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The Research Behind How Brand Names Impact Customers and What Name We’ve Changed at Buffer

Aug 16, 2017 7 min readOpen
Photo of Åsa Nyström
Åsa Nyström

VP of Customer Advocacy @ Buffer

Names create an identity that people can associate with, they create perceptions and they let customers know what to expect. There is a lot of power in them.

When it comes to a company or product name it can be one of the “most valuable assets a company possesses” according to this Nielsen study. They also share that the power in brand names comes from the fact that they can lend credibility, assure quality, and set customer expectations.

Given the importance of names they are something many brands put a lot of time and effort into. It’s also becoming more common for companies to change their own name, names of their teams and products, and anything else that may need adjustment to properly represent them to the world. In fact, many brands are consciously designing new names to align themselves with specific company values.

With that in mind, we’re going to go a little further into why brands change their names, what that change might mean to customers, and a team we’ve recently renamed at Buffer.

Why change a brand name

Changing a name for a product, company, or even a person, is not uncommon at all when there are big benefits to the new name.

In Christopher Johnson’s book Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little, he discusses how different words can “feel” to customers depending on the rhythmic contrast of the word.

The example he gives of a basic rhythmic contrast is the one between two different types of metrical units:

  • iambs, which consist of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one (dee DUM)
  • trochees, which consist of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one (DUM dee)

In his words, “Iambs tend to sound lighter and softer, and trochees tend to sound heavier and harder. This is true even in messages as short as brand names. “Feminine” brand names, like Chanel, are often iambs; “masculine” ones, like Black & Decker, tend to be trochees. Most people “feel” this difference even if they find it hard to pinpoint.”

Aside from making sure that a brand name feels good to customers, another clear advantage to a new name is making it easier to pronounce, understand, or spell. One good example is a man named Ralph Lifshitz who thought his name wasn’t quite right for the brand he was building. He changed his name to Ralph Lauren, you may have heard of him.

why change brand name impact customers buffer ralph lauren

Source: Complex

Anther reason for a name change might be culture and expanding to different countries. For example, choosing a brand name that works well in China for American companies has proved challenging as this Harvard piece remarks: “Chinese has thousands of characters, each with many meanings and with pronunciations that vary from region to region. In the early days of Coke’s introduction in China, for example, shopkeepers advertised the drink using characters that sounded similar to ‘Coca-Cola’ but had nonsensical meanings such as ‘wax-flattened mare.’”

Choosing a new company or brand name can have financial implications, too. One study discovered that “companies with short, simple names attract more shareholders, generate greater amounts of stock trading, and perform better on certain financial measures than companies with hard-to-process names.” Some great companies with short names include Lyft, Airbnb, and Hulu.

What names mean to customers

The one thing to note is that changing brand name and subsequent changes in customer expectations is a clear pattern in research. One study found that “when customers see a brand-name change, they expect radically new features.”

This is related to that Nielsen study from earlier, where they mention that brand names can “lend credibility to product efficacy and provide an assurance of quality, letting consumers know what they can expect.”

The European Journal of Marketing conducted research that revealed that many customers had, in fact, created their own associated for the brand name. These associations could be positive or negative and they were independent of the ones the company had put forward.

This means that a brand name change can also be helpful is the name was being tied to traits that a company might want to avoid, or if the company is looking to create new associations with a fresh name.

Source: Dani King

With all of the impact that choosing a name can have, it should come as no surprise that there are entire agencies out there who employ linguists and focus solely on creating names for companies, products, and anything else that they might be hired to name, with a strong brand name.

We had a few opportunities to do some renaming at Buffer recently. While we didn’t have a team of linguists with us for this one, we’d love to share this rather exciting change with you:

→ Our Happiness team, the customer facing team at Buffer, is now called Customer Advocacy

Here’s a bit more on our thinking behind these changes, and why this new name is so important for us.

From Heroes to Advocates

The Happiness team and Happiness Heroes are now the Customer Advocacy team and Customer Advocates.

We are big fans of making our customers happy at Buffer, so much so, that it reflected in our name and our customer support team has been our Happiness team filled with Happiness Heroes for years.

In the early days of Buffer, our product and branding was mainly targeted at free and freemium customers. Happiness Heroes was a huge part of this branding strategy and we made a name for ourselves delivering fast support with a smile.

Names changing at Buffer and the science behind it, customer advocates, happiness heroes

Recently though, we started asking ourselves, is a happy answer really something our customers are after and something we can constantly deliver? And, is delivering happiness really what our team is doing? Essentially, does the name truly reflect the team and their purpose?

We realized the answer to those questions was no. Our customers have evolved because our team and our product have.

Our current customers are looking for a support team that can not only help with technical support, but also give advice for a solid and successful social media strategy. This is what we’re focused on now as a customer facing team.

Whilst we’re never going to move away from delivering happiness as part of our customer support, we have started to think strategically about our future path to ensure our current focus customers feel heard.

With all of this change, we decided that it was time to re-name our customer-facing team at Buffer. Similar to how a new name can bring new expectations from customers, in our case, new expectations from customers brought about a new name.

These are the four steps we took to make this decision:

  1. Discussion: This change started with a discussion between myself and Joel going over the idea that the team name might be switched and the thinking behind it.
  2. Brainstorming: We then brainstormed new name ideas as a Happiness leadership team.
  3. Feedback: After we had thought through the different options, we reached out to the entire Happiness team for their thoughts and feedback on Customer Advocacy.
  4. Announcement: Once we’d settled on the name, we shared the news with the rest of the Buffer team and now you all!

While it definitely felt sad to leave the Happiness Hero title behind, the team did feel good about this change after we all chatted about it and we’re are excited for what the Advocacy future will bring.

What does Advocacy mean?

Advocacy stems from Latin and means ‘to add a voice’ – which feels very much in line with our vision.

As a company, we always focus on doing the right thing, and what is best for our customers. Our customers are looking for a platform that can help them with all the things social media, (publishing, engagement, analytics, ads) – our job as Customer Advocates is to listen and speak on their behalf to ensure we provide a solution that is best suited to them.

Buffer’s Customer Advocates close the communication loop between our customers and our company.

Customer Advocates are empowered to provide our customers with assistance in all areas:

  • They are their main contact of communication
  • They speak for our customers within the company
  • They facilitate resolutions by bringing people together at Buffer when needed (technical support, product signals, are a few examples)
  • They do what is best for our customers in the light of Buffer’s vision.
  • They ensure that our customers are getting the most out of Buffer
  • They assist our customers in creating a successful social media output.

Why all the change at Buffer?

You might be wondering where all of this change is coming from, well, most of it is from the fact that as Buffer evolves, we’re moving towards a multi-product solution.

names impact customers buffer screenshot future of buffer product vision

Over the next few months, we are aligning Buffer with the social media manager’s workflow by turning Buffer into a platform of social media products. That means a few more name changes we’re excited about:

  • The original Buffer will become Buffer Publish.
  • Our audience engagement tool (formerly known as Respond) will become Buffer Reply.
  • We will launch Buffer Analyze for social media insights.

Over to You

We’d love to hear what you think of the new names, Advocates at Buffer and their role description, and any other thoughts you have on name changes in the comments!

Cover photo by Matt Briney

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