These two topics are not the same, but they do share an important link for me.
First, to introduce Acronym Anxiety, in the summer of 2014, as I write this, Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria have taken over large portions of both countries, terrorizing the population, and rebranding their group, formerly known as “Al Queda,” as “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” or ISIS.
Ironically, the original ISIS was an Egyptian goddess worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the patroness of nature and magic. Generous, nurturing, and compassionate, she was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, although she also listened to and responded to the prayers of the wealthy, young maidens, aristocrats and rulers.
But I digress. In 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon formed a consortium they called “ISIS” (for reasons I don’t recall, and which their Website does not explain) to sponsor and support a “digital wallet” to transact mobile payments using Near Field Communication, or NFC technology. Payments would be processed through Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express as credit processing sponsors. ISIS was reasonably well known in the mobile commerce world, but never really gained the traction the partners had hoped. They continued to support it, nevertheless, and were always included in, or at least mentioned in, overviews of mobile wallet platforms and options.
When ISIS in the Middle East became a media sensation in the summer of 2014, ISIS the consortium recoiled in horror at the “hijacking” of their branding acronym. While this is understandable, it is a perfect example of how acronyms, even if properly registered as trademarks or otherwise protected within communications agreements, nationally or internationally, can come to be associated with nefarious organizations or gain other unsavory and damaging connotations simply by happenstance.
On July 7, 2014, ISIS CEO Michael Abbott announced that the group would be rebranding in order to avoid association with the religious militant terrorists. As of July 26, 2014, however, the ISIS consortium Website still proudly displays the ISIS logo.
A similar incident occurred with Sam Edgar, a friend and colleague of mine. In the 1990s he wrote a computer program in the order processing field with the acronym of CAM, then later formed a systems development company he called “eta Designs, LLC.” When I heard about this in an email, followed by a phone discussion, I wryly inquired if he planned to have any connection with ETA, the Basque separatist militants in Spain. After an embarrassed silence on his end, he mumbled something coy and suggested they might help promote his cause, or some such brush-off. But he wasn’t about to change the name of his Limited Liability Corporation, because it wasn’t worth the time or trouble.
A Web search of ETA shows that it is currently in use by a design firm, a watch manufacturer, and Expert Technology Associates, an industrial design outfit. So ETA lives on in all its guises.
The lesson, of course, is that acronyms can be dangerously confusing or confusingly associated. My own “MSA” or Marketing Systems Analysis,” has quite a few totally different associations with multiple organizations and companies.
If you’re going to use an acronym in your branding, I suggest it be followed by a tagline. Let’s say you are in the real estate business. If your company is Ralston, Harrison Assoctates, or RHA, I’d always refer to it, especially in print or online, as “RHA, the Property Sales Experts,” or something like that. Qualifiers that define can also enhance, and can be a major part of your branding effort.
Of course, sometimes your branding assets can be a lucrative part of your estate. Since I got into the online world early on, I was able to secure the URL of www.schell.com. Much later, a German company, Schell GmbH & Co., KG, approached me to ask if I would be interested in selling the URL to them. Since its value to me was more than financial, I declined their modest offer (and I’m not sure how high they would have had to bid to win me over). Anyway, I have notified my wife and family that after I die, they should strategically handle the sale of www.schell.com to extract the highest possible value from it, which will surely cover funeral costs, perhaps pay for a few nice vacations, and possibly pay off someone’s mortgage.
Which leads me to….
Sam Edgar of “eta” fame sadly passed away a couple of years ago at a far-too-early age, from medical complications that he had struggled to overcome for quite some time. He finally lost the battle, and he is sadly missed by many friends and family.
But just this week I received a notification from LinkedIn that he was “celebrating his fifth work anniversary at eta Designs, LLC.” I knew instantly that this was bogus, and an automatically generated alert that became, alas, an artifact of digital immortality. Nevertheless, it was startling and a bit upsetting.
The subject of your “digital afterlife” is the subject of a book by that name and of many other blogs, articles, and discussions. The Website “The Digital Beyond” has a nice infographic that lays out all the relevant details, ramifications, issues, and strategies for managing what happens to your digital presence after you die.
Evan Carroll, the author of “The Digital Beyond,” is a leading expert in this field and a frequent speaker on the subject. I don’t need to belabor it any further (partly because it’s hard to summarize all the subtopics in any meaningful fashion any better than the infographic does). So if you’d like advice, read his book, or email him at email@example.com. And “tell ‘em Groucho sent you” (look it up).
One final note about Sam Edgar and death: I happened to be on the phone with him on Saturday morning, February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up and disintegrated in flames over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The announcement of the event was flashed on television, which I had muted but left on across the room where I was speaking on the phone with Sam. Of course I told him about it, and we reflected solemnly for a few minutes on life, fate, death, and the beyond.