tends to be the most sensitive and critical, Renquist says. That audience needs to be very clear on where a company stands and where it’s going. “They’re the people who make the place go; they need to be together on the stand a company takes.”
If that stand is clear, the design and image identification process is not just a one-time exercise but, rather, an investment in the future, says Hanson/Dodge’s Ken Hanson, executive creative director. “We’re actually helping our clients to build equity,” he says, noting that for some companies, image is actually another one of their products.
A non-unified design/marketing approach can actually dilute that equity, he says, particularly in this day of a fragmented, multi-media messaging.
If you doubt the value of design and image, just look at Nike. A local parody paper once ran an article stating – facetiously – that Nike would stop making products and instead would focus on what it does best: make commercials. In reality, its image may be more valuable than its products. “You are as good as you are perceived to be,” Hanson observes, noting that, locally, the Wisconsin-based Trek bicycle company’s “greatest asset is its image.”
“You take the highest-priced products, and the difference between them and lower-priced products is design,” Dodge says. And that price difference can translate into greater profit margins.
While a corporation’s image can be a key element of its business plan, in many situations, images of a company’s brands may be more important, Renquist says. “The brand can be the name that carries your business to the customer’s mind.”- David Niles

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