For some reason, companies work really hard at reducing their names to initials.
It’s understandable—as a woman, I’ll be the first to admit that for me, doing laps at the YMCA seems better than swimming at the Young Men’s Christian Association.
Acronyms also worked for IBM, which first used theirs to one-up NCR in 1914. Those famous initials were hugely successful as a short, mnemonic device—especially when paired with a hundred million or two in advertising.
Today, however, assuming you’re not IBM or BBDO Worldwide, choosing your name from a spoonful of alphabet soup is no help in disguising a problematic name. Nonprofits in particular should rethink this strategy, which often obscures their mission and makes them seem less personal.
Who are you again?
Recently, a friend handed me an ad for a museum to which I feel a small sense of kinship, having presented an award to the man whose donation built it. “What’s going on at APCM?” asked the headline—and I stood there puzzling over why I was looking at this ad for some anonymous organization. This can’t be good for building advocates, I thought. Or for fundraising.
Granted, the need to shorten awkward names can be compelling. But when referring to the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, wouldn’t The Affiliated Chambers carry more meaning and brand value than ACCGS? Unfortunately, this kind of decision often results in a stand-off, with a few key people finding the loss of the region’s named to be more disrespectful than obliterating the name altogether.
You can call me Oscar
Just as Oscar Mayer has a first name, so do most organizations. And they’re usually much easier to swallow than a string of initials. Similarly, using the short, memorable and unique part of your name as a nickname—“the Guggenheim” in lieu of the “Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum” for example—taps into the full power of your brand. In marketing, short, memorable and unique amount to a perfect storm.
If you don’t have a memorable nickname, think about the decision the Raffel Brothers made in naming their restaurants after themselves. How much less personality would R.B.’s have had than Arby’s? And, of course, Arby’s is a name that can be trademarked.
Nonprofits are especially prone to acronyms, often because their names seem to age so poorly. Springfield’s HAPHousing, for example, was founded as a short-term, experimental affordable housing initiative in the ’70s. The good news was they were crazy successful, and grew into a large and dynamic service organization. The bad news? Decades after outgrowing their original name—the Housing Allowance Project—the newly named HAP, Inc. simply couldn’t seem to shake it.
The problem with initials, as HAP discovered, is that people struggle to know what they stand for—and in this case, they stood for a defunct and misleading name. With our help, HAP rebranded several years ago and evolved into HAPHousing. The simple addition of “housing” seems to have done its job, giving just enough context to help people grasp who they are and what they do.
Thanks to mergers, convoluted ownership and the tendency to name firms after geographical locations, there is no end of long, unfortunate names in the world of business. But if having a big mouthful of a name seems unfriendly to your customers, spitting out a string of consonants may be worse.
So if you’re hiding behind initials, give some thought to finding a friendlier abbreviation of your company name. I guarantee it will pay off—or my name’s not MKWTM.