If anyone knows how to get great value out of a story, it’s brand maestro John Murphy, and his career and legacy on the branding world, make for a fascinating tale.
In 1974 John set up his name creation business out of his spare room and today that company is Interbrand, the world’s biggest brand consultancy.
The seeds of Interbrand’s global success were planted when a stint working at British rubber giant Dunlop convinced him of the need for a competent, professional name creation agency.
There were many incidents that drilled into him this theory – in particular the hassle he encountered when tasked with finding an international name for a tyre that could run while flat.
After many false starts, when a name was finally produced by a small French company called Novamark, Murphy was amazed at the commotion involved and while the end result, Denova, was adequate, the lack of a solid methodology in arriving at this choice baffled him.
He was intrigued when the board of directors took just a few minutes to approve a 100 million pound writedown on a disastrous merger and then took one hour and 55 minutes to rubberstamp the name Denova and it struck him if a name held such significance this meant a business providing one would take off.
Frustrated with big British business he worked for a merchant bank, Noble Lowndes, which only confirmed what he suspected; the bureaucracy of corporate life was not for him.
He had kept in touch with the French company that had named the new tyre for him at Dunlop and when they asked him to set up a London base he knew there was a need for this service and jumped.
The first thing John did was develop a methodology to come up with 30 names which combined insights from consumer groups with desk research, language checks, and an initial legal search with further checks made on the selected shortlist.
His former colleague Mike Grant, head of Trade Mark at Dunlop, joined him and they offered name creation, legal search and clearance and legal trade work.
John spent weeks putting together a contact list and his first mailshot was sent out to 7,000 businesses – his aim not just to advertise his services but rather the principals of what he was offering.
He got one reply – to come up with a name for an over the counter medicine. Less than three months in and he had a client.
Soon after, the company came up trumps with ‘Homebase’ for Sainsburys, who were branching into the DIY business, and on the strength starting working with big companies such as BT and Mars.
The company attracted a lot of press when a lucky contract with Austin Rover came racing in the door ; a name was urgently needed and thousands had been rejected. It was a big job and John pulled it off with Metro the final result.
At the end of the seventies Mars and other clients had assured him there was lots of work to be had in the States so in 1979 Interbrand set up in New York – by this stage the name Novamark had been dropped after the Paris company had gone bust.
In 1982 Interbrand had opened in Paris and Frankfurt with Tokyo to follow a year later. By now the company was unrecognisable from its beginnings. They were no longer name creators but creators of ‘brands’.
The concept that brands can be used to signify provenance, to build trust and project an identity customers can relate to – John called branding, a term he was the first to use in the title of a book he was editing “Branding: A Key Marketing Tool”.
By 1983 Interbrand added market research, packaging and corporate identity design and brand strategy consultancy to its services and in 1988 landed the deal that inspired its invention of brand valuation.
A spate of high profile mergers had put the spotlight on brands which were still being shovelled in with Goodwill on the balance sheet.
John could see brands were being consistently undervalued, or even ignored, and investors and city analysts also started to take notice.
A seminal moment for Interbrand was when an Australian food group attempted to buy British food company Ranks, Hovis, McDougall and Murphy warned RHM to head off this hostile bid they needed to demonstrate the true value of their brands which included Mr Kipling and Hovis.
They asked him to take on the task and this sparked a new brand valuation technique – projected cash flow, discounted according to strength which was determined by a brand questionnaire.
This resulted in a 650 million brand value going on RHM’s books in 1989 which headed off the bid and was a turning point for brands and for Interbrand.
At the age of 50 John felt his work was done at Interbrand ; it had expanded so much it needed a more corporate identity and he remained, at heart, a maverick entrepreneur.
In 1993 after considering going public he sold up to advertising giant, Omnicom, who remain the owners today.
Interbrand had been a rollercoaster – with exhilarating highs and devastating lows – it had been a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun and John had certainly left his mark ; today top brands are worth billions and Interbrand still releases its annual league tables of the most valuable brands.