Hold your name carefully
You’re desperately looking for a parking spot.
The lot is at full capacity and you know its only a matter of minutes before your bladder makes the transition from active dissent to uninhibited mutiny. You spy what looks like an empty space a few yards away and as you gun the engine and race towards a promising end to your suffering you realize the truck next to the seemingly empty parking spot is way over the line, taking up half of your empty space. You let loose a stream of expletives (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone) and as you wonder what kind of monster parks with such disregard for the rest of the human race you notice a bumper sticker on the truck.
Even though you know Ralph would never EVER park like this himself, for the briefest of moments your negative attitudes towards the truck spill over to the name on the sticker, or God forbid the truck brand - you should’ve known nothing good comes from a Toyota Highlander. Or perhaps the meaning transfer went the other way and you quickly rationalized the irresponsibility of the driver’s parking job with the wanton nature you think is needed to vote for a third-party candidate. Either way, we see something interesting take place.
While a name itself may be a solid enough capsule, the meaning and feelings associated with it are fluid. You need to keep the container steady in order not to spill it. You also need to keep it in a safe place where outside meaning and influence can’t be spilled on it by mistake.
In case you’ve never made a voting decision based on a bumper sticker or judged someone’s driving based on their political affiliation, let’s look at this from a brand perspective.
The vessel of name can only hold so much meaning. While total capacity may differ from brand to brand, one thing is for certain, you can’t be all things to all people, and you shouldn’t try. While some brands are skilled at slowly draining old meaning out of their name in order to refill it with something fresh, others take cannonball approaches, using stunts and gimmicks to displace as much old meaning as possible and quickly fill the void with something completely inconsistent to the brand.
Patagonia is a fantastic example of filling a hollow vessel of a name with a gradually evolving mission and meaning that consumers fervently care about. While their name is distinct, it is not the name itself to which most consumers are loyal but the carefully curated mission and meaning for which it stands. This doesn’t make the name less valuable. Quite the opposite. The name Patagonia has now become shorthand for consumers worldwide who may not always have the time or stamina to give impassioned lectures on National Park conservation or limiting the environmental impact of industrial fisheries. The Patagonia name not only allows consumers to express their interest and dedication to these subjects in words, but through their actions. This makes protecting the Patagonia name all the more important as it is a symbol for the mission it represents.
Successfully protecting a name is both proactive and reactive. Patagonia is currently protecting its name on both of these fronts, fighting against it being slapped on unaffiliated beer bottles and setting limits on where it shows up in corporate America.
Names are sacred. There’s a reason Rumpelstiltskin didn’t just give his up. Names hold meaning and purpose. They tell others who you are and what you’re about. They’re used to rouse spirits, inspire action and, if used correctly, as a kind of shorthand for impactful and meaningful messages. Keeping a name safe is much more than protecting a string of consonants and vowels.
Be careful what you put your name on, and who puts your name on themselves.
You never know what meaning it might pick up (or lose) along the way.