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Posts Tagged ‘brand strategy’

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

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The Brief In Brief

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on April 15, 2013 at 3:00 am

Developing An Effective Creative Brief

Every year for the past thirty years Lexicon has received dozens of creative briefs usually prepared by a client, sometimes by the advertising agency. Most recently, “brand strategists” either inside or outside the client have been preparing them. No matter the source, they are usually not very good. What is most striking is that they all sound and look alike even across distinctly different categories. You have to wonder “Why?”

This piece is not a “how to” article. It has just a few observations that may help to improve the process.

Most clients have a standardized approach to writing the brief. These briefs have sections. “Brand vision”, “tone”, and “brand voice” are phrases we often see. Because they are so formulaic we often find these documents way too logical and static.

True, some look and sound impressive. The various sections are often filled with popular but generally meaningless expressions like “empowering”, “enabling” and most recently, “curating”. If you are on the creative side of this, it’s not very helpful. In fact, it is usually constraining. A brief should be a launch pad for discussion and thinking and investigation, and not a prescription.

So why are so many briefs prescriptive in nature?

It stems from an assumption that the creative process and creative people must be managed. You can’t really manage a creative process. You can lead it, encourage it, push it, even cajole it. Design your briefs with those ideas in mind and you’ll be ahead of the game. Expecting a brief to manage a process is both wishful and naïve.

Since it’s called a “creative brief”, why not involve creative people to help write it? Start with a blank sheet of paper and just start talking. Forget about filling out a form. Write it as a story. Together. Keep it open. Let it evolve.

Not only will the end product be better – much better – but an essential ingredient of innovation and breakthrough creativity will be created. That ingredient is trust. Trust engaging your creative resources rather than taking sole responsibility for creating the brief next time.

Chances are you’ll be delighted – and rewarded – with the results.

– J. David Placek, President & Founder

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

How iPad is Naming the Game

In Branding, Business, High Technology, Naming, Trademarks on January 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Lots of pundits took their potshots at the iPad as it was first coming to market in early last year, with even video sketches on YouTube mocking the name as some kind of hightech version of a feminine hygiene product. Now, a year later, with Apple reportedly having sold 15 million of the devices, no one’s laughing — at either the product or the name. The high technology industry as a whole, instead, is realizing that Apple’s not just changing the game of what was perceived as pretty much a niche market, but they’re in the process of renaming the game.

For the past few years, since tech companies have been R&D’ing the future of the computer, there’s been a lot of focus on tablets. Microsoft’s been yapping about one for years. As has HP, Samsung, Dell and anyone else with a dog in the fight. Everyone’s been gearing up but — as is often the case with emerging technologies — none of the big leaguers wanted to be the first to go all in. But one thing was “for sure”: The new form factor was going to be called, generically, a tablet.

Then came Apple.

And they were not just making a leap in technology, but one in category as well.

They’d already established a readily i-dentified beachhead, brandwise, with the iMac, iPod and iPhone lines. These device brands traded on a couple of equities. The first was Apple’s successful transmogrification of the baseline devices — PCs became Macs (by way of Macintosh), MP3 players were now pods, and the cellular telephone smartened into simply phones. The second, subtler point was the practice of tagging that initial — and lower case — i to the front end of a single syllable word.

It doesn’t take an experienced branding person to figure out that the hypothetical iTablet name that was floating around pre-announcement would not be the name of the new device. Given Apple’s naming heritage, they would either pioneer something new — as they did with pod — or else co-opt something relevant yet unexpected. The only thing keeping anyone brand-savvy from laying down even odds on pad being the way they were going to go was not its association to menstrual pads but its similarity to their already popular iPod line.

Confusion in the marketplace is what you want to avoid, and that one was clear to see. On the other hand, while certainly humorous, no one was going to confuse a product from the tech category with a generic descriptor for feminine hygiene products relegated to a very specific aisle at the supermarket or drug store.

From a head-to-head standpoint, as it turns out, pad has it all over tablet in terms of public usage. According to Google’s (relatively) new Ngram Viewer, the usage frequency of “tablet” has been somewhat stable over the past 200 years (with a surge from roughly 1870 to 1930), whereas “pad” has been on a more or less steady rise since around 1840. “Pad” overtook “tablet” in the late 1930s. (Of course, since “pad” and “tablet” each have a variety of meanings, it’s difficult to determine exactly which meanings were used more frequently when.)

Google’s Ngram shows “pad” vs “tablet” frequency of usage

Then there’s always Apple casual vs. Microsoft formal. Calling the products in question “pads” conveys a much more casual, friendly, and even playful tone. A “tablet”, on the other hand, comes across as a bit more formal, technical, or more refined.

The war of words isn’t over yet, with most major high-tech heavyweights still gearing up to come to what is obviously a much more robust market than anticipated. (In a recent TechCrunch article it was revealed that even Apple fanboy bloggers undershot the mark by at least half when it came to predicting iPad sales.) “Tablet”, though unlikely, may yet win the day. Even if it does, usage will surely affect the reactions we have to the word — “tablet” may soon sound just as casual and friendly as does “pad”.

— Lexicon Branding

Telling Details

In Branding, Business, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on January 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

In creating new brand names we often look for images related to a product that bring out its essence. Images that may seem quite extraneous at first sometimes turn out to be the most effective when it comes to conveying the essence of an idea. Ordinary English has many examples although, in many cases, the terms have become so commonplace that we often don’t think of them in the context of a picture.

Office on Cornerphoto © 2007 David Sawyer | more info (via: Wylio)
Corner Bank. A recent newspaper article about big vs. small banks used the term corner bank to refer to the small ones. What an evocative image — even though being located on the corner of a block has nothing inherently to do with a bank’s size. Still, embedded in our imagination is an old-time bank that was small enough to fit on a city block along with other businesses, and corner bank helps us to visualize this image.

Soccer Mom. Think about the structure of this expression: two nouns next to each other, no syntactic or morphological links connecting them. Yet the semantic connection is obvious to anyone who participates in our culture. The expression captures the essence of a mom who, despites loads of equally or more important duties, makes time to get the kids to their soccer practices and soccer games. Due to the cultural information it calls on, this expression captures the fact that Mom is not only devoted but also well organized.

Lounge Lizard. The term lounge here refers to a cocktail lounge. The use of lizard to denote an unattractive older guy who hangs out in bars looking for women is probably restricted to this one phrase. No one talks about dirty old lizards, or nighttime lizards, when referring to these nightclub-prowling characters.

The lizard’s wrinkly skin captures the age of the guy, and the slithery nature of lizards captures the mild creepiness of the character’s behavior. Since we’re more likely to refer to any lizard we glimpse as “he” rather than “she,” the expression even correctly captures the denizen’s sex.

Strip Mall. This is one of the most graphic expressions in English, and it illustrates a wonder of our language since, as with all the examples above, there is no need for any grammatical connectors between the first noun and the second. Cultural context supplies all the connection we need. A strip mall is not really a mall at all, and the word strip has many meanings and functions — nominal and verbal. Yet the two together instantly convey not only a message but even a mood — the sadness of these shopping places that are highly convenient but devoid of imagination.

The above are common terms in American English. So it should be no surprise that some of the greatest brands also fit this analysis.

Facebook is two nouns joined together with no connectors other than the suppression of the space between them. Facebook entries contain faces but those are hardly the essence of the phenomenon. One might regard book as a credible metaphor for a collection of Web entries, yet the Web—and the world—are full of collections, yet most of them wouldn’t be called books. Google gives us a collection of links and their names and descriptions on a set of pages, but neither the page nor the collection of pages is a book. To understand the magic of the name Facebook, we need to go deeper. What makes Facebook a valid kind of book is that it has some permanence or stability; like a diary, it can be added onto, and it can of course be modified, but it’s not a transitory thing like a Google page. And that is why the Google page, or a whole collection of them, isn’t regarded as a book.

It is the word face that makes Facebook seem ironic, since Facebook the Web phenomenon is probably more responsible than most modern institutions for making it unnecessary for people to come face to face! But the face captures an essence by expressing the Facebook’s promise of being as good as, almost better than, seeing someone’s face.

All but the first of the examples above are standard compound nouns, stressed on the first word. The first one, corner bank, is a noun phrase, stressed on the second word, and the first word modifies the second. The portfolio of brands created at Lexicon Branding contains many examples of these two effective dynamics, dating back to HP’s popular DeskJet printers and including such brands as NatureBridge, Silverlight, and Weather Edge.

Let’s break down another popular Lexicon-created brand to see how the formula works. Blue Nile —besides being a successful online purveyor of fine jewelry — is an expression with blue functioning as a modifier. This is another striking example of the ability of two juxtaposed words to capture an essence, even if those words seem to have little to do with a product. The Blue Nile runs through two countries—Ethiopia and Sudan, hardly the first countries one thinks of in relation to jewelry and gemstones. But the African continent is certainly one of the key places in the world we associate with gems—maybe due mostly to South African diamonds. And the coldness of the color blue again captures an essential property of the gems, the cool gleam they give off. Nile contributes a complemetary association,  the sparkle from the flowing water of a river whose ancient history gives it dignity, a dignity easily associated with gems, whose history (even with modern gems) also dates back to ancient times.

The old saying goes that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” While that may well be true, by finding just the right way to evoke images in the minds of consumers, the value of words can be increased so that it takes just two to make a perfect picture.

— David Placek

Honda Loses Market Share (How surprised were we supposed to be?)

In Branding, Business, Cars, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on January 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

From a naming standpoint, we weren’t surprised at all. The December 30, 2010 Financial Times reports that Honda’s market share dropped by over 5% in the U.S. and by more than 25% in Europe in 2010. Probably there are dozens of technical and business reasons for this. But as a branding company one of the major lessons coming out of this unfortunate news is that bad names affect car sales.

2011 Honda InsightHonda’s new Insight is a sleek hybrid with a beginning price under $20,000 in the U.S., and mileage in the 40 mpg range. It drew raves from Car and Driver magazine. Yet the Financial Times reports that sales have been “well below the company’s expectations.”

How could this be?

One reason is that Insight brand isn’t doing this car any favors. Many consumers attuned to hybrids still remember Honda’s original 2000 Insight, a clunky two-seater with low power and not much interior space. Back then the name may have appealed on an intellectual plane with some hopeful early adopters. But given that car’s shortcomings and its failure to catch on in the marketplace, why carry that baggage over to an attractive new car whose main link with the 2000 model is its hybrid status?

Honda’s new sporty hybrid, the CR-Z, also had disappointing sales last year. While to our eye it has less going for it than the Insight in the looks department, it also has a naming problem.

The name CR-Z borrows its name structure from Honda’s popular CR-X from the 1980’s. (The Z will strike some fans of economy sport hatchbacks as having been borrowed from Nissan’s enduring line of Z cars.) But the CR-X brand disappeared in 1992. Hoping that brand equity will survive a hiatus of double-digit years is highly risky, as Ford found when it re-introduced the Thunderbird brand in 2002 and dropped it after 2005.

Interestingly, GM has just introduced a brand with the same consonants as Honda’s CR-Z in the same order, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. What a difference those vowels make. While Honda associates its cars with discontinued past models, Chevy uses Cruze to proclaim a fresh start. The link with cruising brings thoughts of fun, carefree operation, and driving as a social experience. The consonant and vowel sounds that make the name Cruze for the most part imply smoothness and comfort.

As the many positive reviews note, Honda has much to be proud of with its new hybrids. But the names it has chosen totally fail to communicate that simple fact.

Will Leben, Director of Linguistics

Explaining Stuff

In Branding, Business, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on October 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm

As one of the linguists at Lexicon, I have a lot of explaining to do – often it’s to clients, about why Name X won’t work in Language Y for Product Z (in compiling our GeoLinguistic Evaluations); or to clients with even greater curiosity, about the meanings of seemingly scary words like ‘obstruent’ and ‘sonorant’ and how they’re important when it comes to sound symbolism. The majority of my explaining, though, happens as part of our proprietary creative and evaluative processes: explaining the various ways a candidate name can be parsed (or broken down and interpreted); effective metaphors for conveying product attributes; the semantic networks for potential name candidates and their components; etc.

Another exciting aspect of my job is keeping up with all of the latest linguistic news. Take, for instance, linguists’ recent discovery of a previously undocumented language called Koro (Explorers in India find something almost unheard of: a new language). Having been involved in documentation work myself (on an endangered variety of the Zapotec languages spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico), this is especially exciting for me. And while we won’t likely be adding a native Koro speaker to our network of linguists and native speakers around the world, we value the discovery as it adds to the growing body of documented linguistic diversity.

Along the same lines, my favorite linguistics blog is Language Log, which every now and again will have a post particularly apropos to the naming and branding industry. For example, Puke is about products from other countries whose names mean extremely inappropriate things in English, including a brand of snack chips called ‘Only Puke’.

Pocari Sweat

We can laugh at the products featured in this post, but because of their names alone, many English speakers won’t even try them – it’s a shame, too, because I can attest that Pocari Sweat is actually quite delicious! When you’re dealing with markets in a wide variety of languages, you need to verify how your brand name will be received in each and every one. A product’s name is its first impression, after all, and part of our job is to make sure it won’t mean ‘puke’ in any of our clients’ markets.

Even within the United States, various languages are at play. A recent article in the Washington Post suggests politicians should be aware of the influence of Spanish-language media in the US, especially in this election season. But marketers should be aware of this, too: Latinos aren’t just key constituents, they’re a large chunk of consumers as well.

At any rate, we’re happy when it’s us that have to do the explaining – that way our clients won’t run into a situation where they’re the ones having to explain why in the world they tried marketing Product Z in Language Y with the Name X.

Greg Alger, Linguist

Throwing The Market A Curve

In Branding, Business, Naming, San Francisco, Trademarks, Uncategorized on October 8, 2010 at 3:57 am

Some of the brand name development efforts that happen at Lexicon® Branding remain in the shadows. It may be a name for a select segment of software engineers. Or a major brand’s soft drink that gets test marketed in Topeka, Kansas, and never gets any closer to a rollout. But every so often we get a chance to be part of something big, bold, and uniquely different.

Types of CurvesIn the case of Levi’s Curve ID® fit system, the brand behind several new lines of womens jeans from San Francisco-based Levi-Strauss, it’s not so much that we helped them create a name for jeans specifically built for a variety of female body shapes and sizes. Instead, it’s the excitement of being part of their audacious, in-your-face advertising campaign that’s bringing awareness to the new jeans.

Bus stop posters proclaiming, “Not All Asses Were Created Equal”. Giant billboards declaring, “For Prima Donnas and Girls Named Donna”. A newly debuted “Levi’s Girl” (Meghan Ellie Smith, @thelevisgirl) who is tweeting and posting on Facebook about her adventure as the first to be so dubbed, moving from New York City to San Francisco.

All Asses Were Not Created Equal

One of Levi's Curve ID billboards

Some brand names get a slow start, seeming more to escape from their corporate headquarters than to blast their way onto the scene. In this case, with our head office being in Sausalito, California, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from “The City”, everyone who works here is seeing Curve ID no matter which route they take to work, whether they travel by public or personal transportation.

For Prima Donnas and Girls Named Donna

We’ve often wondered why most clients wait until the very end of a new product’s development before they even start thinking about a name. To our way of looking at the process, the sooner that name creation can be involved, the easiest it becomes to conceptualize the final brand and the strategy that needs to go into launching and supporting it. In that regard, the system in most industries seems to be a bit broken, which is why we applaud our friends at Levi Strauss for choosing to get Lexicon in the mix during the early stages of developing the brand that became Curve ID.

For a brand that’s meant to open people’s eyes to a new way of buying, trying and wearing womens jeans, Curve ID as an exciting new brand has been presented in some new and eye-opening ways itself.

— David Placek