Category Archives: Internet Branding

Naming Tips: Number 24 in a Series

There’s a concept I believe S.I. Hayakawa, the modern father of linguistics, introduced back in the 1960’s. At least that’s when I first learned about it in a copy-writing seminar Marstellar Advertising conducted for its staff.

Ever hear of the abstraction ladder?

It’s easier to cite an example than to define it.

Picture a ladder and perched on the top rung is a person who declares, “I have assets”. When you ask him, “what do you mean by that”, he steps down a rung and states, “I have agricultural holdings”. You ask again for a more explicit description and he steps down another rung as he declares, “I raise livestock”. Once again you ask for clarification. He again descends another rung and says, “I’m in the cattle business.” You want more specifics and he goes to the next lower rung and pronounces that, “I’m partial to dairy cows”. You ask what kind of dairy cow and he steps on the next rung down to exclaim he “likes Guernsey cows”. Finally as he leaves the bottom rung and plants his feet squarely on the loam he confesses, “I own a cow named Bessie”.

That’s the abstraction ladder.

Each rung represents another level of abstraction, and the higher you go the more abstract becomes your phraseology.

Keep this in mind as you attempt to name a business. When you use the abstract words from the top rungs, your images and impact are limited. Thus, names like the following – all real names owned by members of the INC500 fastest growing companies list – will have less impact than will solid, low-rung names that people can actually visualize and identify with.

  • Associated Business Systems
    Advanced Technologies & Science
    Enterprise Development Services
    Advanced Technologies Group
    Innovative Technical Systems
    Advanced Solutions Engineering
    Universal Systems & Technology
    Integrated Science Solutions

Honest. Those are actual names of companies that grew fast during the last ten years – IN SPITE OF TERRIBLE NAMES. Might they have enjoyed even more and continued success if they had been introduced to the abstraction ladder?

Just to be on the safe side, I’d stay on the lower rungs where specific, action-based concrete words resonate with market members.


Just one more reminder: Monday, June 11, I’ll be blogging on a single branding case study with eleven other branding and marketing “pundits”. I think you’ll find my perspective, and the others you’ll find through to be well worth your attention.

Martin Jelsema

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

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.