Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Comcast Changes Its Name to ... XFInity? What, There Weren't Any Stupider Names Available?

From the Chicago Tribune comes word that cable giant Comcast will change its name to XFinity later this week. Assuming you feel the same horror I do at this idiotic name change, I offer below a column I wrote for Internet World back in 2000 about the many companies that change their names from perfectly good names to ridiculous names that -- like XFinity -- look like they were worked over in a dark alley by a pack of MBA's with brass knuckles and a lack of talent.

Introducing the New Honda Verizon
By John Zipperer

(12/6/00) I think Kentucky Fried Chicken started it all. Years ago, in a mistaken belief that it was running out of letters of the alphabet, the venerable chicken chain shrank its name to KFC. It was joined by many other companies who transformed names that actually meant something into soulless initials. I for one don't know what a single letter in ABN AMRO stands for.

Though that earlier round of name changes was often a result of deeply felt corporate restructurings, in the Internet business world we are now seeing a rash of name changes that often amount to senseless corporate tweaking. In many instances the changes make a good name bad; in a few, a bad name is made even worse. E-businesses seem to be making several basic mistakes when they change their corporate identity or spin off a product:

Auto-derivatives: The biggest problem is that people are trying to be too clever. For example, NewsAlert is a Manhattan-based company that syndicates news for sites, mostly in the financial services arena. It's a good company; I've met its officers, toured its offices, and heard its aggressive business plan. Yet nothing I know about the company springs to mind when I hear its new corporate name: Inlumen. It sounds like a car name. NewsAlert/Inlumen isn't alone. E-commerce software company OpenSales recently changed its name to Zelerate. The company's president and CEO, Bonnie Crater, claimed in an announcement that "the name Zelerate reflects our accelerated approach to developing and supplying e-commerce applications." No, it doesn't. It sounds like the new Hyundai.

It sounded good at the time: Accompany, a Web group-buying company, changed its name to Mobshop. A hip and cool name, but one that also sounds like it was named by a bunch of college kids after one too many viewings of "Sopranos." This fits into a genre of names I think of as being cause for embarrassment when the companies' employees turn 40 years old.

Good to bad: Andersen Consulting, which should know better, recently changed its name to Accenture. This was part of something the company termed "brandstorming," in which employees were asked to submit names as part of an effort at rebranding. Now, Andersen Consulting is one of the most respected names in, um, consulting. It's even part of the name (a key strength, that). So the best that tens of thousands of employees could do was Accenture, which could be a car or a software company or a euphemism for corporate downsizing. This failure to achieve clarity is particularly surprising in light of Andersen's recent report "Beyond the Blur: Correcting the Vision of Internet Brands," in which the company takes to task Web companies that spend more time on branding and image than on delivering good service.

Others besides Andersen avoid perfectly good names. Bell South's wireless joint venture with SBC is called Cingular. Why the spelling? Why the word? With both Bell South and SBC being huge communications names, it takes a great lapse of common sense to come up with a different name that has to be -- forgive the term -- rebranded all over again.

Not clear before, still not clear: Denmark-based Belle Systems, a provider of services to telecommunications companies and service providers, changed its name to Digiquant, which CEO Erik Froberg said taps into two attributes: the DIGItal economy, and a QUANtum leap forward. Resonant Commerce at least had "commerce" in its name before it changed to the odd Optivo Corp.

Luckily, there are some good company name developments out there. Last year we gave About.com an award to recognize its successful name change from the Mining Company. Hollywood.com sensibly changed its name to Hollywood Media Corp. to reflect its varied entertainment services beyond its Web site. Print on the Net made what I consider a lateral name change to NexPub. And to show that creativity can still flourish, IDG Books Worldwide adopted the name of an online marketplace it acquired, going by the new name of HungryMinds.com.

(Internet Whirl is a weekly column written by John Zipperer, associate managing editor of Internet World magazine. It appears every Wednesday.)

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