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

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