By Karen E. Klein
Q: We are a very small meat processor serving local farmers and rangers since 1929. We are expanding into a retail operation selling high-quality steaks and have named our operation "Brush Steaks" after the city where we are located. My question: We had students from a university marketing class study us, and they recommended that we change our name. Their argument was that nobody knows our town and the words "brush" and "steaks" have no real meaning together. Personally, I think our name is different, not generic, and I believe it connects us to our smalltown roots. What do your experts think? -- A.K., Brush, Colo.
A:First, congratulations on being resourceful enough to bring in university students and have them critique your operation. There's nothing wrong with getting an impartial, outsider's opinion -- and having young people deliver it for free is a terrific idea. However, you certainly aren't obligated to implement all the recommendations you got from the university. Those coming from academia sometimes lack the sort of real-world experience that can transform a theoretical concept into a practical recommendation. The name of your company is important and changing it is a big deal, so getting additional opinions is a great idea.
Here's how our branding experts weighed in after chewing over your current business name:
"Using the name 'Brush Steaks' could be a great foundation for branding and you could paint a whole story around it," says Sharon Berman, of Berbay Corp. "I'd build on the small-town theme, paint a whole picture: 'What is a Brush Steak?' -- and then tell the tale of the family history and the small town. You could do some great stuff. 'Brush' is different, and has a reason for being different. Brush Steak really lends itself to becoming well-known for a flavorful steak."
Laura DuDell, of DuDell & Associates, agrees. "I like your name," she says. "Brush makes me think of the real West, and 'steaks' conjures up visual images from "stake in the ground" to "claim your stake." It's a Western theme that, applied effectively with a well-designed logo, tagline, or visual image, would clearly define your product. A brand identity is more than a name, it's an image that captures the intangibles about the business and product. I'm already thinking of a thick juicy steak!"
Eric Swartz, owner/principal of The Byline Group confirms the Western cattle lore surrounding the town of Brush and its founder, cattle pioneer Jared L. Brush. "The name also has metaphorical appeal," Swartz notes. "Brush connotes 'sparsely settled country,' i.e., the Old West, with images of cattle drives, ranches, cowpokes, Westerns, etc. Beef was a form of currency way back then. It was a way of life." Using Brush as a metaphor for a bygone era also lends the company credibility, he says. "Who knows steaks better than Brush? It's like Boston Baked Beans or San Francisco Sourdough!" Match up the name with a memorable logo and tagline (see his article for more info). Swartz's conclusion: You've got a winner.
Jay Jurisich, the creative director of Igor is not so enamored. "Brush Steaks is a little different -- it's not 'Colorado Meat Processing' at least, but the name could be doing much more," he says. "Specifically, it has several problems, not the least of which is that nobody outside of the 5,117 residents of Brush, Colo. is likely to connect the name to the idea of 'smalltown roots.' Another problem is the appendage 'steaks.' Contrary to what the marketing class reported, this pairing of words does have a real meaning. However, it's not terribly great. It implies a different kind of 'brush,' that of wild lands dense with bushes or shrubs, so that `Brush Steaks' conjures up euphemistic images of grass-fed wallaby meat, grilled flying squirrel, or jackrabbit filet. It might as well be `Bush Steaks.'"
HARD TO SWALLOW.
His colleague, Igor Managing Director Steve Manning, agrees that while Brush connotes a sense of locality, it doesn't do so on a national level like the name "Omaha Steaks" does. "You would first have to try and get people to understand that Brush is a small Western town, where a name like Jackson Hole communicates 'Western town" without spending a cent. Even with a huge marketing budget, it makes little sense to try and position your brand in a similar way and take on the titans. The opportunity here is to position yourself in a fresh way that awakens a customer base that has grown bored with hearing the same talk from everyone in the industry year after year. Tombstone Pizza and the tagline 'What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?' is an example of the power of breaking out of standard naming-and-messaging conventions. The whole point of marketing is to stand out from the crowd and be embraced by your audience."
He also points out that "Brush steaks" is a common term found in recipes, as in "brush steaks lightly with butter before grilling." Adds Manning: "Anyone searching online to place an order with you will have to wade through scores of irrelevant results."
Los Angeles-based Karen E. Klein is BusinessWeek Online's Smart Answers columnist. She specializes in covering entrepreneurship and small-business issues.