Johnson & Johnson: an identity crisis

October 1, 2007

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Remember the brouhaha over the unholy alliance between corporate behemoths Adobe and FedEx? Two companies, both with a culture of ignoring client complaints, joined forces to steer print away from Adobe's loyal customer base and toward Kinko's, the college copy service.

At the forefront of this battle was the director of the National Assn. of Quick Printers, a fellow named Steve Johnson. Nice name. He was quoted extensively in the press, making stern statements on behalf of his constituents and the National Assn. of Printing Leadership. He acquitted himself pretty well, and the desired outcome — persuading Adobe to alter its course — was achieved.

I'm glad Mr. Johnson did a good job, because he and I have the same name. I don't know what he looks like, but I hope he's devilishly handsome. Because people might confuse us, I want him to make a good impression.

There also is a Steve Johnson who writes a technology newspaper column, and another who writes technology books. Several Steve Johnsons are prominent on the inkjet side of digital printing, another is well known in religious publishing, while still another Steve Johnson teaches digital photography.

Steve Johnson was heavily involved in AOL's online digital picture project. A Steve Johnson works for a Web storefront digital printer in Colorado, and I think there is a Steve Johnson in the Donnelley organization. Have I missed anyone?

All of the above Steve Johnsons are distinctly different people. All have earned prominence in their respective fields, which overlap enough with my own areas of expertise that I could easily be mistaken for any one of them, or they for me.

There also are many prominent Steve Johnsons in politics, including one in the president's cabinet. Most aren't involved in printing, but their forays into the headlines only add to the confusion.

I didn't pick my name. My parents did so without consulting me. By tradition I should have been Willis Johnson IV, so I'm fine being Steve!

One lesson I learned was to give my children less common first names. They share their names with dozens, instead of thousands.

The Johnson's World Identity Quiz

Is your name in your company name? In my home state, you'll find Johnson Publishing, Johnson Group, Johnson Press, Johnson Press of America, Johnson & Quinn and Johnson Graphics, to name a few. The state refused incorporation to Johnson Printers, my uncle's firm. “Too many Johnsons” was the reason. Too confusing. The state is always confused, but how about customers? Sacrificing ego for clarity is a good idea.

Is your name a byword? Paul Newman is a star, and the Newman's Own Foundation benefits from putting his name on the box. Paul Newman we ain't. Do you think you are too big to have this problem? Consider: The public never did realize the difference between yellow page printer R.H. Donnelley and everything else printer R.R Donnelley.

Does your name have “printing” or “graphics” in it? Has this ever happened to you at a party?

“Hi, what do you do?”

“I'm a printer.”

“Really? I need some business cards.”

If you are one of the few who specialize in business cards, you leap at the chance to spend the next hour nailing down a $20 order. The rest of us leap out the window. Don't blame the other guy; you told him you were “a printer.”

Does your name describe your business? Today, Gutenberg would correctly be Johan's Heirloom Bible Publishing. No one will ask him to print business cards. Danger: Changing Jones Printing to Jones Media, Jones Graphics or Jones Co. is generic, not descriptive.

Does your name have “press” in it? All joking aside, I can't tell if Smedley Press is a printing company, a book publisher or a dry cleaner. Perhaps “press” shouldn't be used at all.

Does your name have an unforeseen meaning? No offense, but Double Image Press (of which there are several) comes to mind. One meaning of double image is an error. A doubly imaged press sheet is spoiled. It might also mean twice the value, but you shouldn't need to explain or justify your name.

Does your logo contain a register mark or a color bar? Does it have a picture of Ben or Johan? How about paper between two rollers? A slug of lead type? Does your logo contain clip art or stock design? Say, do you have a logo?

Anonymity wears well on secret agents, recovering alcoholics, stool pigeons and doers of good deeds. It is a decided liability in businesses seeking to increase market share. Generic might be good for discount groceries, but it is no better than anonymous in the graphic arts world.

Now, what did you say your name was?