For some businesses, words can't express what they do

From "Assurance" to "Esurance" to "preventistry," companies and marketers are increasingly creating new words to describe their businesses and what they offer.

The parent company of the Weather Channel is dropping the name "Channel" from its corporate name. The CEO of the company told The New York Times this week that "Channel" is too limiting. It's just the latest company to rethink what's in a name.

The online financial services company Covestor lets customers mirror trades made by experienced investors. With the business model mapped out, the founder and some employees headed to a London pub to settle on a name. Over a few pints, Covestor beat out the exciting, but decidedly less relevant, OrangeComet.

In industries that are a little dry, an unusual name can change the conversation.

One person who understands that is Hal Belodof. He's the president and COO of parent company for Plymouth Rock Assurance, an auto and home insurance company that operates in the Northeast.

"When you hear the word ‘insurance’, what do you think of?" Belodoff says. "Complexity, jargon, bureaucracy, inflexibility."

Belodoff says the company lives up to its name with programs like offering cab fare to policyholders who feel unsafe getting behind the wheel. The company was founded in Massachusetts in 1982, but "assurance" became its marketing focus when new state regulations attracted larger competitors about five years ago.

"We had to figure out a way we could distinguish ourselves from the noise and the clutter that is filling the airwaves all over the country," Belodoff said.

And they’re not alone in tweaking the “I” word.

Esurance is a web-based car insurance company owned by Allstate. In wry commercials voiced by John Krasinski, who’s best known for selling paper as Jim Halpert on the TV show “The Office,” the company touts itself as being “born online” and “raised by technology.”

If discussing auto insurance isn’t exactly fun, talking about dental work is like -- well -- pulling teeth. So it's probably no coincidence that dental benefits administrator Dentaquest has a program called “Preventistry.”

But choosing a clever name or slogan isn’t enough to truly stand out, according to Boston University College of Communication Professor John Verret, who is also the former president and CEO of the advertising agency Arnold Worldwide.

“People don’t care about brands. They don’t care about advertising unless it has some effect on them,” Verret said. “Preventistry doesn’t mean a darn thing. Esurance, Assurance doesn’t mean anything unless there’s a consumer benefit that goes along with it.”

In other words, what’s in a name is up to the customer. 

 

About the author

Doug Tribou is a reporter for the Only A Game sports program produced at WBUR in Boston.

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