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Archive for June, 2016|Monthly archive page

Changing Lanes, Changing Names

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on June 29, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Changing-Lanes

As we march closer to the age of autonomous vehicles, it’s clear that there will be a drastic shift away from the car America has grown to love over the past century. What will the transition to autonomous cars mean for automotive branding, and more specifically, what type of names will these new cars have?

The United States has a rich car-culture history that has become intertwined with its identity, built on liberty, adventure, and self-directed freedom. It has been reflected in advertising, communication, design, and most prominently, in brand naming. When thinking about cars from both the past and present, monikers such as Mustang, Firebird, Escape, Explorer, and Navigator come to mind. These brands that dominate the marketplace are just a subset of the cars that were named with the theme of adventure.

But when one thinks of the future of automotive, this traditional, deep-rooted set of values seems to be at odds with the new generation of autonomous vehicles. Instead of taking the wheel, an individual enters a destination into the computer. The feeling of control and the wonder of the unknown will turn into predestination. In fact, drivers themselves may cease to exist and will instead become passengers just along for the ride.

These new themes are difficult to accept and even more difficult to sell. Some automakers, such as BMW, try to preserve the old feeling with cars that play pre-recorded engine noises to match up with the operator’s driving – making him or her feel more in control. But rather than resist, why not embrace change? Will autonomous vehicle makers create a new value set to attract customers? The first companies to pivot may be able to set the tone and have a competitive advantage.

So what will the new trope look like?

In order to come up with names, we have to understand some other, more beneficial aspects of self-driving cars that can stand above what they are losing. What will the new autonomous car be able to offer?

When a person is no longer responsible for driving the car, they are free to engage in different activities during the ride. Entertainment will become a key part of the package. Perhaps cars may position themselves as theaters or concert venues, promising fun and engagement in their name.

Relaxation will also become prominent. Riders may be able to lie down or sleep in a spacious cabin that no longer needs to accommodate a wheel or drivers’ seat. Will autonomous cars become more like hotels in that way and be branded as suites? Hotel chains choose names that impart luxury, quality, and relaxation. Will cars follow?

What about the concerns that accompany autonomous vehicles? Many doubt the foolproof software and do not trust in the safety that automakers are promising. Names that give customers peace of mind will be crucial in assuaging fear. Perhaps something relating to nature will impart serenity.

Another similar concern is the fact that automakers will now be selling “intelligent” robots. Autonomous cars will essentially be robots that people entrust their safety in each day. Lexicon has done extensive research into the naming of robots, finding that humanizing names and terms relating to history and art often prevail in gaining consumer trust. Alternatively, robots named with individual letters and/or numbers are common in reality and in science fiction; they may match well with current vehicle naming conventions. R2-D2 is a robot but E 350 is a Mercedes.

As Lexicon starts naming the cars of the future, we will continue to imagine the new contexts and the new dialogues between brands and consumers. The changing language might be surprising – perhaps uncomfortable at first – but so is arriving at a destination without ever touching a steering wheel. Below are some concepts we developed that could fundamentally change the themes of the automotive industry.

Birch

The imagery from nature used in the automotive world has always skewed rugged and powerful: Tahoe, Outback, and Sequoia. Now, we’re introducing something a little slower – from a sound standpoint – a little more approachable, and decidedly softer. This name feels more suitable for a high-end restaurant or spa, which is why we think it could be an unexpectedly powerful brand name for a car.

 

Manhattan.jpeg

Cars have historically been powerful symbols of liberation, freedom, and escape – which is why one of Ford’s SUVs is called precisely that. Now, instead of leaving the city, cars will reimagine the metropolis and how we navigate it. A city-centric car has been executed in design, think: the Smart Car, but not so much in brand. This could be a powerful platform for this first autonomous car in a major urban environment.

 

Oyster.png

Cars lean into playfulness when it comes to advertising and copy, but rarely when it comes to brand names. Cars will look and drive in decidedly different ways, so why not introduce a new personality into the space that feels decidedly different than its predecessors? A great metaphor for protection, this fun name also gets at the new and exciting interiors of cars – which may start to feel more like hotel suite than car cabin.

What other names might we see in the coming years? Let’s start the conversation.

 

– Sarah Schechter and Michael Quinn

The Road Ahead

In Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on June 22, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

The-Road-Ahead

The automotive industry has seen momentous, impactful changes over the years — power steering, air bags, antilock brakes — but nothing that has quite reframed mobility in the way that today’s developing technologies will. As the prescient futurist and science fiction writer J.G. Ballard said more than 40 years ago, “The car, as we know it, is on its way out.”

But what exactly are the implications of these changes from a brand perspective?

Rumblings of a revolution can be traced back to when Google started its autonomous vehicle work over five years ago. To many, it seemed like a flight of fancy or a PR stunt. But, 1.5 million self-driven miles later, hands-free driving is no longer a Jetsons-like fantasy, but an imminent reality. And it’s not just Google that is spearheading this movement.

GM has invested half a billion dollars in the ride-sharing service, Lyft, to build out their autonomous fleet. They’ve also launched Maven, a ride-sharing service that flies in the face of outright car ownership. And other major players aren’t passively waiting on the sidelines. Volvo has promised autonomous driving by 2020, Audi is queuing up high-end electric vehicles, and Ford has launched a subsidiary called Smart Mobility to design and build technologies. Clearly, no major player in the industry is sitting on the sidelines.

Even the industries around cars are innovating for this not-so-distant future. State Farm, the largest auto insurer in the United States, and Travelers, a big global player, are filing patents for technologies that are befitting of Silicon Valley start-ups.

From a technology perspective, the road ahead seems pretty clear. But from the branding viewpoint, it’s not. America has a rich car culture embedded in its history, and these changes will undoubtedly affect its future. The outcomes of this transition will be felt at home and across the globe.

That’s why Lexicon Branding has put together a ten-week think tank to speculate about the changes and opportunities automotive brands will face as they drive into the future. Our team here at Lexicon is leveraging our extensive experience in automotive branding to help existing brands, new companies, and consumers successfully navigate the upcoming landscape.

– Kennedy Placek, Michael Quinn, and Sarah Schechter

The ABCs of Media

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 10, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Freeform_FrontPage_HiResIntent on upending the notion that their offerings were strictly family-friendly fare, ABC approached Lexicon to establish a new identity for their network – one that better reflected its fluid audience. The jump from such a descriptive name to a much more imaginative moniker – Freeform – certainly opened the door for the brand to stand for so much more. But it also represents a larger shift in the branding of new media; we are now in an era of entertainment where disruptive freshmen like Netflix and Amazon, which have a keen sense of brand, are seriously repositioning the incumbents. But let’s take a step back.

Readers of a certain age will recall a time when there were only four television networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. These initialisms – or acronyms – stood for descriptive names, American Broadcast Corporation, Columbia Broadcast System, National Broadcast Corporation, and Public Broadcast Service, respectively. These three-letter names were a comfortable choice for these networks: they reflected the established practice of call letters for radio and television stations. They were also developed at a time when such limited choice on the airwaves did not drive the need for differentiation.

Then, as more content and offerings started to emerge, a little personality started to emerge in the space, as well. In fact, it was in this world of acronym entertainment that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network came to life, with one of its properties being CBN Satellite Service – the channel that would one day become Freeform. During this epoch, other channels in the developing cable world started to present distinct personalities, too: TMC (The Movie Channel), HBO (Home Box Office), and Showtime.

All the previous initialisms to date – ABC, CBS, etc. – had corporate-sounding names as the basis of their abbreviations. But CBN, TMC, and HBO were different: the names of the networks were descriptive of the content itself. This then became the standard in the emerging world of cable networks, and necessarily so; in a world of four channels, it is easier for one of those channels to distinguish itself via its content alone. In a world of tens or hundreds of channels, more communicative names become a necessity to distinguish a network for both viewers and advertisers. Previously, the names only had to identify the source, but in the crowded landscape, they needed to capture the experience, as well – an experience that felt fresh and different.

But HBO and CBN were still familiar initialisms; Showtime wasn’t. Showtime was a suggestive name, evoking the excitement of going to the movies. And it wasn’t reduced to three initials. Its success would help contribute to the dominant approach to naming new (and rebranded) networks. Some of these new network brands would incorporate initialisms (MTV, VH-1, A&E, and HGTV, for example) but many wouldn’t (the History Channel, Bravo, the Discovery Channel, and the Disney Channel). CBN was no different, rebranding itself first as The CBN Family Channel, then later simply The Family Channel. Subsequent acquisitions brought us Fox Family Channel and then ABC Family.

Thus, this new distribution platform (cable television) that allowed a great proliferation of networks changed the naming conventions and the way media outlets thought about establishing a distinctive brand. It then comes as no surprise that this would happen again with the advent of video streaming and ubiquitous access to content via web and mobile. Soon new network brands would begin to eschew descriptive and suggestive names for more arbitrary or coined names.

The break began just before the 21st century with the launch of the TiVo digital video recorder. This new technology offering was not a television network, but it was the first shot fired in the television revolution that continues to this day. The disruptive technology was paired with a disruptive name, one that heralds the current craze for short, fun names. Networks began expanding into arbitrary or coined names, like Oxygen and Palladia. Soon the floodgates were opened and now we watch content on YouTube, Amazon, Roku, Hulu, and Freeform. Far from identifying the source or describing the content, these names evoke a brand experience.

As brands continue to compete for consumer share of mind, whether in entertainment, consumer electronics, or even food and beverage, the need for a powerful brand has become increasingly important. We are no longer in a four-brand marketplace, and the stakes are higher. Newer, more distinctive brands are needed to compete in a marketplace that includes digital streaming, the cable set-top box, and every app on your phone. ABC Family saw this need for newness and this need set the table for creating a bigger, more meaningful brand experience. Stay tuned.

-Alan Clark, Director of Trademark

Meet Our 2016 Summer Interns

In Brand Name Development, Business, Cars, Naming on June 9, 2016 at 9:49 am

This summer’s internship program features four bright thinkers from top universities across the nation. Over the next 10 weeks, each intern will be exposed to and entrenched in every step of our process, from creative development, to consumer research and linguistic analysis.

Last year, Lexicon reintroduced its internship program, which was structured in two groups: 3 linguistic interns and 2 creative interns. At the end of the summer, we were thrilled to offer 2 of those interns permanent roles. This year the interns’ responsibilities will be more comprehensive in nature as each will be involved in all aspects of our services.

Automotive-Think-TankAs an exciting and new aspect to this year’s program, our interns will be part of our new Automotive Think Tank. Their fresh perspectives and varied backgrounds will help us explore the branding landscape of the automotive future – an industry that is on the cusp of experiencing seismic shifts. The purpose of the think tank is to closely examine the current automotive industry structure, how rapidly it’s changing, and what those changes will look like – for everyone from car manufacturers to insurance companies to the government. Our recent and continued work in the space has positioned Lexicon as a leader in the automotive naming space.

Meet the 2016 summer interns:

SARAH SCHECHTER

“I’m a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying for a Masters degree in Product Design and Development. Before coming to Philadelphia, I worked in data analytics for four years and received a BS in Physics from Georgetown University.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through the UPenn Careers Site”

Sarah is most excited to “get creative” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how her design background will shape her views on the future of the automotive industry – perhaps opening our eyes and painting us a picture that no one else could have foreseen.

kennedy_bio

KENNEDY PLACEK

“I am a current student at Stanford University, majoring in Political Science. I just finished my sophomore year so to be completely honest, I am not sure where I will end up post-graduation!”

What was your favorite part of the internship last summer?
“My favorite part of the internship last summer was being able to participate and contribute to in-house creative sessions and presentations to clients.”

What are you most excited for this summer?
“I am most excited to bring the new team together for our recently developed automative think tank this summer!”

 

eva_bio

EVA EPKER

“I am a rising senior at Stanford University, majoring in English, minoring in both Art History and History as well. My academic goals are to make the most of my senior year, finish my degree, and decide what I want to do post-graduation.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through an email sent to English majors from a past Lexicon summer intern. I did research last summer and taught middle-schoolers in 2014. [I applied to Lexicon because] Lexicon values some of the same skills as Stanford’s English major, such as clear, creative thinking, and efficient, successful communication”

Eva is most excited to “be able to sharpen her creativity, utilize her love of words, and be inspired by the rest of the Lexicon team” this summer.

 

noah-bio1

Noah Rucker

“I just received my BA in Linguistics from the University of Florida. Grad school is definitely on the table, but I’m uncertain what I’d go into as of yet. Language and technology is one option, but I’m definitely still exploring, trying to find my niche.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Lots of applications, and a sudden enthusiastic call from Greg. I worked with an educational video gaming company on a science fiction universe where I helped write and worldbuild educational quests, including aspects of naming the galaxy, constellations, people, and places. I also interned with the IHMC (Institute for Human and Machine Cognition) where I looked into social media data for individuals diagnosed with particular mental disorders (specifically, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc.) and then teased out particular linguistic features that were more prevalent in these kinds of users.”

Noah is most excited to “learn an industry and contribute some snazziness” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how his background in linguistics and technology will add to the unique perspectives our Automotive Think Tank will provide on the potential new naming conventions in this burgeoning industry.

The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Naming on June 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm

As new technologies fundamentally change the way we live – from autonomous vehicles to surgical robotics – it’s good to look back at how far we’ve come. That was precisely the point of Time Magazine’s recent retrospective on “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time.

As a branding company, we thought such impactful inventions would likely have compelling names. After all, life-changing, culture-shifting concepts spring from fresh thinking, and it’s helpful for consumers to see that impressive thinking reflected in a product’s identity in the marketplace.

We analyzed the list with a brand-naming lens and discovered, not shockingly, that a lot of the appellations of these iconic consumer goods possess three characteristics of great brand names:

Seemingly Simple Yet Powerfully New
50Gadgets---Simple
These compound names draw on basic English vocabulary – words that are recognizable and easy to learn, even in areas of the world where English is not well known. However, what makes these names so memorable is that they fuse commonality to create a fresh context. Before Sony enabled cassettes to be played on the go, on-demand portable music was not part of the consumer conversation. What a stroke of genius to put that idea in the marketplace with two easy words, never before seen together in the electronics space: walk for portability and man for a companion we could relate to. Sony was so pleased, it repeated this stunningly simple strategy with Discman and Play Station, both of which also made Time’s top 50 list.

DeskJet, FitBit and Palm Pilot are also profoundly effective and simple in construction. Through a little bit of poetry – a near rhyme with repeating e’s – HP introduced the first true desktop printer to the world. The poetry of FitBit is even more transparent, supporting a discreet companion that can measure your wellness goals. And Palm Pilot compels you to imagine the first computer-in-hand experience, with the device as your captain.

Takeaway: Simplicity can be pithy when the proposition is truly novel.

Economy: Small Names, Big Ideas
50Gadgets---Economy.png
Huge changes to entertainment came from these four devices with names as compact as their dimensions. Roku means ‘six’ in Japanese and was chosen because it’s the sixth company that its CEO was engaged in starting. The meaning hardly matters when the form and function tell us that this device is different from anything else on the market. However, the name’s effortlessness, length, syllable patterning, and pronunciation all work in perfect harmony to position a product that is simply, intuitively, and efficiently designed.

Wii is another one of those short, sweet names that invites speculation and garners consumer interest: do the two “i’s” stand for people sitting together, gaming? Does the name refer to its English sound-alike “we”? Is the name a corruption of the spelling of the onomatopoeia “wee”? Regardless, its buoyant nature makes it feel meaningfully different than the harsh sounds of Xbox and PlayStation – which helps support its differentiated proposition.

TiVo merely says “TV” with some an full “o” sound; and the near-blandness of the word iPod almost seems like an undersell for a device that all of a sudden put a 1,000 of your favorite songs in your pocket. The lesson is that the name does not have to communicate such grand meaning, as long as it feels different and the product that comes in tow is meaningfully different, too.

Metaphorically Speaking
50Gadgets---Metaphor.png
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes it’s enough just to suggest a picture. All of these names take us on an excursion from the bland and predictable by associating a product with an image that seemingly lacks any logical connection—and yet that stimulates and rewards our imagination. Better still, this technique helps us remember the names, as we know from popular memory-training exercises that pair an unexpected image with the thing to be remembered

Two of these names are based on physical resemblances. The BlackBerry has little black buttons shaped like the drupelets of the fruit, and the Brownie is a playful nod to the vivid and whimsical cartoons of Palmer Cox. The way Rift deals with the cutthroat gaming console market is to announce a complete break with the competition. The Nest collapses two images—comfort and home—into one.

These metaphors are original yet accessible, and they don’t exhaust what these winning names communicate. Every word has unique powers of suggestion. Kindle sounds thin and light—due to its particular consonants and vowels as well as to the ending it shares with spindle. BlackBerry sounds friendly. Rift sounds quick and strong.

These gadgets display inventiveness on the part of their creators and enable inventiveness on the part of their users. But the ultimate invention is language itself. Having evolved over eons, it’s equipped with unlimited subtlety and power. Language is totally up to communicating what’s great about a product, even a product the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

-Will Leben and Michael Quinn