What’s in a Name? - Warm Thoughts Communications
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What’s in a Name?

Posted on April 8, 2013

In the last week, three different fuel company owners have approached me with the same question: What should we call ourselves?

Just a few years ago, that question would pop up once in a blue moon. Most fuel companies are multi-generational—they can barely be convinced to update their logos, let alone change their names. In fact, the only time this used to come up was after an acquisition. Should you keep the name of the company you bought, or absorb it into your brand?

Now, it’s a new ball game and many of you are trying to decide whether the names on your jerseys are an attribute or liability—especially if you are serious about diversifying. If propane is a big part of your future, or air conditioning, or plumbing, is your “oil” identity an albatross? I imagine many of your grandfathers faced the same question as they were evolving from the coal or ice delivery business.

Today, the rage is to convert from Joe’s Oil to Joe’s Energy. It’s a reasonably simple transition—it even has a similar number of letters. But it neglects the fact that most customers don’t quite know what that means, because it covers such a broad spectrum of possibility. Other companies have changed to “Joe’s Oil & Propane”, or “Joes Home Services”, or “Joe’s Heating and Cooling Products”, or simply “Joe’s”.

We are involved in a large number of these discussions, because much of our business is focused on helping companies evolve and diversify. Here are a couple of things to think about if you are considering changing your name:

  1. Even if you are very well known in your area for delivering fuel oil, it rarely makes sense to abandon your name altogether. First, while your oil brand can deter some folks from feeling comfortable with calling you, it’s much better to be known for something than not known at all. We’ve done some significant research on this, and can share the trade offs if you give us a call.
  2. What you decide to call yourself is not nearly as important as how you promote yourselves. Changing your name is the first step in repositioning your brand. It does not do it automatically. Your customers, let alone your overall market, don’t suddenly go “Oh, I guess they really are experts at air conditioning installs” simply because you drop oil from your name. Or add Heating and Cooling. For that to happen, you need to really promote your capabilities in these other areas.This is not simply a logo redesign project. It is time to re-evaluate your unique value proposition and how you are going to communicate that across all your business segments. The smartest companies are focusing on their overall brand strategy, rather than just a name and logo change.
  3. Some common missteps:
    • Leaving your website address, email, or phone message alone. I don’t care what your ad says, if your web address is joesoil.com, that’s telling them you are an oil company. (There are issues with changing your URL. If not done correctly, you can lose history with the search engines which will affect your rankings, so talk to us first.) Likewise, if your phones are still answered “Thanks for calling Joe’s Oil,” as opposed to “Thanks for calling Joe’s Oil and Propane,” you are speaking volumes.
    • Leaving your website design the same, or simply adding a new section for new products. If you want to be equally considered for oil, nat gas, a/c, etc., your oil pages should not overwhelm the other content, or its location on your site (to see how we approach a similar issue, look at our website.)
    • Not leveraging your name change for all it’s worth. If you’re going to change your name, then spend some real money defining what that means for current customers and prospects, and for your own employees for that matter. You want your current oil customers to know you’re not leaving them behind and to feel comfortable buying other products from you. You also want your market to perceive you differently. That won’t happen unless you push it.
    • Whatever you do, don’t say, “Joe’s Oil now sells propane.” Why would anyone want to do business with a rookie? Take advantage of the fact that most of your customers and the market don’t really know all the things you do, and just promote your services as if you’ve been offering them for a while.

There are many nuances that should be included in a thoughtful process for making this decision. It should be an offensive strategy, rather than defensive (ok, maybe that wasn’t quite the right adjective, but you get the picture.)

If you’d like to run anything by me, feel free to email me at rgoldberg@warmthoughts.com or call me at 201-330-9276. Just don’t call me, or yourselves, bad names.

Richard Goldberg

26 Park St. Suite 2954
Montclair, NJ 07042

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