Having worked with and for venture capital firms over the past decade, we’ve studied the branding, marketing and communications strategies of dozens of firms and have helped several through the process. But nowhere does branding become more critical than in the selection of the name for a new or soon-to-relaunch firm.

Image: Power of Branding

Why naming is crucial.

Developing a brand name is an existential question fraught with risk and opportunity. Naming a firm can be an act of inspiration that yields endless value, but most venture firms either let ego or rudimentary logic guide them. The risk is that if you don’t define your brand, the market will.

Considerations when rebranding

If you are rebranding or relaunching a venture capital firm, carefully consider the role your brand name will have over several investment cycles and throughout the life of the firm.

You may also want to consider the questions your name may cause. When AXA Private Equity created a new identity called Ardian Private Equity, one PE Manager staffer asked “who’s Adrian?”

Ardian had put a lot of thought into its new brand name, which has its roots in an old European word meaning strength, durability and boldness, conducting market research, soliciting pitches from staff and hiring a branding consultant. Those efforts resulted in 50 options, which they then whittled down to three before senior management selected Ardian.

To select its new title, Ardian conducted market research, solicited pitches from staff and hired a branding consultant to come up with over 50 suitable names to choose from. That list was whittled down to three before senior management made the final call on Ardian – a word that has its roots in an old European word meaning strength, durability and boldness.

While rebranding must balance the past with the future, creating a brand for an entirely new firm is an even deeper quandary.

Naming strategies of well-known firms

Let’s take a look at some of the better known firms in venture capital and consider the types of brands and some unique aspects of each category.

Nameplate brands: Firms’ founders can be a natural place to start, especially if they are particularly well-known. Of course there are brand continuity issues as founders retire or more junior partners exceed the accomplishments of founders. Cases in point, Andreesen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.  Two of those three brands made the top five list of VC brands in a recent survey.

Brand Extensions: Taking the name of your parent company and in most cases sole limited partner creates immediate advantages in recognition of your name and purpose. Intel Capital has leveraged their advantaged position to become one the most successful VC funds in recent history. Other examples include Bain Capital, General Mills Ventures and Google Ventures.

Abstract, Foreign or Invented Brands: These brands are easy to “own” as they have little or no usage and meaning in the marketplace. They are a favorite of trademark attorneys given their un-established nature, but require significant time and investment to imbue with meaning. Examples include Accel, Aequitas, Allegis, Sigma Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.

Descriptive brands: For venture capital firms, these names often describe the stage, region or sector for which the firm wishes to be known. They are straightforward, but are often limiting if a firm’s strategy or focus changes over time. Think of First Round Capital, InterWest Partners, Menlo Ventures, BioVentures Investors.

Experiential Brands: A clear, straightforward brand name that tells you what to expect from the brand. These brands create powerful associations, but also require a deft hand in extending the experience beyond its immediate, logical definition. Accelerator Ventures, Foundation Capital, Scale Venture Partners and Insight Venture Partners come to mind.

Aspirational Brands: These names strike a chord with our emotions, elicit positive images in our mind’s eye and create a strong connection that facilitates effective branding over the time. They are most commonly metaphors and require a good deal of business success and effective branding to back them up. Sequoia Capital, Granite Ventures, Benchmark Capital are top examples of aspirational brands.

Strengthening a brand

Image: A Name is What You Brand It

As any good brand strategist will tell you, a name is what you brand it. And brand it they have. Many of these firms invest a significant part of their management fees insuring they have a strong brand association with all three sides of their market: entrepreneurs, investor networks and the limited partners that provide their capital for venturing. All of these brand names convey meaning and have positive associations.

In an upcoming post on branding, we will take a look at some of the newer firms to launch and the choices they made when choosing brand names.