Naming tip: Number 66 in a series

Alphabet soup, no. A well thought out acronym, possibly.

Generally, I’m not opposed to acronyms. If we stick with the most stringent definition, “A word formed from the initial letters of a name” (NASA, RAM); or a more lenient definition, “A word formed by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words” (WAC for Women’s Army Corps), RADAR for radio detecting and ranging), I believe a name like that might be viable.

This is especially true when a name like Federal Express that’s developed recognition and a loyal following is shortened to FedEx out of familiarity, and retains a link to the original. It’s not so true when the original words have no recognition. Then the acronym was no relationship or connotation to the consumer.

Now a string of three initials that DO NOT form a word (where each letter must be pronounced – IBM, CIA) is not an acronym. These types of names should be avoided altogether. They just don’t have any personality, and until they are firmly established, over time and at great expense, no relevance. IBM had the money and the exposure to turn International Business Machines into IBM without losing the company’s heritage and panache.

But how can you embrace CRW? In addition, these name types are not memorable. They are just three random letters to most people.

There is a subset of initial-grown names that can work. Over time certain phrases have been shortened to initials and over time those initials become familiar shorthand for the original phrases. Examples: RPM, VIP, MVP. If a set of initials that carry an attribute that’s appropriate (and not already snared by a competitor), I’d say jump on it. It’s a rare occurrence when product and available initials align.

I have compiled a list of such initials-with-meaning “ initial sets. If you’d like one, just email me at, or leave your request in the comment box below.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tips: number 65 in a series

Finding qualified help to name your brand can be tricky.

It’s also the smart way to go unless you’ve had extensive naming experience.

If you go to a graphics design firm or a PR firm you’re likely to get a reluctant “yes” to the question for help. But by and large they are not qualified, are not experienced, have not specialized in brand naming.

Ad agencies may fair a little better, but thet, too, are not naming specialists. As Mike Myatt of N2growth put it, “They may dabble in the practice, but you’ll find that it is rarely a competency.

That leaves companies and individuals with experience in naming companies, products and services. But experience it turns out isn’t enough. There’s a range of approaches to naming, from the completely predicatable old-line firms to the Avant-garde boutiques offering you the latest fads.

Here’s Mike’s advice in selecting a naming firm: First, review their portfolio. Make sure there’s diversity of client and variety of naming “styles”.

Second, find a firm that’s collaborative. After all, it’s your name, reflecting your company’s personality. Mike puts it this way: “Great naming firms achieve success based upon their ability to align their talent with the client’s vision.”

I’d add one more way to qualify a naming company: check out their own name. Just as ad agencies are notorious for naming their agency after its founders, naming consultants tend to be just as ego-driven. Find one whose name suits the business and its style, personality, culture and position.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a trade publication: most do a poor job

BtoB’s Daily News Alert brought us this bulletin today:

Hanley Wood changes name of ‘Green Products and Technology’ to ‘EcoHome’
Washington, D.C.—Hanley Wood, a b-to-b media company that covers the housing and construction markets, has changed the name of its recently launched Green Products and Technology to EcoHome. The new name debuts with the May issue, the second of four planned for 2008….

The name change aligns the magazine more closely with Hanley Wood’s annual EcoHome Expo and Conference and EcoHome Web site, said Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood.

That got me thinking about names for publications. In general, trade publications do an unimaginative job of naming. They usually go for a descriptive name. Yawn.

It appears that Green Products and Technology would have been OK with Hanley Wood except for the apparent need to align with the EcoHome Expo and Website.

The publication industry is pretty hide-bound. There’s little differentiation in the manner publications are marketed to readers and to advertisers. I’ve been in on many a media presentation over the years – I mean like forty or more years – and they still sound the same. They still quote readership and circulation numbers. They still conduct and present preference studies. They still price competitively by CPM.

This applies even to the newer publication introduced in the Internet Age – Fast Company, Red Herring, Industry Standard – even though each of them have better understood branding. This is most ardently applied through content and an independent editorial stance. Most BtoB publications just won’t upset advertisers in any way.

Anyway, those are the thoughts sparked by the article. As for EcoHome as a name for a magazine, an expo or a website, well, lets just say they could have done better. But it’s certainly better than a utilitarian descriptive like Green Products and Technology.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: number 64 in a series

Be sure to consider the associations, other than the one you intend, when evaluating brand names.

Let’s say you’ve decided Mercury might be an ideal name for in-line skates.

Mercury, the name of a Roman god who acted as a messenger , does connote speed. But from its ancient roots, Mercury was also the god of “rogues, vagabonds and thieves”.

But more important are current associations. Check out other companies and products with the same name. Think of Mercury automobiles (isn’t the perception today of a poor-man’s Buick?), Will there be an association, even a subtle one, between your skates and the car? Then there are outboard motors and a host of Mercurys.

There’s a reference book available at most larger libraries that alphabetically list all registered names. It’s a two-volume reference by Gale Research called Brands and Their Companies and Companies and Their Brands. Reviewing Mercury under both products and companies will reveal trademarks you’ll want to scan for unsavory or conflicting associations.

Then there are other possible associations. How about the NASA Mercury project? But there’s also the element mercury and mercury poisoning of tuna.

There may or may not be any conflicts, poor associations or just too many “Mercury”s to make the name attractive for your skates. But at least a review will help you decide.

Martin Jelsema

Brands that make me scoff – Toyota Matrix

This series on brands that make me scoff is going to be easy.

Today I’m calling out Toyota and their bad Matrix model.

I’m using “bad” in its original context – I don’t mean it’s, you know, good.

So here’s their tagline: Get in Touch with Your Dark Side.

Just on the basis of this inane slogan I scoff. I shake my head. I roll my eyes.

Now I’m a Star Wars fan and I assume that’s the dark side they’re referring to. I’d say the Matrix has a dark side position only if R2D2 has defected.

Do you know the car? It’s a small, round under-powered economy car. I know, I rented one a couple of weeks ago and drive it into the mountains. Living in Colorado has its advantages. Now I grew up in Estes Park Colorado and I’ve driven that road in four cylinder cars since a had a Hillman Minx back in the early 1960’s. I never had any problems even on the steep inclines.Toyota Matrix

But this Matrix didn’t have enough power to pass a New Jersey tourist. In fact, one passed me. The shame of it.

The only dark side I experienced had to do with night falling before I got home.

The point is credibility. You could position this automobile in appealing ways that are true to the vehicle and the experience of driving it.

Dark side indeed.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a motel chain

No one seems to be doing a great job at it.

Holiday Inn used to be the brand leader in the category, but they’ve diversified and diluted their brand.

At one point, Motel 6 was doing a proper job of differentiating themselves from competitors even though they relied too heavily on the low price theme in my opinion. But their spokeperson and their homey, low key approach was certainly distinctive.

By the way, the name originally stood for 6-dollar rooms. As rates went up, I believe they still maintained two or three rooms at that price to justify their claim of 6-dollar rooms. Super 8 also named their chain to support their 8-dollar rooms. Both organizations were very short-sighted. I would never encourage a brander to make a specific price part of their brand. Both chains survived, but only after many disappointed travelers left the office with bad tastes in their mouths.

Then there are the multifaceted chains of Mariott and Quality, both with individually named facility types. Both chains want to promote all those choices in one ad. Neither succeeds in differentiating their subbrands or the master brands with this tactic. I know it would be prohibitive for each subbrand to launch and maintain individual promotional programs. I’d look at a consolidation program, perhaps maintaining three of the brands in each family, one for business travelers, one at vacation destinations and a third for general car travel.

La Quinta has launched a campaign recently where they feature their free breakfast bar. But that won’t cut it since many of the chains now offer that perk. Plus their campaign, directed mostly to business travelers, is irrelevant and inane.

Someone could step up and take a leadership roll in this category, but I’ve a feeling no one will. They’ve made their beds and now just lay there.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tip: Number 63 in a series

Some brand name candidates contain words and syllables that look good on paper but just don’t have the distinctiveness or authority they once had.

These words usually show up in names over and over again until people just don’t pay attention to them. I’m speaking of adjectives like “quality”, “precision” and “advanced”, and syllables like “maxi”, “dyna” and “micro”.

As you eliminate the meaningless from your list of brand name candidates, think, too, about the words and syllables that are likely to become meaningless. This is, of course, difficult to judge, But perhaps a Google search will reveal a rush to use those you suspect might be trending toward becoming cliché.

So beware words that have lost their meaning/value through overuse.

Martin Jelsema

Branding and corporate identity

Branding was strictly a subset of marketing when I started my marketing career in 1958. It was hardly ever practiced by business-to-business marketers, and certainly not by small companies.

Corporate Identity was a different matter. Any business was encouraged to develop one, particularly if your stock was traded on an exchange. The corporate name, logo, stationery and annual report were the main elements of a corporate identity. And if you had a building, your signage became a part of your ID. And if you had a large ad budget, part might be set aside for “corporate advertising”.

Today there’s little emphasis on corporate identity as a lone discipline. It’s been replaced by corporate brand, which can also be called the masterbrand. Many of the principles and activities of product branding and of corporate identity programs were adopted and integrated into the corporate brand.

The firms who served corporations in either product branding (normally ad agencies) or corporate identity (usually graphic designers with business sense) have changed as well over time.

Today there a couple of dozen highly regarded branding consultancies. Most are global in scope. Some evolved from corporate identity firms of long standing. Others were offering market research and counsel about packaging goods branding. Now the “branding” industry is huge. You’ll find a dozen substantial practitioners even in a dusty ole cow town like Denver.

Branding and corporate identity have merged and grown. Today, the corporate brand development is a vital activity, even with smaller companies that, someday, want to be big ones. Today, in many companies, marketing is actually a subset of branding. How things change over time.

Martin Jelsema