When do acronyms work?

One of the most painful things for a brand strategist is working with an acronym brand name. They are meaningless, boring and not memorable. Yet, many of my clients want to be like IBM or GE. Any time a client of mine has billions of dollars and a 50-year commitment; I say “Let’s go for it.” (Spoiler alert. It hasn’t happened yet.) Otherwise I recommend different strategies. But, if you “HAVE” to use an acronym, here are three ways to do it right:

You can use your initials when your full name is burnt into people’s memory. Nobody questions what does FBI or SEC stand for. If it 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?

You can also use your initials if you can form a meaningful name (or at least phonetically sound) name. For instance MADD is the abbreviation of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. That is very well done. Do you want a more famous example? Did you know that Italian auto brand FIAT stands for “Federation Internationale Automobiles Torino.” It sounds like a real name to me. MoMA is Museum of Modern Art. How about SUNY?

Finally, if the above two tactics fail, try to create an abstract name. PanAm is the short form of PanAmerican Airlines. Cadeca is Casas de Cambio. Soho is South of Houston.

Today’s actionable tip: Try to avoid initials. They rarely work unless you have been around for half a century. Instead check the criteria of a good brand name and contact a naming professional who understand linguistics and branding.

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