A couple of years ago, the late, great Maureen Wall Bentley blogged about the insurance industry’s misplaced fondness for acronyms to “describe” firms, products and services. Indeed, some otherwise very smart people at trade associations, carriers, tech firms, agencies and brokers seem to lazily gravitate toward random letters rather than descriptive or aspirational words that actually mean something.
I, too, hate acronyms. Case in point: Decades ago, Hank Greenberg created American International Group. Well, that was a long and vague name—although the term “international” was hip back in those days. And since no one could possibly write or say “American International Group” every time, AIG was born—probably starting on internal documents written by Hank himself, then with regulatory agencies, then clients, then on the world stage. Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars later, AIG was a top insurance brand.
Fast-forward to the recent financial crisis, and “AIG” had acquired a stench, as they say here in Washington’s political circles. So in 2009, the replacement name “Chartis” was introduced. But recently, the company’s CEO announced a change back to AIG. Dave Willis weighed in on that in his blog post. And now there’s a refreshed, brighter AIG logo to go with it all.
Here’s the problem: Hank and gang should have spent more time on a name at the outset. They should have started with—and kept—Chartis as the company brand moniker. That’s because Chartis actually means something. It’s derived from “map” in Greek. Charting the way. Following a clear road map. Demonstrating leadership. These are all wonderful things to talk about.
And because it means something, Chartis still is worth something. The name could be sold. Or kept as a subsidiary name. At least, Chartis should be the name of a beautiful conference room or a wing in an AIG building. It can be a strong reminder of the importance of a road map for a business. Or of the best way to reimburse the federal government on a corporate bailout. Whatever.
Again, I hate acronyms. I’m on a mission to stomp them out. Most of them sound like a fungus or some awful disease you get on your upper lip.
Originally, we at Aartrijk didn’t take our own medicine. Launched in 1999, The van Aartrijk Group was a mouthful to say. We started using “TVAG” or “VAG.” At some point, I was chatting with a relative from Holland, and he reminded me that “v” in Dutch is pronounced like an “f.” We soon refreshed our brand name as “Aartrijk” (pronounced “R-trike,” as in bike). I realize that’s challenging because it’s a phonetic exception in English, but the word actually means something—“kingdom of fertile soil.”
In sum, my advice:
- Unless you have an AIG-style bucket of money for global branding, resist the temptation to take the easy way out by relying on acronyms for firms, programs, projects, products or services. Take the extra time to craft a name using a couple of words or phrases that actually mean something. Acronyms typically do not; that’s why, for example, the National Association of Realtors isn’t “NAR.” The organization opted for Realtors, as Maureen pointed out. The members are real people, not vague entities.
- There are lots of mergers in the insurance industry. Everyone wants their initials in the original acronyms to survive. Make the tough decision to avoid combining letters to create . . . yes, yet another acronym.
- If you must keep any acronyms, choose those that actually say—and stand for—something. NetVU and ASCnet are two examples. They are networks of users of technology. “VU” is the vision to the future. “ASC” refers to leveraging talented peers, which is reinforced in the organization’s tagline, “Ask us.”
- If you still need evidence of why my rant is warranted, talk with customers and business partners about what your letters and acronyms mean to them. You’ll be surprised over the confusion.
Are you proceeding carefully with those letters, my friends? Or are you getting lost in the soup?