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Uncanny Similarity

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on March 4, 2016 at 9:24 am

Robots-Blog-Piece

Life imitates art. It is a foregone conclusion for futurologists that much of the technology that lies ahead will have been somehow imagined in the past. Yes, futurology – it’s an actual thing. Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter, was inspired by Jules Verne’s 1886 sci-fi novel, Clipper of the Clouds. The Smithsonian catalogs ten inventions inspired by science fiction, including the rocket, the submarine, and the cell phone. Much of the technology we live with today had once been just a dream in the mind of novelists and stargazers.

Robots certainly fall into this category. A question we had at Lexicon was whether real robot names reflect the nomenclature of fictional robots. A brief analysis of about 300 robot names from science fiction revealed a few major themes.

One theme was a reliance on individual letters and/or numbers, often in the form of alphanumerics and acronyms. Some classic examples – R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 – hail from one of the most famous sci-fi franchises, Star Wars. Others include SI-9 from the 2011 film Eva, EDI from Stealth, or even further back, L-76 from the 1964 novel The Rest of the Robots. In this context, the alphanumerics seem to represent a sort of model or ID number, highlighting the robots’ systematic industrial production; they’re consumer products.

Interestingly, another major theme we found was human names. Lenny, Jessica, Ava, Helen, Louie… the list goes on. This makes sense since many robots are androids (a word coined from Greek parts roughly meaning “human-like”), and in some imaginations, they’re virtually indistinguishable from actual people – think the Replicants from Blade Runner. Some names even combine the human and industrial elements. A few examples: Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit films, MARK13 from the 1990 film Hardware, D.A.R.Y.L. which stands for “Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform” from the film of the same name, and R.A.L.F. “Robotic Assistant Labor Facilitator” from Flight of the Navigator.

Possibly because of these two opposing domains, some authors opt for ambiguous “futuristic” coinages, neither readily recognizable as a human or product name. These run the gamut from sleek and smooth to just plain uncomfortable in the mouth: Aniel, Alsatia Zevo, Zhora, Zat, Weebo, Trurl, Dorfl.

It’s not hard at all to find some of these same naming tropes in the real world: Apple’s Siri is actually an acronym that stands for “Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface”; Alexa is Amazon’s take on the concept. An even more explicit fictional borrowing is Microsoft’s Cortana, named after an AI character from the Halo games. The full categorization of these voice interface platforms as robots is up for debate, but there’s no question the naming conventions are a matter of life imitating art.

KATIA, which stands for “Kick Ass Trainable Intelligent Arm” is an example of a real robot whose name takes a cue from sci-fi. The same is true for LS3, which stands for “Legged Squad Support Systems.” On the other end of the spectrum – human names – are Jimmy, Buddy, and Lucy.

Meanwhile, the names Jibo, Rokid, Bolide, RHex, and Erigo easily fit the image of strange inventions of the future.

A final theme to note is the use of classical languages and figures. This seems to have been more common in earlier (pre-1980s) sci-fi, with names such as Rex, Colossus, Kronos, Talos, and Proteus IV. And this is yet another domain exploited by real world robots: Alpha 2, Atlas, da Vinci.

So it seems that real robot names do tend to resemble those of their sci-fi predecessors. But what do these themes mean?

On the one hand, we logically understand robots as products; but the more human-like qualities they take on, the more we feel the need to humanize them. Strange coinages are a way for us to process the sheer weirdness of robots and AI. And references to the classics may stand for the dawning of a new era, one that is uncannily similar to the beginnings of our own modern world.

Greg Alger, Director of Linguistics

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Amazon vs. Netflix: How Names Can Affect Brand Evolution

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Naming on February 8, 2016 at 4:44 pm

It’s old news that Americans are cutting the cord. How we consume media – all forms – is evolving at an increasing clip. Those with innovative business models can keep up (or join in), while those stuck in their old ways are doomed to fail. At first blush, a brand name may seem secondary to business strategy when it comes to staying ahead of the game, but it often plays a hefty role.

This is more obvious in some cases than others: while P&G’s Swiffer has evolved into an entire line of easy-to-use cleaning supplies, its one-time competitor ReadyMop has a brand name that prevents it from being anything other than a mop that’s ready.

Back to media: there are two brands, both hailing from the dot-com ’90s, that have thrived in the new access economy: Netflix and Amazon.

Amazon-vs

 

 

Whereas Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are little more than memories, Netflix has managed to transform itself from a strictly snail-mail DVD renter into a global streaming powerhouse that makes its own critically acclaimed programs. Some even predict that global media behemoths like Disney, Twenty-First Century Fox, and Time Warner might have cause for concern.

Parsing the name Netflix, the service is clearly tied to (1) the internet and (2) movies, which fit the initial model well. A natural expansion is streaming all sorts of visual media. Of course, Netflix as a name has come to stand for the larger brand, which may continue to push far beyond these two virtual thresholds. And it’s not quite that the name gets in the way of possible expansions, but it certainly doesn’t pave the way for them either.

Consider, by contrast, the ways Amazon has evolved. Once an online book retailer, it’s jumped into streaming media, original content, and even ventures into drone technology and a voice-controlled platform to rival Apple’s Siri. Jeff Bezos has remarked in the past on the importance of the name: “There’s nothing about our model that can’t be copied over time. But you know, McDonald’s got copied. And it still built a huge, multibillion-dollar company. A lot of it comes down to the brand name.” No coincidence that the name Amazon so easily accommodated the shift from books to everything.

Beyond this, the name plays on an incredible conceptual metaphor, rich with imagery and meaning. All the vastness, biodiversity, and life-supporting qualities of the Amazon rainforest are mapped onto how we make sense of the company: the breadth of its ventures, our delight in the products it sells, potentially even its critical function in the broader context of the internet.

The name is not the be-all-end-all of a brand’s trajectory, but it can be a speed bump or an accelerator to success in a shifting landscape.

How to Survive A Panda “Attack”

In Naming, Business, Branding, Brand Name Development, corporate naming, Brand 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

Defy Description

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Food & Beverage, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on March 10, 2014 at 3:05 am

Your brand name should be the one thing competitors can’t take away from you. That’s not the case if your name is too descriptive. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the crime and punishment division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), doled out an important lesson last month.

Two lessons, really.

pretzel_crispsThe first was that, even though you may have a trademark for a number of years, as in the case of Pretzel Crisps, a brand of “flat pretzel cracker”, introduced in 2008 by the Snack Factory of New Jersey – you can still end up losing it, regardless of how well business is doing.

The second, and more important lesson, is that being too descriptive with your trademark can set you up for trouble…which is why Warren and Sara Wilson, the inventors of Pretzel Crisps are now likely scrambling to figure out what to do where the name of their popular snack is concerned.

The Pretzel Crisps name had already been relegated to the Secondary Register, which is a kind of trademark purgatory reserved for brand names deemed descriptive enough that only minimal protection can be offered. In this case, both the words Pretzel and Crisps are widely regarded as being generic and only the instance of the two words appearing together is considered to constitute a trademark.

But then snack food giant Frito-Lay, owned by Pepsico, decided to oppose the mark, arguing that Pretzel Crisps cannot be registered as a trademark because the phrase itself constitutes a generic term. “Like ‘milk chocolate bar’, the combination of ‘pretzel’ and ‘crisp’ gains no meaning as a phrase over and above the generic meaning of its constituent terms”, the company wrote in a motion to the USPTO back in 2010.

According to the New York Times, Princeton Vanguard, the LLC that owns Pretzel Crisp and Snack Factory, and filed for the trademark, has spent $1 million in legal fees. Not much, considering Pretzel Crisps has grown quickly, with over $100 million in sales in 2011. But it was a million bucks spent to find out that they no longer hold a trademark on their own name.

What the makers of Pretzel Crisps do next is anyone’s guess, but an expensive name change is one likely scenario. A scenario that could have been avoided by considering names that could have effectively supported the snack chips’ attributes and taste profiles, while steering clear of simply describing what they are.

— Lexicon Branding

Like It or Not: The Wrong Way to do Naming Research

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Research, corporate naming, Naming, Naming Research, Trademark Research, Trademarks on March 4, 2014 at 3:05 am

So you’ve been asked to evaluate potential brand names

You’re a marketing manager or a research manager who’s been asked to evaluate a set of potential names for a new product.

The innovations team has tinkered with design for months, years maybe, and the product will be ready for production soon. Meanwhile, stakeholders have been brainstorming names for the new product. Even the CEO has been promoting his or her kid’s name as a contender. Everyone has a horse in the race.

At Lexicon, we focus on creative development – inventing strategic brand names. We also offer a proven approach to name evaluation, which identifies candidate names that have the most positive impact potential for a new brand.

Often clients employ our research approach. But just as often, clients use other parties to evaluate candidate names. We’ve been witness to some of these traditional approaches, approaches that may leave you with a comfortable-yet-uninspiring name – a ‘ReadyMop’ instead of a ‘Swiffer.’

But let’s explore this well-worn path a bit.

How not to do naming research

Whether you’re conducting qualitative research (focus groups) or quantitative research (an online survey), traditional tactics call for asking the target customer whether or not they ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a name and how well a name ‘fits’ to a concept.

By asking questions like these, you are essentially paying $100 to a stranger to make brand strategy judgments that you, as the professional, should be making. In addition, you’re asking a consumer to be logical in his or her decision-making, something they might do when purchasing a car or home, but not when they’re considering dish soap.

Another example of these ‘marketer for a day’ questions is: “How easy is the name to say?” Rather than having participants pronounce the name and listening, yourself, for problematic pronunciations, you’ve asked a set of people of varying degrees of linguistic understanding to make that call for you.

Finally, the worst: “How willing would you be to purchase a new [product] called [insert name]?” Clients often insist on including this question. When we oblige, the results have been pretty consistent. The more descriptive names, the names whose semantics directly relate to the concept itself (like ReadyMop), tend to win. If we followed this schematic, Intel’s Pentium could have been dubbed ProChip.

Beyond question types, there’s methodology to consider.

A client recently showed us a survey, which was essentially a series of multiple-choice questions listing all name candidates as answer options. This is problematic because by question #3 or #4 a given participant has likely established a favorite and will often speed through the survey, simply looking for their favorite name regardless of the question at hand.

Another survey we were shown attempted to correct for multiple-choice bias through a monadic approach (seeing one name throughout the survey and rating it on scales). Monadic is the right idea, but this survey ended with a final multiple-choice, likeability question, which included the full set of names. A more careful design would have considered the effect priming may have, not to mention the less-than-inspiring, comfortable names which typically result from such a question, anyhow.

Lexicon’s approach to naming research

Lexicon has spent over 20 years refining its methodological approach. Our efforts to date have given us the capability to test any number of names in a balanced manner.

In terms of question types, we leave the marketing judgments to our own branding experts. Our research respondents are tasked with conveying feelings.

And that’s just it. Put your respondents, whether in qualitative or quantitative exercises, into situations in which they are directly interacting with a name at a visceral level. Having them pronounce the name aloud is a simple example, albeit just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can ask respondents to do.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.54.55 AMLexicon employs a number of techniques to spark emotionally-based responses from participants. A classic example comes from a research program we led for a Coca-Cola bottled water many years ago. Seeking to understand which candidate name best evoked the qualities of relaxation, being pampered, and taking care of oneself, Lexicon descended upon the Sausalito spa scene, interviewing women who had just been massaged and manicured. It was a simple question: “Which of these names best expresses the way you feel right now?”

The answer has become one of our billion-dollar brands: Dasani.

The Lexicon approach to naming research accomplishes three things:

  1. Identifies the names with the most potential to get attention, generate interest and say something new
  2. Confidently eliminates the names with the least potential
  3. Identifies the relative strengths and weaknesses of each name

Finally, we make it our goal to understand the why as best as we can. In quantitative, we include a number of open-ended questions to this end. This helps us and our clients understand the deeper meanings behind the strengths and weaknesses of a given name.

— David Placek, President

Burning Candy

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, High Technology, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on February 20, 2014 at 3:00 am

A little over a month ago, the Skittles hit the fan when the Internet discovered that King.com Limited had trademarked the word CANDY. Reaction ranged from “all other games with candy in their titles were in trouble” to “no one on Earth could ever utter the word candy again.”

candy-crush-logoThis action was to protect the game developer’s white-hot title Candy Crush Saga, a game downloaded by more than 500 million people since its release in 2012.

One of the first to break the news was inc.com, in a short piece by Jeremy Quittner, on January 15th – the very day that King won trademark approval from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. “You already know how ridiculously litigious the entire area around intellectual property rights is right now, but this brings things to a whole new level. And small business owners should be wary, as the potential to run up against a law suit seems all-too-likely these days,” wrote Quittner.

The fuse was lit…and the news soon exploded all over Twitter, the sounding board where people often display more passion than knowledge. @feliciaday, actress and creator of the popular web series The Guild tweeted: “I’m confused, how is it legal to trademark ENGLISH WORDS and then harass small game companies about it?!” And @BasicallyIDoWrk followed with “Who is the idiot that let Candy Crush trademark the word candy?!”

To address Ms. Day’s point, most registered trademarks in the USPTO are made up of English words or are names created by putting one or more English words together to form a new word (like PowerBook or OnStar, two names developed by Lexicon and subsequently registered for trademarks by our clients). As for the second comment, the idiot in question is the aforementioned USPTO, the governmental body tasked with issuing patents and trademarks dating back to 1871.

On its surface, the registration makes all kinds of sense, particularly to protect King’s intellectual property from infringement by the legion of me-too type games that have sprung up in the wake of the success of Candy Crush, trading on either its name, its play style, or both – such as Candy Crash and Super Candy Cruncher.

Fortunately, for those who are outraged at the gumption shown by King in registering CANDY, there are checks and balances in place in an effort to keep things fair and equitable.

Upon issuance, trademarks are published for opposition in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. Anyone opposing a trademark in the belief that they may be damaged by its issuance has 30 days to either file an opposition to the mark or a request to extend the time to oppose.

And there is, potentially, a lot to oppose in the case of King’s trademark application since they’ve tried to more than cover their bases. Not only have they registered CANDY in three of the 44 international classes of trademarks, but what the name covers – the Goods and Services – within those three classes seems overly extensive. Ranging from blank usb flash drives and exposed photographic film to beach shoes and baby monitors, this is an application just begging to be opposed by those with trademarks that use the word candy and that pre-date King’s registration.

That’s not to say that opponents won’t have a pitched battle on their hands.

One recent example shows that King is playing for keeps.

CandySwipe is a game developed by Albert Ransom in 2010, two years before King’s Candy Crush hit the scene. Ransom trademarked his CandySwipe name and, when he saw elements of similarity between the two games, he opposed King’s initial trademark application of Candy Crush Saga. Ransom was trumped when King subsequently purchased a trademark for CandyCrusher that had been issued for game software and mobile apps way back in 2004 and used it, in turn, to counter-oppose the CandySwipe trademark.

Ransom just recently published an open letter online to King, sarcastically congratulating the company on successfully crushing any chance he had of making CandySwipe a success (the Internet is full of people ignorantly calling Ransom’s game a “ripoff” of Candy Crush), as well as now cease-and-desisting him from being able to use the CandySwipe name.

Protecting oneself against trademark infringement is one thing. Intellectual property is often the most valuable asset a company has in its coffers. More difficult to defend are the actions of an entity that follows the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. One could argue that King’s actions might be construed as a restraint of trade for other game developers. And who knows — what would happen if Hasbro, Inc., which took over Milton Bradley’s Candy Land trademark first issued in 1951, were to step forward and argue that King’s trademark is precluding them from issuing an electronic version of the popular board game?

The outrage against King continues, with opponents asking folks to delete the game from their devices, and tweets continuing to be posted about the trademark filing. (From @jgasteiz: “If only I had the guts to uninstall an app every time its company is evil. I’ll do it this time. Bye bye #candycrush”)

Undaunted, King continues to attempt to crush both opposition and competition. And on February 18th, they filed for an Initial Public Offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reportedly, they are attempting to raise $500 million.

That’s a lot of candy.

— Lexicon Branding

English Plus

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Business, High Technology, Naming on September 9, 2013 at 3:00 am

Have you noticed how English changes as it moves around the world?

Le-Smoking-heroHalf a century ago, Yves Saint Laurent introduced le smoking in France. Whatever its effects on the fashion world, it raised some linguistic hackles among French who deemed it an unwelcome intrusion from English.

Meanwhile, English speakers must have wondered what gave the French the right to assign a new meaning to a perfectly ordinary English word.

Once a word leaves our shores, it’s out of our jurisdiction.

In Germany, a cell phone is called a Handy, a digital projector is called a Beamer, and a personal organizer is called a Timer. English words are entering German, and Germans are taking possession of them, assigning new meanings without consulting us.

Only sporadically are original meanings respected, as when Chancellor Angela Merkel used “s**tstorm” at a June, 2012, public meeting. (The word has been added to at least one respected German dictionary, possibly as a direct result of Chancellor Merkel’s tacit endorsement.)

Nissan introduced a model, the Sunny, to China in the 1960’s. Later the highly successful brand also appeared in India and in Europe. The name may not strike Westerners as exciting, but that’s not its purpose.

In some societies, recognition as a word of English by itself will endow a brand name with panache (if you’ll pardon the term). In that vein linguist Victor Mair observed a truck in Japan with a sign reading “Matsumoto Hausu Kurīningu Sābisu,” using (in katakana script) the English words “house.” “cleaning,” and “service.” Mair comments that the business could have used Japanese words instead but they would have made the business sound less modern. (Read his entire post here.)

In Milan, the newest upscale housing complex goes by CityLife. Like China’s Sunny, it’s probably not a name we’d see on a comparable development here. But even the Italian-language Web site for the complex refers to it this way, with no Italian translation.

Meanwhile, the U.S has gained an embarras de richesses from abroad. Among Korean exports are brand names Daewoo, Hyundai, and more recently Hankook, Kyochon, and Sulwhasoo and common nouns like taekwando, kimchi, and bibimbap. Our news from China comes with place names like Xinjiang (a province); Toksun (a county), and Quxian (a city).

Such names start with a deficit because they challenge our spelling conventions and pronunciation habits. But spelling adapts fairly easily–Italian doesn’t have a y in native words but has no problem with the ones from English, as with Milan’s CityLife.

And let’s not overlook the eye-catching advantages of an unusual spelling. ooVoo, the video calling company whose name Lexicon helped to develop, is getting lots of press and doing very well. Despite its unusual appearance – and in contrast to the Chinese names in the previous paragraph – ooVoo wears its pronunciation on its sleeve, which is a tremendous benefit for a brand that has designs on international acceptance.

Pronunciation habits take longer to change, but languages easily reshape the pronunciations of new words to conform to native patterns. (On this topic, read our previous post.)

From a branding perspective, all this transplanting of words comes as welcome news as rights to existing words are being gobbled up. Last year over 300,000 trademarks registrations were filed in the U.S. Internationally, there’s even more registration activity, naturally. Some day, for every Sunny introduced in Asia, we may see a bibimbap in the U.S.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

Say What?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks, Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 3:00 am

Just how important is a brand name’s pronunciation, anyway?

When names for a new product are being weighed, there’s usually nervousness around pronunciation. Still, think of the different ways people pronounce Porsche, Hermès, Zagat.

And don’t even get us started with l’Occitane.

Some brands succeed despite tricky phonetics–so tricky that pronunciations can still vary long after the brands have become established. Zagat’s intended pronunciation is “ZAG-it,” yet many of us go for the more exotic sounding “za-GAT.”

In Europe, thanks to its profusion of languages and cultures, variability looms even larger. When Lexicon was developing the name Azure for Microsoft’s cloud platform, a company officer in Germany worried that Azure could be pronounced a dozen different ways by non-native speakers. And that client probably wasn’t even aware that native Britishers say it at least four ways: “AZH-er,” “AZH-yoor,” “AY-zher,” and “AY-zhyoor,” Yet the brand has been extremely successful, even in Europe.

So how important is pronunciation?

More than anything else, brand names are about first impressions, so it makes sense to avoid any possibility of confusion when launching a new brand. But reasonable as that rule is, sometimes it’s better to violate it.

At the outset, Acura, Honda’s premium brand in the U.S., was accented like bravura and Futura by some people. Yet, thanks to early advertising that spread virally, and also thanks to the (intentional) resemblance to accurate, an unambiguous pronunciation was quickly established, and the brand, which now has been around for three decades, is still going strong.

The correct lesson to draw from Porsche, Hermès, and l’Occitane is that a brand already well-established in its homeland will transport more easily despite pronunciation issues. In fact, the name’s oddness may help its identity. Add Zagat to that list, should you consider New York City a homeland.

There is one type of pronunciation problem that seems to trip the marketer up more badly than the marketee: sounds and sound combinations that are normal in one language but distinctly odd in another.

Japanese doesn’t have the sound [l] (or “el”) and avoids most consonant sequences. This ought to create problems for a brand like McDonald’s, yet thanks to well-established conventions for dealing with foreign words, the name is actually straightforward for Japanese speakers: makudonarudo.

English speakers are no different: hors d’oeuvres is supremely easy for us to (mis)pronounce, though it remains a devil to spell.

Bottom line: avoiding pronunciation issues is a good idea, but some odd pronunciations or spellings are not as problematic as they may seem. In fact, sometimes a difficult name delivers a beneficial, attention-getting jolt.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

Web of Intrigue: Online Shopping Meets Storytelling

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Naming, Trademarks on April 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

When companies name an online enterprise, the right name can transcend the notion of a mere store and describe an entire shopping experience. This is the kind of thinking that wins over consumers while giving a competitive advantage in the overall landscape of business.

Amazon is a sterling example of this. Although books were the first products associated with Amazon, the name has come to describe a full platform based around shopping and variety.

online-shopping-keyboardWhen you visit Amazon’s homepage, you see a vast array of options and opportunities, from media to housewares to fashion and beyond. If the company had gone merely with a descriptive name like Allbooks or Bookmart, it would never have had the capacity to encompass all of these different but inviting departments. (Apple’s iTunes is an obvious counter-example, but the Apple halo and focused i-initiating architecture more than make up for the narrow scope of tunes.)

Indeed, the easily identifiable, compelling name of an immense river proved more effective than any regular department store moniker. Over the years, “Amazon” has become something else entirely: a community, a platform, a social movement, a whole world of feeling.

We see an illustrative example even if we look at two bricks-and-mortar titans – Wal-Mart and Target. If you ask a typical consumer which name is more fashionable, Target will likely be the clear winner. As a real word with many effective associations – hitting a mark accurately, getting what you want, a “bull’s eye” – Target is a name that captures an emotion and efficiency, not merely a “mart” where many different things are sold.

Now compare the online sites of both of these brands, the air of innovation that Target has is immediately apparent. The name clearly sets the company’s tone, sets its identity in the marketplace.

A key example of effective online naming in Lexicon’s history involves the retailer originally known as Internet Diamonds. As the name clearly implies, the company once specialized in efficient and reliable ways for customers to buy diamonds online; in most cases, the typical customer was a man shopping for an engagement ring. But as time passed, obvious questions arose:

What if a customer wanted to buy something other than a diamond?

What if a woman were shopping for herself and wanted a little bit of intrigue and allure incorporated into the process?

How could the experience put a stake in the ground that would remain compelling as competition swelled?

Naturally, the company needed a new name. So Lexicon worked with the client to create a new identity that opened up an entirely different world of possibility.

Blue Nile.

Like Amazon, Blue Nile conjures up a feeling – an air of potential, beauty, vastness, and enticement. Blue Nile is now a multibillion-dollar business. A similar example is Piperlime, which Lexicon named in partnership with Gap, Inc. Again, in adopting this name, Gap, Inc., chose to evoke a certain emotion in the customer, not simply define a narrow window of opportunity. Due to its bright sounds, the zesty images of both piper and lime, and the enticing lime logo paired with the name, the word implies fun, variety, and satisfaction, and Piperlime now rivals Bluefly as one of the most recognized shopping sites in the world. (It even figured prominently in the hit reality competition series Project Runway, where host/supermodel Heidi Klum clearly took pleasure in pronouncing it.)

What’s more, if Gap ever wants to branch out further and build upon Piperlime’s potential as a full-on social media hub or community, the name has the capacity for that type of expansion.

Names like Amazon, Blue Nile, and Piperlime allow for storytelling with an edge, a customer base with an extra bit of panache, and that is why creating a name that has a broader appeal than simply selling one type of thing or describing one kind of store is so important. Stores come and go, but a store’s style — the sentiment that it instills in a customer — endures.

— Lexicon Branding