Martha Stewart the brand is bigger than Martha Stewart the person. Her name
evokes cooking, crafting, and home decorating, as well as TV shows, magazines, and houseware lines.
Stewart is an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere, and at a recent panel organised by the lifestyle guru, the question on small business owners’ minds was simple: Can our names become rockstar brands like Martha’s, too?
Successful entrepreneurs debated the relative merits and drawbacks of building a brand around the founder’s name as part of Martha Stewart American Made, an event designed to celebrate the country’s local and artisan businesses. Those weighing in included Julie Rice, founder and CEO of indoor cycling company SoulCycle; Joe Rospars, CEO of digital consulting firm
Blue State Digital and Pres. Obama’s principal digital strategist for each of his presidential campaigns; and Richard Christiansen, founder and creative director of Chandelier Creative, a branding and advertising company.
When it comes to naming your business, the panelists agreed that a brand named after a person can be much harder to scale. That person can’t be in 10 places at once, much less travel the globe to meet clients and promote the brand while also running its vital operations.
For that reason, Rice said SoulCycle deliberately steered its brand away from a single person. “Early on we knew that if we were going to take an exercise business and scale it, people couldn’t be attached to one [cycling] teacher; they needed to be attached to the concept of the business,” she said. “So we set out in the beginning to create a fictional gal who was SoulCycle and make people attached to her.”
That’s not to say that naming a brand for a person can’t work — the massive success of Stewart and others like her shows that it obviously can. It just makes the scaling process trickier. What’s more, building your brand around a personality can be a big risk. After all, people are fickle. What if the founders have a falling out, or the namesake wants to sell the business and move on to a new project?
It’s also important to remember that there’s always room to tweak and revamp your brand after the initial naming. Some companies decide to change the name later on, if it isn’t working. Beer, wings, and sports bar powerhouse Buffalo Wild Wings, for example, has changed its name multiple times since its inception — from Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, to BW-3, to its current name — and is now a national brand.
Christiansen, whose clients include
Target, Macy’s, and Barbie, said a good practice for keeping your brand intact as you scale is to check whether you can say in four words what it stands for. Then, he said, brands shouldn’t feel pressured to change too often — he dislikes when a brand updates every four years. Still, he added, there is value in occasional “refreshments” and tweaks that keep the brand suited to the times.
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