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Posts Tagged ‘brand naming’

The Service That Launched a Thousand Shyps: The Sharing Economy Is Now Sharing Brand Names

In Brand Naming on July 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm

About to head to your boozy adult softball league but can’t find your equipment? Dial up Mytt, and a sports specialist in a Prius will deliver a glove. Need your cat groomed, but feeling pressed for time? The feline aficionados at Furree will be at a location of your choosing within 30 minutes with all the equipment necessary to make your kitty pretty.

Do these businesses ring of absurdity? Yes, and as they should, because we just made them up. But, you believed them. For which we have Uber to thank. Along with spawning a litany of derivative businesses, Uber has spawned a litany of derivative brand names – a veritable sea of the same, playing similar games.

The genesis

We used to marvel when the tap of our smartphone screen summoned a black car to our precise location within minutes. Now, that kind of immediacy has become a baseline expectation, and not just when it comes to getting from point A to point B, but with all of our services.

Uber became the torchbearer for a new type of industry in 2009 – the sharing on-demand economy – and since then, it has become the pillar of the space. Its poster-boy status and unequivocal success have opened the floodgates for players in the category, inspiring scads of businesses built on the premise that goods and services should be delivered or rendered in frictionless fashion and on your terms. The offerings feel limitless, with seemingly every niche filled.

Uber gets its name from a hip modifier – “uber-cool,” “uber-interesting,” – said to be inspired by a punk rock song that in turn borrowed it from Nietzsche. The name’s assets are many. It’s quick and confident, much like the brand, and it gets at premium without being too on the nose or too unapproachable. It also has a bit of imagination, letting the consumer dream up what the experience might be – a feat that a name like LuxCar wouldn’t be able to execute on. If only the new players in the space invested time and thought to deliver on equally strong names.

The newest names

Some of the new brands are simple respellings of the service offered. There’s a shipping company called Shyp and an on-demand car wash service called Wype. Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, falls in this category, unflatteringly, and Shuddle, which carts entire families around, follows suit. There’s even Plowz, which will bring you a snow plow – you know, for those ever-frequent instances.

Some startups go a step further and take a word associated with their service and either respell it – Dufl for suitcase packing, Zeel for massage, and Eaze for medical marijuana. Or some opt for the correct spelling, like Heal for a house call from a doctor, Handy for a home visit from a handyperson, Rover for dog-sitting, Sprig for a dinner-on-demand service, and Luxe for a personal parking valet.

And for those hesitant to risk any modicum of confusion, there’s the flat-footed approach of literal description: Push for Pizza and Doctors on Demand – admittedly there’s a dash of poetry with the alliteration. Doughbies on Demand pushes it a bit, inventing a doughnut-inspired term of endearment for baked goods.

That’s not to speak ill of the actual businesses – they all might do a great job – it’s just that the names are mostly blah. A few names show more individuality: Sidecar (ride service) and SpoonRocket (meal delivery) are examples, but the images they conjure don’t support the services very well.

An imaginative name would do wonders

Are these new companies so focused on sharing that they are even sharing a lackluster approach to naming? Their chances of standing out and attracting a large, enthusiastic following would rise if their names suggested originality and a distinctive strategy for taking care of customers.

The liquor-delivery service Saucey deserves credit for trying. The name, a pun on a slang word for booze as well as a sound-alike for “saucy,” at least tells us they have a personality that suits their offering.

Whether the market will go for an irreverent delivery service, even a tongue-in-cheek one, is another question.

Less risky but more charming and memorable is TaskRabbit for cleaning, handiwork, and errands. The name suggests eagerness, and even the busy sound helps. It’s not shocking that this service has gained some traction.

The marketplace is getting more and more crowded, with hundreds of concepts fitting the description of “an Uber for X.” Not all startups adopting this concept are likely to succeed, but we’d put our money on those combining a viable concept with an attractive name.

To be attractive, a name need not be descriptive. In fact, descriptive names tend to be the dullest. Uber doesn’t describe anything. Instead, Uber creates its own identity by drawing on the current vernacular, where the modifier “uber” places something – anything – at the top of a scale. What better way to announce a paradigm-shattering service than with a name that uses a familiar word in an unfamiliar way? This strategy brings the extra advantage of brand expansiveness. While Uber is now making waves as an alternate taxi service, the name can easily support future forays by the company into other domains–which might well include some of the home delivery areas now served by startups with lackluster names. If this has a familiar ring to it, look at Amazon, the online bookseller whose ambitious name had nothing specifically to do with books.

Would Blue Nile be the largest online jewelry dealer – or opening its first brick-and-mortar – if it stuck with Internet Diamonds? Would Swiffer be a billion-dollar global brand if it marched forward with its ProMop concept? For the answers, download Brandee, a full-scale brand strategy firm that will come to your business in minutes. Well, it would, if it actually existed.

-Will Leben and Michael Quinn

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Web of Intrigue: Online Shopping Meets Storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Nile.

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

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

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

— Lexicon Branding

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

A History of Blends in Brands, from Early Hominids to Exencial

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 4, 2012 at 3:06 am

What’s the strategy behind new corporate names like Advizent, Aspiriant, Exencial, and Fortigent? Is this a return to the wonkish, Latin-clad constructions of the era that begat Accenture, Agilent, and Altria? And if so, why?

Names like these have their share of detractors. But some defenders welcome them as empty vessels ready to be filled with content through advertising. We question, though, whether emptiness is enough if the vessel is clunky and misshapen. The real problem with these names, as I pointed out to RIABiz last month, is that they’re far from ideal if they’re intended to engender trust:

Completely made-up names are harder for people to get their heads around, as opposed to words they may know in another context, Placek says. An example would be the HighMark Funds, a set of mutual funds that Lexicon helped name. Both “High” and ‘Mark” are words that people already know and have well-established meanings.

Linguistic analysis sheds further light. Advizent and Aspiriant can be broken down into a verb stem, advise and aspire, followed by an ending common in nouns and adjectives that go back to Latin: -ent and -iant. Exencial fuses executive and financial. Fortigent must be the offspring of fortitude or fortify and intelligent. However you regard these creations, compare them to Grafik and StapleGun, the far more engaging names of the branding firms that developed a couple of them. Nothing awkward about Grafik and StapleGun. They burst with energy and imagery!

Blending two existing words into one as Excencial and Fortigent do is a lively part of today’s idiom, as we see from examples like staycation, fauxhawk, podcast, webinar, and fanzine. Blending reached a peak of sorts with the recent rise of New York Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin, whose name figured in coinages like linsanity, linfected, and over 400 others. A mainstay of the trend to blend is Stephen Colbert, whose nightly cable program is known for outrageous concoctions including a supposed Internet dating service for survivalists named Arma-get-it-on.

Despite a tendency to feel light or humorous when first coined, blends can make for very effective brand names. Groupon, Whispernet, and Pinterest are fairly recent yet widely recognized examples. Newer but far from humorous in intent is Udacity, which recently began offering some university-level courses on the Web, with plans for a vast expansion. The Web seems to offer an excellent tonal fit for blended names like these.

Foods are another category in which blends have made for successful brands. Rice-A-Roni, Count Chocula, and Croissan’wich are probably the most widely known, and the first goes all the way back to 1958. As linguistic entities blends in fact go back much further.

Scholars find them in Old English, and some even speculate that early hominids blended their grunts and calls as a way to expand their vocal repertoires. Blends are so much a part of English that – as with electrocute, from electric and execute; and ice capades, from ice and escapades – we may not even recognize them as blends after they have been in the language for a while.

Time may also take the edge off Advizent and Exencial, but if a new name is intended to initiate a conversation with the public, the developers of these artless, unwieldy names could have done a lot better.

— David Placek

Understanding The “X” Factor

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on September 26, 2011 at 3:00 am

Not long ago Brand X was just a way to dismiss a brand as generic. (Or to diss competitors by not acknowledging them by name in commercials.) Then suddenly X acquired panache and power, as in Microsoft’s Xbox, Nissan’s XTerra, and The X Games from ESPN. What happened? The reasons go back to developments in the culture at large.

Logos for X Games, X Terra and XBoxSince the 17th century, x has served as an algebraic variable along with y and z, all chosen for their out-of-the-way position at the end of the alphabet. Scientific discoveries around the turn of the 20th century added uses of x that extended the algebraic meaning slightly:

  • x-ray, a term chosen by inventor Roentgen in 1896 for brevity’s sake.
  • X and Y chromosomes, named around the same time as the x-ray and again probably chosen for their out-of-the-way place in the alphabet.

The use of x for an unknown quantity crossed into a new cultural context around 1952, when Malcolm Little became the public figure Malcolm X, explaining that he replaced his slave surname with X to represent the unknown name of his ancestors.

Around the same time, x began to shift its meaning toward “restricted” and “special.” An early example is the x-rated movie. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this use to a 1950 British document suggesting a category of movie that children were to be excluded from. At the time, British ratings were set as U for “universal”, meaning anyone was welcome; A for “adult”, suggesting that children be accompanied by a grown-up; and H for “horror,” which meant only people over 16 could watch. Then nudity began to enter the picture, and in 1951 X replaced H to signify exclusion.

Next, X began making its mark on U.S. industry in a big way when, suddenly, the brand Xerox changed the game.

The Haloid Photographic Company, founded in 1906, changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958 and then to Xerox in 1961. Like the name Haloid, whose root halo meaning “salt” comes from Ancient Greek, the name Xerox was built on the Greek root xero meaning “dry,” creating a new term for a new printing technology: xerography – a novel technique of dry photocopying.

For a company to alter its name is a pretty big deal, involving major changes in advertising and loss in equity from the old brand. Fifty years ago, it was nothing short of heroic. But what an attractive name Xerox was, with an x on either flank. The changeover not only succeeded, it also gave x a new, futuristic connotation. Thus it was no accident that in 1972 the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey changed its name to Exxon, its double X signifying a radical break from the past.

By the 1970’s, the emergence of Xerox and Exxon had established a clearer trajectory for x: from merely expressing anonymity to symbolizing drama, power, and performance. To understand these developments better, Lexicon’s linguists analyzed X in a large sample of American English texts from 1990 up to today. We looked at X in three contexts:

  • As the second part of a two-part word (e.g., Gen X)
  • As the first part of a two-part word (e.g., X Factor)
  • As the first letter of a single word (e.g., Xena)

Categorizing the most frequent uses of X and examining patterns in their relative frequencies make it clear how X is changing in use and in meaning.

Here are the main trends:

  • Use of X across pop culture categories has been steadily increasing since 1990
  • Service/humanitarian usage of X has grown significantly
  • Use of X in technology is heaviest and continues to grow

Surprisingly, as X has become more common in the technology sector, its use has waned in the realm of science fiction, both in books and in graphic novels. This may be due to the reality of rapidly advancing technologies — where X was once seen as signaling the future, that future is now. Or maybe Marvel Comics’ X-men became so popular they essentially usurped the science fiction category for themselves.

Looking toward the new future, X in a new brand name will likely be viewed as entertainment-focused, or perhaps “tech-forward.” X may even come to express the bigger picture of a constantly interacting technology and humanity, the X Prize being a prime example.*

The evolution of x in brand names is not over. China’s role in global commerce has been expanding dramatically, and x appears in Roman transcriptions of many Chinese names. Examples include provinces like Xinjiang, Guangxi, and Jiangxi; large cities such as Xi’an, Xiamen, Wuxi, and Xiangtan; and surnames such as Xue.

This adds not just a new source of x words and potential new meanings to x. It also adds a new pronunciation. We’re used to pronouncing the xx in Exxon as the consonant sequence ks; the same for the final x in Xerox. Words that start with x we normally pronounce with a z sound — as in the words xylophone or the gas xenon. But the pronunciation of x in the Chinese examples above is different, often described as similar to the sh of sheep.

As our exposure to other world cultures expands, the meaning and pronunciation of X will no doubt keep shifting. With enough marketing clout to spread the message of a new pronunciation of x, the shame of being known as Brand X may well be a thing of the past.

Dr. Will Leben, Lexicon Director of Linguistics

*To understand these developments better, Lexicon’s linguists analyzed X in a large sample of American English texts from 1990 up to today. Corpus of Contemporary American English

How Far Will Your Brand Stretch?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on July 14, 2011 at 5:05 am

Four simple rules to make sure your trademark is limber enough to play in the big leagues.

Clients looking for a new brand name often warn that it must be easy to spell (among a host of other concerns) when, in reality, that’s a consideration that can have little bearing on a brand’s ability to be embraced. Many brands these days are primarily encountered visually – be it on the web or through advertising – and when all a potential customer has to do is click a link to find out more, they don’t need to know how something is spelled. They just need to know how to get to the brand…wherever it may exist.

That said, not just any word will do.  There’s no substitute for thinking through the creation of your trademark, the strategy behind its launch and maintenance, and the many places where it might (and should) appear.

Getting In The Game

There are Four Simple Rules to follow that can help assure that your trademark can at least get in the game. (Caveat: Just because the Rules are simple to understand doesn’t make them easy to execute.)

Rule #1: The brand name must be distinctive.

Clearly, in today’s crowded marketplace, a new trademark has to have the power to be noticed. The only way to be effective is to gain the attention of consumers who are being avalanched in a glut of information. Whether it’s a real word seen in a new context, an invented brand name with no inherent meaning, or a word that’s been misspelled on purpose, distinctiveness in your category is key.

Rule #2: The brand name must be easy to search.

Once again, how important is spelling? Even when we’re saying that a trademark has to be easily searchable, you’ve got some latitude. Internet search engines such as as Google and Bing will return searches on misspelled words even while asking if you didn’t mean to look for the correct spelled version. Take out a letter here (such as in flickr) or substitute one letter for another (as with birst), and the world can still beat a path to your brand’s door.

Rule #3: The brand name must work across multiple media and web platforms.

Today you need to be reasonably certain that the name you’re creating will have to fit just as comfortably on the edge of a new handheld device as it would rolling up the side of the Goodyear blimp. One place today’s brands are likely to appear is on an app on an iPhone, Droid or other smartphone device. Keep in mind that the average “acreage” of an app button, for instance, measures 57×57 pixels.

That’s about the size of your pinky fingernail. What message can you get across on a billboard that size?

Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in the world but the app that carries its name has little to do with the beverage. Instead, it’s the electronic equivalent of the old Magic 8 Ball – answering questions with a randomized selection of smug answers. One wonders why the company didn’t use their much shorter yet equally well-recognized brand name: Coke. By comparison, Vree is an app specifically designed for diabetes management by Merck pharmaceuticals. Created by Lexicon Branding, the Vree name is short and quick, while supporting the idea of being free from worry and free in general (the app doesn’t cost anything). The size of the name alone allows Merck to place it in advertising and other merchandising very easily, where it can begin to tell its own story.

Rule #4: The brand name must work well across many languages.

This may be the trickiest rule in the bunch. If you’re marketing on the internet — even if your product or service is locally-based — you are now reaching an international marketplace. And if the name for your offering means something offensive or even off-putting in another language, you could end up not only icing yourself out of that market, but others as well if the offensive translation becomes widely known.

Names that share familiar common roots, such as Latin, Greek or Sanskrit, tend to work well in many parts of the world. Even if the word isn’t clearly understood, there can be enough of the meaning coming through that the audience “gets” what your brand is about.

Where semantics (the meanings of words) falls down, other factors such as sound symbolism (a principle discussed previously in this blog) can help invented solutions such as Pentium, Febreze or Venza gain acceptance and take on the unique meaning that is your product or service no matter what country or web page in which it is encountered.

Can following the Four Simple Rules guaranteed success for your brand name? Of course not. There are many factors involved in bringing a successful new trademark to market, starting with whether the product or service you’re offering is something that people want to buy. But without a name that’s been built to be strong and flexible enough to deliver your message by means of whatever avenues are available, you’ll never get off the ground.

Lexicon Branding

Spelling Matters

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on March 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

Lexicon’s latest study reveals the effects of spelling on a brand name’s character

Does how you spell a word really matter? English is rife with spelling rules and idiosyncrasies – for example, there’s the old mnemonic “i before e, except after c.” But what about weird? And then there are the many ways that the string ough can be pronounced: cough, tough, though and through are the usual examples. It’s also the case that a single phonetic form can have a variety of spellings: take the first syllable in cyclone, cider, silo, and psychology.

The many ways English has of visually depicting sounds can also be used expressively. Consider innovations such as dogg and dawg. Being already entrenched in modern pop culture, these specific variations carry meaning beyond a simple canine referent. Apart from well-known examples such as these, though, do simple variations in spelling mean anything? At Lexicon, we’ve just discovered the answer: an emphatic Yes.

For over 15 years, Lexicon Branding has been conducting research and continually gathering data about how various features of words impact people’s perceptions, mostly in the field of sound symbolism. Our research in this field covers languages from across the globe and has led to the creation of successful brands like Dasani, Swiffer, and Febreze. In this new study, we investigated ways that spelling rather than sound contributes to a brand name’s character.

Google logoA couple things triggered our interest in spelling variation: One factor was the popular informal use of respelling in words like boyz, dawg, and kewl. Another was the intuition that Google looks a lot friendlier than Gugle.

Gugle logoWhat makes Google such a friendly-looking, fun-sounding name? Sounding like funny words such as giggle, wiggle, oodles, goo, and ogle certainly helps. Another endearing thing about the name Google is its spelling. The company’s founders report that they based the name on googol, a term used by mathematicians for a very large number. The founders add that they misspelled it.

Googol logoSince both Larry Page and Sergey Brin have Ph.D.’s from Stanford, we assume they’re kidding about the misspelling. But we in branding can learn a lesson from their wisdom: spelling matters.

Googol looks imposing and foreign. Google looks approachable—lovable, even. Around 60 English words end in gle (the exact number varies depending on which dictionary you consult). Almost none end in gol (some dictionaries list only googol). No wonder Google seemed more familiar even the very first time we saw it.

There’s more. Compare Google with the hypothetical name Gugle. Googling the latter actually turns up quite a few results, but the search engine’s creators actually had a choice between the two spellings Google and Gugle, and chose the first. Why, given that the two spellings have the same pronunciation? The oo – innocently repetitive, looking like an interjection, appearing in very common words – looks like fun, while u simply doesn’t.

Bearing in mind simple insights such as these, we designed a study to test several hypotheses about spelling. After surveying over 500 English speakers in the US on their views about a variety of coined names, we discovered that some spelling variations consistently and reliably communicate specific attributes.

The survey elicited respondents’ reactions to several pairs of fictitious brand names, each pair differing in one aspect of spelling – for example, a single vs. a double t somewhere in the name. The answers showed reliably that, among other things, products whose names had double letters were significantly more apt to be judged as having more features and capabilities. This means that people are likely to believe that a new smartphone called Zepp will have a more robust set of features than one called Zep.

It’s nice to see how these findings corroborate our intuitions about past Lexicon credentials, too. Take Dasani. Since it’s a made-up name, it could just as easily have been spelled Dassani or Dasanni and have the same pronunciation. In this case, though, a more robust set of features was not something we wanted to communicate with the brand name. In fact, either alternate spelling would have marred the name’s simplicity – and the simplicity and purity it projects onto the product.

Another hypothesis the study clearly supported was that the letter i is seen as more innovative than the letter y. For pairs of imagined brand names, such as a new laptop called Novix or Novyx, people tended to believe that the version with i would be more innovative. Marketers of real world brands Pixar, Audi, Nvidia and Nivea should be happy to hear this result.

We’re excited about the study’s success because it shows, for the first time, that spelling variations can actually be used to express differences systematically. The findings are important for marketers and other people responsible for brand naming because they provide a new tool for predicting what a brand name will communicate, and suggest simple ways to achieve maximum visibility and attention from consumers.

— Will Leben and Greg Alger, Lexicon Linguistics

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

Brands Just Want To Be Friends

In Branding, Business, Naming, Trademarks on February 7, 2011 at 3:00 am

Creating your new brand for an expansive experience as opposed to a particular product will inevitably serve you well.

There used to be a time that most brands had a first and last name. Pepsi Cola. Kodak Film. Eveready Batteries. It wasn’t that the last name was always a part of the registered trademark — like Coca-Cola — it was just that the descriptor had to be there to distinguish the mark and tell people what they were getting. Then consumers would take the descriptor along for the ride so that they have less of a chance of having to explain the name to someone unfamiliar to it.

As society continues to move swiftly forward and peoples’ attention spans grow ever shorter, so do their consideration of trademarks. Thanks to the Internet, we’re getting used to being on a first name basis with brands like Google, Amazon and Facebook. These types of brands are not products, services, or even companies as much as they are experiences. And most experiences, by their very nature, defy being described by a single word or even phrase.

Amazon started out being billed as “the world’s largest bookstore.” While they still hold comfortably to that claim, they now also offer everything from automotive merchandise to watches. Simply by telling someone “Look for it on Amazon,” it’s an indication that the name itself literally says it all.

To illustrate further how the experience of the brand continues to shift, Lexicon created the BlackBerry name for Research In Motion back when the initial product was a two-way pager. Over time, with a robust line of smartphones and now a tablet coming online, BlackBerry stretches to cover a lot of tech and without having to say more about itself — the products speak for themselves. In the first world, certainly, if you tell someone you’ve got a BlackBerry in your pocket, they’re unlikely to think you’re speaking of the fruit.

The tendency in our society is take something short and shrink it even more. That’s why we like nicknames. It’s why we can’t help turning longer names like Theodore into Ted, Maddie becomes short for Madeline and even the two-syllable Joseph turns into Joe.

In the branding world, a classic case-in-point of this same phenomenon is FedEx, which began as Federal Express back in 1973 but, in 2000, the company decided to go with the flow and change their brand over to the shorter nickname. (Linguistically speaking, FedEx is a syllabic abbreviation of the original name.) It doesn’t seem to have been a capricious choice. By using Google’s Ngram Viewer to chart the occurrences of Federal Express versus FedEx in printed material, one can actually see the use of the longer name start to dip as the FedEx nickname continues to rise — a trend that sharpened once the name change became official.

Contrast of the use of the terms “Federal Express” vs. “FedEx”

This move toward informality will likely continue. In a social media world of tweets, where you have to get your message across in just 140 characters, brevity is becoming the soul of marketing. FedEx was a shorthand that everyone was using, so it came pretty naturally. Conversely, like a kid trying to foist a self-created nickname on people, it comes off as a little sad when a company tries to force the issue and create a shortened version of their brand on their own. Last fall, FedEx competitor United Parcel Service finally abandoned their ad campaign to try to become known as “Brown”. Makes sense — why would people adopt a longer name instead of the already short and familiar UPS?

The strategy can work, if the company is willing to make the commitment. An example is Eveready, which changed its moniker, in 2000, to Energizer, represented by that ridiculous drum-beating pink bunny.

The more that consumers interact with your offering — the friendlier they get with it — the more they come to feel a sense of ownership of it as well. As that happens, they’ll begin find new ways to use it. So, rather than your nascent brand being a product, service, or company, think of it, instead, as an unfolding experience. One of vast scope and limitless potential. With that in mind, it’s good business to consider just how expansive your brand may become, and to do so before you even hit the market.

For any company to be a good steward of their brand requires that they manage this business of shifting perception. Fighting too hard against consumers’ desire to cut your name short might result in a backlash. But pandering to it rarely pays off as well. Just as protecting one’s good brand name requires attention, companies need to also be aware of how their name is being used and recognize when it may be time to get a little friendlier.

Lexicon Branding