– Thoughts on Strategy and Management


If you just wondered what on earth ‚Evonik’ might be, I have already brought my message across.

Evonik is the brand-new name of a very old German industrial group, formerly known as Ruhrkohle AG. Ruhrkole AG, or briefly RAG, has just separated its activities into two different businesses: the mining business will remain branded as RAG. They are not a future core business. The other activities, which are mainly industrial, were brought together in the new Evonik Industries AG, which is planned to go public in 2008.

I fully understand that this new entity needs a new name. Even more so, since the old name ‘Ruhrkole’ (a combination from the river Ruhr and the German word for coal) is related to the mining activities only. Nevertheless, What is ‘Evonik’? What does that mean? What is it supposed to tell me? I couldn’t find any answer on the new website. So I assume it simply does not mean anything at all.

Thus, Evonik is a new example in an inglorious row of completely artificial names. Over the last years, we have seen a growing number of such names. They are not more than a combination of letters that form a more or less pleasant sound, with no meaning at all. Consequently, there also is no connection to the company behind the name, not to its history or to the things it does. There already are so many artificial names, that Financial Times Germay has pulled together a nice little online quiz with the title What were their former names? Do you remember the former names of companies now branded as Tognum, Arcandor, Lanxess, Cognis, Celesio or Talanx? At least, do you know what they are actually doing? I admit that I am not able to relate all of them to a particular industry.

I don’t know if these names have a meaning in a particular language. At least they don’t have in a language that I understand. For me, such names not only don’t reveal anything about the company, I can’t even be sure if this is a company name of a new car model of a foreign brand of toothpaste.

Of course, I understand the reasons why new or rapidly transformed companies choose this type of name, e.g.

  • to signal a new start, to leave the past behind
  • to avoid any conflicts with existing brands and trademarks
  • to get a URL that is not already occupied
  • to have a name that is (halfway) easy to pronounce and to remember in as many languages as possible

Besides that, I see a lot of disadvantages too, especially in the beginning:

  • the name has no personality
  • it doesn’t say anything about the business
  • it will be very expensive to develop such a name to a unique brand
  • there is a high risk that the name is mixed up with other artificial names
  • the brand recognition is low

Having said this, I don’t see the point for artificial names. There are alternatives. Very few companies with such funny names are really new. Most have a history. So there should be one or more brand names that one could use or adapt or develop into something new. Let’s look at Evonik again: Among others, Evonik comprises the businesses of Degussa and Steag. Why not build a new brand from these two (like ThyssenKrupp did) or take the strongest available brand and develop it into an umbrella brand for all other activities.

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