On July 1, 2018 ConvertKit announced a new company name and logo to its users. The announcement of the rebrand to Seva wad made at their annual conference. It took only a few days for conversations about the cultural and religious implications of the word to reach scale.
it was only then that founder Nathan Berry and team started reaching out to customers and non-customers to discuss the name. That's when they realized there was a deeper meaning they had overlooked. As Berry says in an email to customers this week#:
Seva is not just a word that means “selfless service.” It’s not just a word that means “serving without the expectation of anything in return.” It is a holy and sacred practice that involves giving generously to others out of love, tied so deeply to spirituality that it cannot be separated from spirituality itself.
Whenever we choose a name for a company or a product, we send a message. Before we write that message, it's worth doing a deeper study of its meaning and the impact it will create, beyond what we intend.
ConvertKit had a pretty self-explanatory story — use our tools to convert customers and clients. it's direct, simple, and easy to remember. In choosing a new name, the company likely wanted to be more aspirational, but why?
Sometimes companies go with fancy concepts or adopt unusual ideas that are just not worth pursuing. Not everyone is saving the world — some people are just making it run better. A name is also functional, it reflects the useful nature of the product. Caring for creators can translate into a product that helps them get their job done better.
Experience is worth something. In fact, experience is what makes a brand worthwhile
You may recall, or maybe not, the controversy the new Airbnb logo created almost exactly four years earlier — must be something about the summer. When Brian Chesky published the news on the company's blog# and then rolled it out to a small crowd of power users, he was greeted with mixed reviews.
The conversation quickly went to how sexual the symbol was. The Bélo was intended as a symbol of “belonging,” as in feeling at home anywhere, and by extension likely an open invitation to come as you are.
Backlash in social media and strong statements by members of the design community generated several media stories. Among the criticism was how familiar the logo looked#. Another company, Automation Anywhere, was using a similar design at the time.
The confusion was cleared when Automation Anywhere decided to transition to a new logo — something more angular and appropriate for robotic processes automation. Surely a Google search would have helped, said some. Which goes to show how reliant we've become to searching for answers rather than asking better questions.
Symbol aside, a focus on belonging resonated with the community. As Chesky said:
“You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. The rewards you get from Airbnb aren’t just financial — they’re personal — for hosts and guests alike.”
So they are. Belonging is a fundamental driver of humankind. Four years later, the logo has stuck. Because the symbol was connected to a universal yearning that felt true, anywhere in the world. Airbnb's value is the host and guest experience.
Airbnb continues to stand up for its values and defend them in its advertising and in the media. The company takes a stand on cultural issues and engages in conversations relevant to its mission. Their narrative focuses on the need for acceptance and inclusion.
Value is activated by use
Use creates value. Think about important names that have impact — your name. Repetition and use of a name starts lending characteristics to the person's story. We're intuitively aware of how it works. For example, more than one Elizabeth I know goes by Betty, it's more approachable, they say.
I know a Kim who would rather people call her Kimberly. It's a lovely-sounding name, a bigger story. I've resisted nicknames, shortening, and Anglicization of my name. Because my name tells the full story — fearless, and connected with value and nature.
In a sense, your name is your first mission in life. It provides clarity for the people who want to address you, and guidance because it's a beginning. Through its evolution it comes to signify what you stand for, aligning your decisions and purpose with your personal culture.
It's the same with a company name and symbols chosen to represent it. Over time, it's a negotiation between how the business sees itself and what it wants to accomplish, and how others — customers, communities — see them.
Mission does not create impact without action. How we act and the timeliness of our actions determine the value of our message. By itself, a message is just words. So we should take greater care in meaning what we say and working to be more appropriate in line with our actions.
When companies say employees are their greatest asset yet behave in ways that don't reflect a degree of care for people in recruitment and management, they're not living up to their statement, and part of the corporate purpose of serving customers collectively.
Finally, what makes a brand stick — whether it's our charming personality or an organization — is consistency. It's not enough to act in line with our words. The compounding effects of our actions activate value over time. There's no overnight success that raises above the noise for the people who matter and for whom we want to matter.
A naming exercise is just that, unless we mean it. In that case, we're willing to put in the work to uncover our mission, how we act on it, and continue to do so over time.
In response to critical politically charged comments about certain countries, Airbnb released an ad that showed the welcoming smiles of hosts in Haiti, El Salvador, and parts of Africa. “Let’s open doors, not build walls,” it says. “Belong anywhere” is a lot more than an idea, though it started that way.
[image conversation about the Bélo logo]