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Technically Speaking

Dropping a brand name can be bad news

I read this morning on Techworld that Cisco is dropping the Linksys brand name, and that future products will be badged with Cisco's own brand.

Now, I've had mixed experiences with Linksys kit over the years (their products have ranged from excellent to utter rubbish, though admittedly my experience of crapness was a couple of years ago), but where the average opinion of a brand is favourable (which I'm sure is the case with Linksys equipment) it's bloody silly to change the name.

I used to work with a reasonably large (700 or so employees) engineering company. They had an excellent reputation in their field, and sales were good. Then they got taken over by a multi-national, and the old name was chucked out and replaced with that of the new owners.

The first obvious issue was the cost of changing the name. Even for a modest size company, the bill ran to tens of thousands, from obvious stuff like changing the letterhead to less obvious things like a new stamp for the franking machine, a new ID for the Telex machine, and a new logo for the door. While some things are less urgent (e.g. if your fleet of trucks is up for lease renewal you leave them alone and simply get the new ones painted with the new logo when they're ordered) there's a surprising amount that needs to be done.

This isn't the point, though. The point is the effect that this re-branding had on the order book - namely that the influx of new orders slowed markedly.

After a couple of years it was clear to those in the bit of the company I worked with (but not, it seems, to those up in the ivory tower in the parent company) that the name change was a bad idea. So the local directors unilaterally decided to change it back.

The result was best summed up by the reaction of someone at a trade show at which we exhibited (a lot of our business came from trade shows). A customer walked up and said: "Where have you been for the last year or two?". The answer, of course, was: "Right here - you just didn't know what we were called".

Back to Cisco, then. Perhaps their reasoning is that people don't really give a stuff about the name for the low-end kind of kit Linksys is known for - they just look what has the features they want for the lowest cost, and buy one of those. And I'm sure this is true in some cases. But I'm also sure that there are some people who buy Linksys do so for the name. After all, my first choice for that level of kit is Netgear - not necessarily because a particular product is the best of its kind, but because in the average case I've been very happy and so it's a brand I trust. And I'm absolutely certain that Cisco's sales will suffer from Linksysphiles failing to spot the change.

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