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Branded.

GOOGLE ALERTS WILL BE THE death of me.

I asked Google to e-mail me when it comes across new references to certain Arkansas companies. As a result, I get 50 or more e-mails a day that may or may not be related to the company in question. (There are other people named Dillard out there. And stories about trucks in the USA.)

Last week, Google alerted me to a blog-writing advertising executive in Minnesota who thinks Wal-Mart's new logo is the beginning of its corporate decline. It is to Wal-Mart, Jason Voiovich wrote, what "the softer side of Sears" was to a formerly dominant retailer that is now merely a subsidiary of Wal-Mart rival Kmart.

It seems unlikely that a new logo will make or break Wal-Mart, but it's not surprising that Voiovich--whose Ecra Creative Group specializes in naming, trademarks and brand development--thinks so. As the psychologist Abraham Maslow aptly noted, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The end of Wal-Mart's dominance--and I believe that day will come--is much more likely to come at the hands of a competitor who has a better idea. That's how a five-and-dime in small-town Arkansas became the world's largest retailer. Sears peaked long before it got softer.

I do, however, have a couple of problems with Wal-Mart's new logo. First, it looks too much like that of Centennial Bank in Little Rock, which looks more like a yogurt brand than a financial institution. This is a temporary problem, since Centennial and its siblings in the Home Bancshares family are being rolled into a single charter with a common diamond-shaped logo.

Much more problematic is the decision to go from Wal-Mart to Walmart. There was a time when this wouldn't matter. A clerk in the newspaper morgue would simply file the Walmart stories in the file with the earlier Wal-Mart stories. But in the digital world, the loss of a hyphen messes up online archive searches. Even in Google, a search for Walmart delivers half as many references as a search for WalMart. The fact that WalMart didn't consider this practical complication--or didn't appreciate its implications--may say more about its future than the logo itself.

For the time being, Arkansas Business will continue hyphenating Wal Mart in hopes of keeping our archive searches complete.

Johnny Allison, CEO of Home BancShares, and I recently discussed the upcoming charter merger and the difficulty of coming up with a single name for the resulting bank. For lack of a real name, he kept referring to it as "Humpty Dumpty Bank," which I'm fairly certain won't stick.

In my earlier incarnation as a banking reporter in Nashville, Tenn., I wrote about an up-and-coming bank out of Birmingham called First Alabama. Shortly thereafter, it renamed itself Regions Bank, a name it bought from First Commercial Corp. of Little Rock. (A few years later, of course, Regions bought all First Commercial's assets.)

I never have cared for the Regions name--too generic. But when it comes to logos and branding, Jason Voiovich could only pray for such a client. The logo changed after Regions acquired Union Planters Corp. of Memphis in 2004 and again after it acquired Birmingham rival AmSouth in late 2006.

The cost of changing the signs on almost 2,000 branches--not to mention ATM kiosks--must be staggering. But even that will pale in comparison to Wal-Mart's rebranding of more than 7,200 facilities worldwide.

I hope I don't get a Google e-mail every time a new sign goes up.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. E-mail her at gmoritz@abpg.com.
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Title Annotation:Editor's Note
Author:Moritz, Gwen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:601
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