People tend use abbreviations when they have fewer syllables than the original term. GE is often used instead of General Electric. IBM instead of International Business Machines. In order to make their company names more general and easier to say, many corporations have changed their legal names to a series of two or three letters. Ries and Trout argue that such changes usually are unwise.
Companies having a broad recognition may be able to use the abbreviated names and consumers will make the translation in their minds. When they hear “GM”, they think “General Motors”. However, lesser known companies tend to lose their identity when they use such abbreviations. Most people don’t know the types of business in which companies named USM or AMP are engaged.
The same applies to people’s names as well. While some famous people are known by their initials (such as FDR and JFK), it is only after they become famous that they begin using their initials. Ries and Trout advise managers who aspire for name recognition to use an actual name rather then first and middle initials. The reason that initials do not lead to recognition is that the human mind works by sounds, not by spellings.
Most companies began selling a single product, and the name of the company usually reflected that product. As the successful firms grew in to conglomerates, their original names became limiting. Ries and Trout advise companies seeking more general names to select a shorter name made of words, not individual letters. For example, for Trans World Airlines, they favored truncating it simply to Trans World instead removing all words and using the letters TWA.
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