Here’s a modest product with pro-like branding

Usually you’ll find me criticizing a branding travesty on these pages.

I can’t help it. There are so many of them and they stand out because they cause discord and disharmony. (And don’t give me the old story that any notoriety helps your brand. Not when with a little care and attention good vibes can be achieved for the same amount you’d spent on lousy branding.)

 Anyway, today I’m here to praise.

I saw an ad for a tattoo removing solution in last week’s USA Weekend. A 3/4 page, modestly colored ad with the headline “Finally…TATTOO REMOVAL. Beneath the headline a picture of the box was tied to the tagline, “It’s easy as opening this box.” The copy, a column on the right interspersed with visuals, speaks to the product’s advantage over laser procedures and a risk-free guarantee. Then an 800-number and an “ask for order” with bonus close.

Now I can’t vouch for the product, nor am I a prospect. I dodged a couple of “lets go get a tattoo” episodes in my college days. Sometimes I wonder how I survived those days, but that’s a subject this blog will not explore. Ever.

Anyway, the product’s name is WRECKING BALM.

 Wrecking Balm package

Isn’t that a great name for a tattoo fading product? See the tension? Isn’t it memorable? Won’t that be the kind of name people will enjoy repeating to friends and associates? 

The logo goes well with the name even though it smacks of patent medicines of a hundred years ago. Yet it does depict a character, Doc Wilson, who may or may not be real. Nevertheless his name lends some credence to the product.

 Wrecking Balm logo

The color palette, a faded rust and black, provides contrast and seems appropriate. If Wrecking Balm ever makes it to store shelves, it will display very well.

All in all, I’d say this was a first-class branding and advertising effort.

Now that this product’s on the market, perhaps I’ll look into getting that tattoo I nixed 50 years ago.  Nah.

Martin Jelsema

Protect your Trademarked Brand from Going Public

The laws and federal codes defining and regulating trademarks provide a bit of flexibility concerning brands. And that flexibility, or ambiguity if you wish, leads to litigation and a body of trial precedents that provide intellectual property attorneys plenty of business.

Once you have registered a trademark with USPTO, you are not completely free to do as you wish with that trademark. For one thing, you want to prevent your trademark from falling into the public domain. Think it can’t? Here is a list of well known words that had been trademarks until the courts decided, because someone wanted to use the trademark in a generic way to identify a type of product, that they had truly become generic terms through neglect.

 Asprin             Cellophane
 Corn Flakes    Cube Steak
 Brassiere         Dry Ice
 Escalator         Lanolin
 Light Beer       Mimeograph 
 Nylon             Super Glue
 Thermos         Trampoline
 Yo-Yo           Zipper

So what did these brand owners do wrong?

Essentially they allowed the trademarks to become nouns and/or verbs. Trademarks are, by regulation, adjectives that identify the source of products, they do not describe the product itself (i.e., they do not substitute the trademark for a generic product description).

It is tempting to want to have people think of your product when they think of a product category, but by encouraging people to  make the substitution you are on the road to making your trademark a generic name for the entire product category.

Now Talcott J. Franklin, an intellectual properties attorney, in his book, Protecting the Brand, cites six rules to keep you save from turning your brand into a generic name. In all your written materials…

1 Always use the mark as an adjective.
2 Never make the mark plural or possessive (either makes the word a noun).
3 Never use the mark as a verb
4 Always distinguish the mark from the remaining copy.
5 Always indicate the trademark status at least once when you include the trademark.
6 Do not give the mark a definition, except as a trademark for the company. 

Those are pretty self explanatory except for number six. I believe Franklin’s meaning here does not preclude a phrase such as “Xerox® brand copy paper”. This isn’t a description of the trademark, rather the trademark is an adjective modifying “copy paper”. Rather, using a tagline like “Xerox®: leader in paper imaging” actually makes the trademark a noun. And that’s the issue.

So if you own or are planning to own trademarks, I’d suggest you get Franklin’s book, and I’d also seek the advice of an intellectual properties attorney.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 34 in a Series

Beware of fads.

Of all the tips I’ve posted, this one ranks with the most valuable. There are several reasons for this.

First, how can you differentiate your business if your name sounds like a lot of others? Second, how long will it take for a fad-like name become dated? It’s like the slang used by teenagers. Yesterday’s “cool” word (is that term still used?) can be passé in a blink of an eye.

I’ll give you two examples of fad names and how they’ve been misaligned with the businesses that adapted them.

First, there’s CEOSpace. This name was newly adopted to replace an obscure and unremarkable IBI Global. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog you’ll know I’ve been adamant that three-initial names neither differentiate nor deliver relevant associations. But CEOSpace? It’s a step backwards.

Why?  Three reasons.

1) It’s not appropriate. The business provides major 6-day forums that connect entrepreneurs, inventors, investors, business gurus and business mentors in a hotel for intense educational, networking and deal-making activities. I’m proud to say I’m a graduate. This “Free Enterprise Forum” is valuable and prestigious. Now does the trendy CEOSpace reflect that business or even the tone of the business? No, it doesn’t.

2) It’s misleading. The CEOSpace comes directly from the Internet. It’s a Web2 concept of social networking via the web. Any seminar or forum with that name I’d expect to be Internet-based. The name just doesn’t convey its content, format or heritage. Now the CEO part works, but just what is conveyed by the word, “space”. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with education, networking, deal making, entrepreneurship, venture capital or any other business-related association.

3) The older name, even if it has three initials, has equity. The old name has value. That’s probably why they haven’t altogether abandoned it. They still have an IBI Global website, but the local organizations that sell the forum through local weekly meetings have adopted CEOSpace.

It is possible that CEOSpace will go away, but not without ramifications. (remember AT&T became Cingular before Cingular became AT&T. Read about that problem by clicking BusinessWeek.

The second example is much more straight forward. The name in question is “FireDog”. I don’t where or how it started, but several supposed avant gard design companies thought calling themselves (something) Dog was hip. Then several other young, tradition-breaking revolutionists adopted Dog as part of their names. I don’t know why. Now a mainstream IT maintenance organization, not to be outdone by “The Geek Sqad”, has adopted FireDog. First, they’re several years behind the innovators. Second, what relevance or meaning does FireDog have to computer maintenance? Oh sure, you can say the same thing about names like Google and Yahoo and De-licious, but those are not me-too, fad-based names.

I’d advise not considering names that include Dog, Monkey, Space, or even the now-meaningless Express.

It’s okay to be different, even irreverent, but it’s not okay to jump on the coattails of a fad. Be original.

Martin Jelsema

This IT company needs focus

So this month the BrandingWire posse of pundits, of which I’m a member, blogs about branding a small IT firm serving B2B and non-profit organizations. It is a real company but prefers to remain anonymous.

After reading my blog be sure to visit the blogs of other BrandingWire pundits. Those links are located in the right column of this blog page, and listedagain at the end of this blog. Or you could click the image here to start at the BrandingWire home page where this month’s assignment is presented.


As I see it, this firm is having trouble defining who they are.

Their services, mostly provided through small, hourly contracts, range from 24-hour emergency problem-solving to installations, conversions and upgrades. They serve health care, non-profit, financial and retail clients.

Apparently most of their existing clients and their prospects are not used to paying for good IT services. They don’t perceive the value. As the company freely admits, they are looked upon as an “IT repair service” when their desire is to become a “business partner”.

Reading their goal of becoming a partner with their clients harkens me back to my days with IBM. That was – and still is – their modus operandi.

Building a sound business model

Now I’m getting away from the branding aspects of strategy for a moment because I believe branding needs to be based on a firm business foundation, and that the brand should then align with the business core. I would first want to develop the company structure and orientation.

Is it driven by technocrats or business/marketing people? IBM was driven by marketing and sales, particularly sales. Their sales force was trained and rewarded to be business consultants, working with client IT people and with executives within the company. They held seminars and workshops to promote (in my day) such leading edge technologies as time-sharing systems, linear programming and CAD/CAM. Sales people (called Account Managers) worked conceptually with top customer execs to develop long-range plans and systems based on ROI considerations. They wrote proposals much as a McKinsey consultant might, from a strategic platform.

Then each account had a Systems Engineer (or a crew of SE’s) to work hand in glove with client IT people to implement the systems and help with everyday problems and fixes. Also, Field Engineers were assigned to take care of hardware installation and maintenance on a contract basis.

Even in a small IT company, I believe you need evangelistic account people selling the concepts and benefits of particular system solutions. These folks need to be business oriented instead of technicians. They’ll do most of their work at executive, non-IT levels. The services themselves would then be carried out by top-notch technical people working within the customer environment with customer IT personnel to implement and then trouble-shoot as required. Now you have the basis for a partnership.

Characteristics of viable niches

You’ll need to identify a niche with three minimum characteristics:

1) It’s large enough to provide cash flow and profits for your company and your top three competitors.

2) The niche and its participants can be readily identified and approached.

3) Niche participants feel enough pain from the problems you promise to solve that they will listen and ultimately pay for a solution.

Three ways to differentiate a B2B business

If this structure is in place, you can now differentiate your service in one or more ways:

1) By industry you serve. This particular company was started serving non-profits but found they were not cash-rich. Perhaps they can specialize in retail for example. Find or educate an account rep in point-of-sale data capturing, sku tracking, trend reporting, etc.. Identify those retailers within a 100-mile radius and develop top-level relationships through seminars, association membership and regular information exchanges.

2) By application specialty. This needs to be a broad enough application to make it viable. It might be database development and mining which might appeal to marketing functions in retail, wholesale, fund-raising and medical research. Again, the spokes-evangelist must be hired and provided the technical backup to sell the concept as well as install and maintain such a system.

3) By the way you do business. Here you’re not focusing on a market niche, you’re just selling your approach to helping companies achieve their business goals through IT applications. This is harder to pull off for a smaller organization because their people probably don’t have the knowledge to meaningfully partner with prospect execs. But by focusing on, let’s say, three allied niches you might make it work.

Branding equals information dissemination

Now about branding this new, niched structure: For a service business, providing information – not just promotional literature and data sheets but knowledge prospects and customers can use to develop strategies and tactical plans – is the best way to brand the business. Becoming an expert and letting your market know it should be the main thrust. That means knowledgeable people first and informational materials second.

That doesn’t mean you ignore traditional branding elements. In addressing them, starting with a business name, I’d make sure it wasn’t too “techy”. It shouldn’t be Associated Systems Solutions, or as people will call it, ASS. Rather, the name should reflect the bigger picture. In fact, “Big Picture” might be a good name for this entity.

And of course the logo, tagline, graphic standards and trade dress will need to be compatible.

But of most importance is that the mission, vision, brand story, code of conduct and elevator pitch should be aligned and communicated to and through every single employee. In the service business, employees are really the key to your brand. They not only represent the brand, they are the brand in customer’s eyes.

Employees are the brand

This includes how they dress, how they interact with others, how they communicate enthusiasm and exhibit a helpful attitude. Oh, yes, make sure they’re competent.

It may take time to hire the right people, establish the contacts and get up to speed on the industries and applications required. You’ll need to prepare seminar curriculum and materials; join associations and standards committees; participate in industry trade shows, symposiums and conferences, and constantly publish white papers, technical briefs, trade articles and executive application descriptions.

But to become known as a specialist, the “go-to” company for (name your niche), is a lot easier, faster and less costly than to attempt to become all things to all people. Yes, I know you might have to pass up a piece of business to focus on your niche. But in the long run, the company’s reputation and position in the chosen niche will be a magnet for other niche participants. You can become the authority. You can command higher rates. You will enjoy being a big fish in a smaller pond.

All you need to do is find that viable niche, one that is not already dominated by a big fish competitor, and start to focus your business.

Read the other blogs about IT

Now: read what the other BrandingWire pundits have to say on this subject. Just click here to go to the BrandingWire web site. The individual blogs are listed and linked below”

Lewis Green

Kevin Dugan

Valeria Maltoni

Steve Woodruff

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Derrick Daye

Gavin Heaton

Becky Carroll

Olivier Blanchard


Matt Dickman

Chris Brown

Cam Beck

I hope you’ll enjoy the discussion and pick up an ideas or two in the process.

Martin Jelsema

Interactive Web Branding – three examples

Interactive branding on the web by branding consultants seems to be catching on. And what’s more, there are examples of well-conceived and well-executed web sites where their interactivity is more than just a designer’s gimmick.

That’s the way it used to be. You’d click on a link for one of the design-oriented branding companies and, after a while, the “splash” page would appear with a message to “be patient” while the artwork loads. Then there would be a Flash segment or an animated gif that was neat-looking but pointless. Several minutes and a dose of frustration later you’d have to click on the next link to get to the meat of the brander’s message.

But here are three examples where branding companies have used interactive components to good utility.

My first example is the website for the Brand Identity Guru. It has a lot of gif and flash animation going on, but more functionally, they have provided a game to assess the vitality of your brand. “Is your brand vital?” is an interactive version of “Hangman”. You answer each question as it’s presented and “build” the gallows and its victim for wrong answers. The point is after you find your brand inadequate, you are given the phone number or contact form to contact Brand Identity Guru. They also provide another interactive Brand Strength Test which will also lead you to the last screen: contact us.

Chatwick Communications also provides a quiz format to involve users. They have a Branding IQ test which points out, as you go through each of some 10-12 questions, branding is a vital function in which you are not as expert as you thought you were. Yes, there’s a way to then contact them for help.

My final example is not a survey. It’s a table of branding terms and definitions laid out to simulate the periodic table of elements. The table was created by Kolbrener USA. Through the definitions and color coding, terms are grouped together logically. The definitions appear as you “mouse over” each cell. After a while visitors get the impression that branding is an integral process involving many elements. It’s well done and functional.

Now you could go to my web site and find a lot of valuable information but no interactivity (except downloading). That site,, was designed for a slower generation of internet access. But I think it’s time for me to update the site concept and introduce functional interactivity.

Just as soon as I can spare a minute. :0)

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 33 in a Series

Chris Brown who writes the Branding and Marketing blog was kind enough to introduce this series of naming tips to her readers this week. Thank you, Chris.

She also introduced several other blogs, one of which I’m going to feature here. The site is Inventor’s Spot and the specific article is called “Ten TopTips for Branding Your Invention”, written by Myra Per-Lee. Myra writes from the inventor’s or entrepreneur’s point of view. Here are her tips for naming that new product:

1. Think ahead. If you will be developing a product line from your invention, will you need a “line name,” as well as a “product name.” How will the product names relate to each other?

2. Know your market before you choose a name.

3. It’s a new product. Give it a new name! The name should not remind prospective customers of any product that is already on the market.

4. Pick a short memorable name.

5. The brand should support what the product does.

6. A cool name contributes to product success.
7. Don’t get too esoteric. Unless you are naming a software or gaming product, stick to names that don’t require a mythology handbook.

8. Consider the emotional impact of prospective brand names.

9. Names should be fun to say.

10. Test your list of names on members of your intended market.

So for a brand new product, you may want to consider these criteria when creating and adopting its name. You can read more about Myra’s 10 top tips by clicking here.

Thank you, Myra and thank you Chris.

Martin Jelsema

Branding for Referrals? Tell a Story

You’ve probably concluded if you’re a regular reader of The Branding Blog that I’m a fan of Scott Degraffenreid and his insights into referral marketing (Embracing the N.U.D.E. Model, The New Art and Science of Referral Marketing). I am.

He speaks to Novelty, Utility, Dependability and Economy as the four attributes a product or a service must have if it’s to be a good candidate for referrals. He further states that novelty and utility have a tension between them that helps people remember the brand’s story. He also proposes that dependability and economy also have an “opposites” relationship of the same type.

I’ve deduced from his work that the key to referrals is to develop a short, interesting and memorable “story” based upon the N.U.D.E. Model.

The model as Scott had formulated it really meant product or service attributes. But as a marketing communicator, I think the brand story incorporating those attributes is almost as important as the attributes themselves.

There’s been a lot written in the past several years about creating a brand story. But I’ve not read anywhere just what should go in to such a story, who should be telling the story, or to whom the story should be told.

Well, if referrals are important to your brand, The N.U.D.E. attributes should go in the story, those people doing the referrals should know and relate your story for you, and the people hearing the story will be part of the network of friends, family and associates of the story-teller.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 32 in a Series

Continuing with evaluation techniques, here are the general criteria I use to judge names:

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

Now I may assign different weights to different criteria depending upon the entity being named, the product category in which it resides and the perceived desires of target market participants. The scale is usually a 1 to 5 semantic differential scale with five being “absolutely essential” and one as “not at all important”.

Once the weights are applied for each criterion, I rate each name candidate against each. Again, I use a semantic differential scale, five being “absolutely meets this criterion” and one being “absolutely does not meet this criterion”. I multiple each candidate’s score for a particular criterion by the weight I’ve assigned to it. Then I add up the resulting individual scores for each candidate.

Now this is a “scientific” approach to evaluation. For me it’s just a guideline.

There are times I’ll recommend a name that isn’t one of the five highest scoring simply because I’ve created one or two “out-of-the-box” candidates that defy scoring but just “seem right”.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a way to winnow down a list of quality candidates, this approach can be helpful.

Martin Jelsema