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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

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The Unbearable Lightness of Meaning

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming, Trademark Research, Trademarks on January 3, 2013 at 3:00 am

When developing a brand name, how important is the meaning of the name? It depends. Sometimes a descriptive or highly suggestive name is appropriate. In those instances, finding a name with the right meaning can be critical to success. However, when establishing a brand that is intended to be a platform for a host of offerings or one that introduces a new idea to the marketplace, a word’s meaning may matter less than its connotations.

gazelle

Gazelle

Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word; connotation refers to the set of associations a word carries with it. Take the example gazelle. The denotation, or definition, of gazelle is “any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella”; people’s specific associations with the word will vary, but for most it will connote something swift and graceful.

Denotation is accessed via the left-brain, connotation via the right-brain. The difference is important. Just as music has more impact and immediacy than words, so too do the connotations of words in the right-brain have more enduring resonance than the definitions of the left-brain*.

Another example: the word silly meant “holy” hundreds of years ago. Now, it means “foolish.” But these are dictionary meanings. Over time, as contexts changed, the original denotation changed as well. But consider silly and holy: one strong connotation both words share is “innocent.”

While we can’t know with certainty what connotations silly had six hundred years ago, one of them was likely “innocent” and that connotation remains, despite the change in meaning.

But what does this all mean for brand names?

Two things.

First, when considering a brand name candidate, it makes sense to focus more on connotations and less on definitions. The fusion of a brand name to a product or service creates a new context for the word, and in this crucible connotations will stick. Definitions won’t. If you are considering Gazelle as a brand name, it pays to focus less on that particular animal and more on whether you want consumers to associate your product or service with something graceful and swift.

What’s more, sub-parts of words also have enduring connotations. When Lexicon developed Pentium for Intel, our research showed that pent connoted strength and power (think Pentagon), and the -ium ending connoted something scientific. It was a completely made-up word at the time, but it already had inherent connotations that would (and did) resonate in the market.

Second, we are learning more and more that we aren’t as rational as we would like to think and that our decisions are guided as much by our unconscious mind as they are by our rational mind†.

These right-brain connotations have more resonance with the unconscious than literal meanings. It’s a tough exercise: when confronted with a word, we immediately reference its literal meaning. You see it sometimes when a new brand is announced. When the iPad came out, everyone said it sounded like a women’s hygiene product.

Two years later, all that remains is the elegant simplicity of the name.

— Alan Clark, Director of Trademark, and The Lexicon Team

* Richard F. Taflinger, Taking Advantage: Consumer Psychology and Advertising (Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2011)

† University of Rochester. “Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible.” Science Daily, 29 Dec. 2008. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

Forever Socks

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming, Trademark Research on July 2, 2012 at 9:48 am

How brand names are not at all but almost exactly like a pair of socks

The joke about things being analogous to socks is that “you change them every day.” Brand names should not be seen that way at all, of course. When you settle on a trademark — after having gone through all the convolutions to create it, research it, register it, and then promote it — the last thing you want to do is change it.

In fact, whether your mark is newly minted or a legacy in need of refreshing, your focus should be on nurturing, protecting, and evangelizing it.

Even so, I realized I have a pair of socks that are, in a lot of ways, very much like a brand name.

When I was 12 years old, my father, who owned his own floor-covering shop, came home from work one day with a half-dozen pairs of socks. They were a green that was almost Army olive drab in color, lightly ribbed and had no packaging at all. He told me that a man had come into his business that day, peddling socks from out of the trunk of his car.

“These socks will never need mending.” That’s what the man told my father. “They’ll never unravel and they’ll never wear out.” Never wear out? What a crock. All socks wear out eventually. It’s what socks do. But the man was so convincing, and the price was so reasonable, my father figured it would be worth it just to have a story to tell. My dad’s story was so intriguing that I wanted some of those magical green socks, too. So he gave me a pair.

The promise of a brand name is much the same. It should never need mending, never unravel, and never wear out.

Even the best brand struggles to live up to that promise. The longer it’s around, chances are it’s going to snag on something. Or start to come apart. Or begin to look a little threadbare.

In the 1950s, Ford Motor Company was staggered when their new Edsel automobile bombed in the marketplace. Coca-Cola suffered when they introduced New Coke in 1985. And Intel shuddered when the first Pentium chips in 1993 proved to be less accurate and not as fast as promised.

In each of those cases, the parent brands soldiered on, backed by companies savvy enough to respond to the negative reactions in the marketplace. All three brands are still strong today. But for every case where a brand keeps it together, there are many that fail, unable to keep the equity strong enough to stay in business, let alone popular.

It’s not enough to simply create and launch a new brand name. Care must be taken to sustain and grow those names, as if they were hothouse flowers exposed to the elements. Constant supervision and maintenance helps to save your company from costly reboots that may turn out to be futile. And it doesn’t hurt to do a little research now and then with people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to make sure your brand name is being seen in a way that makes sense.

In short, take care of your trademark and it will take care of you.

Oh, and those magical green socks? Turns out that they’re a lot easier to care for than a brand name. I still have them after 40 years. I’m wearing them as I write this. They have, as promised, never been mended, never unraveled and they have yet to wear out. I’d love to order some more. Irony of ironies: I couldn’t get another pair of these if my life depended on it. Nowhere on my “forever socks” is there a brand name.

– David Placek

Getting the Name You Want: Dealing with Trademark Obstacles

In Branding, Business, Naming, Trademark Research, Trademarks on February 17, 2011 at 3:00 am

I wish there were a marketplace for trademarks.

There’s nothing more disheartening than spending time and money developing a short list of potential brand names for your latest entry into the marketplace, only to find the one that works the best, that hits your communication objectives, that everyone on your team is fired up about and ready to support…is unavailable due to a trademark conflict.

Unfortunately, it is all too familiar and likely to stay that way.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently reported the active trademark registrations for fiscal year 2010: a record-breaking 1,614,121.  This is for the US alone.  In an increasingly global marketplace, the trademark clutter is harder and harder to cut through, especially in software or consumer electronics, where your phone is a camera and a computer and by the end of this piece, it may even be a cappuccino machine.

Recently Racebrook, a private equity firm and auction specialist, put over 150 retail brands up for auction, many with long histories and fine pedigrees, offering firms an opportunity to avoid worrying about the trademark clutter and leverage existing brand equities. This also represents an opportunity for the market, as valuable intellectual property goes to those who are willing to utilize it.  This was a one-time affair, but in the increasingly cluttered world of brands and marks, it may become commonplace.  Naturally, it only provides a solution if one of the brands up for auction conveys the brand equities you are looking for.  What to do if you have already identified a name that works for your project, but potential trademark conflicts are furrowing brows in your legal department?

It’s important to remember that a potential trademark conflict is just that – a conflict, not a dead end.  And, as the old saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat.  Abandoning your team’s favored name is one option.  Using the name anyway and hoping you don’t get caught is another, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Remember: If a registered trademark owner can show willful infringement, they can get treble damages!)

A better option might be to look deeper into the potential conflict to see whether the owner of the potentially conflicting trademark is open to a sale or licensing agreement.  It’s important to remember, and often forgotten, that Pepsi could use the mark COCA-COLA if Coca-Cola agreed to it, and vice-versa.

At Lexicon, we constantly look beyond the obstacle for the opportunity, whether that obstacle is strategic, legal, or linguistic.  Treating potential trademark conflicts as obstacles rather than as dead ends allows us to find solutions for clients, integrating our knowledge and experience with their needs and concerns.

Some conflicts, like Pepsi trying to use COCA-COLA, or naming your software company MICROSWIFT, are not likely to be resolved except by giving up or getting sued.  But if your project is an email app you want to call BLUEBOTTLE, and there is an existing registration for BOTTLEDBLUE for networking software, isn’t it worth looking into?

A licensing agreement can be a win-win for both parties.  A big firm releasing their latest mobile phone OS could bundle an existing trademark owner’s app in exchange for a right to use an otherwise infringing brand name; the phone maker gets the name they want and the app maker gets increased market share.

There are obstacles to these kinds of deals.  The biggest is uncertainty, hence my proposal of a marketplace for trademarks.  Call it TradeMarket.  It may be a pipe dream, but an open, public trademark clearinghouse could represent an opportunity to increase efficiency in the realm of trademarks.  It would have to be large, and it would have to cost nothing to trademark owners to list their trademarks and whether they are amenable to a licensing agreement (or even to sell their mark, in the extreme).  Then, if a firm is considering a name for their next big brand and they see a potential trademark conflict, a quick perusal of the TradeMarket could provide a path to a win-win scenario.  This could spawn a peripheral niche industry for third-party neutral valuation of a brand name’s worth.

Certainly many brand owners will eschew any such offers in order to protect their brands, but that could be part of the listing as well, providing certainty to others that they should look elsewhere in their brand name development.  Others could list the goods/services for which they would consider a license, and those they would consider off-limits.  More certainty leads to better information, and better information leads to better decisions, creating business solutions to legal problems.

TradeMarket might be that solution.  But I better check the name first…

— Alan Clark, Director of Trademark Research at Lexicon Branding