The name game Featured

9:01am EDT September 30, 2002
Would you buy a sandwich listed on the menu as "Stinky Pile of Poo?"

I was recently watching a children's cartoon in which the protagonists are enlisted to go back in time to correct errors that could alter the world's history. In this particular episode, the crew was helping the Earl of Sandwich, who couldn't understand why people weren't buying his invention, which he called "Stinky Pile of Poo."

Silly as this sounds, it struck me that the name of any product and the company that makes it conjure up strong images in consumers' minds. Companies spend a fortune creating a "brand," a term that has come to mean the customer's perceptions of the company and its products.

For example, after decades of McDonald's commercials, no one expects to walk into the nearest location for a filet mignon. However, you do expect a decent hamburger, fast service and a safe toy for your child.

While the name "McDonald's" could just as easily have become known for any product -- liquor or underwear or furniture -- when we hear the name, we now think of fast, inexpensive food. McDonald's may tell a good branding story, but before you follow its example, read our cover story.

You need to be careful how you build your brand, and keep it fresh and current. Consumer behavior patterns change over time, and if your company doesn't change with them, you'll find yourself left out in the cold.

Today, the hottest restaurant concept is the "casual quick service" restaurant, like Chipotle's, Damon's and Max & Erma's. Consumers are demanding more than fast, inexpensive food. We are willing to pay a little more for fast food that also tastes good.

So now McDonald's has a bit of catching up to do to compete for families' restaurant dollars. Hence the restaurant is introducing new menu items, like the grilled chicken flatbread sandwich.

But will a few new items counter the years of branding efforts aimed at keeping McDonald's the low cost choice? Probably not.

So be careful what you wish for and how you name and brand your company and its products. Do your homework or hire a professional to keep your company at the forefront of the market.

After all, you don't want to be left with a "Stinky Pile of Poo."