What’s In A Name? Should You Change Yours?

Did you see that Dell is changing its name to better reflect its brand image? True. As a marketing strategist specializing in brand development and reinforcement I was eager to learn from this mega-successful giant's latest move. The new name? Dell, Inc.

This is fascinating.

Changing the name “represents Dell's evolution from strictly a computer hardware company to a diverse supplier of technology products and services… recognition of the Dell brand has grown so that the company is commonly known simply as Dell. The change of the name to Dell Inc. more closely aligns our formal corporate name with our brand.”

Ok. So its real name, Dell Computer Corp., will be buried and the new brand will emerge. Dell, Inc. But what's odd about this move is the amount of money expended to make a change that largely won't change anything. The company has issued a proxy to its shareholders and will hold a vote at its annual meeting next month.

But it still doesn't make sense. Dell had secured long ago “DELL” as its NADSDAQ symbol. It's computers simply use the “Dell” logo and most people I know refer to the company as Dell. Yet it wants to drop the word “computer” from its name. The result of this change will likely be limited to corporate letterhead, SEC papers and contracts and agreements with suppliers, customers, employees and investors.

I wonder if IBM (International Business Machines, Inc.) should drop “machines” from its corporate name? You know. To better reflect its brand. (they haven't and won't), Or how about the Coca-Cola Bottling company changing its name to COKE, Inc.? (doesn't it sell more than just Cola?) Or, do you think Apple Computer Inc. should change its name. I mean they sell servers, software (Dell doesn't even sell software), MP3 music players and now they even have a music store.

Then Why must Dell spend time spinning its wheels to pump this silly PR out into the marketplace when it seems it would be more productive trying to innovate for a change. Oh wait. Innovation is certainly not one of Dell's brand characteristics. Sorry. With Dell it seems like a whole lotta hub bub to me. Sure, the company now sells servers, switches and even Apple Computer Inc.'s iPods. But does that mean it has to expend potentially millions of dollars on proxies, SEC filings, PR and investor relations? What could Michael Dell be thinking? Oh wait a minute. Dell. Michael Dell. Now the picture comes clearer. Ego is a wonderfully thing ain't it.

To be sure, sometimes it's important to change names to better reflect a brand and perhaps even more so, customer perception. Take a look at Federal Express, Inc. Oh. Never heard of them. Sure, you remember. Everybody called it FedEx. In this case it was a case of if you can't beat them, join them. FedEx went through the same process Dell plans to. Except in the case of FedEx, the company changes its name from Federal Express to FedEx Corporation. This was a smart move. The company invested heavily in delivering on its brand promise: When it absolutely has to be there overnight. And FedEx lived up to its promise. They did in fact invent the express delivery category. But its customers ran away with its brand name. And rather than trying to wrestle it back, it gave in. Today nobody else comes close to the brand recognition and loyalty that FedEx has earned.

Dell? What have they earned? Perhaps status as one of the only brands that successfully built its franchise on price. But no brand can last forever with price as its primary attribute. Sure, it can live up to ugly and poorly designed hardware and a difficult to navigate and understand online store. Hey. But its computers are cheap. And that's a brand promise Dell will always live up to — name change or not.