A good brand name sets the stage for creating solid brand equity. It might be hard to believe, but some well-known brands that have a lot of brand equity actually had lackluster names originally. I bet you didn’t know about these brand name changes: 

Google was originally founded as Backrub (no joke: the original name came from the fact at the core of their service they analyzed the web’s backlinks). When you are unsure of a fact, can you imagine saying “I’ll just Backrub it”? That sounds so wrong in so many ways as compared to “I’ll just Google it.”

How about Nike? Did you know it was originally founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports? Their trademark swoosh logo mark would have competed for real estate on a running shoe if you had to print that mouthful.

 And then there’s too literal. Did you know that Yahoo! was originally founded in 1994 as “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” by Stanford graduates Jerry Yang and David Filo? In Filo’s words in an interview with Charlie Rose, “I’m sure glad we didn’t keep that name!”

As brilliant as Elon Musk is, the original name for PayPal was x.com (the x was referring to the “universally recognized programming variable”) – almost sounds like a developer’s code. PayPal has proven to have an intuitive quality to it so you know exactly what you’re getting with the service.

And speaking of knowing exactly what you’re getting with a brand name, how many consumers have come to love the pancakes and other breakfast items at IHOP (International House of Pancakes)? Founded in 1959, IHOP has been the destination for many a hungry family with young kids, college kids looking to get a lot of food for a good price, the elderly crowd looking to eat out without breaking the bank and just about anyone or any aged person in between who likes breakfast at any meal.

 So that’s why it’s perplexing that IHOP recently decided to change its name temporarily to IHOB. Originally I figured the “B” stood for “breakfast”– trying to solidify the fact that they have breakfast 24/7. But no, instead they decided the “B” is for burger.

 Yes, that’s right. The pancake joint is now trying to be known as a place to get lunch and dinner, not just breakfast and brunch. It added several burgers to their menu as a result.

 What? So crazy. And yet, here’s what the president of IHOP, er IHOB, Darren Rebelez, had to say: "We are definitely going to be IHOP, but we want to convey that we are taking our burgers as seriously as our pancakes."

 I’m sure their burgers are great, but is that why I’m going to go to IHOP? Nope.  

 Twitter lit up with other brands riding (in more ways than one) IHOB’s news:

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 It wasn’t all that bad, they did do some things right:

  • Namely (pun intended), they brought a lot of attention to their brand with a variety of media coverage and a lot of social media chatter.
  • They were known for pancakes and are STILL known for pancakes, with or without IHOB. That will never change, no one’s disputing that. (But it’s now watered down).
  • It’s not a permanent change, – it’s really a marketing campaign. They’ll go back to IHOP. In which case, you have to give them credit for creating a buzz (can you imagine the budgeting meetings they had on temporary logo changes…all over the place?).

 However, there are some lessons that even large brands like IHOP should pay more attention to:

  • Don’t mess around with your brand equity by conflating or watering down your authentic points of distinction. You have a lot of faithful followers who come to your establishment to eat a hearty breakfast. Don’t alienate them by watering down your points of distinction.
  • Your burgers better be good, because if they aren’t – you’ve got a bigger problem on your hand!
  • This won’t go away. Yes, you created a lot of buzz, but it will be a long time before you can erase this from your history. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for what you are good at?

Brand equity, in its most simple form, is comprised of two elements: awareness and the market’s perceived and valued differentiation of your brand – both of which take considerable and consistent effort. What can take years to build up can be tarnished with one marketing campaign like this. Is it worth jeopardizing your point(s) of distinction?

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