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New Booz in New Bottles: PwC’s (yes) Brilliant Renaming of Booz & Co.

Drew Letendre

It was a big news story in the B2B branding world, but it was one that sounded like a joke: “Accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers completed its acquisition of management-consulting firm Booz & Co. and has renamed Booz, “Strategy&,” reported by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month (read the piece).

This announcement generated a lot of commentary among marketing experts and brand pundits. Many howled in response, making fun of the name in comment boxes under news stories — the company is “smoking the reefer,” someone wrote — penning blog posts, and guffawing in 140-character bursts in the Twittersphere.

Many ask “Strategy and what?” What about having an ampersand in the URL? Never mind that Google protocols make concerns like this irrelevant. And then there are other feigned concerns, like the new telephone protocol:

Reception: ‘Good morning, Strategy&. How can I direct your call?’
Caller: ‘Hello? I think we may have a bad connection — Strategy &?’
Reception: ‘Oh, I’m sorry — Strategy&. Can I help you? Was that better?’
Caller: ‘Uh, I think we do have a bad connection. I keep losing you after you say ‘and.’

And on it goes. Here I take a different view, arguing that in spite of the pot shots it will absorb, everything is going to be just fine, thank you very much. Not only will the proverbial dust settle after the initial ballyhoo, with ‘Strategy&’ taking its place among other taken-for-granted new business monikers, but ‘history will be kind to it’ — ‘Strategy&’ may come to be seen in hindsight, as an inflection point, a positive milestone in naming practice. Why? Primarily, because it is utterly unique — uniqueness being one of branding’s Holy Grails. It has other, related merits worth noting…

Strategy& is a New Kind of Name (with some old kinds of roots)
Few, if any other businesses of this kind incorporate a punctuation symbol so prominently and, well, ‘intimately,’ into their name/word mark. Yahoo! and ?WhatIf! Innovation come to mind. Strategy& adds a new band to the naming spectrum. Let’s face it: we’ve been drawing from the same old stock house of name templates: metaphors (Virgin, Amazon), eponymous names (Dell, Dolby), portmanteau names (WellPoint, InkJet), descriptive names (General Electric, General Dynamics), acronyms (IBM, HP, ITT), place names (Boston Consulting, Boise) and neologies (Accenture, Altria, Enron). ‘Strategy&’ is arguably a new kind of name (even if I can’t come up with a name for it). But even beneath this novelty, one can limn respectful subliminal references — one to Booz’s well-regarded publication, Strategy + Business, and even its now-former name, Booz & Company. Thus can allusion to history become an innovative precedent in naming.

Strategy& is a True Future Brand
Given the environment in which businesses often expand into adjacent markets, categories, and industries — transforming themselves, in the process — flexible names that allow them the capacity to change, move, and grow without rebranding, are valuable assets. The implied “blank” after & in the name, gives the new Booz that kind of permission. ‘Strategy&’ in that regard, is a true ‘future brand.’

Strategy&: The Presence of Absence
It seems to be a psychological truism that our attention is often drawn to what is missing from something, rather than to what exists. We are drawn to felt absence, over real presence. Strategy& feels not so much incomplete or truncated, as beguiling and provocative. Some might fault it for incompleteness, as a kind of amputated name, but others will be prompted to curiosity by it, to ask questions about it, and even to provide answers for themselves.

Strategy& Narrative Potential 
Strategy& CEO Cesare Mainardi’s strategic narrative about the name change plays beautifully in this scenario. “‘Strategy&’ came from what [we] see Booz as adding to PwC — an ability to not only counsel companies on corporate strategy but to help them translate that advice into concrete steps they can take,” he said.

So, the blank following ‘&’ plays the role of an agent provocateur drawing attention to the new Booz’ differentiator: implementation. PwC + Booz = accounting + (consulting strategy + implementation). In the naming profession, we always and everywhere labor to comply with a set of standard “metrics” — we say a name should be: short; distinctive within competitive set; memorable; meaningful; easy to pronounce; free of trademark conflict; give no offense in principal languages; and align with (or, not run contrary to) business or brand strategy. This is all well and good. But an unsung virtue of names is their capacity to serve as the root of a compelling strategic business narrative. A “good” name will be a light, easy spur to tell a story that leads to a conversation about your business.

Strategy& gives this capacity to PwC as it explains the rational for its acquisition of Booz. Some might contend that names ought to speak for themselves and that they should NOT beg questions. But this is hardly ever the case, even with more mundane monikers.

It is a rare name indeed, the meaning of which is — as Thomas Jefferson might say — “self-evident.” The most storied names in business (no pun) — Nike, Apple, Amazon, Virgin — all required and benefited enormously from the support of context, rationalizing stories, and well-executed campaigns to explain them, justify them and breathe life into them. There’s no getting around it. Strategy& is not unique in requiring an armature before it becomes a free-standing structure.

The upside of all the debate and criticism? Ironically, it will help make the name more familiar, sooner. These, too, are important tools in the brand namer’s bag of tricks: Time and Repetition, which beget familiarity. I predict we will look back on this name change as ultimately no big thing (in the negative sense) and, perhaps, even hail Strategy& as a notable naming innovation. Then, of course, we’ll see all sorts of company names incorporating symbols. They will bloom like poppies on a California hillside in Spring. Mark my names.