Lexicon® Blog

Myths Of Branding Pt. 3: Strong Corporate Names Don’t Need Other Brands

In Brand Naming on August 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 3: If a company has a strong corporate name, it doesn’t need any other brands.

        

Two weeks ago, Google announced its new umbrella company. This unexpected move – placing Google inside the cocoon of the freshly minted Alphabet – says a lot about the power of strategically creating distinct brands.

Google was originally founded for a fairly specific purpose, but within the past few years, the fiercely innovative tech behemoth has expanded its interests with a range of endeavors. With the creation of this holding company, Google can continue to pursue its core competencies, while new Alphabet sub-brands can explore the other territories into which Google had begun to tiptoe. This allows individual brands to develop focus and create memorable identities, and having the Alphabet backing gives these nascent projects the Google credibility endorsement without diluting the Google brand. There’s also the practical consideration of creating separate brands, from an investor standpoint; it allows stakeholders to see where money is going and to see who is under-performing and who is exceeding expectations.

This synergy of powerful master brands working in conjunction with powerful sub-brands is not a novel concept. Even well-established corporations have allowed themselves to be defined by their products, using their name to bolster brands and then allowing those brands, in return, to support the corporate promise.

The prolific 3M is a great example of a company that leverages its corporate identity to enforce new brands, while using the strength of long-established brands, such as Scotchgard and Scotch Tape, to reinforce the 3M corporate promise.

“I know that other companies have tried to consolidate and have one corporate brand,” says Dean Adams, Director of Corporate Branding at 3M, “but we have a different view. The corporate brand takes on the role of authority and credibility, but consumers want to look underneath the brand,” explains Adams.

For example, Scotchgard makes a special promise about making things look new longer, and the brand’s strength works as tangible evidence, proving 3M brand’s corporate promise. Conversely, one of the company’s newer brands, Command (a removable adhesive strip used to attach items to walls) doesn’t have the same credibility as some of their more established brands.

“We really leverage the 3M brand, using its strength to build the brand Command,” says Adams.


Interestingly, one of 3M’s most recognized and successful brands, Post-it notes, began life much like Command, with a number of names plastered on its packaging. When the product was launched 25 years ago, it carried trademarks for Scotch, 3M, Post-it, Plaid and a few others. But according to Adams, once 3M saw what it had, the other brands were dropped pretty quickly, and the ubiquitous Post-it was born.

It’s natural to strive for one, strong corporate identity. Brand stacking can be tiring for a consumer and branding is often a calculated risk. Branding, however, can empower the corporate identity. Allowing products to stand on their own with unique brand identities can be more digestible for consumers, and their success will inevitably climb back up to the company level, reinforcing a corporate promise and potentially carrying the company to new heights.

Fact: Companies miss many opportunities to create strong corporate assets when they rely on a narrow corporate brand policy.

Myths of Branding Pt. 2: Coined Names Aren’t Worth the Investment

In Brand Naming on August 18, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 2: Coined names aren’t worth the investment it takes to build them into brands. Descriptive names are cheaper and more effective.

In the late 1980’s two new luxury automotive brands, Infiniti and Lexus, were introduced in the United States – one a known word with known meaning, the other a new-to-the-world idea. Both initial reactions and historical sales performance leave no doubt that Lexus won that battle decidedly. For a moment, let’s leave design considerations aside and focus on the two brand names and how they factored into the performance of these two automotive franchises.

Infiniti is of course derived from the real-word infinity. By definition infinity means “something without bounds.” The word conjures up limitless space, something that is so large that it can’t be counted. This is conceptually interesting, but perhaps a questionable claim for a new vehicle without an established track record. Said another way, when the call to action asks for you to imagine everything, where’s the anchor?

Beyond semantic concerns, the construction of the name is unwieldy for the category. At four syllables long, Infiniti rambles by comparison to most automotive brand names and certainly compared to the quick, two-syllable Lexus. Its cumbersome nature belies the speed and sleekness it can deliver on.

Lexus, on the other hand, seemed to represent a real risk for Toyota. It was a coined name attached to a new and unproven vehicle. Like Infiniti, Lexus asked a lot of the imagination of the consumer, being a word with no inherent meaning. Traditional wisdom suggested that Infiniti was a better and far safer choice. To be honest, we at Lexicon thought so at the time, although we had nothing to do with the creation of either name. The situation was so intriguing, however, that it led us to conduct some basic research of our own in the UK where both brands were yet to be introduced.

Our interviews with consumers began out of the automotive context to really parse out the intrinsic qualities of a coined name like Lexus. We asked respondents what they thought a product called Lexus might be. According to the data, Lexus was most often associated with high-priced luxury goods such as an expensive men’s cologne – much more than Infiniti was. This trend continued into the automotive space. When we asked what kind of a car they thought a Lexus might be, there was overwhelming sentiment for a high-priced luxury car. Leather and wood were consistently part of the expectation for the interior.

This research experience provoked our interest in sound symbolism, the meaning attributed to sound alone. It led to the fielding of two major studies over the next several years into the physical and emotional impact of sound on a brand name. Now we know more about what made Lexus so successful. Semantically, the l and x can be easily related to the word luxury, linking Lexus in that premium space. While one might be surprised by the sharp, scratchy sounds of [ks] for the letter x and the final [s], our research revealed these actually added speed and performance expectations that don’t come through the actual word luxury.

Infiniti, by virtue of its length and relative quietness as a word, sounds slow by comparison. Unfortunately for the Infiniti brand, this was originally compounded by a rather stodgy vehicle design. In the automotive category, names suggesting speed and performance are often aligned with overall quality. Perhaps the worst automotive brand name was Lumina, which was so soft sounding that it betrayed good product quality.

Interestingly, positive values were intrinsic to the name Lexus before a dollar was spent on its marketing – despite what conventional wisdom might dictate around a made-up word. The fact is: any new product requires resources to build meaning into its brand. Even non-coined names like Infiniti rely heavily on the imagination when they are first introduced, especially when the real word doesn’t tie in closely to the category (what does limitlessness truly have to do with a luxury automobile?). Because coined names are different, they can easily reflect the innovative spirit of a product. Said another way, by virtue of being coined, you are already signaling innovation out of the gate. Furthermore, though it takes money to bake meaning into them, coined names each come with strategic, inherent values based on their sounds and constructions.

Fact: In today’s cluttered and competitive marketplace, coined solutions that signal change and innovation are the most effective.

Myths Of Branding Pt. 1: Any Name Will Do

In Brand Naming on August 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 1: If the product we are naming is good, just about any name will work.

In 2011, oral hygiene giant Colgate released Optic White, a brand name Lexicon created for their new premium line of toothpastes. As a high quality product with the backing of a large and influential company, is it possible that Optic White could have been unsuccessful? In short, no. As a result, it’s easy for companies to underestimate the strategic value of the right name.

Colgate, however, wanted to communicate a better whitening experience in an industry where the promise of bright white teeth is a tired one. As a result, Optic White was developed to communicate newness and signal a meaningfully better offering. The fact is, a good brand name isn’t always the difference between success and failure. An undeniable product with a mediocre name can be successful. A great brand name though, regardless of the product, elevates the brand experience and optimizes success.

First off, let’s look at what makes Optic White a successful brand name. Simply put, it’s the combination of words; one an old friend of the toothpaste business and one an entirely new player. This combination of the familiar and the unexpected allows the name to be both relatable and memorable. Even the word ‘optic’ achieves this balance by itself, bringing a rich network of associations to an unrelated field. In the world of oral hygiene where aesthetics are king, ‘optic’ makes the experience visual. People whiten their teeth to show them off, and the name Optic White ensures consumers that they can do just that.

In the cluttered space that is the personal hygiene market, a high quality offering can easily get buried. In 2014, however, Optic White sold well enough to become the 4th highest selling toothpaste in America just three years after its launch. At 5th on the list is Crest’s 3D White, a similarly premium offering launched in 2010 – a year before Optic White – with a name that also plays on the word ‘white’. Unlike Optic White, 3D White is an uninspired name. It stimulates a visual experience – just the wrong one – and as a result, it feels gimmicky. The term ‘3D’ is most commonly associated with children’s movies, making it hard for the consumer to take it seriously; meanwhile, Optic White is sophisticated, creating a new brilliant color for your ideal smile. Beyond semantics, the word ‘Optic’ has a crispness that signals vividness and vibrancy, while 3D sounds heavy and flat-footed. When you compare the names, it’s no surprise that Optic White is outperforming 3D White.

Almost every company that comes to Lexicon comes with a high quality product or service that they are trying to brand. These people believe in their offerings, but they also see the value a good brand name can add to their product. To them, and to us, the quality of a brand name should reflect the quality of the offering. A brand name is a first impression, and like a smile, a good one can be the catalyst to a long and lasting relationship – between a product and consumer, that is.

Fact: A product with a good brand name has a huge advantage over one with a mediocre name.

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