The powers that be at Yahoo and Verizon surely had bigger things to worry about than their new name. And by selecting Altaba, it’s clear they concerned themselves very little. Brand pundits are likely surprised by the move, given how much attention Yahoo! devoted to its recent rebranding.
First, congratulations for demonstrating the courage to abandon the name Yahoo!. By any measure, it is an easier task to rebrand than to change minds.
And at face value, Altaba is not a bad name. In fact, one can make a compelling argument that it is a strong name: It is not overly long or hard to pronounce despite having three syllables; it has a certain rhythm to it; and if you want to deconstruct it linguistically you can speak to alta being elevated or top (positive attributes to be sure) and the repeating ‘a’s reinforce leadership, performance and superiority. Furthermore, sound symbolists will argue that the percussive ‘b’ sound triggers notions of action and movement. (Compare this to the fewer gyrations your vocal tract makes to produce the less active ‘p’ sound.)
But Altaba doesn’t stand alone - it is inextricably tied to Yahoo! And given everyone’s penchant to kick around the company anyway, a name without a positive narrative to support it will turn into a punch line.
Five years from now, the company will either succeed or fail on its merits and nobody will care about the name. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, so it is incumbent upon any brand leader to ensure the narrative, especially in a high-profile situation like this, is positive.
Here’s what we know: Altaba is portmanteau of alternative and Alibaba suggesting, somewhat flat-footedly IMHO, that the new entity is an alternative to Alibaba. Fair enough… but it misses opportunities both clear and subtle. Clearly, while consumers love choice, they don’t so much like alternatives. This is a difference with a distinction. Choice has unabashedly positive connotations, while alternative suggests second-class status. Subtly, the stories promulgated in the press paint a picture of resignation. Part of that tableau is a business model that seems to say: “well, an alternative is the best we can hope for.” And the decision seems to take place amid a background that disregards the power of creativity in general, and the power of a brand story in a particular. It sounds like they settled.
Altaba is now and forever a simple portmanteau, whereas it could have been a soaring new choice in the media landscape.
No brand name is an island as it will always be considered in context. This is less about a brand name than it is a lesson in how to support the brand narrative behind it.