By ALex Kelley of Catchword.
Philips Lighting has changed its name to Signify. Why is this significant?
First, a little background: in 2016, Philips Lighting was spun off from the Netherlands-based multinational Philips Corporation (which was founded in 1891 by a Philips father and son team). Signify is retaining the Philips brand for their products, like Philips Hue. You may have heard of this colorful, smart-home enabled lights platform, which is perhaps the greatest innovation in home ambience control since the dimmer switch.
The company has well over a hundred years of name equity, the products are retaining the Philips name, and, aside from GE, Philips is the most recognizable brand in bulbs … so why make the change?
Brand authenticity and trust are important yet expansive concepts that can be conveyed in many ways. Names grounded in a place successfully convey authenticity and trust (sugarers from Vermont can charge about 10% more for their syrup because they get to put the word Vermont on the label). Refreshing honesty can convey that too (dating app Bumble is perfectly honest about the awkwardness of dating). One common method is the use of personal names in the company name. That was how company’s were named for centuries. But in this regard, consumer preferences are changing. Last name — especially staid or formal-sounding names — as brand name can now be a detriment, depending on the industry. The use of first names is increasing exponentially. Think Oscar (healthcare), Harry’s (shave club), Tom’s (toothpaste and deodorant), Burt’s Bees, or James & Erin (Amazon house clothing brand).
Another aspect of last-name brand names is they don’t generally convey responsiveness or innovation. Sometimes that doesn’t matter or even is a positive. Are you in an industry that hasn’t changed much, like glass windows? Anderson is just fine. Are you a posh haberdashery? Then Joe’s isn’t for you. Alcohol distiller brands benefit from the perception of history and tradition that comes with use of last names or full names — Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Jameson, and Smirnoff are even more potent than the products they label. (But note that even this sector is changing. The meteoric rise of Tito’s Vodka is a case in point.)
Back to formerly Philips Lighting. If this company sold basic LED bulbs (which are new-ish technology but resemble the kind of bulbs that have been around since Edison), Philips would be just fine. But since the company is making a name for itself in a cutting-edge aspect of the sector — smart-home, smart-phone enabled colored lighting — having a name that points only to its long legacy could be a detriment, especially if the company plans on continually driving the industry to new heights.
So the company split the difference. It is keeping Philips for products to leverage the brand equity, but changed the master brand to something more versatile that will allow it to launch any number of new products in the future with or without the name Philips.
But why Signify?
“The choice of our new company name originates from the way light becomes an intelligent language, which connects and conveys meaning,” said Signify CEO Eric Rondolat in a release. “It is a clear expression of our strategic vision and purpose to unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world.”
Sure, fine. Signify didn’t drop my jaw at first blush, but after some thought I found it surprisingly robust. It sounds positive, mildly energetic, and scientific. It doesn’t limit the company to a sector if it chooses to move beyond lighting. As a fairly short, real English word, it’s in keeping with the millennial-targeted naming trend (the theory being that short, lexical words convey simple authenticity, which are keys to the millennial heart, and wallet).
Note that the name Hue actually benefits from both the short, real English word and the first name trends if you consider sound alone (“Hugh”). Signify even markets the platform’s connectivity with home assistants like Alexa and Siri as “Friends of Hue.”
All in all, Signify is rather unexpected, which is a good thing — like family name brands, names that are too close to what you’d expect don’t convey innovation. I can live with Signify just fine; the real brilliance is in changing the company name.