Yet another iconic brand is changing its name. Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation, the parent company of the like-named gun manufacturer, is asking its shareholders to approve a name change to American Outdoor Brands Corporation. The company’s management believes that the name better reflects the corporate strategy of diversifying into other outdoor products. It intends to keep the Smith & Wesson name for its handguns.
It makes sense for the company to change its name as it diversifies. The iconic Smith & Wesson name is associated with a single product, handguns, which in some circles have a very negative connotation. Not all campers are handgun enthusiasts, for example, so it makes sense from that perspective.
However, the choice of American Outdoor Brands Corporation befuddles me.
Companies do not get the chance very often to change their names because it is a shout to audiences that something has changed and will stay that way.
American Outdoor Brands just names a category.
Name changes are expensive, cause a moderate degree of internal confusion and take time and money to convey to the target audiences. They should never be created haphazardly or without purpose.
This name change does not feel well thought out, even if it has a purpose (giving the company permission to offer other products). American Outdoor Brands Corporation lacks any gravitas, feels cheap and is completely void of any emotional intensity. It sounds like a private label company selling cheap camp chairs or rubber footballs. It certainly does not sound like a name of a parent company with a rich heritage brand like Smith & Wesson.
Any brand that the new company could create or acquire could never have the equity that Smith & Wesson has. This is not to say that changing the name is a bad idea. As I said, it makes sense to change the name but the new name should begin to create equity on its own. But it should have meaning. That’s where the opportunity lies.
A casual description of a category does not constitute as meaning. A name change is worthless if it’s easily dismissed or lacks meaning.
Nothing is set in stone yet for Smith & Wesson, so it still has time to reconsider. The success of its diversification may depend on it.