WHAT THE PENTAGON IS LEARNING ABOUT BRANDING
But they may have missed the boat in renaming US Pacific Command.
The Defense Department announced this week that US Pacific Command is being rebranded to US Indo-Pacific Command¹ to reflect an expanded theater of responsibility which now includes 36 nations and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
What may be a surprise is that the Defense Department has put into practice some of the branding principles that consumer brands follow. A shift in positioning, expansion of market reach and change in organizational structure are just some of the many reasons an organization would look to rebrand. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, a key goal of the Pacific Command rebranding was to emphasize the importance of India’s role in global security and the connection between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Although India has been part of Pacific Command, the rebrand reframes its positioning by elevating the regional footprint into the primary brand expression —a new name: US Indo-Pacific Command.
Creating new names is never an easy proposition.
US Armed Forces has a long standing protocol for naming that heavily relies on the use of compound or blended parts of words, acronyms, initialisms or combinations thereof. In the commercial world, names that are short, simple, and understandable are more the norm. Metaphoric names (names that are symbolic), like Apple, Amazon, and Nike, are highly distinctive and memorable — necessary in a highly competitive commercial environment. In contrast the root of naming convention in the US Armed Forces is primarily descriptive even though these almost always get shortened to an acronym or blended word — US Pacific Command = USPACOM.
A Missed Opportunity?
The missed opportunity with this name change might be in what its short form version is, something for which the government and Armed Forces have an affinity to do in its naming practices. This, of course, serves a more practical internal communication function. There might be more to consider, however. In today’s highly dynamic communication environment, brand names are the flag bearer of the entity they represent. Use in the press and social media can’t be underestimated. Recognition and understanding with the public is as equally as important as how a name functionally works within the organization. This is true for the government, military, or any public corporation.
In the “Twitter Age”, brevity is the rule, but short, clear, and memorable names are the best of all worlds.”
The assumed default for US Indo-Pacific Command is likely to be US INDO-PACOM. While it is a pronounceable blended part-word construct (always a good thing when you can pronounce it), it is not all that short, nor is it particularly memorable. The Department of Defense might want to consider other options, perhaps something more distinctive and memorable. Something that would look good in the Washington Post or sound good on CNN.
Ideas for US Indo-Pacific Command – its abbreviated form.
(Indo-Pacific Command) This is the shortest possible rendition that follows a traditional commercial corporate path of a 3 letter initialism (IBM and UPS being prime examples). Very short, twitter friendly, but not that distinctive or memorable.
(Indo-Pacific COMmand) Slightly longer than IPC, but is pronounceable, which always helps recognition and retention. “COM” captures the Command element of the name as well.
(Indo-Pacific COmmand of The United States) This follows suit with the same structure of other government usage (not brands as such): POTUS (President of the United States), SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States), and other “OTUS” renditions. There is already some familiarity built into the format.
(INdo-PAcific COmmand) This has a degree of distinction that the other options don’t. INPACO could even have a subliminal meaning suggesting “impact” which would be a positive association with the mission of the Indo-Pacific Command.
(INDO–PACific Command)This version puts emphasis on INDO (Indian Ocean) and PAC (Pacific) which was one of the primary objectives of the rebranded name in the first place. It is easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and distinctive.
Rebrands, especially when changing a name, are a unique opportunity to make a statement of change and to signal what that change is. Branding has long since expanded beyond the domain of the commercial sector. Some of these branding practices are being embraced by the government and US Armed Forces.
Branding can be a great ally.”