Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by The Brand Mason (Steven Mason), a marketing, communications and naming artisan. Follow on twitter: @thebrandmason
Over the past 22 years, Steven has been a marketing executive at—and consultant to—public and private Internet security/networking, enterprise software, B2B platform, e-Business firms, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms, as well as a teacher of subjects as diverse as compiler (computer language translator) design and English grammar, mechanics and usage.
Here, he revisits the 7 Common Cents Insights for Brand Naming by adding clarity, context, and an alternative viewpoint. Contact The Brand mason at steven [at] thebrandmason.com
In his previous post, Mikal offered 7 Common Cents Insights for Naming Your Product/Company:
- The product is what matters
- There is no best way
- A name is just one component of a brand
- Do a competitive analysis
- Don’t commit any fatal errors
- Consider tying to something already understood
- A great name will help you, everything else is incremental
This post will function as an open peer review of the concepts presented.
1. The product is what matters
I would express this idea a bit differently. First, a great name can launch a bad product, but the product is unlikely to engender loyalty. If it depends on repeat buys, it will fail. If it’s a one-time, one-trick-pony, on the other hand, this may work. (I’m not endorsing this, because I think the modus operandi is a fundamentally dishonest one: I am simply making an observation.) Second, I advise looking carefully at the authenticity of the attributes/qualities suggested by the name. There must be a direct connection between what the name suggests/evokes and the ability of the product/company to deliver on same. Listerine used this very effectively: the name intentionally sounds medicinal; everyone “knows” medicines taste bad; therefore, they used a negative attribute which “proved” bactericidal effectiveness. My view is that the lack of a clear, strong nexus between a name (and tagline) and the benefits of the product/company is one of the biggest problems in naming.
Where I would disagree with you is that I view a name as an overarching concept that integrates all salient aspects/attributes of the brand, rather than as a component of the brand. The name is the “word that stands in” for the brand—i.e., an invented concept that must be reified to be made useful. Metonymy in action.
(continue to read The Brand Masons take on the six other naming insights)
2. There is no best way.
I would say there is no best naming tactic or set of tactics. But there is a best naming strategy. That strategy is, in short, begins by recognizing that a name is an invented concept that integrates all salient aspects of the brand and that ultimately comes to represent them (sometimes in conjunction with a tagline). Given that premise, a proper naming strategy begins by looking at what a product/company does, what benefits it offers, whom/what it competes with, to whom it offers them, what (in an ideal world) one wants evoked in a customer’s mind when he is exposed to that name. That is, you start with the end, not the means; with the evoked, not the evoker. Once you’ve got a handle on those issues, you can codify the attributes of a brand, develop a positioning/messaging statement (some say positioning is passé, but I’m not focusing on the semantics here) and see the big picture. Only then is it possible to start to develop names and to have measurable criteria, as well as the most important criterion, against which prospective names can be measured. Google is a great name for a number of reasons (for Google, if you’ll excuse my reflexivity), but it’s not a very good name for an ultra-conservative bank. Without context, to which you alluded in your post, there is neither a good name nor a bad name, although certain names can be ruled out a priori because of terrible phonology, etc.
3. A name is just one component of a brand.
I agree with your segment’s title. I would say that, as noted before, a name should be a complete integrated representation of all salient characteristics of a brand, but that does not mean the converse is true. If a name is absolutely perfect, but other representations of the brand – or parts thereof – lack brand congruency, then you are introducing confusion, arbitrariness and contradictoriness into the equation – the combination of which destroys or enervates the brand.
You make indirect reference to the fact that a name alone can’t always do the job. Very true. An abstract name requires a functional tagline. But I argue that the name+tagline must, at a high level, convey what the product or company does (or, if everyone knows what the company does, then they must convey a key benefit). Ex: Cingular: Raising the bar – which was later changed to AT&T’s awful “Your world. Delivered.” What the f*** does that mean? Is this the ultimate invitation to narcissists? But then someone got smart and came up with “More bars in more places,” which is brilliant because it’s authentic and it works at so many levels, from the concrete to the metaphorical. And, yes, it’s also memorable, witty and easy to say. A+.
A couple of personal examples
The Brand Mason doesn’t require a tagline, but it’s self-explanatory; but if I want to concretize that I do naming, I can write: The Brand Mason™/Marketing, Communications & Naming Artisan. A different example. There is a prosthetic knee (the Rheo Knee®) made by an Icelandic firm named Ossur. It’s for transfemoral (i.e., above the knee) amputees, and it’s an amazing, bionic-like device. Here’s the key: conventional prostheses force the user to walk using an uncomfortable, artificial gait; the Rheo Knee rheostatically adjusts, using real-time feedback, to the user’s natural gait, so it’s almost akin to walking with one’s original leg.
Now, when I was asked to do the tagline here, the typical suggestions were along these lines: Bionic technology today; Advanced technology for natural walking; etc. The characteristics all the suggestions shared is that they were awkward, non-distinctive, and unevocative. The company name of “Ossur” the product name of Rheo Knee were givens: what was needed was a phrase that emotionally connected with the prospective user, that was succinct, and that suggested action (i.e., a verb, because you’re not sleeping with the leg, you’re walking on it). So the tagline I created was: Walk Your Way™. That’s it: 3 words, 3 syllables.
I tend to like verbs in taglines whenever action is suggested or required. For a cell-phone-based service that allowed people to listen to news being read to them from newspapers, magazines, etc., I created: Hear the news you don’t have time to read™. But sometimes the result is very important. For a company that sells software to the Armed Forces, software which speeds up the delivery of data that commanders in the field need in order to know the most recent enemy positions, etc., I took the cliché of “mission critical” and transmogrified it into “decision critical”—leading to the tagline Delivering Decision Critical Data™, just the kind of thing generals and other military decision-makers want to hear, and precisely what the company’s solutions actually do (authenticity).
One of your examples can be used to illustrate an interesting phonological example. “Roxio iTunes” is impossible to pronounce, because the long “o” is immediately followed by a long “i” – very different than the phonetic “pull” in “Apple” followed by the long “i” phoneme.
4. Do a competitive analysis.
Couldn’t agree more. I would add that you shouldn’t typically use those recurring words in a name or tagline (unless you’ve got a brilliant strategy to co-opt them), but they very well may be attributes of your to-be-developed brand name. Of course, if the recurring words appear in descriptions of competitors whom no one’s ever heard of, and there are no extant intellectual property issues, then they’re there for the taking (but only if it makes brand sense).
5. Don’t commit any fatal errors.
Also agree here. There are other errors, to be sure, but you’ve nailed many of them. I would add that a name that fails to be evocative is usually, but not always, fatal, because a non-evocative name isn’t memorable. If nobody knows your name, you’re not going anywhere, a la Cheers.
6. Consider tying to something already understood, a saying, a memory, or word.
Good points, again. I would elaborate on this by noting that any new concept or word that is wholly independent of its forebears is tremendously difficult to remember. Memory experts will tell you that people remember by association (with events, with mnemonics, with people, etc.) – remove any vestige of association and you are asking more of your audience than you should. I would also say that it’s possible to succeed in spite of a good name.
For example, I disagree with your prior post in that I don’t regard eHarmony as a good name (its assonance saves it from being god-awful; the idea of “harmony” is fine but generic; but the “e” is terribly dated and, after all, there’s no such thing as on-line marriage) – Squidoo is at quite memorable and more evocative, and I’d place it above eHarmony. (I don’t personally like the name, but it’s objectively effective.) But with names, there is no way to test the null hypothesis, barring figuring out how to exploit quantum physics’s “many worlds” theory, such that in one instance, eHarmony or CareerBuilder launches with that name and, in another, they launch with an ostensibly better one. No matter how successful a company is, it is possible that a better name would have made them more so or done so more quickly. No matter how poorly a company does, it is possible that an inferior name would have led to their failing sooner. Attributing success to a bad name is just one example of the post hoc fallacy in action in branding and naming.
7. A great name will help you, everything else is incremental.
In my view, a great name that’s been created according to the strategy I briefly outlined above will do a lot for you, producing results far superior to an average name. But often an ostensibly great name isn’t great because it’s not brand congruent. Naming your son Genghis will certainly give him a distinctive, memorable name. But if he is not a tough guy (and assuming, of course, that most others know who Genghis Khan was), it could cause him a world of troubles, unless he’s seeking an MMA-based career. If you take evil personified, Adolph Hitler, you’ll find that he’s typically referred to by his surname, because Hitler sounds more foreboding and is easier to remember than Adolph – plus no one wants to personalize a genocidal mass-murderer by using his first name. People of whom others are fond, or who are idealized, get their own identities: JFK and FDR, their initials’ becoming a metonym not just for the person but for what others think the person represents.
Here are a few resources:
· Al Ries – 22 Immutable Laws of Branding; the law on naming your category stays with me
Ries’s book is great and Igor is one of the very few naming firms whose methodology and work I respect. Those guys know their stuff. Perhaps because I am an individualist, but also because no statues are named after committees (or crowds), I don’t at all support naming for/by/due to the crowd or the selecting of a name via Survey Monkey. What happens is that people don’t evaluate the name in terms of legitimate naming or branding criteria; they just respond to the name based on whether they personally like it (or they act like expert marketers, but are actually dilettantes at best and they decide a name is “right”). Yes, anyone can come up with a great name, from the janitor to the CEO, but naming is not a popularity contest (“popular” does not mean good, effective, or brand congruent anymore than does using the evaluations of ten Britney Spears’ fans to rank different performances of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor) and it should not be a democratic process. It should be a rigorous one based on objective criteria that can applied to the specific context a naming/branding project requires.
Some red herrings – no it doesn’t have to be a verb, that’s optional at best. Yes it’s cool if they can say ‘Google’ it or ‘Xerox’ it but who’s to say being a verb is the right word type to own? I make a PowerPoint, I don’t make a Google. BTW the verb/noun thing only occurs with market dominance it doesn’t cause market dominance – your product does.
As I noted above, I typically use verbs in taglines, in order to encourage/implore/incite action. Names that are verbs can work, but without context, it’s meaningless to say that all names ought to be verbs (or any other part of speech, for that matter).
And in general I usually disagree with Seth Godin’s insights his insights on naming also fall into this bucket (I think it’s because I’m an academic at heart and it feels like he makes a lot of assumptions in his correlation between cause and effect). Even if exponentially more people listen to him for business advice than me.
I went to school with Seth. Brilliant entrepreneur from day one, turning failing enterprises into profit-generating ones. But his fame doesn’t automatically make him right, either – fame’s not being a criterion of truth or falsity. Having said that, I don’t always agree with Seth, but here I think his points in the article you cite are right on, except that I disagree that a generic name can ever be good, even if it’s searchable (i.e., it’s always going to be a drag on the company and it invites competition). I can say this as both an intellectual who will talk to you about Aristotle or Kant or number theory or abnormal psychology and as a marketer who believes people need to grok stuff instantly.
What are some company/product names that you like? And why?
Among other names, I do like The Brand Mason for a few reasons. First, one should never use the word “brand” if you do branding because it’s generic. Second, here is a classic exception to that rule, to the conventional wisdom, because I happen to have a last name that suggests artisanal abilities. Combine that with “brand” and you have an evocative name where you’d think you’d have nothing but a soporific generic. Third, through my name, I illustrate simultaneously why names such as “Brand Experts” are terrible (Igor provides a panoply of such awful names) and why the conventional wisdom sometimes needs to be turned on its head because of context.