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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.

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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.

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Next Issue Rebrands as Texture, a Name Created by Lexicon Branding

In Brand Naming on October 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm

At its inception, Next Issue – a joint venture from Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Inc. – enabled customers to access all of their favorite publications in one place. While the name fit the offering at the time, the company wanted to extend beyond the concept of just being an electronic newsstand and jettison the often-used moniker “the Netflix of magazines.”

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In need of a strategic name that would signal a new experience for its users, Next Issue looked to Lexicon Branding to develop a new name that fit the company’s expanded services and the company’s pivot toward providing rich and relevant content curated for customers. Eight weeks later, Lexicon had created the name Texture, conducted consumer research, and carried out linguistic and cultural evaluations – all to ensure that the name would support the new brand going forward.

Texture defines this service.

Texture, a word defined as “something composed of closely interwoven elements,” supports a carefully designed, well-thought-out collection of content. It also communicates the idea that the service adds layers to your life by bringing you substantive, engaging, pertinent information based on your interests. And most importantly, though the name cleverly contains the word “text,” there is no overt link to magazines, keeping the company agile and relevant as content consumption continues to evolve.

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.

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

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 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