Troy Flower: The trouble with SAHMRI

Many organisations struggle with naming their brand or product.  Take the Clap as a classic example in naming a hygeine product.   IMG_2891Clap is a hypoallergenic alcohol base hand gel.  Despite the promise of lemon aroma, no-one really wants to get clap on their hands now do they?  One can argue that it certainly caught my eye but perhaps not for the right reason. (FYI ‘The Clap’ is a slang term used to refer to a sexually transmitted disease called Gonorrhoea)

In South Australia, we have a more tasteful example and a classic case.  A struggle if you will between localism and opportunism. State pride and global vision or maybe just classical inside out thinking.

What does a new research institute call itself and how is a name decided? Often early on in a venture a name is developed to provide clarity on who and what.  Often developed by subject matter experts and not brand experts. In the case of a research institute it’s probably not the first thing that was thought about. Now to researchers and government officials, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute SAHMRI logo(SAHMRI) is an entirely appropriate name. It’s appropriate because the research community is well known for developing acronyms to accurately describe their work, which is technical and intellectual.  Take the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) as another example. SAHMRI sounds entirely appropriate because that’s a good explanation of what’s going on in the building.  It does what it says on the tin – albeit a very elaborate ‘tin’ in this case.

So what’s the problem with SAHMRI I hear you ask?  The challenge is on several fronts:

  1. The research undertaken at SAHMRI is for global benefit but the name suggests local.
  2. The state of South Australia is not known as a research state.  Now that might change, but at the time of writing this, the inclusion of the state adds no value to the name or the esteem of the organisation, merely places it geographically.
  3. South Australia (SA) is small and funding for SAHMRI will need to come from both inside and outside of SA. While being parochial about the state will encourage state funders, if you want to be competitive globally, your name must reflect your intent to contribute globally – or at least not look like it’s being parochial.  Would an interstate donor think twice about donating to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, when perhaps there is a research organisation in their state?
  4. The name is not outcome or benefit focused.  Health and medical research is the activity but increasingly funders want outcomes, they want impact.
  5. Very few people will remember the full name of the organisation.  They might remember SAHMRI verbally but not in written form.  As is the case, the SAHMRI building is a very fancy looking building.  It’s amazing, and not surprisingly SAHMRI is known as, ‘the space age building up near the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site’.
  6. Those in the know refer to the organisation and the building as SAHMRI.  Now it’s common these days to make up new names/words to gain a space on the internet – this clean space is hard to find – new names are great for this, but you must be able to spell them.  They must be intuitive. If not, you’re up for a bundle of cash to educate your target market on the name and the reason behind it.
  7. So who wants to donate to a building, that is an institute, that does research in South Australia? You can hear the voices now “Someone told me about them, they had some funny name that I didn’t quite grasp, they do research”. Tough ask if you’re out there fundraising to the masses trying to develop an emotional connection.

I spent seven years working at Cancer Council and can confidently say that calling an organisation that is non-government, funded primarily by community donations a ‘council’ is madness.  I am sure it was easily justified by the nature of the organisation, a federated group of charities coming together under a common brand.  A council sounds quite important and official and there is no doubt the word implies some degree of control and authority. Perhaps they are good things for the brand, maybe I’m wrong.  It’s hard to argue that the name has restricted donations as every year they receive collectively around $180m from the Australian public.  I think they could be doing better though and they have been successful in spite of their name, not because of it.

Naming using an internal focus around ‘what activity we do’ is classic ‘inside out’ thinking. It is primarily based on the needs within the organisation, often the needs from the people in power who find it hard to remain objective.  Once you approach the problems from the outside looking into your organisation, ie from your customers perspective you can gain some useful insight. When considering a name, we must consider our target market and their needs from our product/s.

Several years ago, while at Cancer Council SA we jumped in and did just that. We asked donors what they thought we should call a research project.  We put forward several names for their vote.  We’d already decided, in our infinite wisdom that the public would choose ‘Breakthrough Project’.  After all, it was being used in other states and sounded exciting.  Who wouldn’t want a breakthrough in cancer huh?  We did however put other options into the mix.  One option, ‘Beat Cancer Project’ was directly aligned with the organisations mission statement ‘to Beat Cancer’.

You guessed it, the donors voted unanimously for ‘Beat Cancer Project’.  What did the cancer research community think?  They disliked it.  It didn’t sound professional. It implied a promise that they didn’t know they could deliver, there was no evidence that it would lead to cancer being beaten.  Who cared what the research community thought of it?  The research community, that’s who. It was powerful, it was outcome focused, it was visionary and it was simple.

Last time I checked, the research community were not the funders of the project, they were the recipients.  The general public were the funders.  The mums, dads, sons, daughters, cancer survivors, family of those lost to cancer.  They are the ones who are focused not on funding research, they are focused on beating cancer. They are outcome focused, they are the champions for fundraising, they are the primary customer if donations are the enabler of research.

The business model of an organisation is critical to the branding activity.  Charities consistently get their business model back to front. Most charities believe their primary business is doing good (their outcome), they overlook their actual core business; raising money.  If they can’t raise money, they can’t do anything of scale that can have a significant impact.  This insight was offered to me from a very astute professor of marketing from the University of Limerick in Ireland, Professor John Fahey.  While it’s hard to argue with the business model theory for charities, plenty still do.  Who should be the primary stakeholders for naming a charity?  The recipient of the service, the donor who funds the service or the CEO and board?

So who is your true market?  How is your business model structured? Who ‘buys’ what you’ve got to ‘sell’?  In the case of SAHMRI of course, they could be entirely funded by the forced generosity of parochial South Australians through the joy of paying tax.  They could be reliant on the long-game commercialisation of their research or receiving funding solely through organisations like Cancer Council or the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC).  If they are going to rely on the general public, then they might want to reconsider their name or look to spend some significant money educating the public on what SAHMRI does and now to spell it.

Naming is important and if you’re out there launching a new brand, getting known is critical.  The faster you can get your name known, the better for you.  If people know you, they are more likely to trust you and therefore more likely to use your services or buy your products. Is it too late though for SAHMRI to change name?  Is it destined to always be ‘SAHMRI the building’ and not ‘SAHMRI global knowledge for life’?

Remember that Shakespeare’s Juliet sprouted “Tis but thy name that is my enemy….A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.  Clearly this knowledge was powerful as she was dead within days.  I’d change the name.

The moral to the story in Shakespearean tongue:

“Nameth well or spendeth big!”

Incidentally if you google ‘SAMRI’ you get some results for a traditional Arabic form of dance from Saudi Arabia which shows some great spirit and rhythm.  I enjoyed watching it.  Check it out and enjoy your day…

Author: Troy Flower

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