‘Is branding the key for a successful start-up?‘ is the topic for a speech I was asked to give at Internet Hungary this week. I could make it a 5 second speech and say ‘Yes, it is one of the most important factors,’ but lucky for me the topic is broader and will go deeper into the keys of creating a successful brand. Let me use this opportunity though to dive knee deep into this question as some brand elements are more important to certain types of companies at time of launch than to others:
No one shall skip the Brand Platform creation at the onset of a new venture, unless you want to compete on price, be boring and unattractive to work for, and are not keen on acquiring the right target audience at time of launch. You tackle the Brand Platform right after you draft your business plan (from fully fleshed out to napkin version – all are acceptable forms of business plans at this stage, depending on your own comfort level).
Launching with a meaningful and unique Name and Brand Identity Design seems like a no-brainer, a must for all entrepreneurs. If for whatever logical reason (budget not being part of that logic) you feel forced to launch with a sub-par name and logo, knowing you will have to go through a (more costly) re-naming and re-branding exercise upon showing first successes, it is the easiest to do for a tech startup or B2B venture that requires solely test users or relies on a very small niche audience, which will make it easier to educate them on this big and disruptive brand change down the road. Some Tech Startups (especially apps) are prototyping until the day of launch, making it an easy excuse to skip this essential step, whereas it is much more advisable to work on a prototype whilst formulating the brand platform, that way you are educating yourself about the target audience while you see them use the actual product, enabling you to create a meaningful brand that will not have to be rebuild soon thereafter. A win – win.
Needs for Brand Atmosphere Touch Points vary in importance and specifics from company to company with retail and other mainly offline B2C companies leading the list, E-Commerce and Tech Startups surviving off some basic, consistent touch points bundled with heavy E-Marketing template creations, while most B2B brands fall anywhere in-between, depending on their structure and audience. If bootstrap is your motto, these can be rolled out over time, making it essentially more pricey, but allowing you to spread the cost.
It only makes sense that ventures leading with digital need to make UI/UX Design part of their strategic brand implementation. Most companies – B2C/Retail and B2B – rely heavily on brand-centric (responsive) web sites to attract and convert leads of different types. For Online Retailers and Tech Startups where the web site also is the product, the prototyping should be addressed in parallel with the Brand Platform creation as it will educate the branding process as a whole. Some companies are able to save on development costs using existing WordPress templates (and such), but brand will still be key at launch.
To conclude, whenever a startup founder tells me (and they tell me all the time) “I can not afford branding at this early stage of my company formation” I reply with “No, you cannot afford not to brand at this early stage of your company formation. Unless you think a strong brand is worth less at time of sale or IPO than an ugly yet functional prototype.‘ This often marks the end of our conversation, until they call a few weeks later to get started with branding their new venture.
There are far more than 101 ways to use numbers in your brand name and end up with a name that no one but affiliates will easily remember. You fail before you even launch your product or service. Most numeric brand names see the light of day because someone is either lazy or tries to be overly smart. Both are not case studies for delivering a timeless and memorable brand name.
The lazies pick inspiration from immediate surroundings such as the corporation’s address, area code or adjacent freeway, in which case they hit rock bottom. Besides the missing message or depth in the name, needless to say this is a short term strategy until the company moves or expands. The more creative kind utilizes the area’s sights, attractions or even weather, as was the case with the highly respected Venice, CA based agency 72andSunny, who since expanded to Amsterdam, where it is more often 52andCloudy.
The overly smart create an arbitrary number based on the founders birthdays or other personal anecdotes or fun facts. 37signals (The company behind collaboration tools such as Basecamp) falls into this category as the name is derived from the 37 radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence (Source: Wiki). Those numbers (hence your brand name) mean nothing to the target audience, until they happen to read your About section on your web site, hoping to learn more about the reasoning behind the name (which is not the case with 37signals). Regardless, they won’t remember your secret number easily, or may I call it your brand pin code. In the worst case scenario your arbitrary number may be offensive to some religions, groups or even segments you may start catering to in the future.
Numbers in your name are risky and often forgettable, but there are ways to win the numbers game. Here are two rules to follow in order to get on the winning streak:
If your brand name will focus on a sole number, that very number needs to be significant to others. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight comes to mind. The name is derived from the number of electors in the United States Electoral Office. His followers would either know, or want to adapt to the number quickly as it is tied to knowledge surrounding a topic they themselves are interested in. Since it is a niche blog for a niche audience, Nate can get away without attaching a word to the number. Even with this approach, be aware that there will be companies with the same name and that any sole number domain name will likely be taken and just as expensive to obtain as it will be to gain IP rights. 7-Eleven is a successful example of creating a distinct name by using a number while showcasing a unique consumer benefit (open 7 – 11, 7 days a week), which perfectly transitions to rule #2:
The number, or word needs a partner to add value and create purpose. This forms an Alphanumeric Brand Name. If you are able to connect a meaningful number to a meaningful word, such as Social123 (Easy as 1-2-3) or 99Designs (99 equals big variety), you create a story and build a strong value proposition. You will have the added benefit of obtaining IP rights and securing your domain name swiftly.
Now you can play by the numbers, but be aware that if you enter the numeric brand name game, it most often is a gamble!
Catering this post to those of you who target a new brand launch towards the Hispanic segment makes me aware that you will likely assume you know your niche audience. True that. But what I have deciphered for you are nuances and slight shifts in behavioral patterns based on Thinknow’s U.S. Hispanic Cultural Values 2013 study that, when applied to specific brand identity tasks, can make a big difference in your approach and the success of your next brand identity project launch.
Brand tonality is where you have to read between the lines when it comes to understanding the new Hispanic audience. If you craft a brand name for the 18-34 audience, be aware that they seek community with other Hispanics more than the above 35 group. Launching a brand for that group lends itself to creating a ‘spanglish’ name as the preferred language (especially amongst males) is English. The need for family unity and Hispanic community is also high on their list, so a Latin touch would go a long way for your brand name. Creating a name for male Hispanics (of all ages) can drift into English as they emphasize the aspiration of living the American dream and your new brand would piggy back on that aspirational connotation. With about 40% of surveyed Hispanics speaking primarily or only Spanish, a nod to both languages recognizes their multicultural experience and is the advised way to creating a new brand name for the Hispanic of 2013.
Above: Branding project we recently conducted for an American corporation offering (mainly) American brand products to the Latin American market. We derived the name ‘Yesimo’ and its correlating brand identity. Both serve as a good example of a name and identity that combine an American with a Latin feel in a warm yet sophisticated manner.
When designing a brand identity be sure to add one important keyword to your list of things you want to convey, pretty much regardless of your specific offering: Family Unity. The idea of familia is on the rise, especially with females and the under $30k income brackets. Combining warmth (warm colors, round sans serif typefaces and round shapes), with aspirations of the new, integrated and more monetary focused US based Hispanic (icons of growth and wealth, modern color hues and a corporate & trustworthy look) will resonate well across product and service offerings.
Think usability times four. As simplicity in navigation design and content is on the rise in the US, you can ride that wave while simplifying your digital design even more so based on the added language barrier. Use infographics and icons to explain steps to take or sequential storytelling. Don’t be obvious when catering your content tonality towards Hispanics as it may conflict with the rise in a need to control their own destinies. Speak to the modern Hispanic in ways you would with any other US counterpart, otherwise you might not be heard at all. Integrate and maximize social sharing tools to enable an easy viral spread of your brand amongst friends and family (#1, 2 and 10 on the revised cultural values list of 2013!) and make sure your site is created in a responsive manner (accessible and scalable for all devices from desktop to iPad to smartphone). If you have the capabilities to create a bilingual site, offer the option of Español in a drop down.
As we see the US based Hispanic audience integrate exponentially, let’s not lose track of the nuances. As we all know, the devil lies in the details, so let’s get ready to create devilish smart and detailed brands!
As we descend into a holiday weekend here in the US, we thought we’d keep this week’s New Brand Post on the light side. A great time for our second Punny Brand Name Showdown. This time we chose two brands named after their founders, with an added pun.
An added pun with a dash of sugar in this case. Sugarpova is tennis star Maria Sharapova‘s step from endorsements into entrepreneurship with a line of gourmet candy. The 25-year old is targeting a market “that doesn’t have a premium segment” (Bloomberg Businessweek) and she has translated her own brand name into a sugary pun. (How they got away with using ‘Lips like sugar’ as a product name remains an open question. Did Echo & The Bunnymen receive tons of free sugar power to keep them awake at their age on stage when performing their biggest hit by the same name?)
What you might not know is that the established greeting card company Hallmark was actually named for its founder, Joyce Hall. Hallmark also means a mark indicating quality or excellence (Wiki). Voila, an excellent punny brand name has been born.
But there are winners and there are losers and you can’t be both, or can you? In our second Punny Brand Name Showdown we have two winners and two losers. Sugarpova is a great pun, leveraging the person behind the brand in a memorable and fun way. Yet, it does feel a bit bittersweet by elevating sugar to become the new star of the fun, but not quite healthy brand. Hallmark is a great pun with a personal touch, but if it was a brand launch in 2013 we would stray away from it based on online search and IP ownership difficulties.
CATEGORIES: Blog Your Brand Launch: Naming
Jason Calacanis, founder of Silicon Alley Reporter, Engadget, TechCrunch 50, LAUNCH, This Week in Startups as well as his new venture, Inside.com, asked me ‘What are the most important things you’ve learned about launching?‘ Here is what I wrote him:
There are many processes to launching your tech startup. Choose one that works for your personality, budget and within the culture you are about to create.
Test and fail and test and fail. You should invest in creating your brand only once you really understand your target audience’s behavior and true needs.
Launch as a brand, not a startup that may develop into a brand. Launch by design. Design relates to the process you have to adhere to, but furthermore it truly is design that holds the key to early brand success. Graphic design, brand identity design, and web design will set your offering apart at the time of launch.
Naming is crucial. You can’t change the name of your kid once they are in puberty. The name you choose at launch will remain with the brand forever, so don’t settle for a placeholder name that just happened to make it into beta because the domain was available. It’s an art, science, and legal matter, so make sure it doesn’t get overlooked.
‘Opinions are like @**holes, everybody has one‘ – choose wisely whom you listen to, which opinions you implement, whom you exclude from certain conversations and why. Have a ‘stakeholder opinion plan‘ in place from the start to make it easy for you to adhere to and eliminate the unease of hurting people’s feelings or having to re-do certain phases of your project because you did not listen to the right people at the right time.
Two punny names featuring a product mixed with a popular saying.
“Ship ahoy” (old nautical shout-out) plus “chips” (as in chocolate chips, no relation with guacamole, salsa and such) equals “Chips Ahoy.” We just realized this is a pun ourselves – one of those things you see around all the time and suddenly you become aware of the concept behind the name.
The term “Holy Guacamole!” is a slang term which basically means “OMG,” but you knew that. This brand of guacamole prides itself on not using preservatives and keeping the product 100% natural. There’s also a taco place here in sunny Santa Monica called ‘Holy Guacamole’ – but Wholly Guacamole is taking it up a notch on the pun barometer.
Our first Punny Brand Name Showdown is a tough one to judge as both are quite clever and memorable, but OMG!, Wholly Guacamole takes home the whole enchilada based on the double layer of pun mixed with a product attribute. Chips Ahoy makes us aware of chips coming our way, which is a great thing, no question. But, Wholly Guacamole tells us that it’s, well ‘Holy guacamole!’ (not too specific, it may be great, it may be spicy…it may be all those things) as well as a natural product.
Did you know that your name can have an impact on everything from your day-to-day decisions like which candy bar you prefer to some of your most important life decisions like the career you choose?
“If a brand name shares our initials, we tend to like it more,” says Miguel Brendl, Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, who has taken an interest in studying the complex relationship people have with their names and brands they purchase.
It is no coincidence that there are an unusual number of Dentists named Dennis. Women named Louise are likely to move to Louisiana, and Craigs like Coke while Peters prefer Pepsi. Is it any coincidence then that I am running FINIEN and my name is Fabian?
Read more about this interesting phenomenon here.
Benchmarks of a great name can be broken down into four distinct categories: 1) the name has significance and tells a story, 2) it has linguistic clarity and can be easily pronounced and spelled by the target audience, 3) the name is distinct and stands out amongst the competitors of your brand, and last but not least 4) it is marketable and has an available domain name. Refer to the below graphic where we explore the foundation of the Finien name.