Lisa Merriam

Breaking Up the Motorola Brand

motorola-brand-breakupSplitting Motorola into two companies should have been a great branding opportunity—a chance to create two distinctive, focused, world leading brand names. Unfortunately, the brains breaking up the Motorola brand missed the opportunity. Trying to spread the Motorola brand equity across two companies destroys the brand for both.

Breaking up the company makes business sense: the two companies now become a business-to-consumer company for cell phones and a business-to-business market for engineering products. What doesn’t make sense is breaking up the Motorola brand.

Instead of one company keeping the Motorola brand and the other creating a new brand, both are using the Motorola name. They double down on the damage by attaching two bland descriptions to the brand: “Mobility” for the mobile devices company and “Solutions” for enterprise and carrier infrastructure. (UPDATE: To illustrate the confusion, many news stories announcing the coming January 4 split are mixing up which name goes with which business.)

Breaking Branding Rule #1: Be Distinctive

The reason to brand anything in the first place is to stand out as uniquely the best in the market. Motorola has been in the 100 best brands because of its clear and distinctive focus. From beginning in the 1930s as “sound in motion”, Motorola has been a leader in mobile communications. By two companies being known as Motorola, the brand no longer stands out and is no longer unique. The market will always be asking “which Motorola?” Equally dangerous, the actions of one company will always impact the actions of the other. Though legally separate companies, their identities remain locked together. If one Motorola stumbles, it brings the other one down.

Meaningless Words Make for Bad Brand Names

To make matters worse, the venerable Motorola name is joined with two add on words. Whoever came up with Motorola Solutions must have used the’s Bullshit Generator . The word should have been retired years ago as a meaningless banality. “Solutions” is so overused that you no longer hire a kid to mow the lawn, you get Gardening Solutions*. You don’t buy underpants, you buy Underwear Solutions*. Forget about taking your shirts to the laundry—now you have Dry Cleaning Solutions*. What makes Motorola Solutions a worse brand name is that “solutions” once described a 1980’s style of consultative selling that better fits with the business-to-business market. It does not work for the consumer company. (* Yep, believe it or not, these are all real companies.)

The Motorola Mobility brand name is just as bad. “Mobility” is a term strongly associated with the mobility industry, which markets scooters and wheelchairs to the disabled. Mobility has come to have an opposite meaning to its actual definition with its strong identification with immobility. The word “mobile” better carries the meaning. European’s and Asians don’t care cell phones, they carry mobile phones.

Brand Names Are a Different Kind of Asset

As accountants broke Motorola into the two spin-offs, they perhaps thought splitting the brand was as easy as splitting the other assets. Brands don’t work that way. Start trying to split them and they lose their integrity. Like Solomon resolving a custody dispute between two mothers by cutting a baby in half, cutting the Motorola brand in half kills it.

The better approach would have been to decide where the Motorola brand had the most power to influence share and profit in the future. Most likely, the Motorola brand is best suited for the vast consumer business where it has equity that would be expensive and time consuming to rebuild. Creating a new name for the business-to-business infrastructure business would require reaching a smaller pool of highly involved and educated buyers. A new name would have helped sell the engineering expertise and future vision of the company. When AT&T broke up, the consumer-facing business kept the venerable name, while the B2B side adopted Lucent.

The Demise of a Top Brand

Both Motorolas face daunting business challenges. Both would be helped by names that could help the companies carve out strong market positions. Unfortunately, by breaking up the name and adding the blemishes of “solutions” and “mobility”, the Motorolas have pre-doomed their marketing efforts. Watch this venerable brand fall off the 100 top brands within a year.

Rebranding considerations

Merger and acquisition naming considerations–they also apply to spin-offs

More naming resources:

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

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