Yell to Hibu – a good naming decision?

I have been accused of saying, “There is no such thing as a bad name”, too many times. It’s the kind of statement that makes it hard for me to criticise most new brand names. It doesn’t stop me from slating them, it just means I have to offer more than whether I ‘like’ them or not.
What do I mean, “bad names”? There are wrong words, words that are not appropriate for a business, but you (the business) and your consumer decide what’s right. How often does the consumer say the name of a brand is wrong (outside of a focus group)?

Yell Group’s recent decision to rebrand as Hibu created a similar discussion around the choice of name. Is the new name a good one?

These days it’s hard to turn off customers with a name alone – they have come to expect the unusual, the different, the memorable – these kinds of names are part of everyday life – for stores, the web, cafes, supermarket products.
A “strange” name will stand out. That doesn’t make it bad. Just like being called “The Sheriff of Nottingham” wouldn’t make me a bad person, would it?

Why then is it that, when a business launches, or relaunches itself, there is always, always a howl of derision from the chatterati? Why do we love to gloat about a name simply because it doesn’t mean anything to us? Are we the target? Do we even care? When did we all become such name snobs? When did we start demanding that all brand names were named after characters in Moby Dick, or were ‘proper’ words?

I heard someone recently describe a new brand name as an empty vessel, meaning that the brand owners have to fill it with significance and worth through brilliant product delivery and service to make it a brand. The very things which make us care.

It’s a dangerous analogy; empty vessels are hollow shells and make the loudest noises, but do not really have any substance. Which makes brand building a tough challenge – a name, good or bad, isn’t enough. A “good name” is built through reputation, not whether we have a strong opinion about the way it is spelled, or if we understand what the word means. Meaning, substance, is communicated through other things.

Hibu, formerly Yell, doesn’t need to mean anything. “Hibernian Butteries”? “Hilly Buttresses”? “Higher Business”? It doesn’t matter one jot. Just like “Google” and “Bebo” and “Kodak” are meaningless. “High-boo” has a vaguely Japanese ring to it, is short, sounds like it stands for something and may intrigue people to find out more. Whether they will be hibu-ing in the future depends on the magic the business offers – something they haven’t been able to find or communicate up to now (hence the name change). So the name can’t really be wrong can it, only the people behind it?

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