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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK

Business: The Company File

What's in a name?

Does anybody care about buying British these days?

British Aerospace is reportedly thinking of changing its name because the company is no longer especially British or exclusively an aerospace business.

BAe says talk of such a move is premature. But if it did change, what would the new name say about the company?

You know where you are with a firm called Manchester Nuts and Bolts. But these days a name might have to represent much more than just a company's products.

Rebranding could be a result of repositioning, diversification or a merger.

"A company will look at its overall corporate brand and try to develop a new image that is in line with its whole strategy. The name is one of the most potent mechanisms involved in that," explained Jonathan Hall of branding consultants Corporate Edge.

Name works on two levels

[ image: Burger King: one of the big brands hiding behind the Diageo name]
Burger King: one of the big brands hiding behind the Diageo name
His company recently came up with Glanbia as a name for the world's fourth largest dairy food company, formed by the merger of Irish businesses Waterford and Avonmore.

"It has an international feel and isn't really associated with any Anglo-Saxon heritage," said Mr Hall. "But in Gaelic, the name means 'pure food', so it also carries another meaning for people in Ireland."

But industry watchers and consumers alike can sometimes be puzzled by name changes.

While Arriva might seem appropriate for a bus company merger, Diageo does not really conjure up the image of a company which has Guinness, Burger King and Haagen-Dazs in its portfolio.

Public asked for ideas

[ image: Orange used to be just a colour - now it is a brand leader]
Orange used to be just a colour - now it is a brand leader
And while some companies spend a small fortune on consultants, others take a cheaper and more direct route. The Burton Group renamed itself Arcadia after running a competition for members of the public.

Changing an established name is one thing - launching a new product is another. Orange had no relevance to mobile phones, but it is now one of Britain's best-known brands.

"It depends what the ambitions of the organisations are. We created Egg for Prudential, who wanted something that was truly radical in the marketplace," said Jonathan Hall.

'Relationship with customer'

"What businesses are about today is not purely speaking to an individual industrial sector, but building a relationship with the consumer. Names like Goldfish are true brands which can move across different sectors."

Radical, memorable and inspired these names might be, but would you know the companies are British - and does that matter?

British Airways thought about switching to plain BA, but dropped the plan because it feared a public backlash.

And a recent study of 200 leading global companies found that 72% of them thought a country's image was important when making purchasing decisions.

According to the Walpole Committee, which promotes British excellence, companies should do all they can to emphasise their Britishness.

Byword for quality

"You don't have to be British-owned - companies which have been bought by overseas purchasers are bought for their Britishness," said a spokeswoman for the group, whose members include Burberry, the Financial Times and The Savoy.

"Take Jaguar, which is not British owned but is a byword for quality because of its British connections.

"People have different impressions of Britain," she added. "It's not all old leather armchairs and libraries. Talk to people who know and they realise how technologically and stylistically advanced we are."

Jonathan Hall at Corporate Edge takes a more pragmatic view. "In airlines, the word 'British' denotes safety and comfort, so can be reassuring. On the other hand, there are also connotations, such as arrogance, which might put some customers off," he said.

"Each company needs to do its own research and analyse what Britishness means in its area, and take a corporate decision from that."

A word of warning - once a company has changed its name, it should not change its mind.

In four years, an American company has gone from New England Telephone to Nynex to Bell Atlantic. Now confused customers are preparing for another change following a merger.

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