Monthly Archives: February 2007

How Can “Plus” Differentiate a Brand?

As I’ve admonished anyone who’ll listen, the key to building a successful brand is to differentiate your company or offering in such a way that you stand out from competitors, and that your differentiator will be hard to imitate.

So, what do you think of those companies whose name states their prime business and then goes on to dilute their primary focus? Is this good branding? Does it differentiate or just confuse? It’s like being in thier prime business is just not enough.

I’m thinking of companies like Bed, Bath & Beyond; Brakes Plus, and Containers & More.

Did they rationalize that “more” differentiates them? Or were they afraid they’d miss customers if they really niched, so they “hedged their bets” with a name expansion?

Jack Trout, author with Steve Rivkin of Differentiate or Die, states that “breadth of line” is a difficult way to differentiate. It costs lots of money, competitors with money can copy this strategy easily, it blurs what the brand represents.

For really big box chains, having lots of inventory may be a customer plus in and of itself, but most of those stores – Home Depot, Pep Boys, CompUSA – never claimed to narrowly focus in the first place. Their differentiation is a combination of breadth of line, lower prices and customer service. Within their retail categories – home improvement, automotive after market, and hi-tech electronics – they can and do focus.

I’d like to hear from you on this subject: Is adding a name expansion helpful in establishing a solid brand? Does it dilute the company’s primary differentiator, or does it enhance it?

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 10 in a Series

As you would expect, there are a lot of resources on the web that can be useful in developing lists of name candidates.

Some are branding sites, but most are concerned with language. I’ve just listed here four I’ve found intriguing and occasionally fruitful in generating brand names.

The Webmaster Toolkit site has a really easy search tool that internet marketers use to search for keywords for their web pages. I find relevant words and phrases, those actually used by searchers when looking for items through the search engines. Even though you’ll find their pop-ups a little distracting, this search tool provides lists of words and short phrases that will provide name candidates.

Then there a multitude of language-related sites that can be useful. The following websites contain links to on-line dictionaries and other word-related resources.

Use Wisdom is an authority site with access to many word-related resources. Warning: you can spend literally hours chasing links here.

iTools set of Language Tools also links up with a multitude of on-line word-related resources, as well as providing dictionary and thesaurus help directly from the site.

OneLook just provides a dictionary search, but what a search it is! When you type in a word or phrase, it can poll up to 900-plus on-line dictionaries.

Martin Jelsema

More on memes

Last week I blogged about memes as a means of branding. Memes are icons or phrases with universal meaning such as the red cross of the Red Cross organization.

I suggested that some marketing advisors embraced the idea of associating a product or service with an existing meme such as Prudential has done with the Rock of Gibraltar. I then stated that I’d be very careful in associating your brand – or incorporating a meme into your brand as Prudential has done – because the meme by its very definition is not unique.

I still hold to this premise. But I must expand my thoughts to say that a meme can be a really powerful brand element or association if you’ve created it. In other words, if you’ve established and promoted your brand through a unique graphic, audio or text element that has become a meme through your presentation of it, and through people’s acceptance of it, you’ve got a winner.

Another way to say it: you’re practicing viral marketing. (As an aside, is it a coincidence that viral and virile have the same root?)

So if you’ve created “where’s the beef?”, or a bald-headed, house-cleaning genie, or “you’ve got mail”, you may be gaining brand equity. (Just a warning, though, the toy bunny with a drum is most often associated with Duracell even though he belongs to Energizer Holdings.)

Still, finding a unique way to express the essence of your brand is vital, whether that icon or tagline ever becomes an authentic meme.

Martin Jelsema


Branding Basics – Step Seven

With your brand platform and an idea of the brand personality you believe to be attractive, and even compelling, to your target markets, you’re ready for the next creative step.

It’s the step most entrepreneurs begin with. Step Seven is name development.

For some, this is the fun part. For others, it’s just frustrating and energy-sapping. (If it gets to you, I can help. But you really should take a crack at it first so you’ll appreciate just what it takes to create a compelling name that’s not been adopted by someone else, and also meets your established criteria.)

First thing is to identify exactly what you are going to name.

Is it a single business that has no aspirations about going global? Is it a company you are naming, or is it a product line, a subsidiary, a family of products or a single service?

For companies with multiple product lines, and models and styles within them, you may need to establish a naming hierarchy early on just to make sure you won’t be confusing customers later on.

Perhaps you will be naming a product that will be replaced by newer versions in a year or two – like software.  If so, you’ll want to establish that ground work at the outset so you can establish continuity.

After clearly defining what you will be naming, it’s time to establish the criteria you will use to create and evaluate brand name candidates. Criteria for a particular offering can come from the list below. Not all need be considered and you may wish to add one or two of your own depending upon your branding project.

Each name candidate must (should) answer the following attributes in the affirmative:

  • Is it meaningful?
    Is it unique?
    Is it relevant?
    Does it suggest a benefit?
    Is it memorable?
    Is it appropriate?
    Is it easily pronounceable?
    Is it descriptive?
    Is it in good taste?
    Is it short enough?
    Is it vital?
    Will it “have legs” over time?
    Does it appeal to all stakeholders?

Now some will say that imposing criteria prior to generating name candidate lists will limit the quantity you’ll have to choose from. This may be true, but if those generating candidates have some direction and focus, my experience says you’ll get plenty of quantity and the quality will be much higher. (I related how I learned brainstorming from Alex Osborn while at BBDO circa 1959-60 in the blog entitled Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series)

Next, you should distribute the tools you’ve previously developed – brand platform, brand personality document, description of what is to be named, and the naming criteria – to your naming team. After a day or two, get them together to answer any questions they may have and then have them clear a day on their calendars to brainstorm names. Give them at least two or three days, preferably a week, to “percolate” their own ideas.

On the appointed day, reserve a conference room with several whiteboards, appoint a person to record all the ideas so everyone can see those ideas and “hitchhike” on those that generate a spark. Remember, no negativism or discussion of ideas. There is no judgment taking place here; that comes afterwards. Go for quantity.

If you don’t have a group of people to brainstorm names, you might consider some of the resources available on the Internet that help you generate candidates, usually without paying any attention to criteria, though.

There are some tricks, tips and techniques to naming that can be beneficial in extending the brainstormed list. They can also be used if you’ve had to generate name candidates with no help. I’ve documented a couple of dozen of them in this blog – see the series Naming Tips under the category Name Creation. Once you have found the absolutely most appropriate, compelling and memorable brand  name candidate, you’re ready for Step Eight. And plenty of frustration.

Naming Tips: Number 9 in a Series

In the book, Strategic Brand Management, author Kevin Lane Keller provides some criteria for a brand name.

The problem is two of those criteria seem contradictory.

To gain and keep high marks for brand awareness and recall, Keller wants a name to be “familiar and meaningful”. But to establish brand recognition, the brand needs a “different, distinct and unusual” name. He concedes “tradeoffs must be recognized”.

But there are several ways to combine the familiar and the different: to satisfy both criteria fully. Here are three methods.

Begin by developing a list of familiar words relevant to the product to be named. Usually these are words that might describe a benefit or perhaps a desired emotional response. They might be descriptive, allegorical or suggestive. Just build as long a list as you and your thesaurus can accumulate.

  • Tip 1: Now, for those words that end in a silent “e”, substitute “a”, “i”, “o”, “u” or “y” for the silent “e”. This is especially effective for verbs and single-syllable words.  Here are some examples: hype=hypa, groove=groovo, rake=raku. You may also substitute short, vowel-beginning syllables such as “an”, “or”, “ite”. More examples: style=stylant,  save=savio, crane=cranus. But note how the word itself is retained without the silent “e”, so familiarity is retained while the added suffix makes it unique.


  • Tip 2: From the same list, select those words that begin with a vowel. Now experiment with adding a single consonant or if you’re into linguistics, a phoneme, to the beginning of the word. Thus, element=Nelement, Apollo=Capollo, Oslo=Voslo, arch=Sharch. Again, the original word is retained and the added phoneme gives it individuality.


  • Tip 3: Here you deliberately “misspell” words to create a new, trademarkable name: Qwest, Ikon, Duque. At first a customer will have a little trouble recognizing the word, but once they’ve pronounced it, they’ll remember, particularly if the original word carries a relevancy to the product or company itself.

So there you have it, three ways to have your caki and feat it, tu.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step Six

Now you have a working document, the brand platform.

It is the “creative brief” as well as the strategic structure for the brand. From it can spring consistent and relevant branding elements and associations.

So now, and only now, are you ready for Step 6: using the brand platform to flex your “creative” wings. Actually, this step enhances and expands the brand platform from the customer’s point of view. It helps establish the consumer-brander relationship.
Based on the information you’ve collected and the decisions you’ve made and documented in the brand platform, Step 6 is the way of expressing the essence of your brand.

You begin to crystallize the brand in concrete ways that will help you devise messages and images that coherently and concisely represent your most compelling position.

There are several vehicles used by branding experts to perform this last foundation step.
One that has gained popularity in recent years is to develop the brand “story”.
The brand story speaks to the corporate vision for the brand, but usually in more personal terms than is expressed in a conventional business plan. It might contain a history if applicable. It might describe the “spark” or idea from which the product sprang. It will certainly be written from a customer’s point of view (assuming customers and prospects are the major stakeholders in the brand). It will likely paint a picture of the features and benefits in a way to differentiate the product from competitive offerings. It might only be a page in length and usually no more than three.
Another approach to expressing brand essence is to describe the product in terms the customer would probably use. This may come from focus group research or just informal discussions with customers. But the idea is to express brand from the customer’s point of view.
Then there are some “fun” techniques that may be appropriate for some brands. These are scenarios developed after asking the question, “If this brand where a wild animal, which one would it be and why?” Variations include “if this brand where a celebrity…” or “if the brand were a city…”. Once there’s some consensus, the scenario is put to paper.
The purpose of setting the brand essence on paper, no matter the technique in arriving at it, is to provide a foundation and guidelines to help in developing a consistent and on-target expression of the brand.  
Now, after performing these foundation steps, you’re where most entrepreneurs begin the branding effort: creating a name.

Yes, naming is Step 7, and I’ll share some observations about names next time.

Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series

This week’s naming tip requires patience and dedication.

Just learn all you can about the creative process and problem solving.

Yes, think of naming as a problem solving activity. With that in mind, learn and try the various systems and methods that have been used and endorsed by copywriters and other “creatives”. Three come to mind as rich resources for developing “creative thinking” that can be applied to naming companies and brands.

Two were developed by the Englishmen, Edward de Bono and Tony Buzan.

The other originator, Alex Osborn, was a founder of BBDO, the ad agency at which I cut my teeth beginning in 1959. Osborn, as well as the legendary John Caples were still semi-active at the New York offices of BBDO then, and I had the opportunity to sit silently as they conducted in-house workshops for us “newbies”. That brings back many memories, including an early love. But I digress.

Alex Osborn is the originator, or at least the “formalizer” of brainstorming.

His approach was to get a dozen people from various agency departments, including those in “non-creative” assignments like receptionists, media buyers and traffic coordinators, together after they had a chance to digest a “creative brief”. He had a bell which he’d ring if there was any negative comment (including grimaces or titters) to any idea. All ideas were put on the black boards (it was before white boards were invented), and we were encouraged to “hitchhike” on previously presented ideas. This is essentially the same formula used today for most brainstorming sessions. And it still works in providing a quantity of ideas with a broad spectrum of perspectives represented.

Osborn wrote several books on creativity. The two I find to be required reading are Your Creative Power and Applied Imagination, both written over fifty years ago but both as fresh today as when they were conceived.

Edward de Bono is primarily known as the author of Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step  and Six Thinking Hats. The concept of lateral thinking is the basis for his giant output of material – books, seminars, workshops and presentations. It begins with “don’t take anything for granted”, or “suspend your preconceived notions and assumptions”. Then apply various techniques like answering what many would think to be irrelevant questions: what if it were the size of an elephant?, what if there were no wheels?, what famous historical figure might be an ideal spokesperson?

There’s a lot more to de Bono and his ideas. And, yes, it might take some time to absorb and put to use his techniques. But the effort is worth your while if creativity is part of your life.

Next, Tony Buzan, the originator, or again perhaps the first advocate of, mind mapping. Originally developed to help students “outline” lectures in a graphic way, it’s been found to be a powerful method of generating ideas. A mind map is pictured below. It was copied from his book, The Mind Map Book.

A mind map

Note that everything emanates from the central point in nodes that can be expanded as the process continues. In naming, each node could be a particular type of name (geographic, coined words, idioms, etc.) or perhaps attributes of a product. You might concentrate on name candidates based on beauty, durability, leading edge, etc.

So, here are three approaches to creative problem-solving. All three are very useful in the naming process. But I know I’ve found them useful in any problem-solving situations.

Differentiation: Core of your Brand

I believe differentiation is critical for any successful  brand. It should be at the core of the company, product, service or event being branded.

Differentiation needs to be strategically implicit in the way you do business, and perceived as valuable and unique by target market members. And it must be clear – easily understand and easily communicated by gatekeepers to others. And most important, it needs to be believable.

Doug Hall (yes, the same Doug Hall who was coerced into being a “judge” on last summer’s American Inventor clone of American Idol), in his very wise and very readable book, Jump Start Your Business Brain, provides the three ingredients to a successful brand, although he didn’t mention “brand” per se. He just calls them the “three laws of Marketing Physics”. (His way of differentiating by creating a new paradigm). Those ingredients are:

•     An Overt Benefit (what’s in it for the consumer?)

•     A Real Reason to Believe (why should the consumer believe what you have to say?)

•     A Dramatic Difference (how novel is your delivery of the first two factors?)

Mr. Hall has isolated and documented these three factors through extensive research, and claims that if they are present at sufficient levels, there is an 84% overall probability of success.

Be that as it may, I’ve advised clients to utilize those three “laws” as a sound approach to differentiation. They do provide a solid foundation for a compelling brand.

I believe you will find that applying them to your branding process will be valuable.

In future blogs, I’ll be quoting others with world-wide reputations concerning differentiation. It’s pretty important.