Brand Name – The Cost of Literal Meanings

The recent re-branding exercise by Australian company OneSteel is a great reminder of the limitations imposed by using literal product or service category terms in the brand name. OneSteel as a name clearly declares to the world that it was in the ‘steel’ business, and hence from a communication perspective it is direct and unencumbered. The difficulty is when a business such as OneSteel over time morph’s into different corporate beast, doing more more and more things  unrelated to steel. This can be rather problematic when you are trying to convey to investors and other stakeholders that you believe you have an exciting future outside steel.

Hence the decision by OneSteel to fork out $1million to rebrand itself as Arrium Ltd. The new name is an invented word, which – by ending in ”ium” – is intended to sound like an element on the periodic table and a very subtle reference to its growing iron ore and mining consumables businesses. However the new name is reminder of the additional communication step that made up names demand. Arrium by itself has no meaning, it becomes beholden on the company to add the required associations – whatever that is. It adds another step in a communication sense, but it is also immensely liberating because you have a blank sheet.

Naming is always a challenging endeavour (think how hard it was choosing your children’s names, if you have had to! ) and having a name that does not have literal meaning in terms of category offer, is one way of hedging bets on what you may or may not be doing in 10 years time. This principle served Kodak well for a very long time, but in the end they have demonstrated what we all know, the name is not the main game – it is your evolving value proposition that matters. And if you end up with a name that is working against you, give us a call. Not sure why OneSteel did not contact us, clearly they still do not wish to be world famous (just kidding).

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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