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Posts Tagged ‘Lexicon Branding’

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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Meet Our 2016 Summer Interns

In Brand Name Development, Business, Cars, Naming on June 9, 2016 at 9:49 am

This summer’s internship program features four bright thinkers from top universities across the nation. Over the next 10 weeks, each intern will be exposed to and entrenched in every step of our process, from creative development, to consumer research and linguistic analysis.

Last year, Lexicon reintroduced its internship program, which was structured in two groups: 3 linguistic interns and 2 creative interns. At the end of the summer, we were thrilled to offer 2 of those interns permanent roles. This year the interns’ responsibilities will be more comprehensive in nature as each will be involved in all aspects of our services.

Automotive-Think-TankAs an exciting and new aspect to this year’s program, our interns will be part of our new Automotive Think Tank. Their fresh perspectives and varied backgrounds will help us explore the branding landscape of the automotive future – an industry that is on the cusp of experiencing seismic shifts. The purpose of the think tank is to closely examine the current automotive industry structure, how rapidly it’s changing, and what those changes will look like – for everyone from car manufacturers to insurance companies to the government. Our recent and continued work in the space has positioned Lexicon as a leader in the automotive naming space.

Meet the 2016 summer interns:

SARAH SCHECHTER

“I’m a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying for a Masters degree in Product Design and Development. Before coming to Philadelphia, I worked in data analytics for four years and received a BS in Physics from Georgetown University.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through the UPenn Careers Site”

Sarah is most excited to “get creative” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how her design background will shape her views on the future of the automotive industry – perhaps opening our eyes and painting us a picture that no one else could have foreseen.

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KENNEDY PLACEK

“I am a current student at Stanford University, majoring in Political Science. I just finished my sophomore year so to be completely honest, I am not sure where I will end up post-graduation!”

What was your favorite part of the internship last summer?
“My favorite part of the internship last summer was being able to participate and contribute to in-house creative sessions and presentations to clients.”

What are you most excited for this summer?
“I am most excited to bring the new team together for our recently developed automative think tank this summer!”

 

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EVA EPKER

“I am a rising senior at Stanford University, majoring in English, minoring in both Art History and History as well. My academic goals are to make the most of my senior year, finish my degree, and decide what I want to do post-graduation.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through an email sent to English majors from a past Lexicon summer intern. I did research last summer and taught middle-schoolers in 2014. [I applied to Lexicon because] Lexicon values some of the same skills as Stanford’s English major, such as clear, creative thinking, and efficient, successful communication”

Eva is most excited to “be able to sharpen her creativity, utilize her love of words, and be inspired by the rest of the Lexicon team” this summer.

 

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Noah Rucker

“I just received my BA in Linguistics from the University of Florida. Grad school is definitely on the table, but I’m uncertain what I’d go into as of yet. Language and technology is one option, but I’m definitely still exploring, trying to find my niche.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Lots of applications, and a sudden enthusiastic call from Greg. I worked with an educational video gaming company on a science fiction universe where I helped write and worldbuild educational quests, including aspects of naming the galaxy, constellations, people, and places. I also interned with the IHMC (Institute for Human and Machine Cognition) where I looked into social media data for individuals diagnosed with particular mental disorders (specifically, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc.) and then teased out particular linguistic features that were more prevalent in these kinds of users.”

Noah is most excited to “learn an industry and contribute some snazziness” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how his background in linguistics and technology will add to the unique perspectives our Automotive Think Tank will provide on the potential new naming conventions in this burgeoning industry.

Myths Of Branding Pt. 3: Strong Corporate Names Don’t Need Other Brands

In Brand Naming on August 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 3: If a company has a strong corporate name, it doesn’t need any other brands.

        

Two weeks ago, Google announced its new umbrella company. This unexpected move – placing Google inside the cocoon of the freshly minted Alphabet – says a lot about the power of strategically creating distinct brands.

Google was originally founded for a fairly specific purpose, but within the past few years, the fiercely innovative tech behemoth has expanded its interests with a range of endeavors. With the creation of this holding company, Google can continue to pursue its core competencies, while new Alphabet sub-brands can explore the other territories into which Google had begun to tiptoe. This allows individual brands to develop focus and create memorable identities, and having the Alphabet backing gives these nascent projects the Google credibility endorsement without diluting the Google brand. There’s also the practical consideration of creating separate brands, from an investor standpoint; it allows stakeholders to see where money is going and to see who is under-performing and who is exceeding expectations.

This synergy of powerful master brands working in conjunction with powerful sub-brands is not a novel concept. Even well-established corporations have allowed themselves to be defined by their products, using their name to bolster brands and then allowing those brands, in return, to support the corporate promise.

The prolific 3M is a great example of a company that leverages its corporate identity to enforce new brands, while using the strength of long-established brands, such as Scotchgard and Scotch Tape, to reinforce the 3M corporate promise.

“I know that other companies have tried to consolidate and have one corporate brand,” says Dean Adams, Director of Corporate Branding at 3M, “but we have a different view. The corporate brand takes on the role of authority and credibility, but consumers want to look underneath the brand,” explains Adams.

For example, Scotchgard makes a special promise about making things look new longer, and the brand’s strength works as tangible evidence, proving 3M brand’s corporate promise. Conversely, one of the company’s newer brands, Command (a removable adhesive strip used to attach items to walls) doesn’t have the same credibility as some of their more established brands.

“We really leverage the 3M brand, using its strength to build the brand Command,” says Adams.


Interestingly, one of 3M’s most recognized and successful brands, Post-it notes, began life much like Command, with a number of names plastered on its packaging. When the product was launched 25 years ago, it carried trademarks for Scotch, 3M, Post-it, Plaid and a few others. But according to Adams, once 3M saw what it had, the other brands were dropped pretty quickly, and the ubiquitous Post-it was born.

It’s natural to strive for one, strong corporate identity. Brand stacking can be tiring for a consumer and branding is often a calculated risk. Branding, however, can empower the corporate identity. Allowing products to stand on their own with unique brand identities can be more digestible for consumers, and their success will inevitably climb back up to the company level, reinforcing a corporate promise and potentially carrying the company to new heights.

Fact: Companies miss many opportunities to create strong corporate assets when they rely on a narrow corporate brand policy.

Myths of Branding Pt. 2: Coined Names Aren’t Worth the Investment

In Brand Naming on August 18, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 2: Coined names aren’t worth the investment it takes to build them into brands. Descriptive names are cheaper and more effective.

In the late 1980’s two new luxury automotive brands, Infiniti and Lexus, were introduced in the United States – one a known word with known meaning, the other a new-to-the-world idea. Both initial reactions and historical sales performance leave no doubt that Lexus won that battle decidedly. For a moment, let’s leave design considerations aside and focus on the two brand names and how they factored into the performance of these two automotive franchises.

Infiniti is of course derived from the real-word infinity. By definition infinity means “something without bounds.” The word conjures up limitless space, something that is so large that it can’t be counted. This is conceptually interesting, but perhaps a questionable claim for a new vehicle without an established track record. Said another way, when the call to action asks for you to imagine everything, where’s the anchor?

Beyond semantic concerns, the construction of the name is unwieldy for the category. At four syllables long, Infiniti rambles by comparison to most automotive brand names and certainly compared to the quick, two-syllable Lexus. Its cumbersome nature belies the speed and sleekness it can deliver on.

Lexus, on the other hand, seemed to represent a real risk for Toyota. It was a coined name attached to a new and unproven vehicle. Like Infiniti, Lexus asked a lot of the imagination of the consumer, being a word with no inherent meaning. Traditional wisdom suggested that Infiniti was a better and far safer choice. To be honest, we at Lexicon thought so at the time, although we had nothing to do with the creation of either name. The situation was so intriguing, however, that it led us to conduct some basic research of our own in the UK where both brands were yet to be introduced.

Our interviews with consumers began out of the automotive context to really parse out the intrinsic qualities of a coined name like Lexus. We asked respondents what they thought a product called Lexus might be. According to the data, Lexus was most often associated with high-priced luxury goods such as an expensive men’s cologne – much more than Infiniti was. This trend continued into the automotive space. When we asked what kind of a car they thought a Lexus might be, there was overwhelming sentiment for a high-priced luxury car. Leather and wood were consistently part of the expectation for the interior.

This research experience provoked our interest in sound symbolism, the meaning attributed to sound alone. It led to the fielding of two major studies over the next several years into the physical and emotional impact of sound on a brand name. Now we know more about what made Lexus so successful. Semantically, the l and x can be easily related to the word luxury, linking Lexus in that premium space. While one might be surprised by the sharp, scratchy sounds of [ks] for the letter x and the final [s], our research revealed these actually added speed and performance expectations that don’t come through the actual word luxury.

Infiniti, by virtue of its length and relative quietness as a word, sounds slow by comparison. Unfortunately for the Infiniti brand, this was originally compounded by a rather stodgy vehicle design. In the automotive category, names suggesting speed and performance are often aligned with overall quality. Perhaps the worst automotive brand name was Lumina, which was so soft sounding that it betrayed good product quality.

Interestingly, positive values were intrinsic to the name Lexus before a dollar was spent on its marketing – despite what conventional wisdom might dictate around a made-up word. The fact is: any new product requires resources to build meaning into its brand. Even non-coined names like Infiniti rely heavily on the imagination when they are first introduced, especially when the real word doesn’t tie in closely to the category (what does limitlessness truly have to do with a luxury automobile?). Because coined names are different, they can easily reflect the innovative spirit of a product. Said another way, by virtue of being coined, you are already signaling innovation out of the gate. Furthermore, though it takes money to bake meaning into them, coined names each come with strategic, inherent values based on their sounds and constructions.

Fact: In today’s cluttered and competitive marketplace, coined solutions that signal change and innovation are the most effective.

Myths Of Branding Pt. 1: Any Name Will Do

In Brand Naming on August 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed brand names that innovate and inspire for products ranging from cars to corporations. For the next two months, we’ll be releasing weekly posts dealing with branding myths we’ve frequently heard, in an effort to debunk and demystify much of the mystery that surrounds both the process and the strategies of branding.

Myth # 1: If the product we are naming is good, just about any name will work.

In 2011, oral hygiene giant Colgate released Optic White, a brand name Lexicon created for their new premium line of toothpastes. As a high quality product with the backing of a large and influential company, is it possible that Optic White could have been unsuccessful? In short, no. As a result, it’s easy for companies to underestimate the strategic value of the right name.

Colgate, however, wanted to communicate a better whitening experience in an industry where the promise of bright white teeth is a tired one. As a result, Optic White was developed to communicate newness and signal a meaningfully better offering. The fact is, a good brand name isn’t always the difference between success and failure. An undeniable product with a mediocre name can be successful. A great brand name though, regardless of the product, elevates the brand experience and optimizes success.

First off, let’s look at what makes Optic White a successful brand name. Simply put, it’s the combination of words; one an old friend of the toothpaste business and one an entirely new player. This combination of the familiar and the unexpected allows the name to be both relatable and memorable. Even the word ‘optic’ achieves this balance by itself, bringing a rich network of associations to an unrelated field. In the world of oral hygiene where aesthetics are king, ‘optic’ makes the experience visual. People whiten their teeth to show them off, and the name Optic White ensures consumers that they can do just that.

In the cluttered space that is the personal hygiene market, a high quality offering can easily get buried. In 2014, however, Optic White sold well enough to become the 4th highest selling toothpaste in America just three years after its launch. At 5th on the list is Crest’s 3D White, a similarly premium offering launched in 2010 – a year before Optic White – with a name that also plays on the word ‘white’. Unlike Optic White, 3D White is an uninspired name. It stimulates a visual experience – just the wrong one – and as a result, it feels gimmicky. The term ‘3D’ is most commonly associated with children’s movies, making it hard for the consumer to take it seriously; meanwhile, Optic White is sophisticated, creating a new brilliant color for your ideal smile. Beyond semantics, the word ‘Optic’ has a crispness that signals vividness and vibrancy, while 3D sounds heavy and flat-footed. When you compare the names, it’s no surprise that Optic White is outperforming 3D White.

Almost every company that comes to Lexicon comes with a high quality product or service that they are trying to brand. These people believe in their offerings, but they also see the value a good brand name can add to their product. To them, and to us, the quality of a brand name should reflect the quality of the offering. A brand name is a first impression, and like a smile, a good one can be the catalyst to a long and lasting relationship – between a product and consumer, that is.

Fact: A product with a good brand name has a huge advantage over one with a mediocre name.

Our First iPhone App: Profanity Check

In Lexicon Mobile Apps on May 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

Developing a brand name is no easy task. Whether you’re launching a new product, creating a new company, or rebranding for a new image, the most challenging aspect is the creative one. Coming up with a novel and compelling concept in a cluttered marketplace far exceeds a mere exercise in cleverness. And when you land on a name that feels distinctive, has storytelling potential, and could be a platform for a great brand experience, there’s always a good chance the mark is already registered in your category.

But before falling in love with a name and before fighting for registration, there’s another, often-overlooked challenge: What does this new name sound like or mean in other languages? Even if you’re only launching in the States, English isn’t the only language your consumers will speak. And in the digital age, it’s pretty much guaranteed your new brand will be instantly global.

For example, maybe you coined a seemingly perfect name, like Senos, for a new piece of NFC sensing technology. It sounds advanced, feels believable, flows smoothly, and supports the mechanics of the device. Well, we’d advise not to move forward with it, as that word means “breasts” in Spanish. You could even be dealing strictly in English words and still be blissfully unaware of unfortunate meanings. Perhaps you’ve developed a fantastic line of perfumes with provocative fragrances and landed on an equally provocative name, like Afterglow. Well sense won’t be made with your German consumers, as After means “anus” in their native tongue.

As a firm specializing in brand naming, we at Lexicon are intimately familiar with these challenges, and we have processes in place for dealing with them. In fact, we have an entire department – GeoLinguistics – dedicated to screening names for language issues.

To ensure success for our clients – in the US and abroad – we’ve built out a robust network of 80-plus Ph.D. linguists around the world who help us to evaluate names at various stages throughout the naming process. These in-country native speakers have a nuanced understanding of culture and slang, as well as business and branding acumen, so that they can truly evaluate the strategic potential of a name in a certain market.

Their expertise has been invaluable to our efforts over the past 33 years, which is why we’re excited to unveil Lexicon’s latest development in the field: Profanity Check. This app, available for free from the iTunes App Store, is a semi-automated tool to help with screening out candidate names. At its core is a cross-linguistic profanity dictionary, developed in tandem with our linguists. It helps ensure that names you’re considering for your new brand aren’t swear words or vulgar terms in major world languages. It does this by using an advanced algorithm that catches both exact and near-matches, and checks against main dictionary entries as well as related forms (e.g., f#@! and f#@!ing).

Our matching algorithm even identifies terms that merely resemble offensive terms in our dictionary. Many of these near-matches may not be cause for concern, but our app lets you make this determination yourself. Of course, for full coverage we always recommend comprehensive linguistic checks, which should involve consulting native speakers who live in the target regions. But Profanity Check is a good first step to at least rule out any overtly offensive names.

Thanks to our deep investments in research and innovation, you could say naming just got easier… or, at least it just got easier to make sure your new name doesn’t mean s#!@.

– Greg Alger and Michael Quinn

Download Lexicon’s Profanity Check App here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/profanity-check/id923020053

 

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Getting A Brand Name Right

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Naming on March 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Once a brand name is established in the marketplace, changing it can become costly for the brand owner and confusing for the consumer – however, some changes are for the better in the long run.

There’s a select group of companies that have had the good fortune of being able to merely compress their existing name to deliver a new, distinctive idea. Federal Express simply shed three syllables to become the hipper, more modern FedEx in 1994, and Nestlé Quik made two steps forward at once when it changed its worldwide name to the shorter one already established in Europe, Nesquik, creating a unified brand. Similarly, Kentucky Fried Chicken also got a proverbial two-for-one by changing its name to KFC, since the new name was not only quicker and crisper, but also help them avoid the need to pay a licensing fee after the state of Kentucky trademarked its name.

But for companies saddled with branding issues that can’t be remedied by truncating words or carefully excising letters, the task is much more herculean. Developing a new brand name requires strategic thinking, it requires an understanding of the industry (where it is and where it might head), and it requires a well-defined positioning that will differentiate your offering and get consumers to believe in who you are and what you represent. Said another way, it’s more than just an exercise in cleverness.

Getting the perspective just right

Everyone realizes that AOL was once America Online, and IBM was once International Business Machines, but less well known is that both companies started out with very different names from the ones we recognize.

From 1985 to 1991, America Online called itself Quantum Computer Services, and the name International Business Machines was only adopted in 1924 to rename the company that since 1911 had been called the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company (or CTC for short). The 1911 name, awkward as it must have seemed even back then, was simply the natural result of the merger of three separate firms into one.

It’s worthwhile to consider the reasoning behind the switch from the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company to International Business Machines. Probably, brevity was not the goal, since CTC is just as short as IBM. What really went on is that the name change announced a completely new perspective, from three distinct operations into a single one that encompassed not only equipment for all business needs but also on a worldwide basis.

Speaking to the right audience

Quantum Computer Services was probably a very good brand name in 1985. In that era, the company provided online service for a handful of personal computer models using modems called Quantum-Link, or Q-Link. The word quantum was the perfect choice if the desire was to convey the fast transfer of bits of data. But, as the market for Internet access mushroomed, the company’s mission expanded quickly to providing online access to all consumers. At the same time, there was a need to distinguish the company from its major competitor, CompuServe. The new name, America Online, achieved both goals brilliantly, re-orienting the message toward the everyday consumer and replacing a technical reference with the much simpler online. AOL’s strategy succeeded, so much so that in the end AOL was able to purchase CompuServe’s online service.

Righting a wrong

Sometimes brand names become tainted, as was the case with Philip Morris, which changed its name to Altria Group in 2003, helping to jettison baggage. The airline brand ValuJet also suffered a devastating hit in 1996 when one of its planes crashed and investigations revealed practices that seriously compromised safety on the flight that crashed and on many others. Sales plummeted, and a year later ValuJet merged with a much smaller airline, taking on that airline’s name, AirTran.

The right outlook

Some brand name changes can be avoided by thinking ahead. Who are you talking to now, who would you like to be talking to, and what would you like to be saying to them a few years from now? A famous example is Diet Deluxe, which changed its name to Healthy Choice. The earlier name fell down in two respects: it addressed a smaller public, and its message was not as upbeat as it should have been. The new name Healthy Choice solved both problems: it speaks to everyone concerned about his or her well-being, and instead of a diet, it offers them an alternative that makes immediate sense.

A similar problem came up with a cereal marketed with the name Elijah’s Manna in 1904. The biblical reference made U.S. consumers wary. It also caused Great Britain to refuse to register the trademark. As a result, the name was changed in 1907 to Post Toasties, which at the time described a unique aspect of the product—without alienating anyone. The brand lasted nearly a hundred years before the product was removed from the shelves in 2005.

Creating a vessel that connects consumers to the right brand story

We know the challenges of developing an expansive and meaningful brand name that will serve not only as the entry point, but ultimately the platform for a larger brand experience. When WiMP, the Hi-Fi music streaming service out of Norway, came to Lexicon in search of a new name for their expansion into the UK, US, and beyond, we knew their current moniker would not take them far. It fared alright in Scandinavia, where the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of WiMP carried a level of cool. However, we found it hard to imagine them being a dominant global player in the music space with that name – not to mention that it did nothing to support the lossless-quality music, curated editorial content, and premium user experience that differentiated their offering. Through working with their team in Europe, we landed on Tidal. It has that perfect consonant-vowel-consonant structure, and it carries consumers, through imagery and semantics, to the unparalleled and deeply immersive music experience – which happens to be an experience so compelling that Jay-Z, in partnership with the biggest stars in the industry, recently purchased Tidal for $56 million.

– Will Leben and Michael Quinn

Big Brother Brands

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Food & Beverage, Naming on July 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

George Orwell pegged 1984 as the year that an authoritarian superstate – personified in a political candidate known only as “Big Brother” – would come to power in his fictional work about a dystopian future. The book was first conceived 40 years before the title year (although published five years later, in 1949.)

Now, 30 years after the events of Nineteen Eighty-Four, could it be that Big Brother is finally manifesting? Not as a political entity designed to control the populace, but as a commercial confederation that owns and controls the majority of brands – and the influence that goes with them.

Holding companies with a fleet of products under their ownership are nothing new. Various bits of legislation have cropped up over the years in attempt to control just how much sway one company might wield over a market. (Energy companies have often been the culprits in such attempts – so early on that in 1935 the U.S. passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act to force companies to divest their interests. In 20 years, the number of holding companies declined, from 216 to just 18 entities.)

Such companies exist in every industry, from electronics to financial institutions, high tech to home improvement, and any other business you can imagine. But what factors – besides their seeming unquenchable desire to acquire other companies – make us think that they are exhibiting Big Brother-ish behavior?

We looked at a graphic that had been made available on the Sploid blog, which is part of Gizmodo.com. As they put it, when it came to the inside of the grocery store, “as you can see (these 10 companies) own everything.”

The ten companies mentioned are Mondelez, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Unilever. And each of those companies has controlling interest in anywhere between two dozen to almost a hundred other companies in the case of Nestlé.

Do you choose Nestlés’ Dreyer’s ice cream or Breyer’s from Unilever? General Mills’ Chex cereal or Crispix from Kellogg’s? Many such products are at parity when it comes to such things as taste and quality, meaning it often boils down to how the brands make consumers feel at decision-making time.

Frankly, the more interesting story is not about when these giants go head-to-head in the grocery store. Instead, imagine being a smaller cereal manufacturer getting caught up in the marketing and shelf placement elements that come into play with products like these.

It’s a daunting task: Where do the marketing dollars come from to start to build awareness when the playing field is already dominated by gargantuan powerhouse brands?

Lest you think we’re dissing the Big Brother Brands, far from it. We have worked to create brand names with a large number of holding companies, as well as many of the companies within their portfolios. Their naming choices can tend to seem more on the conservative side versus those made by start-ups and smaller companies but when you’re in business around the world, it often pays to play it safe.

Start A Revolution

Fortunately, there are ways to be a nimble David when competing against one or more of these Goliaths in the supermarket aisle. (And the same rule generally holds true in other industries as well.)

• Be different. The Big Brother companies have vast resources but can be slow to innovate – why create something new when something old is still selling like hotcakes? If whatever you’re making or doing is different from what’s gone before – and you can make it known – you’re bound to be noticed.

• Say something different. Starting with a brand name that stakes out some new territory in the landscape, and on through your brand promise and the story of what your product is about, you’ve got to be the brand that gets attention as opposed to the legions that get ignored.

• Reposition the competition. When competing against brands that are well-established in the marketplace, find a hook that’s different yet welcome. Force those other guys to figure out that you’ve changed the game and now they’re the ones playing catch up.

• Take the high road. Sure, they’re the competition and you’re the hero, but keep the conversation about how good your product is and stay away from comparing yourself to your predecessors. No sense tripping over someone else’s goodwill.

Big Brother Is Watching

Ironically, the more successful a smaller company is with their brand, the more attention they’re likely to get from a Big Brother brand. Those bigger companies typically used to work to create their own similar product, often with disappointing results. More often than not nowadays, they’ll use their resources more wisely — and just buy what they like. Innovative beverages like Odwalla, Vitamin Water, and Fuze were all gobbled up by Coca-Cola. Nestlé has bought up chip, candy and even restaurant brands like they’re going out of style.

Sometimes, however, success is its own reward. For every Odwalla that gets snapped up, an Jones Soda remains cheerfully independent. Three Twins ice cream keeps it simple rather than follow the example of Dreyer’s, which became part of the Nestlé family in 2002.

A compelling brand name is a way to start a conversation with consumers that is effective, regardless of whether the product is owned by a multinational corporation, a hot company on the rise, or a struggling startup. That winning name is also the intellectual property that could be the most coveted weapon in your marketing arsenal.

— Lexicon Branding

Taking New Car Names for a Spin

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Cars, Naming, Trademarks on March 24, 2014 at 3:00 am

The 2014 Geneva Motor Show recently wrapped up in Switzerland, having rolled out a spectacle of both new car models and speculative concept cars as well. One of the more interesting features that ride shotgun with the unveiling of new car ideas is the fleet of new car names to go along with them.

How Important are Concept Names?

Often times, those names – which can tend to be quite exotic, unusual, or just plain bad – stand about the same chance as getting into the hands of consumers as the cars themselves. One thing that most concept names provide for the vehicles they appear on is signal to the industry and car-curious public that there is something different going on.

We thought looking at a few of the categories of new vehicles would be illuminating from the perspective of automobile brand names.

Sports Cars/Performance Cars

Slide1Names for cars in these categories are expected to have the kind of names that evoke power and performance, a responsibility shared by the parent brand as well. Lamborghini, for example, unveiled their new Huracan (the transparently Spanish equivalent of hurricane). Ferrari brought out the California T, conjuring images of cruising down the Pacific Coast, while McLaren offered the 650S Spider. Throwing even more intrigue in the mix is Infiniti with their concept car Eau Rouge (“red water” in French). Lexus sticks to their tried and true brand architecture with the RC 350F, while Maserati introduced their concept car Alfieri which, in Italian, can mean “bishop”, “ensign” or, most likely the case here, “standard bearer” — almost as if this new idea could become the flagship model for Maserati.

Crossovers/SUVs

Slide2These bigger passenger vehicles continue to get more streamlined as the years pass, with the concept vehicles showing off sportier and sleeker lines and details. The concept names are tending to match the styling cues, with Subaru’s fascinating Viziv and the Intrado from Hyundai bearing names with no inherent meaning (although the Hyundai comes close to the Spanish word entrada, meaning “entrance”). The Volvo Estate, on the other hand, is a concept car name loaded with meaning and brings an almost regal tone to the proceedings. Jeep’s Renegade is a very expected name in this category. While most car names these days tend to be short, alá Citroen’s rugged Cactus entry, one big – and we do mean big – exception is the Range Rover Autobiography, a name so long it would only fit on a larger vehicle.

Compacts/Subcompacts

Slide3Two of the concept models are competing not just in the category but in the name department as well: Volkswagen reveals their T-Roc idea while the Opel Adam Rocks small crossover concept also rolled out on the floor. Hazumi is an intriguing-sounding word to go along with Mazda’s new little car, regardless of whether you speak Japanese (where the meanings range from “bound” and “rebound” to “inertia” and “momentum”). Finally, clinging to their traditional naming strategy, Jaguar brought out their tight little roadster, the XE, to go along with the XF, XJ, and XK. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

At Lexicon we think concept names in the auto industry are as important as the final name. Names like Cactus, Autobiography, and Adams Rocks fall far short of sparking our imagination or stimulating interest. Instead, the ideal concept names should strive to do three things: Communicate direction (to both internal designers and engineers as well as to consumers), provoke interest, and begin to tell the story of a new vehicle.

Defy Description

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Food & Beverage, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on March 10, 2014 at 3:05 am

Your brand name should be the one thing competitors can’t take away from you. That’s not the case if your name is too descriptive. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the crime and punishment division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), doled out an important lesson last month.

Two lessons, really.

pretzel_crispsThe first was that, even though you may have a trademark for a number of years, as in the case of Pretzel Crisps, a brand of “flat pretzel cracker”, introduced in 2008 by the Snack Factory of New Jersey – you can still end up losing it, regardless of how well business is doing.

The second, and more important lesson, is that being too descriptive with your trademark can set you up for trouble…which is why Warren and Sara Wilson, the inventors of Pretzel Crisps are now likely scrambling to figure out what to do where the name of their popular snack is concerned.

The Pretzel Crisps name had already been relegated to the Secondary Register, which is a kind of trademark purgatory reserved for brand names deemed descriptive enough that only minimal protection can be offered. In this case, both the words Pretzel and Crisps are widely regarded as being generic and only the instance of the two words appearing together is considered to constitute a trademark.

But then snack food giant Frito-Lay, owned by Pepsico, decided to oppose the mark, arguing that Pretzel Crisps cannot be registered as a trademark because the phrase itself constitutes a generic term. “Like ‘milk chocolate bar’, the combination of ‘pretzel’ and ‘crisp’ gains no meaning as a phrase over and above the generic meaning of its constituent terms”, the company wrote in a motion to the USPTO back in 2010.

According to the New York Times, Princeton Vanguard, the LLC that owns Pretzel Crisp and Snack Factory, and filed for the trademark, has spent $1 million in legal fees. Not much, considering Pretzel Crisps has grown quickly, with over $100 million in sales in 2011. But it was a million bucks spent to find out that they no longer hold a trademark on their own name.

What the makers of Pretzel Crisps do next is anyone’s guess, but an expensive name change is one likely scenario. A scenario that could have been avoided by considering names that could have effectively supported the snack chips’ attributes and taste profiles, while steering clear of simply describing what they are.

— Lexicon Branding