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Posts Tagged ‘linguistics’

Why Do All Car Logos Look the Same?: How Visual Identity Can Complement Brand Names

In Branding, Cars, Linguistics, Naming on October 20, 2016 at 9:19 am

As an exclusively verbal branding agency, Lexicon usually refrains from commenting on the topic of visual identity. But in some cases, design has an interesting parallel with brand naming: the basic forms used in a brand’s logo can communicate beneath the surface in the same way that the sounds and structure of a brand name can. For example, have you ever noticed most car logos have a round, container-like shape?

d_cars-1

A few exceptions make use of vector, or arrow-like, shapes – the Citroën logo, for example – or animal-based metaphors that project ideas of speed and strength onto the target product (e.g. Peugeot’s lion logo, Jaguar, Aston Martin’s or Bentley’s wings). Some brands even combine all three elements, as is the case with Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The logos of Lexicon-named Scion, Flywheel, and Turo all incorporate the rounded container or vector shapes.

containers

The pervasive use of container shapes in car brand logos contrasts with its scarce presence in those of other products, such as technology or apparel to give just two examples:

tech-and-apparel

So, is it just a coincidence? Did all car brand logo designers secretly agree to use this shape? Is it a simplified representation of the car as a container? Did all those designers choose the same basic shape unconsciously? Or can we just chock it up to a trend?

Whether or not this design decision was a conscious one, this subtle, non-verbal aspect of branding has meaning. The “container” is a well-known image schema, which cognitive linguists define as one of the basic building blocks of human cognition, and a powerful tool for creating meaning.

Image schemas are regarded as the basic scaffolding of human cognition. They offer highly abstract representations of spatial relations. It may seem obvious, but the topology of the container image schema includes an inside, an outside, and a boundary between the two:

container-image-schema

Image schemas are also pre-conceptual – rather than being taught about them, we learn them through our own bodily interactions with our surroundings. As infants, we see food outside of us which then enters our body when we are fed – our bodies are containers. Even prior to being born, we experience our mother’s womb as a container.

From these early physical interactions, we build upon and extend the logic of the image schema. For the container, we learn that inside contents are protected from outside conditions. Based on previous experiences of protection in our life (e.g., being inside our mother’s womb, being inside our homes, inside our beds in our bedrooms), we project these feelings of comfort and protection onto other experiences we have of containers.

The way brands are represented can take advantage of the container schema to borrow some of this equity of protection and comfort. For car logos, the use of the container shape subtly highlights essential properties of a quality car: protective, safe, and comfortable, which may extend to ideas of being reliable and dependable.

That brand names have the power to communicate beyond simple semantic meaning underlies most of our work at Lexicon. In addition to the association with various real words, Scion also sounds powerful; Turo sounds like a luxurious service. But brand names can’t communicate it all. A strategically designed logo can use image schemas to effectively complement the name. Scion’s logo helps it communicate power and protection; Turo’s looks luxurious and dependable. By understanding both of these verbal and non-verbal communication strategies, brands can double the effectiveness of their visual identity.

– Lorena Pérez Hernández, A member of Lexicon’s World Brand® Team

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

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

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

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

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

BrazilSkinCare_Nivea

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

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

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

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

Say What?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks, Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 3:00 am

Just how important is a brand name’s pronunciation, anyway?

When names for a new product are being weighed, there’s usually nervousness around pronunciation. Still, think of the different ways people pronounce Porsche, Hermès, Zagat.

And don’t even get us started with l’Occitane.

Some brands succeed despite tricky phonetics–so tricky that pronunciations can still vary long after the brands have become established. Zagat’s intended pronunciation is “ZAG-it,” yet many of us go for the more exotic sounding “za-GAT.”

In Europe, thanks to its profusion of languages and cultures, variability looms even larger. When Lexicon was developing the name Azure for Microsoft’s cloud platform, a company officer in Germany worried that Azure could be pronounced a dozen different ways by non-native speakers. And that client probably wasn’t even aware that native Britishers say it at least four ways: “AZH-er,” “AZH-yoor,” “AY-zher,” and “AY-zhyoor,” Yet the brand has been extremely successful, even in Europe.

So how important is pronunciation?

More than anything else, brand names are about first impressions, so it makes sense to avoid any possibility of confusion when launching a new brand. But reasonable as that rule is, sometimes it’s better to violate it.

At the outset, Acura, Honda’s premium brand in the U.S., was accented like bravura and Futura by some people. Yet, thanks to early advertising that spread virally, and also thanks to the (intentional) resemblance to accurate, an unambiguous pronunciation was quickly established, and the brand, which now has been around for three decades, is still going strong.

The correct lesson to draw from Porsche, Hermès, and l’Occitane is that a brand already well-established in its homeland will transport more easily despite pronunciation issues. In fact, the name’s oddness may help its identity. Add Zagat to that list, should you consider New York City a homeland.

There is one type of pronunciation problem that seems to trip the marketer up more badly than the marketee: sounds and sound combinations that are normal in one language but distinctly odd in another.

Japanese doesn’t have the sound [l] (or “el”) and avoids most consonant sequences. This ought to create problems for a brand like McDonald’s, yet thanks to well-established conventions for dealing with foreign words, the name is actually straightforward for Japanese speakers: makudonarudo.

English speakers are no different: hors d’oeuvres is supremely easy for us to (mis)pronounce, though it remains a devil to spell.

Bottom line: avoiding pronunciation issues is a good idea, but some odd pronunciations or spellings are not as problematic as they may seem. In fact, sometimes a difficult name delivers a beneficial, attention-getting jolt.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

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.

Mondelez: A Rough Maiden Voyage?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming on May 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

We have seen an enormous amount of press for Mondelez, the name planned for Kraft’s new snack division, to be spun off from Kraft’s grocery business. If in the marketing business any publicity is a good thing, then this is a good thing.

But the reaction has generally ranged from negative to mocking. The name, chosen from 1,700 candidates submitted by Kraft employees, blends mond (the root for “world” in some major European languages) with delez, stressed on the last syllable and intended to suggest delicious.

Some object to the new brand’s perceived clunkiness. Forbes.com jokes that we can recall the name better by associating it with a former Secretary of State, as in “Mondeleza Rice.”  A few commentators class this name with fabrications like Accenture and Altria. And rightly so. If a company is going to adopt a name whose message is obscure, why take three whole syllables to do so?

More ominously, in commissioning focus groups to judge Mondelez, Kraft apparently omitted Russians, even though the name needs to work globally. A number of Web sources note the name’s potentially vulgar connotations in Russian, where it can be broken down into something sounding like “monda-LEEZ.” We verified this with our Russian linguist, Fedor Rozhanskiy. To many Russians, manda is a slang word for “vagina.” Compounding the problem, “LEEZ” sounds like the Russian verb root for “lick.” The association is—unfortunately again—by far the strongest when, as Kraft intends, the last syllable is stressed.

Kraft’s official response has been a tad defensive. “The intention is for Mondelez to be a corporate name,” Kraft spokesperson Michael Mitchell is quoted as saying on several news sites, including nj.com. “It won’t be a consumer-facing name.” But given the reactions so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kraft ordered further testing before putting it to shareholders for official adoption.

That’s what we’d recommend, though we do wonder about the dust this case has stirred up. In what it seems to regard as a similar situation, the Huffington Post, citing the BBC, claims that “General Motors had to change the name of its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Canada after it found that the word LaCrosse is slang for masturbation in Quebec.” That’s not quite accurate. After learning that crosse was a slang term in Quebec, GM chose to introduce the car in Canada as the Allure. But in 2009 a new management canned the Allure brand and began to use LaCrosse in Canada as it does everywhere else in the world. The brand is doing well in Canada as elsewhere.

Navigating the globe with a brand name is a complex journey where language, culture, and marketing intersect. Very precise attention must go to details of pronunciation and to linguistic and social contexts that foster or temper disruptive associations. We’ve been navigating these waters for practically twenty years at Lexicon, where our GeoLinguistics service includes an international network of Ph.D. linguists that now numbers 77.

— Will Leben and The Lexicon Team

UPDATE: The London Times published an interview (6/5/2012) they held with Lexicon CEO David Placek. He remarked on the Mondelez name:

Mr Placek dismisses the name like a medieval guild member inspecting the craft of an amateur. “Mondelez…you hear ‘eaze’ like ‘sleaze’. I’m getting nothing from it. Maybe it would work for a restaurant.”

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

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

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