Effective Branding...What's in a Name!

Matthew Keegan

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Ask any marketing executive and they will tell you that a company's name is golden. There are certain associations that people have with a name, one that invokes emotions - good or bad. Let's examine three case studies of branding involving companies that have merged and where the buyer kept the name of the company they bought or are considering purchasing.

In the late 1990s with bank mergers in full swing, United Jersey Bank was faced with a dilemma. Having started to open branches in neighboring states, the “United Jersey" part of their name was beginning to become a hindrance. Bank executives knew that the name would have to be changed in order to continue to grow, while at the same time continuing to avoid being merged out of existence. The solution? The bank purchased a small, local bank based in Summit, NJ named Summit Bank. Once the merger was completed United Jersey Bank was renamed Summit Bank. Unlike the United Jersey name with its New Jersey correlation, few people associated Summit with the town of Summit. Instead, United Jersey Bank capitalized on a very positive name, summit, and started to market themselves as the peak of all banks. The campaign was a success as the name change was well received by consumers.

In 2005, KMart purchased Sears, Roebuck, and Company and the newly joined entity was renamed Sears Holdings. While it is much too early to tell if the decision to keep the Sears name is a success, most people have associated KMart with bankruptcy, run down stores, and as being a poor competitor to WalMart and Target. Sears, on the other hand, has pretty much put their woes behind them after forfeiting the spot as America's top retailer a generation ago to WalMart, and after laying off 100,000 employees, and closing out their famous catalog business. Branding experts will tell you that both names carry plenty of baggage [the stores will keep the KMart and Sears names too] as some see the merger as only a temporary fix. Thus, the Sears name may not be enough to save the combined retailer.

In the airline industry, several of the legacy carriers will more than likely find themselves out of business over the next few years. United, for instance, could find themselves a takeover target of a regional carrier. Skywest Airlines, which also flies as United Express [by providing regional jet services to United], may see a “buy" opportunity and offer to purchase the venerable, but bankrupt carrier. To “unite" the two companies, Skywest could consider tossing their regional sounding name and take on the reknowned United moniker. The new carrier would then be able to carry on the legacy of a 75 year old name and achieve instant recognition on the world stage while at the same time distancing itself from the problems that beset the original United.

With a wave of mergers and acquisitions anticipated over the next few years, more opportunities to purchase a “golden" name will arise for savvy dealmakers. These dealmakers must call upon the skills of branding experts to take the pulse of consumers’ “feel" for a name. Neglect that or pick the wrong name and you are certain to invite disaster.

Matt runs two very successfully branded aviation sites: the Corporate Flight Attendant Community at http://www.cabinmanagers.com and the Aviation Employment Board at http://www.aviationemploymentboard.com


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