Sunday, February 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

My son tells me that Kinko's is crazy to change their name to FedEx Office. When they bought Kinko's, FedEx changed the name to FedEx Kinko's, and now they've changed it again, to FedEx Office. They're not completely done with the brand changeover, so you can still see the Kinko's name in some places.

Why the change? Well, FedEx management apparently believes that "Kinko's" is a weak name, that doesn't adequately reflect the "broader role of providing superior information and services." This branding expertise comes from the same company that insisted on being Federal Express, not FedEx, long after everybody but company insiders used the short name. But even an 11-year-old can see that Kinko's is a unique, original, memorable name. And the name has a long history, starting from when the company was founded in 1970, through the expansion to 1400 stores, right up until FedEx bought them for $2.4 billion dollars. Couldn't part of that value have been in the name?

It seems that FedEx wants Kinko's to be something more than it is today. That's all fine and good. They bought the company for synergy, with the hopes that the sum would be greater than the parts. But, you make that synergy work through products and services, not just the name. When I go into a FedEx Office store, with the exception of the shipping counter, it's pretty much the same way it was before, so all the new name does is buy customer confusion.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, FedEx has compounded it by doing something truly stupid. If you look in the phone book for Kinko's, because you're familiar with them and you want to use their services, you'll be out of luck. You see, FedEx Office can't be found in the K's. This doesn't help customers learn the new name. Rather, it takes customers who know the old name and it sends them away. At least redirects to an appropriate place on the FedEx web site.

Companies can get this right and Macy's is a great example. Macy's parent company, Federated Stores, bought The Bon Marché (a Pacific Northwest clothing chain) a few years ago. Macy's similarly changed the name to Bon-Macy's, and then to just Macy's. But Macy's is already known nationwide as a clothing retailer, whereas the FedEx name is still not associated with office services. And, when you look for The Bon Marché in the B's in the phone book, you'll find them, three years after the final name change. They're not sending customers away.


Dunn said...

Are you familiar with Nancy Friedman of Fritinancy? She blogs on branding at and lives in Oakland. I think she is quite the bee's knees. FWIW

MeMakeMonster said...

Agreed - though does anyone really use a phone book anymore? Are they the same people still using dialup?

Their services have sucked since FedEx took over - they won't even publish a price list. Named after the founder's Kinky hair, if you didn't know - you can't beat an original name like that.

Roy Leban said...

The question about phone books is valid. I still use them once in a while because I can look up someone by name and get their phone number, and usually their address, quickly, easily, for free. Getting the equivalent information online is surprisingly painful and costs money.

I've also used the yellow pages while traveling, but never at home. For example, I used the yellow pages in Boston this summer to order pizza.