Monthly Archives: November 2006

Naming With Initials: a Bad Idea

Just because IBM, RCA, AIG and MSN use initials to identify themselves doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Company names should mean something, convey a concept or set a mood. There are very few three-initial brand names that do so.Initials have no personality They don’t resonate. They don’t elicit emotion. They communicate no passion, history or expertise. They are just initials, having no actual meaning, just an identification – like a part number.

So why is it companies continue to take the easy way out and name themselves with initials?

The Alphabet Naming SoupNow I know that most often those initials stand for something, usually three multi-syllable, Latin-ending, generic descriptors that vaguely describe the company’s business category. Not only is the name a mouthful, it’s not memorable. Even within the company, the formal name has no meaning. Besides, it’s too long so they quickly establish the initials as the shorthand name. Then they begin to use it outside the company and just assume it communicates something to someone. It doesn’t until lots of money and lots of time have expired.

Now some initial sets could stand for something appropriate to the companies or appealing to their customers: MVP, QED, ASAP come to mind. But most of those three-initial names might just have been picked from a bowl of alphabet soup by a blindfolded chimp.

I opt for a short, active one or two word name. Even if it’s a coined word name, that’s so much better than lifeless initials. And usually those short names have fewer syllables an a set of three initials. Remember that a major function of a brand name is to represent the company in a distinctive, memorable way. Names like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay are easily remembered, especially more so than CRW, MSN, AOL and IMC.

Martin Jelsema

Brand the Business or Brand Its Offerings?

Your brand platform and your branding strategy should dictate which.

We all know Proctor and Gamble emphasizes product brands. Tide and Crest and Pringles stand on their own. As they say in hi-tech, the company is “transparent” to the consumer.

During my time at IBM, we didn’t brand the products as such, we just named them to differentiate one from another. The brand was, and still is those three initials and all they stand for: IBM.

So which is best? The answer of course is: it depends.

I just advised the CEO of a startup software company to brand the company and make the product offerings subordinate. Why? In this case, all the offerings were directed at a specific target market. The CEO assured me that would be the constant in his strategy: to be a single-market server.

In addition, the software applications would not only be compatible, but in all likelihood would be sold as a suite or as add-ons to first-product purchases. The names of the unique offerings should, I suggested, have the same structure, and the logos and graphics should have a similar look to help with the idea of integration and compatibility. But the dominant name should be the corporate name.

On another occasion, my client was known only as a supplier of commodity-like agricultural chemicals, all sold under the corporate name. The products carried the corporate name plus a designation to identify them.

So when he desired to enter a non-agricultural market with a garden spray, I advised him to brand it on its own. Because he had no history with the garden market, either at the consumer or outlet level, the corporate name had no equity or credibility. By focusing on the product brand, he could establish product awareness without inserting another name (for instance, GetOut by ABC, Inc.) that might cause confusion or mental fatigue. In addition, by adopting or creating a product name specific to the application, it would be more likely to be relevant to customers scanning a store shelf.

The decision to emphasize one or the other is strategic in nature. It, along with many other decisions concerning branding, should be addressed soon after a brand platform has been created.

One of the functions of the brand platform is to define the basis for establishing the brand structure for a company. The brand platform should be an integral part of the business strategic planning process. I’ll discuss the components of a brand platform in future blogs.

Martin Jelsema

Positioning Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Back Home

When Al Ries and Jack Trout first introduced positioning in their 1981 breakthrough book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (I own a first edition), they espoused the idea that market participants were responsible for positioning products. In other words, customers perceived products differently one from another. As marketers, we could measure those perceptions and perhaps change our messages to either reinforce or attempt to change those perceptions. But the perceptions were the “peoples”.

Somehow over time, marketers, in their conceit and backed by megadollars, attempted to position their offerings as favorably as possible through claiming a certain attribute, or a package of attributes as their own. They thought of it as a process they were in control of, and that if their messages seemed to express the attribute (aka a differentiator) in a compelling and memorable way, they could preempt that position in the collective thinking of their target market participants.

Sometimes they could. They were certainly leaving impressions.

Now several writers have proclaimed that “positioning is dead”.

Nick Wreden in Fusion Branding How to Forge Your Brand for the Future states: “…”positioning” is based on the premise that the consumer can be made to believe…what offerings mean to them.” If, indeed that is the premise most branders labored under, it wasn’t a very valid premise.

B.J. Bueno, author of Cult Branding, in an article entitled: The Death of Positioning, makes this statement: Positioning is not something you do, but rather, is the result of your customer’s perception. Positioning is not something you create – the act of positioning belongs to the customers.”

So we’re back full circle. And customers continued to experience brands, draw conclusions and position products, services and companies based on their own criteria just as they always have and always will.

So positioning isn’t dead. We just have to remember it takes place in the customer’s head, not in the agency conference room.

Sequencing your brand development

I wonder just how many entrepreneurs have come to me for help with establishing a brand or developing a brand strategy, but are dead set against changing the name they’ve already chosen? I can count twelve, and I’m sure there are others. Same thing has happened when one proudly presents a logo their 14-year-old daughter designed, and won’t give up even if it won’t work in half the needed applications.”Invented here” can be a problem.

But this is just the first and most obvious problem. The order in which many entrepreneurs tackle the elements of branding can cause major brand weakness.
Many have picked a name and registered it even before they’ve written a mission statement. They’ve written a tagline before they’ve identified target markets. They’ve developed a brand story after all the obvious elements are created and in use. And they’ll not have provided writers and designers with a brand platform on which the creative structure is to be built.

First thing first should be the rule

There is a sequence to developing a brand, just as there is to developing the business itself. When you get things out of sequence you find you need to start over which is expensive and time-consuming, or even worse, you live with a brand with weak elements that become more burdensome as time goes by.

I suggest anyone starting a business or introducing a new product follow the simple process outlined below:

+ Write a vision statement
+ Write a mission statement
+ Write down the goals of the business or product
+ Describe the business model you are planning to implement
+ Identify the market segments you will serve
+ Identify the product category in which you will compete
+ Identify and assess your major competitors
+ Write your business plan
+ Incorporate your branding strategy in the business plan

At this point, you may want to consider bringing in a branding consultant to help you fashion the branding strategy. He or she should be able to translate and integrate the vision, mission, goals, business model, and the information concerning markets, product categories and competition into a brand platform. The brand platform is in turn an integral strategy laid out in the business plan. Upon completion of the business plan, and not before, you can begin to think of names, logos, taglines, color palettes, etc.Then, the process of branding the business or product can begin.

+ Create brand story
+ Create branding creed (principals)
+ Generate name candidates
+ Screen name for availability, obscenity and adverse connotations
+ Select three to five name candidates
+ Develop name preference questionnaire
+ Survey members of relevant market segments
+ Select and register name

Once the name is selected, other branding elements can initiated, probably in the order below:

+ Determine if a tagline needs to amplify the name.
+ If so, generate tagline candidates
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by market segment members
+ Select final tagline.
+ Bring in graphic designer with branding experience
+ Create logo candidates and color palette
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by Market segment members
+ Select a final logo design

At this point, materials can begin to be prepared for use in soliciting investors/bankers/partners. But there is more to do as outlined below.

+ Document color palette, type fonts, illustrative styles and other visual elements of the brand
+ If audio signature is desired, brainstorm and then create appropriate sounds, music, voice using professional talent
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by Market segment members
+ If a video/flash signature is desired, brainstorm and them create appropriate clips, commercials, presentations using professional talent
+ If a web site is desired, brainstorm and then create your website and/or your blog using professional talent
+ If packaging, signage, marketing materials are required, brainstorm and then create the required materials using professional talent

There may be additional items and requirements to address. There certainly will be as time passes. But for a business or product launch, the materials above will suffice. There is one more vitally important component of the branding process that needs to be developed at this point:

+ Develop a Brand Style Guide/manual.
+ Hold meeting(s) with employees, and possibly supply chain members, to provide them an understanding of the brand and their part in communicating and representing the brand
+ Distribute the Brand Style Guide to all suppliers, distributors and employees who will be producing materials, or in any way representing the “brand”
+ Post the Brand Style Guide on the Internet, along with logos

So there’s a sequence that builds from idea through launch of a potentially strong brand whose elements are integrated and meaningful. There may be variations on this theme, but for an entrepreneur beginning the branding process, the basics are outlined here.

Martin Jelsema

Source of 10,000 Brand Names

Since the name is the rallying flag for your brand, it pays to spend the time and energy required to either find or create a really unique and relevant one. The success of your branding efforts begins with the name.

Now “finding” a name means looking for existing names that suit your product or business that can be “borrowed” from other sources without infringing on someone’s trademark. So where would a person look for names like that?

Get a good Atlas. There are thousands of place names listed in the index of your atlas. Just scan the list

Likely, you’ll find brand name candidates that set just the right mood and convey the appropriate image for your product, service or business.

Perhaps you won’t find an appropriate name this way. But it only costs you a half hour’s time with a $12.00 Atlas (Even less if you buy a used Atlas, or visit the library).

I’ll sometimes use an Atlas just to get the creative juices flowing. I might find a dozen or so candidates from, say Vermont which can be used “as is” or combined with other word roots, prefixes or suffixes (i.e. combining Alpha with the last syllable of Piedmont = Alphamont).

The founder of Haverhills mail-order business confessed that his business was named this way. He was not from, nor had he ever visited, Haverhill, MA. He just liked the sound of it. It’s been a successful catalog company since the mid-1960’s.

When you use a world Atlas, or an historic Atlas, the candidates just multiply.

As an added incentive, you might find a great place to vacation once your brand starts generating cash flow.

Martin Jelsema

Linguistic Branding and Nicknames.

While ranting about company nicknames in my previous two posts, I remembered something I’d seen on the web site of Lexicon Branding several years ago.

Lexicon is one of the premier sources of powerful brand names in the world, branding products as diverse as Swiffer, BlackBerry, Ridgeline and Evista.

Lexicon relies heavily on linguistic constructions and analysis of name candidates. An example they present on their web site was the syllable structure, consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel. This four letter, two syllable structure they claim to be “the uCVCV linguistic structureniversally preferred shape for words in all languages”. So many of the names created by Lexicon take that shape. (As an aside, Lexicon also likes to begin names with “Z”, a plosive letter combined with the vowel to produce an initial stressed syllable: Zima, Zeba, Zire, and the latest for Microsoft, Zume.) They acknowledge that the CVCV structure “already sounds like a nickname”.

So is it any wonder that the nicknames chosen by Washington Mutual (WaMu) and Southern Comfort (SoCo) take the CVCV form. Yet, neither of those nicknames are linguistically powerful, even though there is a rhythm and balance to SoCo, and a “natural flow” to WaMu.

So if you’re planing a do-it-yourself naming project, or if you’re naming a product or company for a client, you might want to investigate the CVCV structure. If you can also be fortunate enough to have those four letters produce a positive image or association, i.e. Visa or Bali, so much the better.

But my point remains: the adoption of a nickname once you’ve established a “formal” name can cause confusion and dilute the brand’s equity.

Martin Jelsema

Nicknames for brand names: the trend continues

My Friday blog was concerned with companies adopting nicknames when, apprarently, the original brand name wasn’t “catchy” enough.

Here’s another example of branding a nickname: Southern Comfort, a flavored whiskey with rich traditions and associations, has taken to calling itself “SoCo” in their commercials and on their web site. Now you do save two syllables, but I believe you lose any cachet, any equity built over the years. SoCo sounds industrial to me. It doesn’t connote any feelings or associations. It has no passion, no verve, no history.Over time, say five-plus years perhaps, with consistent and frequent promotion, SoCo may have its own set of associations that resonate with a next generation. I wouldn’t guarantee that, though.

Unless there are negative asssociations to this whiskey I’m not aware of, I’d recommend again promoting Southern Comfort and dropping the SoCo nickname. If sales are down, look for other tactics to reverse that trend, but leave the brand name alone.

Owner-Originated “Nicknames” Replacing Brand Names?

Is this a trend: replacing or supplementing time-honored brand names with short, clever nicknames? Seems several high-profile companies are doing it, and I’m not sure why.

Do they think a nickname will make them more “folksy”, more informal, more “with-it”? Or is it a deliberate attempt to rebrand?

Whatever the case, I don’t believe it’s working for the several reasons I cite below.

Now companies have been given nicknames for quite some time, usually names are truncated because they were too long in the first place. These names – International Business Machines, Radio Corporation of America, American International Group, et. al. – were shortened by the expedient method of adapting their initials.

Some companies also acquired unsanctioned nicknames bestowed by customers, competitors or the media – like “Big Blue” for IBM. But I don’t ever recall any IBM ad referring to the company as Big Blue.
But it appears to me that Federal Express began the “sanctioned” nickname trend when they became FedEx to the whole world. It works for FedEx. I think it was a sound branding practice.

But not to be outdone, United Parcel Servive, aka UPS, introduced yet another moniker for the company. They began calling themselves “Brown”, as in “What can Brown do for You?”

I never understood that. The connotations and associations for brown just aren’t that appealing. Yet, there they are, now with three ways to designate the same company. I don’t understand, and I’m sure a lot of others don’t as well.

The latest to come under my radar is Washington Mutual. They began a clever and point-making series of commercials where the young, tieless banker proposed that their “panel of experts” from the traditional banking industry advise Washington Mutual on certain practices, and when the panels poo-pooed an idea, Washington Mutual would adopt them. Very clever and refreshing. But then, along the way, Bill, the young banker, began referring to the institution as “Wa Mu”.

Wa Mu? Do you want to bank at Wa Mu? I want all the nice banking practices – free ATM’s, no penalty over drafts, etc., but I don’t want to bank at Wa Mu. That’s taking “friendly banking” one step too far in my estimation.

So, if nicknames are beginning to replace brand names, I would advise that those nicknames be better at labeling the business and not just be a cute attention-getter.

I believe the name should be the rallying flag for the brand. That it should represent over the long haul the true core of the business. And to take a name, particularly one with some heritage and equity, and dilute its meaning is bordering on irresponsibility.

Martin Jelsema