When do acronym brand names work?

One of the most challenging things for a brand strategist is to work with an acronym brand names. They are meaningless, dull, and not memorable. Despite all that, there is no shortage of brands wanting a name like IBM or GE.

Any time a client of mine has billions of dollars and a decades-long heritage; I say, “Let’s go for it.” (Spoiler alert. It hasn’t happened yet.) Otherwise, I recommend different naming strategies.

Nonetheless, if you HAVE to create acronym brand names, then three tactics to do it right.

If you have to create acronym brand names, then here are three tactics to do it right.

Initialism

In initialism, we pronounce a string of letters (BBC, USA.) You should use your initials, only if your full name has a secure place in people’s memory.

Nobody questions what does the FBI or the SEC stand for. If your name is a given, then go ahead and use your initials. GE, IBM, BMW and GM have 427 years of history combined. They have earned the right to use their initials. How long have you been around?

Speaking of GE, here is a rule of thumb for knowing when your brand is ready to use its initials. Whenever GE enters a new market deploys its logo only in baby blue. Once the awareness of the logo in baby blue has reached 50%, GE starts using the monogram publicly in any colour.

Acronym

You can also use your initials if you can form a meaningful (or at least phonetically sound) name. For instance, MADD is the abbreviation of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. That is such a great example.

There are many successful acronym brand names:

  • MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
  • SUNY (The State University of New York)

Here are three cocktail talking points for you:

Did you know that Italian auto brand FIAT stands for “Federation Internationale Automobiles Torino?” Or LASER means “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation?” Or Scuba stands for “Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus?”

Coined abbreviation

Finally, if the above two tactics fail, you can try to invent a name, which contains a mixture of initial and non-initial letters.

One of the most successful examples is Radar, which stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. PanAm is the short form of PanAmerican Airlines. Cadeca is Casas de Cambio. Soho is South of Houston.

Now that you know the three tactics to create acronym brand names, here is a parting question for you:

In which category does the S.H.I.E.L.D. fall?

Today’s actionable tip: Acronym brand names could work, but try to avoid initials. They rarely work, unless you have been around for half a century. Instead, check the criteria of the right brand name and contact a naming professional who understands linguistics and branding.

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