Lexicon® Blog

Getting A Brand Name Right

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Naming on March 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Once a brand name is established in the marketplace, changing it can become costly for the brand owner and confusing for the consumer – however, some changes are for the better in the long run.

There’s a select group of companies that have had the good fortune of being able to merely compress their existing name to deliver a new, distinctive idea. Federal Express simply shed three syllables to become the hipper, more modern FedEx in 1994, and Nestlé Quik made two steps forward at once when it changed its worldwide name to the shorter one already established in Europe, Nesquik, creating a unified brand. Similarly, Kentucky Fried Chicken also got a proverbial two-for-one by changing its name to KFC, since the new name was not only quicker and crisper, but also help them avoid the need to pay a licensing fee after the state of Kentucky trademarked its name.

But for companies saddled with branding issues that can’t be remedied by truncating words or carefully excising letters, the task is much more herculean. Developing a new brand name requires strategic thinking, it requires an understanding of the industry (where it is and where it might head), and it requires a well-defined positioning that will differentiate your offering and get consumers to believe in who you are and what you represent. Said another way, it’s more than just an exercise in cleverness.

Getting the perspective just right

Everyone realizes that AOL was once America Online, and IBM was once International Business Machines, but less well known is that both companies started out with very different names from the ones we recognize.

From 1985 to 1991, America Online called itself Quantum Computer Services, and the name International Business Machines was only adopted in 1924 to rename the company that since 1911 had been called the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company (or CTC for short). The 1911 name, awkward as it must have seemed even back then, was simply the natural result of the merger of three separate firms into one.

It’s worthwhile to consider the reasoning behind the switch from the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company to International Business Machines. Probably, brevity was not the goal, since CTC is just as short as IBM. What really went on is that the name change announced a completely new perspective, from three distinct operations into a single one that encompassed not only equipment for all business needs but also on a worldwide basis.

Speaking to the right audience

Quantum Computer Services was probably a very good brand name in 1985. In that era, the company provided online service for a handful of personal computer models using modems called Quantum-Link, or Q-Link. The word quantum was the perfect choice if the desire was to convey the fast transfer of bits of data. But, as the market for Internet access mushroomed, the company’s mission expanded quickly to providing online access to all consumers. At the same time, there was a need to distinguish the company from its major competitor, CompuServe. The new name, America Online, achieved both goals brilliantly, re-orienting the message toward the everyday consumer and replacing a technical reference with the much simpler online. AOL’s strategy succeeded, so much so that in the end AOL was able to purchase CompuServe’s online service.

Righting a wrong

Sometimes brand names become tainted, as was the case with Philip Morris, which changed its name to Altria Group in 2003, helping to jettison baggage. The airline brand ValuJet also suffered a devastating hit in 1996 when one of its planes crashed and investigations revealed practices that seriously compromised safety on the flight that crashed and on many others. Sales plummeted, and a year later ValuJet merged with a much smaller airline, taking on that airline’s name, AirTran.

The right outlook

Some brand name changes can be avoided by thinking ahead. Who are you talking to now, who would you like to be talking to, and what would you like to be saying to them a few years from now? A famous example is Diet Deluxe, which changed its name to Healthy Choice. The earlier name fell down in two respects: it addressed a smaller public, and its message was not as upbeat as it should have been. The new name Healthy Choice solved both problems: it speaks to everyone concerned about his or her well-being, and instead of a diet, it offers them an alternative that makes immediate sense.

A similar problem came up with a cereal marketed with the name Elijah’s Manna in 1904. The biblical reference made U.S. consumers wary. It also caused Great Britain to refuse to register the trademark. As a result, the name was changed in 1907 to Post Toasties, which at the time described a unique aspect of the product—without alienating anyone. The brand lasted nearly a hundred years before the product was removed from the shelves in 2005.

Creating a vessel that connects consumers to the right brand story

We know the challenges of developing an expansive and meaningful brand name that will serve not only as the entry point, but ultimately the platform for a larger brand experience. When WiMP, the Hi-Fi music streaming service out of Norway, came to Lexicon in search of a new name for their expansion into the UK, US, and beyond, we knew their current moniker would not take them far. It fared alright in Scandinavia, where the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of WiMP carried a level of cool. However, we found it hard to imagine them being a dominant global player in the music space with that name – not to mention that it did nothing to support the lossless-quality music, curated editorial content, and premium user experience that differentiated their offering. Through working with their team in Europe, we landed on Tidal. It has that perfect consonant-vowel-consonant structure, and it carries consumers, through imagery and semantics, to the unparalleled and deeply immersive music experience – which happens to be an experience so compelling that Jay-Z, in partnership with the biggest stars in the industry, recently purchased Tidal for $56 million.

– Will Leben and Michael Quinn

How to Survive A Panda “Attack”

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming, Naming Research on August 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

Create a distinctive and memorable strategic marketing tool…
your brand name

Pandas, penguins and hummingbirds typically evoke warm, feel – good thoughts. That is unless your company misses out on valuable web traffic after changes to search engine algorithms impact where your company ranks on search engine results pages – or if it shows up at all.

When released by search engines, these types of algorithmic changes while called cute animals like pandas, penguins and hummingbirds, can cause your brand to get lost amongst vague descriptions unless consumers are searching for it by name. According to Glenn Gabe’s recent post on Search Engine Watch, “…I unfortunately saw many companies get pummelled…losing more than 60% of Google organic traffic overnight.” One of the best defenses against pesky “pandas” – invest in creating a strategic, marketing tool – a distinctive and memorable brand – that consumers easily recall when researching or buying your product.

It’s clear to us at Lexicon Branding why brand names matter and how a thoughtful approach to this key asset can help companies rise to the top of search engine results pages on the “wild” worldwide web:

• The most successful marketers use both scientific research and creativity to create distinctive and memorable brand names. It is more than simple word play to create a brand that sticks in the mind. Memorable brands endure and resonate by combining a minimum of three facets – semantics or meaning, sound and letter structure.

• Brands need to stand out and work across the globe in multiple languages and various multi-media formats. This is becoming harder to do given trademark registrations continue to increase. For example, global class 9 trademark applications more than doubled from approximately 259,000 in 1984 to exceeding 530,000 by 2013. Lexicon predicts globally by 2017 there will be 55 million trademark applications across the existing classes.

• A distinctive brand name is perennial, not perishable or easily forgotten. Thus, algorithms can change and the organic traffic generated by your brand survives because it was built to last.

How can your name successfully navigate the 2 million web searches conducted every minute?

The right brand name is a fundamental element of strategic marketing that creates value by being distinctive and memorable as well as elevating the conversation. It evokes feelings typically followed by action. The best guard against changes you can’t control is to invest in your brand so that consumers will ask for it by name – whether they’re shopping in a traditional bricks-and-mortar store or typing it into the search bar.

— David Placek, President, Lexicon Branding

Big Brother Brands

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Food & Beverage, Naming on July 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

George Orwell pegged 1984 as the year that an authoritarian superstate – personified in a political candidate known only as “Big Brother” – would come to power in his fictional work about a dystopian future. The book was first conceived 40 years before the title year (although published five years later, in 1949.)

Now, 30 years after the events of Nineteen Eighty-Four, could it be that Big Brother is finally manifesting? Not as a political entity designed to control the populace, but as a commercial confederation that owns and controls the majority of brands – and the influence that goes with them.

Holding companies with a fleet of products under their ownership are nothing new. Various bits of legislation have cropped up over the years in attempt to control just how much sway one company might wield over a market. (Energy companies have often been the culprits in such attempts – so early on that in 1935 the U.S. passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act to force companies to divest their interests. In 20 years, the number of holding companies declined, from 216 to just 18 entities.)

Such companies exist in every industry, from electronics to financial institutions, high tech to home improvement, and any other business you can imagine. But what factors – besides their seeming unquenchable desire to acquire other companies – make us think that they are exhibiting Big Brother-ish behavior?

We looked at a graphic that had been made available on the Sploid blog, which is part of Gizmodo.com. As they put it, when it came to the inside of the grocery store, “as you can see (these 10 companies) own everything.”

The ten companies mentioned are Mondelez, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Unilever. And each of those companies has controlling interest in anywhere between two dozen to almost a hundred other companies in the case of Nestlé.

Do you choose Nestlés’ Dreyer’s ice cream or Breyer’s from Unilever? General Mills’ Chex cereal or Crispix from Kellogg’s? Many such products are at parity when it comes to such things as taste and quality, meaning it often boils down to how the brands make consumers feel at decision-making time.

Frankly, the more interesting story is not about when these giants go head-to-head in the grocery store. Instead, imagine being a smaller cereal manufacturer getting caught up in the marketing and shelf placement elements that come into play with products like these.

It’s a daunting task: Where do the marketing dollars come from to start to build awareness when the playing field is already dominated by gargantuan powerhouse brands?

Lest you think we’re dissing the Big Brother Brands, far from it. We have worked to create brand names with a large number of holding companies, as well as many of the companies within their portfolios. Their naming choices can tend to seem more on the conservative side versus those made by start-ups and smaller companies but when you’re in business around the world, it often pays to play it safe.

Start A Revolution

Fortunately, there are ways to be a nimble David when competing against one or more of these Goliaths in the supermarket aisle. (And the same rule generally holds true in other industries as well.)

• Be different. The Big Brother companies have vast resources but can be slow to innovate – why create something new when something old is still selling like hotcakes? If whatever you’re making or doing is different from what’s gone before – and you can make it known – you’re bound to be noticed.

• Say something different. Starting with a brand name that stakes out some new territory in the landscape, and on through your brand promise and the story of what your product is about, you’ve got to be the brand that gets attention as opposed to the legions that get ignored.

• Reposition the competition. When competing against brands that are well-established in the marketplace, find a hook that’s different yet welcome. Force those other guys to figure out that you’ve changed the game and now they’re the ones playing catch up.

• Take the high road. Sure, they’re the competition and you’re the hero, but keep the conversation about how good your product is and stay away from comparing yourself to your predecessors. No sense tripping over someone else’s goodwill.

Big Brother Is Watching

Ironically, the more successful a smaller company is with their brand, the more attention they’re likely to get from a Big Brother brand. Those bigger companies typically used to work to create their own similar product, often with disappointing results. More often than not nowadays, they’ll use their resources more wisely — and just buy what they like. Innovative beverages like Odwalla, Vitamin Water, and Fuze were all gobbled up by Coca-Cola. Nestlé has bought up chip, candy and even restaurant brands like they’re going out of style.

Sometimes, however, success is its own reward. For every Odwalla that gets snapped up, an Jones Soda remains cheerfully independent. Three Twins ice cream keeps it simple rather than follow the example of Dreyer’s, which became part of the Nestlé family in 2002.

A compelling brand name is a way to start a conversation with consumers that is effective, regardless of whether the product is owned by a multinational corporation, a hot company on the rise, or a struggling startup. That winning name is also the intellectual property that could be the most coveted weapon in your marketing arsenal.

— Lexicon Branding

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