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Posts Tagged ‘brand naming’

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Noah Rucker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

It’s been quite the journey.

From Changing Lanes to Insuring the Future, the automobile – and the world we live in – seems destined for change. Details as small as the term ‘daily commute’ could shift, evolving from current connotations of negativity to ones of relaxation or even vibrancy. Something to look forward to, not dread.

This Think Tank has been about exploring these possibilities, and it should be noted that the ideas we’ve generated are not just whimsical thoughts or impossible fairytales. Even while writing these posts, notable happenings such as Ford’s Bold Announcement or Tesla’s Master Plan have sprung forth. The Battle for the Backseat is already under way, and Commoditization of the Car Exteriormay soon begin. Quite truly, the future is in motion, and the shifting automotive landscape may be a revolution in the making.

And, as with every revolution, there is the need for guidance. There will be both early adopters and late adopters, as was explored in our post Call Me Old Fashioned, and it will be a brand’s job to steer users smoothly into this new world. As visionaries in the field, Lexicon Branding hopes to give its clients – current and new – the tools to distinguish themselves in this new space.

We’ve all heard that phrase to ‘embrace change’, but we often find ourselves coming up with every excuse not to. But truth is, companies will need to come to terms with this motto, and sooner rather than later. Ownership, aesthetics, even sociability: these aspects could all soon change. And while some of these implications were explored in our posts Sharing is Caring and Sharing Interests, the ideas behind them are virtually limitless.

Before long, our landscape may very well become unrecognizable. Cities could look different, and personal habits could change. For companies, it’s important to pair these changes with brand names that capture the essence of these innovations and ideas – to truly marry the spirit of the future with the ideas of the present.

At Lexicon Branding, we’ve envisioned how this revolution could play out and how it could give rise to new and distinctive brands. With a cornerstone of our lives on the brink of change, we are at the cusp of this revolution, gazing ahead, spying handholds in the precipice to lead a brand to its peak. And we can’t wait to see what this revolution brings.

Hopefully that drives the point home.

 

*thanks to Think Tank member Sarah Schechter for the images!

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Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Eva Epker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 9:02 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

I rode my bike everywhere this summer. A car would have made grocery trips, hill climbs, and city visits much easier than they were, but the responsibilities of gas, parking, and maintenance outweighed the benefits.

In five years, though, if I have to choose between a car and a bike once again, my decision may be completely different. An autonomous car, one that is literally around the corner, would allow me to forego the responsibilities of car ownership while keeping the convenience of having one. The autonomous capabilities of that car would also allow me to read or sleep, ride to and from work with others who share my schedule, and visit local tourist attractions with like-minded people.

Lexicon’s Think-Tank was an opportunity to explore these possibilities and to map out a world that doesn’t yet exist but soon may. For example, Ford wants autonomous cars on the road in the next five years. But getting these cars on the road is just the first step, and this project was meant to explore what could happen next. How will car interiors, exteriors, and insurance companiestransform? How will societies transition from people-driven cars to self-driven ones? Are the cars we know today destined to be only relics of the past?

The past ten weeks have given Lexicon’s summer interns an opportunity to pull on their individual experiences and the knowledge they gained this summer in order to brainstorm possible answers to these questions. This blog is the result of conversations and creative sessions, emails and edits, posts and puns.

Our vision of the future may turn out different from reality, but, by developing our own ideas, we hope to inspire others’ creativity and improve their understanding of the future of autonomous vehicles and automotive branding. That way, as autonomous cars gain popularity, as cities adapt, and as branding changes, our readers—and clients—have an improved understanding of the world around them and of the decisions they may face—even the ones as simple as choosing to store their bikes safely at home for the summer.

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Kennedy Placek

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 8:58 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

No one expected the age of globalization to start when it did. No one thought life in the 19th century would go from rural to highly interconnected and industrialized in a blink of an eye. No one expected the housing bubble in 2006 to burst and bring most of the world’s income to a crashing halt. No one fathomed that ISIS would transform into a terrorist organization that now generates more than $2 million in funds every day. The point is, it is inevitable that the world as we know it will change. And, as humans of this planet, we are mere witnesses of such changes.

We try our best to prepare and anticipate, but ultimately we cannot control every aspect of our ever-changing world. Sure, we have been able to effectively mitigate disasters and crises with today’s new technologies, but for the most part, we have just been in it for the ride, so to speak.

Most recently, however, new innovations and technologies have exceeded our expectations, even surpassing the capabilities of the human mind. With AI and autonomous features becoming part of today’s norm, we may actually be able to accurately predict the future (or parts of it at least).

This is where Lexicon’s Think Tank comes in. Over the past 3 months, we’ve created—based on extensive research and our own creativity—a landscape that reflects the future of the automotive industry. We began this project with our post, “The Road Ahead,” but now each member of the team is taking the time to reflect on how far we’ve come.

With a unique branding perspective, here at Lexicon we have created an entirely new landscape and representation of this space to come, incorporating our insight and expertise in the creative branding industry. Our landscape is not just limited to the changes in the automotive industry, however. Rather, we explored branding implications on several fronts—social, economic, technological, and infrastructural.

The Think Tank was not created in order to claim the automotive future. Rather, it was created in order for us—and our readers—to learn about this exciting time and help prepare our clients for what is likely to come.

We want to guide our clients—current and new—through this increasingly competitive space. We’ve applied our expertise across the board: branding the autonomous cars themselves, their ingredients, experiences, unique interiors and exteriors, and other elements that could emerge as a result. Having reached the end of the road, we are bringing the Think Tank to a temporary close as the summer ends and the interns part ways. This project is not complete, however. The following months—even years—are bound to usher in new and incredible innovations related to the automotive future.  The team at Lexicon will be sure to stay tuned for what’s to come.

Our research-based blogs, source posts, and visuals have combined to develop a broad and thoughtful vision of the future intended to stimulate your thoughts and ideas.

Our hope is that you, as curious readers, fellow creative brand name developers, and clients across all industries can take in our work and think about how you can contribute to the automotive future. While the future may not evolve into what our landscape predicts, our efforts have hopefully inspired you to think beyond the limits of today’s current landscape.

Onwards!

Insuring the Future of Auto Insurance

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on August 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Insurance

Robots can be programmed to drive. Humans can’t.

The result, as Burkhard Bilger notes in his New Yorker article, “Auto Correct,” is that humans run red lights, take curves too hard, brake at the last minute, refuse to signal when changing lanes, fiddle with knobs, and take pity on stray turtles crossing the street. These careless human errors account formore than 90% of all car accidents.

But if autonomous cars ultimately replace drivers, the risk and number of accidents should decrease. While current car-owners will probably welcome that news—after all, fewer accidents means lower insurance costs—insurance companies may not feel the same way. Are current auto insurance companies destined to become relics of the past as we transition to driverless cars? If not, how can they rebrand themselves to stay competitive and relevant in this new space?

While the national car insurance rate is $900 on average per year, each car-owner pays a varying amount based on his/her state of residence, marital status, years of driving experience, number of tickets or violations, and his/her car’s model, maker, and year. For example, in California, a single female who has been driving for 9 to 15 years, has only one traffic violation, and covers 12,000-15,000 miles per year will pay about $927.29 annually. A single male with the same background will pay about $929.74 annually, slightly more than his female counterpart.

With autonomous cars, though, car-owners will no longer have to account for human-caused accidents, like being rear-ended or hit by a drunk, drowsy, or otherwise distracted driver. They may have to pay some costs to cover non-crash damage, but their annual auto insurance costs will dip several hundred dollars, if not more. A Usage-Based Insurance (UBI) policy, one that charges consumers based on how often they use a vehicle, could further diminish those costs, especially if individuals use their cars infrequently. Individuals who use an autonomous car 20 times a week would pay twice as much as those who use it only 10 times. UBI is already in effect but could easily gain traction in the future.

Because car-owners could spend less money on protecting their car, they may instead spend more on the car itself or on hailing a luxurious autonomous ride. As a result, products from Porsche and Jaguar, among other high-end car brands, may be more affordable and more common in the future than they are now. The names of their new brands may reflect this new democratization;  Jaguar, for example, could rebrand their Elite-Care coverage as Refuge: a name that represents essentiality and universality rather than high-mindedness.

But, while these automotive insurance brands may succeed, auto insurance companies would still face lower insurance costs and thus a smaller payout. How can they stay afloat in these conditions?

There are two potential options. The first is that these companies can stay in their auto insurance marketplace and calculate and enforce costs for autonomous cars. These prices could be based on the vehicle’s number of years on the road, the average number of miles it covers annually, and its most recent software update. Such a position would allow auto insurance companies to stay in their current marketplace, though they may have a smaller scope and net profit than they do now.

They could also choose to leave the auto marketplace entirely. For example, State Farm, an auto insurance giant, recently filed a patent application to rebrand itself as a “Life Management” company: one that will collect data to make suggestions for your home and health, not your car. This new branding position allows State Farm to adapt to the changing insurance world without losing its reputation as a leader in the category.

Because of these changes, we may see a surge of rebranding in auto insurance companies as they attempt to communicate their new values. But, regardless of whether these companies desire to remain in the automotive industry or not, their choices will pave the way for emerging—perhaps entirely new—forms of auto insurance.

-Eva Epker

When the Language is the Message: Premium Skin Care Products in the Brazilian Market

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Linguistics, Naming on July 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm

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People often fall into the trap of thinking that a message’s utility is a simple function of its contents. However, in his now famous aphorism, Marshall McLuhan first asserted that the medium is the message. In other words, the mode of expression used to transmit an idea is a contextual lens through which we interpret and understand the idea, thus influencing our perception. This holds true for the brand naming work we do here at Lexicon Branding, and is key in reaching the most strategic and efficient linguistic form for a given project. This point becomes especially important for products competing in today’s global economy.

In some cases, the medium can actually trump the content of the name, particularly when it comes to the language of expression. I was taken aback when I first noticed that many premium skin care products in Brazilian drugstores are not named in the country’s official language of Portuguese. At first pass this made sense because many of the products in this category are imported. But to my surprise, even country of origin could not account for the names’ language of origin. So where are these names coming from?

To answer this question, I took to the shelves of local drug stores to survey the selection of premium skin care products in Brazil. I found that English forms like Skin, Care and Age appeared in some skin care brand names, but French-sounding ones were much more prevalent, especially if the product had a clear cosmetic use (e.g., Dermage, Avène, Vichy, L’Oréal, L’Occitane). Brands that had a French or French-like name, such as Dermage or Vichy, were generally followed by supporting nomenclature in Portuguese to describe the product’s use. This is in keeping with the traditional notion in Brazil, and many other countries worldwide: that the French are leading cosmetics experts. This is found in the USA as well, where premium American brands include Estée Lauder and Clinique. Across the globe, many people who use these products speak little or no French and are completely unaware that Estée Lauder was an enterprising American business woman in the early 20th century, or that a clinique is a private hospital (hardly where I would look for beautification). It seems these surface level references to French culture are enough to convince plenty of consumers of the brands’ authenticity.

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Indeed, some manufacturers go so far as to hide the names of parent companies if they are not consistent with the desired product image. For instance, German-sounding names like Bayer, Stiefel, Beiersdorf, and Daudt, tend not to feature prominently on packaging. Instead, the parent companies’ names are generally placed inconspicuously on the back of the bottle in fine print. Take, for example, the world-famous NIVEA skin care brand, owned by the German company Beiersdorf. As the company explains, the word NIVEA is derived from the Latin word nix, nivis meaning “snow.” So NIVEA means “snow white.” Thus, its German identity is completely effaced. Likewise, their popular Q10 Plus line of skin care creams give the consumer no hint at all that its original maker is German: Beiersdorf is buried on the back of the packaging in tiny, barely-legible print while the brand NIVEA is center-stage on every surface.

This pattern emerges in other lines and sub-brands as well, where French and English are used to sell anti-wrinkle facial cream. This time, they combine the French word Visage with an English descriptor, Expert Lift, followed by detailed information in Portuguese.

Why is it that the German identity is practically erased? One possibility is Brazilians’ lack of familiarity with the German language itself. More likely, though, it’s the prestige that French carries in Brazil. In the past, the upper classes would often study French, especially the daughters of well-to-do Brazilians; it was considered the language of “civilization,” and as such, it was often used for the branding of sophisticated personal items for women and of stores that sold them. German, on the other hand, has often been associated with heavy industry, precision tools, pharmaceutical products, and musical instruments. It also doesn’t help that Brazilians tend to think of German as sounding a little harsh, partially due to certain consonants produced farther back in the mouth, and the sheer length of the words. These cultural biases, together with the legitimate heritage of French expertise in cosmetics, help to explain the preference for French or French-sounding monikers for premium skin care products in Brazil. It’s the language itself that conjures up these images in the minds of regular consumers, even if they don’t actually speak a word of the language at all.

– Aurora Neiva, A member of Lexicon’s World Brand® Team

The ABCs of Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Alan Clark, Director of Trademark

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

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.

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.

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.