Matsushita's branding dilemma

Kenji Hall

It seems Matsushita Electric Industrial is considering a new strategy for its brand. A few days ago, Matsushita officials sent out a survey by email to journalists asking for advice. The company--which sells Panasonic TVs, cameras and other consumer electronics as well as National rice cookers and air-conditioning units and other home appliances--wanted to know what it could do to raise the profile of the Panasonic brand. It didn’t say specifically that it would consider doing away with the company’s formal name, but that seemed to be what they were hinting at.

It might be a wise choice. In Japan, the popular pun on the company’s name was "Maneshita" (rough translation: copycat) for its tendency to sell products that resemble competitors'. And it rarely breaks into the ranks of the globe’s top brands. That’s starting to change. Now, execs encourage engineers to work on new technologies that would distinguish Matsushita’s products from rivals’. It’s showing in the acclaim the company has won for its innovation, most recently with the IDEA awards. Matsushita took home the most prizes of any company in the contest.

Getting rid of the Matsushita name (it's the surname of the founder who started the company eight decades ago) might make it easier to focus on its brand message to consumers. Most top global brands--Nike, Toyota, Apple, Sony, Google and Microsoft spring to mind--sell products under the same name as the company’s. Matsushita should take note--and follow suit. Selling products under a different name from the company's can confuse consumers (and would-be investors), especially in overseas markets where the Matsushita name carries little weight.

A snippet from the email:
Today, we would like to ask your advice on how we can increase the chance for us to be described as "Panasonic" in your publications. Our official registered company name is Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. However, it is also true that the penetration of "Matsushita" is quite low on a global basis. We feel it is very important that we deliver the consistent brand image concentrating on "Panasonic."

The fact that the company is thinking about this at all is a big step in the right direction. I can understand why the commpany might be reluctant to suddenly change its name (history, tradition). But if that helps Panasonic nail down a coherent brand message while broadening its image from a flat-panel plasma TV maker to one that sells all-purpose consumer electronics, it's worth considering. The email sent to journalists might have been a very preliminary trial balloon. But if you ask me, the company already knows what it has to do.