Remember when your parents named you? If you’re like me, you don’t. But if you ever applied for a job or visited a doctor, the evidence is overwhelming that, at some point, someone looked at you and thought, “I think this one looks like Elvis.”
Or whatever ridiculous name they stuck you with. I’m looking at you, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Thanks to your name no one confuses you with your cousin Wilberforce. Likewise, a brand name is a dandy way to tell the difference between a Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew and a Technivorm Moccamaster KBG.
Your name identifies you. A brand name identifies the product that carries it; it distinguishes one product from another.
Brand name versus brand.
If you shorten brand name to brand, you’re talking about something different. Brand is the set of expectations people have for anything carrying a specific brand name.
You might see Brother (brand name) and think about how you can no longer connect your affordable laser printer to your wireless network (brand). You might see Google (brand name) and think “I can find anything” or “Big Brother knows who I am” (brand).
You might see Republican (brand name) and think drunken uncle (brand). Or maybe your drunken uncle (brand) is a Democrat (brand name). Quick check, is Fox News (brand name) on? How did your mother put up with that guy when they were kids?
I used to get paid to think about brand—what people thought about my company and how my company might influence people’s expectations. The company’s brand name didn’t change while I was there, but what its brand represented did.
The company, try as it might, didn’t have as much control of its brand as you might think.
No company does. Brother doesn’t. Google doesn’t. The world changes. People’s priorities change. What it means to be evil changes.
In short, brand changes. And the fine work your company did in 1910 or 1955 is judged differently by the people you hope to influence today—if, that is, the history of the company retains any influence at all.
The name of the bicycle: brand name.
What the name means to you: brand.
Take another look at that head badge in the picture. It’s attractive. It has some style to it. The brand name is spelled correctly. Motobecane U.S.A.
(That’s not a joke, by the way. One way to identify a counterfeit product is misspelling.)
So, brand name, check. The bicycle behind the badge is different from a Huffy or a Cervelo. This is not a bicycle from Belarus, Sweden or Venezuela.
What is this bicycle’s brand?
It depends on who answers the question. I could tell you what I think today and what I thought in 1977. You might have different, though equally valid, reactions to the brand.
That’s because brand is opinion.
Maybe you think this brand represents affordability, or something out of the ordinary, something you don’t see at the local bicycle shop.
The brand behind another brand name might elicit reactions like trend-setting or hand-crafted, traditional or cutting edge, detail-oriented or race-proven.
Let’s shift from rider perception to company intent.
A company that understands its brand plays to its strengths when it comes to market. The cargo bike company Yuba makes “bikes that carry more.” Chumba, based in Austin, Texas, prioritizes “making you a bike, made in USA, that will be fun to ride for years to come.”
What does Motobecane U.S.A. think of its brand? How is the company trying to influence people today?
Are they banking on the long French heritage of the brand? This is Motobecane U.S.A. Different company. Different badge.
One assumes the company hopes the brand name increases the visibility of its products. People still know that Motobecane means bikes, right? Would they judge the same bikes differently if they carried Phoenix or Forever decals?
The second half of the brand name doesn’t clarify the company’s intent. The bike is made by people whose first language is Mandarin Chinese, not whatever version of English is spoken in Chicago or San Diego.
So the U.S.A. part of the name probably means the same it means in a lot of industries: We hope somebody in the U.S.A. buys what we’re selling. Or that somebody in another country buys the North American connection—even if that connection is limited to a few people who know the telephone country code for Taiwan is 866.
Are you buying it?
Why do you buy a Motobecane? A Schwinn? What influences you when you compare Brompton and Tern folding bicycles? Catrike and Terra Trike recumbent tricycles? What’s the difference between Santana and Co-Motion tandem bicycles?
An investment company in Abu Dhabi now holds a majority interest in Colnago. Does that knowledge change your perception of the Colnago brand?
You may have the same name you were born with. But you’ve changed over the years. It’s safe to say the company that makes your bicycle has also changed.
Does it matter?