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Archive for the ‘Naming’ Category

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
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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
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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
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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

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eBay Enterprise Becomes Radial with Lexicon’s Help

In Business, corporate naming, High Technology on April 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm

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While the impetus behind a corporate rebrand may vary – a merger, an acquisition, a board-ordered mandate – the opportunity is singular: create a new, differentiated, and meaningful identity in the marketplace that signals a confident path forward. When we helped ING Direct rebrand to Tangerine, the goal was to communicate an innovative and fresh approach to banking. And when Brown Shoe Co. wanted to signal to consumers that they were committed to being a fashion brand of the future, we helped them arrive at Caleres, an elegant and expansive concept relative to the old moniker.

So when eBay Enterprise approached us, we knew we had to develop a name that not only supported their differentiated proposition, but would also help them stand out in a cluttered marketplace with a novel idea in the category.

To create such a new mindset in the back-end commerce solutions space, we first did an industry audit to see what language competitors were using. We found that most players in the arena were one-dimensional (Commerce Hub and LogicBroker) or synthetic and unapproachable (Hybris and Micros). This led our creative teams down paths of freshness, approachability, vibrancy, and vivid imagery, among others.

Of the hundreds of names generated – all of which went through our in-house legal team’s review and our global linguistic network’s review – Radial rose to the top as the strongest candidate.

Its assets are numerous. It’s a real word in a sector that trades in compound and coined solutions, giving it salience. It is an expansive name that lets the brand stand for something larger than just a commerce hub, and at the same time, there are relevant and meaningful associations to the larger brand mission. The word radial is often used in mathematical, scientific, and engineering contexts, which supports precision, intelligence, efficacy, and strength. And the name also cues up the stunning natural phenomenon radial symmetry, the inherent balance of the multi-dimensional parts of one organism, as seen in sunflowers.

With a name like Radial – and a compelling and intelligently built business – the road ahead seems to be pretty bright.

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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

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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

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.

Sonos Releases Trueplay Software; ABC Family to Become Freeform

In Brand Name Development on October 30, 2015 at 10:18 am

Behind the Names

“We have to start thinking of speakers in a different way. They’re no longer static objects, they are like wine, they’ll improve with age. The time your Sonos speaker will sound its ‘worst’ is the day you buy it – that’s an exciting prospect.” Michael Papish, Director of Platform Strategy at Sonos.

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That runway-for-growth mentality at the Hi-Fi headquarters of the audio powerhouse – this idea of embracing change over time – also applies to branding. Developing a strategic name for the marketplace is not strictly an exercise in who you are, but also, in what you might become. That’s how Lexicon helped Sonos land on Trueplay for its new room-tuning technology, and the same principle was used for ABC Family’s rebrand to Freeform.

The first iteration of Sonos’s revolutionary software will automatically calibrate your speaker and optimize it for its surroundings. However, over time, the platform might involve other technologies and features that ladder up to that original-sound quality – and the name supports those evolutions and changes. In the end, it’s all about delivering the true playing experience, as the artist intended it.

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When ABC Family approached Lexicon, they were feeling a fundamental disconnect between their programming and audience and their identity in the media world. Their core demographic, according to President of ABC Family Tom Ascheim, is made up of millennials asking themselves, ‘Who am I becoming?’ and the network was wondering the same. Their roadmap for content and evolution in personality was all about exploring, embracing the unknown, and realizing what you want to be – not just household shows for all. And the name Freeform – which literally means “created or done in any way you choose” – will certainly allow them to become what they’re supposed to become, in a way the Family moniker wouldn’t permit.

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.