Lexicon® Blog

Give Them Something To Talk About

In Brand Naming on July 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Imagine yourself at a cocktail party: the hum of music, the din of conversation, and the smell of high-end fragrances. As you swill your drink, a partygoer approaches you, exchanges pleasantries, and asks, “What are you doing RIGHT now, in this moment?” Later in the evening, another attendee strolls up, goes through the same acceptable small talk, and then puts to you, “What do you want to be doing in ten years, perhaps fifteen?” Which inquiry do you think would yield a richer, more interesting back-and-forth?

At Lexicon, we like to think of marketing as a conversation between a company and its customers, and the brand name as the opening line that starts that dialogue. Said another way, your verbal identity – which is that first interaction in the marketplace – sets the tone for how rich and meaningful the experience between your brand and your consumers will be.

To illustrate, try this mental exercise. Place these two names side by side: Internet Diamonds and Blue Nile. Then, while timing yourself, sit back, think about each, and write down whatever comes to mind. Focusing solely on the names, speculate on what each company does – or what you think they might do. Push a little more. What might their logos look like, their advertisements sound like, their packaging resemble, their print copy communicate?

Chances are you’ll have spent a few minutes, if that, on Internet Diamonds, and your list of associations and thoughts will skew short and uninspired. Why is that? It’s the brand-name equivalent of: “What are you doing RIGHT now?” It efficiently lets you know the core service, at a moment in time, but it doesn’t represent a bigger, growing brand experience. It doesn’t let the brand imagine what it could be.

Blue Nile, on the other hand, will likely occupy the imagination for a significantly longer period of time, inspiring a long list of vivid imagery and disparate ideas. An actual tributary of the massive north-flowing African river, Blue Nile takes the consumer’s mind to a myriad of places. You might go to the gaudy riches of the ancient Egyptian empire. You might picture an indescribably gorgeous mountain lake. You might even think of beautiful sapphires and diamonds right off the bat. This could be a hotel, a bar, or a resort. These rich associations all represent assets for the brand; they can lead to unbelievable storytelling, gorgeous visual identities, and compelling marketing. And it doesn’t lock the company into one core offering or one rigid positioning. That’s because the name is built around the idea of, “Where do you want to be?” – and it doesn’t respond with a definitive answer per se, but with wild and limitless imagination.

The reason for such a dramatic difference in richness of thought: the simple, elegant power of a brand name done right. All great brand names generate interest, set the tone, and most importantly, lead a person to a larger narrative – they don’t succinctly tell the entire story in one or two words. Some names accomplish this while being more suggestive, like Apple’s PowerBook or Sears’ Die Hard batteries. Others are more capacious, like Starbucks Coffee or Amazon. Nevertheless, they all have a few key characteristics in common.  First, they signal change. They stand up and shout that business is not as usual. Second, they don’t sound or look like their competitors. They don’t shy away from being different. Finally, they stimulate a rich network of neural associations. They want to support growth and interest.

The lesson for us is clear. For a brand name to be a strategic asset, it must add significant value from the day it is launched. A name must do more than simply tell the story of a product. A great name starts to weave a compelling narrative that is grander than the product itself – a narrative that can continue to evolve and develop.

We understand the appeal of descriptive names; they are easily accessible, they are safe, and sometimes are fitting. However, ultimately, they are one-dimensional and are therefore the beginning of a very brief conversation. A more provocative name, on the other hand, may not seem accessible at first, but it opens up the imagination of consumers and leads to that richer customer dialogue.

If you had asked the founders of Blue Nile way back when at a cocktail party where they might see themselves in ten years or even twenty years, they might not have known. They may have had aspirations, goals, benchmarks, and probably some zany ideas. But one thing is for sure: they probably didn’t see themselves opening their first brick-and-mortar, which is precisely what they have just recently done in New York. Try this last mental exercise: imagine the absurdity of walking into a physical storefront of of a company called Internet Diamonds.

The Service That Launched a Thousand Shyps: The Sharing Economy Is Now Sharing Brand Names

In Brand Naming on July 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm

About to head to your boozy adult softball league but can’t find your equipment? Dial up Mytt, and a sports specialist in a Prius will deliver a glove. Need your cat groomed, but feeling pressed for time? The feline aficionados at Furree will be at a location of your choosing within 30 minutes with all the equipment necessary to make your kitty pretty.

Do these businesses ring of absurdity? Yes, and as they should, because we just made them up. But, you believed them. For which we have Uber to thank. Along with spawning a litany of derivative businesses, Uber has spawned a litany of derivative brand names – a veritable sea of the same, playing similar games.

The genesis

We used to marvel when the tap of our smartphone screen summoned a black car to our precise location within minutes. Now, that kind of immediacy has become a baseline expectation, and not just when it comes to getting from point A to point B, but with all of our services.

Uber became the torchbearer for a new type of industry in 2009 – the sharing on-demand economy – and since then, it has become the pillar of the space. Its poster-boy status and unequivocal success have opened the floodgates for players in the category, inspiring scads of businesses built on the premise that goods and services should be delivered or rendered in frictionless fashion and on your terms. The offerings feel limitless, with seemingly every niche filled.

Uber gets its name from a hip modifier – “uber-cool,” “uber-interesting,” – said to be inspired by a punk rock song that in turn borrowed it from Nietzsche. The name’s assets are many. It’s quick and confident, much like the brand, and it gets at premium without being too on the nose or too unapproachable. It also has a bit of imagination, letting the consumer dream up what the experience might be – a feat that a name like LuxCar wouldn’t be able to execute on. If only the new players in the space invested time and thought to deliver on equally strong names.

The newest names

Some of the new brands are simple respellings of the service offered. There’s a shipping company called Shyp and an on-demand car wash service called Wype. Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, falls in this category, unflatteringly, and Shuddle, which carts entire families around, follows suit. There’s even Plowz, which will bring you a snow plow – you know, for those ever-frequent instances.

Some startups go a step further and take a word associated with their service and either respell it – Dufl for suitcase packing, Zeel for massage, and Eaze for medical marijuana. Or some opt for the correct spelling, like Heal for a house call from a doctor, Handy for a home visit from a handyperson, Rover for dog-sitting, Sprig for a dinner-on-demand service, and Luxe for a personal parking valet.

And for those hesitant to risk any modicum of confusion, there’s the flat-footed approach of literal description: Push for Pizza and Doctors on Demand – admittedly there’s a dash of poetry with the alliteration. Doughbies on Demand pushes it a bit, inventing a doughnut-inspired term of endearment for baked goods.

That’s not to speak ill of the actual businesses – they all might do a great job – it’s just that the names are mostly blah. A few names show more individuality: Sidecar (ride service) and SpoonRocket (meal delivery) are examples, but the images they conjure don’t support the services very well.

An imaginative name would do wonders

Are these new companies so focused on sharing that they are even sharing a lackluster approach to naming? Their chances of standing out and attracting a large, enthusiastic following would rise if their names suggested originality and a distinctive strategy for taking care of customers.

The liquor-delivery service Saucey deserves credit for trying. The name, a pun on a slang word for booze as well as a sound-alike for “saucy,” at least tells us they have a personality that suits their offering.

Whether the market will go for an irreverent delivery service, even a tongue-in-cheek one, is another question.

Less risky but more charming and memorable is TaskRabbit for cleaning, handiwork, and errands. The name suggests eagerness, and even the busy sound helps. It’s not shocking that this service has gained some traction.

The marketplace is getting more and more crowded, with hundreds of concepts fitting the description of “an Uber for X.” Not all startups adopting this concept are likely to succeed, but we’d put our money on those combining a viable concept with an attractive name.

To be attractive, a name need not be descriptive. In fact, descriptive names tend to be the dullest. Uber doesn’t describe anything. Instead, Uber creates its own identity by drawing on the current vernacular, where the modifier “uber” places something – anything – at the top of a scale. What better way to announce a paradigm-shattering service than with a name that uses a familiar word in an unfamiliar way? This strategy brings the extra advantage of brand expansiveness. While Uber is now making waves as an alternate taxi service, the name can easily support future forays by the company into other domains–which might well include some of the home delivery areas now served by startups with lackluster names. If this has a familiar ring to it, look at Amazon, the online bookseller whose ambitious name had nothing specifically to do with books.

Would Blue Nile be the largest online jewelry dealer – or opening its first brick-and-mortar – if it stuck with Internet Diamonds? Would Swiffer be a billion-dollar global brand if it marched forward with its ProMop concept? For the answers, download Brandee, a full-scale brand strategy firm that will come to your business in minutes. Well, it would, if it actually existed.

-Will Leben and Michael Quinn

Pepsi’s Spire: Branding and Design Go Hand In Hand

In Brand Naming on May 20, 2015 at 12:58 pm

An Unexpected Brand Experience

Milan is synonymous with high design. A mere mention of the iconic Italian city instantly conjures up visions of haute couture from the most revered names in fashion. But a lot of the ooh’s and ahh’s from Milan’s Design Week came not from gowns and glitter, but from the clean lines and minimalist-chic aesthetic of PepsiCo’s new soda fountain.

Second to the market, after Coke’s Freestyle, but arguably first in class, this wonderfully designed machine elevates the soda fountain from a mere commodity. And that’s because PepsiCo boldly decided it’s not just about dispensing a flavored beverage into a cup anymore – there’s a larger brand narrative to be told. And to communicate this bigger, richer experience, PepsiCo invested in design, engineering, and an innovative name developed in partnership with Lexicon: Spire.

PepsiCo was intent on differentiating their offering from the clunky Freestyle machine. That’s why it opted for an elegant and modern look; a clever, intuitive user interface; and mixing intelligence – vetted by food scientists – that can deliver 1,000 flavor combinations (compared to Coke’s 140). That’s also why they opted for an unexpected and brazen brand name.

Getting the Brand Right

Mauro Procini, the Chief Design Officer behind this project, put it best: “Good design is when you’re able to surprise people.” The same can be said for branding. When tech companies were using alphanumerics to talk about microprocessors, Lexicon helped Intel develop the new ingredient-technology brand, Pentium. When car manufacturers were looking to the American West to communicate ruggedness in SUVs, the Sausalito-based specialists named the Outback for Subaru, a locale far from the States. And when music-streaming services were going for playful, coined solutions, the branding strategists delivered the elegant real word, Tidal.

So when PepsiCo approached Lexicon, the goal was not only to outperform Freestyle, it was also to help communicate the newness of the fountain machine. Looking at its distinct visual and functional attributes– from its stately form to its ability to turn consumers into soda mixologists –the creative teams at Lexicon converged on a name that was equal parts well-composed, lean, and transformative. Spire is a real word with Old English origins that refers to the top of a tower – and also a word that seemingly doesn’t belong in the food and beverage category.

Instead of locking the machine into one experience – à la Freestyle – this expansive name allows for the consumer to imagine what the experience could be. Consumers in Lexicon’s proprietary naming research made the more obvious connection between the long, lean design of the fountain and that of a tower. But they also made connections to inspire, which is perfectly fitting since this device is all about putting your imagination to work and creating a beverage that is distinctly yours. They even made connections to liquid-related terms like spew, spout, and splash. The phonetics of the name also resonated with the target audience; the alive, highly energetic consonants signaled a fun, engaging machine.

After this research, which illuminated the richness of the name, both parties concluded that Spire could deliver on this grander brand experience. Said another way, it was a name that supports “a meaningful, relevant story for consumers,” which was the guiding design principle behind this whole initiative.

– Will Leben and Michael Quinn


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