Naming tip: Number 71 in a series

Last couple of brand naming tips had to do with linguistics. This one does, too.

Other linguistic-based naming approaches can prove to be very effective in naming brands.

I’m thinking of three in particular: rhyming, alliteration and onomatopoeia.

When rhyming for a name, it’s best to concentrate on one-syllable words like Rare Care or Whim Jim. But I’ve also created multiple-syllable rhyming names that are effective – Compliance Alliance comes to mind.

Alliteration pairs words that begin with the same one, two or three letters. I’m fond of alliteration and named my company Signature Strategies. I’ve also created Cognitive Connections, Marketing Matters and Learning Link.

Onomatopoeia means that a word sounds like what the word refers to. For instance: buzz sounds like a buzz, crack sounds like a crack, zip sounds like zip.

These techniques make names easier to remember, and therefore, easier to become “viral” in the word-of-mouth campaigns that effectively increase brand awareness.

Martin Jelsema

Brand icon should be relevant

I finally “got it.”

In the American Express commercial featuring Ellen DeGeneres on a movie lot, there’s a man costumed as a Roman centurion who triggers Ellen’s memory: call American Express for concert tickets. What?

Then I vaguely remembered that American Express used the icon of a helmeted centurion. And I guess they’re bringing “him” back as an identifier.

American Express CardI don’t know why. In fact, I don’t know why they used it in the first place. What does a Roman soldier from 2,000-years ago have to do with America (discovered about 500-years ago)? He represents neither America nor Express. The winged messenger, Mercury, delivering flowers for FTD works fine. It’s not only relevant, it makes a point about speed.

But American Express should be represented by a minute man or an Indian scout, not a Roman.

The official logoThey have used a square with the words American Express for several years while the soldier took a back seat in their branding. I guess their research showed customers wanted something a little more personal. So someone remembered they had adopted a figure from the past in the past – never mind that it never fit the company – so let’s revive it.

This is the same short-sighted decision-making that causes the improbable line extensions Ries and Trout lambasted in their book, Positioning – the Battlefield for your Mind.

Oh, well. People do get used to improbable and disconnected brand imaging. With enough money, repetition and consistency, American Express will probably succeed with their historic Mediterranean icon.

And what’s up with that name for a global financial and travel services company? I’ll save that issue for another blog.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: number 70 in a series

Pronunciation and spelling of a new brand name may be important, particularly if the brand is to rely on word of mouth for recommendations and/or web-promotion.

I’d do two things in evaluating candidates.

First, I’d telephone six to ten friends and use a name candidate in your conversation. Then ask them to repeat the name, then ask them to spell it for you.

Second, I’d approach people and hand them a sheet of paper with a short paragraph of copy which includes a candidate. Then ask them to read the paragraph back to you to see if the spelling fits the pronunciation.

If you get poor pronunciation and/or mispellings, well, it’s time to go back to the master list for additional candidates.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: Number 69 in a series

The other aspect of auditory name evaluation (I briefly covered linguistics in Naming Tip 68) concerns the proximity of brand name candidates to other names and words that might cause confusion or embarrassment.

We’ve all listened to a radio commercial and not heard the brand name clearly pronounced. Or perhaps the name reminds us of another, sometimes negative, idea.

I suggest recording the name candidates, perhaps only the last five or six finalists, in the context of a radio commercial. You will get to hear the names in a “live” setting. I’d play them back at least an hour after you’ve recorded them to “cleanse the palette” so to speak before passing judgment.

In addition, if the brand name may be used in other countries, be sure to check it in languages used in those countries. Both formal and common language useage should be checked through a translation service.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: number 68 in a series

When evaluating brand name candidates, pay attention to the sound of them.

There are two aspects to this admonition. I’ll tackle linguistics in this post and the other aspect in next week’s naming tip.

We know certain letters and letter combinations can add power (the “plosives” like j, k, p, t), or at the other end of the scale, they may add lyricism (m, n, ph, sh). This is a fuzzy area and there’s controversy about the importance placed on linguistics in naming. Yet, the study of linguistics has established some guidelines, such as:

  • The letters a, b, m, s and t are reported to evoke positive emotions.
  • Negative feelings are more likely associated with f, q, x and z.
  • Sounds associated with speed are f, s, v and z.
  • The vowels a, o and u are more masculine, while e and i are more feminine.

Naturally, each name candidate will be made up of a combination of letters, so these linguistic observations may or may not apply, or may apply partially, depending upon those combinations.

Just couple these ideas with common sense.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: number 67 in a series

I’m not one to follow fads.

But I’ve noticed a trend that I think is beneficial for anyone naming a brand, particularly for business names.

Watch what the web-based businesses are doing. I think they’re doing things right.

The first thing is a very basic admonition: don’t use more than two words in your name. Three-word names turn into alphabet soup because people will shorten those multi-syllabic mouthfuls by using the name’s initials, losing any identification and humanity the original name might have possessed.

Next; attempt to use single or two-syllable words instead of three or more syllables.

Then let the new name infer rather than describe. Inevitably when a name describes a product or service it becomes very serious and doesn’t reflect the personality of the brand. This the web businesses do particularly well.

Now for some examples, many of which have become household names in a matter of months. I’ll leave out the most well-known (Google and Yahoo) even though I believe those two are particularly responsible for the trend toward short and active names.

  • YouTube
  • Technorati
  • Propeller
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • SpicyPage
  • Twitter
  • FeedBlitz
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • BlogPulse
  • Spurl
  • Simpy
  • NewsVine
  • Kaboodle
  • IceRocket
  • Furl
  • Dosh Dosh
  • Bark
  • NetScape
  • Camtasia
  • BlogLines
  • FaceBook
  • MySpace
  • SlideShare

Well that’s enough.

Now I know that many of these companies opted for a short name because they wanted a name that people could remember when they typed a domain name to access the web site. And there certainly wanted an unusual name that was available as a domain name. This is valid.

But the end result are short, unique and memorable names. These are the types of brand names that will also be effective in off-line environments as well.

Martin Jelsema

$25,000 logo junked.

This is a true story.

New OGC logoA new logo created by one of England’s top design studios for the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), a department of Briton’s Treasury. It was approved by execs and managers and then introduced with fanfare and brand new pens and mousepads to the employees. Only then had anyone thought to turn the new logo on its side. And then came the snickers, twitters and guffaws.

OOPS!The logo was supposed to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.

Instead, it became an object of much embarrassment and chagrin.

Read the full story at the Tribune, UK, website.

This happened to me once.

The design I had recommended was a phoenix rising from the flames. But the bird’s head, with beak straight up and only the tops of its wings visible, was just too phallic. Luckily the client thought I was just joking because he saw the reference immediately.

That just goes to show you – check and check again. Get man-and-woman-on-the-street opinions. Review with the though, “what is wrong or inappropriate or just plain silly” with the design, the name, the tagline.

Martin Jelsema



OGC Logo a Brit of Humour?
OGC logo design gets a grip

Brands that make you scoff – Subaru

I’ve been doing a series of blogs about brands that make me scoff – that is, brands that are incredulous.

Usually this incredibility comes from specific ad campaigns rather than from a brand platform. How do I know? Because they’re vacuous.

Strong brands are built upon core values. They’re differentiated from competitors based on attributes the brands actually possess. Thus, believability and credibility are inherent in the brands themselves.

But let the ad agency “creatives” begin writing taglines and headlines as they interpret that platform and the research that accompanies it and the ideas get skewed and exaggerated.

Take today’s example, for instance.

Subaru’s newest TV ads depict folks, one after another, “lovingly” caring for their Subarus. The payoff is this insipid tagline: “Love: It’s what makes Subaru a Subaru

It’s a distortion. I’m sure Subaru research says that a certain percentage of their customers say they “love” their Subarus. That’s fine. But from there to the idea that love makes Subarus is a giant step.

I’d also suggest that the slogan does not differentiate Subaru from its competitors, nor does it resonate with car buyers who may admit to loving their vehicles but don’t switch to another make because Subaru says their cars are made from love.

No, Subaru was sold a bill of goods. Their agency short-changed them.

It’s a campaign and a brand without substance.

Martin Jelsema