What’s in a name? – Who is Nike and why is it relevant for professional services?

In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of speed, strength and victory. Also known as the Winged Goddess, Nike is most often pictured as having beautiful large wings. She flew around battlefields rewarding the victors with glory and fame, symbolised by a wreath of laurel leaves. She was worshipped because it was believed she could make humans immortal and was able to grant them the strength and speed needed to be victorious in any task they undertook.

Headquartered in Oregon, the company Nike has been the world leader in sports equipment and apparel since 1978 and is estimated to employ over 44,000 workers around the world. As of 2017, the Nike brand is valued at $29.6 billion. The name Nike was chosen by company founders because of the goddess’s attributes of speed and victory. The ‘Swoosh’ symbol logo that appears on all Nike products was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at the time. Carolyn designed the logo with the wings of Nike in mind. The logo is not only meant to represent motion, but to also represent the wings of the goddess Nike. The logo has become one of the most well-known images of all time. The logo is not only iconic, but carries a great deal of meaning.

What does this have to do with professional services?

Professional services firms have traditionally been named after the founding partners of the firm. Originally, this naming convention was a means of acknowledging the training and certifications of the practitioners, and legitimising the services offered by these certified individuals. Also, firms thrived on the personal reputations of the principals and relied on word-of-mouth for new business. If your new business was entirely based on your professional reputation, it makes sense that your name was inseparable from your brand.

Beyond the necessity of this practice, professional services practitioners saw the addition of their own name to the corporate moniker as a sign of having ‘made it’. The formation of firms and merging of multiple firms meant partnership names needed to describe multiple professional reputations. This resulted in the tradition of the Deloitte, Haskins & Sells type brands. Of course this firm is now officially Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd, but is branded simply Deloitte. The status associated with a firm’s masthead meant that when practices merged, so did their names. Alternatively, the acronym route has been equally popular with the likes of KPMG and PWC etc.

Firms now have the flexibility to choose just about any name for their practice. In an increasingly digital and competitive world, the traditional naming convention is no longer advantageous. Traditional firm names are certainly unique, and some even famous, but, for the vast majority, this no longer spells distinction and no longer assists with positioning.

The apprehension toward letting go of the classic ‘my-name-is-on-the-door’ mentality is most likely in the belief that the brand equity, and the success attained, will all go out the window when you let go of the name. However, successful firms these days involve many more than the one or two people who happen to run the place. If the future of professional service firms lies with the talent they attract, then a more inclusive and future-proof identity for the firm is a necessity.

1.     The firm’s name needs to mean something to employees.

The name needs to have meaning for all staff members, not just the founding partners. For an engaged workforce, meaning is crucial. Employees want to know that what they’re doing day to day has meaning and purpose and provides something meaningful for clients. I haven’t worked at Nike, but I’m certain Nike staff members know the story of their name and logo and why this matters to their customers.

2.     The firm’s name needs to mean something to clients and potential clients.

Now, more than ever, brand positioning for a professional services firm is vital for strategic growth. Firms need to differentiate themselves from other firms or risk becoming commoditised. The story of Nike the Greek goddess of victory is not likely to be known by the majority of the customers of Nike, but because the original meaning of the name and the ingenious slogan “Just do it” are both now synonymous with the brand, it has surpassed its initial significance for customers.

3.     Your name can be a powerful positioning statement.

If you’re rebranding, or forming a new firm, you have an opportunity to build some valuable meaning into your firm’s name. It can be a powerful positioning statement and tell the market exactly what you do. We are now starting to see more firm names like It All Adds Up Accounting and Your Financial Solutions, both accounting firms in the US. Here in Australia we have firms like IP Solved and businessDEPOT breaking the traditional mould. You do have to make sure it’s distinctive and unique and that you’ll be able to build a solid digital marketing strategy around it.

So, what’s in a name? In professional services the stakes are now higher than ever. Better employee engagement, better brand positioning, and a crucial competitive advantage, can all be gained by simply choosing a more meaningful name.

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