That’s right, you do. It was rather memorable. Lucky for them, as they named their first song on their first album (their second single release) after their newly formed band.
That takes real guts.
And guts can result in glory…or defeat. Brutal defeat that is. A risk that many new ventures are willing to take when they name their product the same as their company, or vice versa. It is a move that most often is based on a swift launch. Rarely is the decision to name an offering and its company alike a choice of strategic nature.
When Talk Talk decided to choose Talk Talk for their ‘inaugural song’, there was a risk involved in case the song sucked, but the band had a decent amount of control over that. The song did not suck, instead it defined a sound that they built their entire career on. You hear Talk Talk (Company Name) and you automatically hear the song Talk Talk (Product Name) in your ears. Smart move.
In the entrepreneurial world though, betting on your one product to turn into a hit is a gamble that only gets amplified once you decide to diversify your portfolio of offerings down the road. Levi’s had a major hit with their jeans, then they tried selling khakis and failed doing so under their brand name; they had to create Dockers.
Here’s to you, Talk Talk, for tempting entrepreneurs to take this risk. For the ones that aspire to lead through brand strategy though, you may peruse our white paper on brand architecture instead (while listening to any 80’s hit of your choosing).
When I caught up with our long-term collaborator Matt Dandurand of Media Contour the other day he mentioned that he came across a breed of hilariously ‘mis-named’ IT companies. He had to share this phenomenon with me as it was very hilarious, yet so awfully sad at the same time, and he insisted that I dedicate a blog post to it that can turn this whole thing into something educational for my readers.
I was doubtful.
Then Matt shared how, during some research he was conducting on IT companies, he came across a company named ‘Blue IT’. He thought it was funny, especially when typing the url. A quick Google search later he found a slew of them that blew it, all the same way.
Now I am not in the business of picking on a random company’s name, it seems a bit cheap, but I do feel this serves as a great pointer to the fact that naming is to be taken seriously, regardless of company size and industry. Ample time needs to be spent to ensure, yes, that you don’t blow it. This guide will help you. It focuses on what makes a great brand name, now that we know what makes an unfortunate one.
Many tech startup founders pitch their project by saying ‘It’s just like Instagram, but with [filling in their differentiator],’ or, ‘Imagine Pinterest, but only [filling in their differentiator]’. Quite peculiar, most of them are located in places like Silicon Alley, Silicon Hill or Silicon Forest.
With ‘startup’ being the thing to do for many (particularly right out of college) this hot minute, it is the idea of starting something (anything really) that is often greater than the business idea in itself. Innovations turned into variations of the same, leaving the invention behind, while startup meccas themselves turned to cloned names: Silicon Alley (New York), Silicon Beach (Los Angeles’ West Side – Note: we pushed for the name Tech Coast), Silicon Roundabout (London), Silicon Forest (Portland), Silicon Hill (Washington D.C.) not to be mistaken with Silicon Hills (Austin), Silicon Border (Mexicali), Silicon Sloboda (Moscow) and many more.
Silicon Valley was named after the prosperous semiconductor manufacturers that were inhabiting the surrounding San Francisco area in the 1970’s. Today, as too many Silicon Valley clones are churning out too many Snapchat clones, it is time to remind ourselves what Silicon Valley was named after: An element; and there are no two elements that are alike. Silicon as an element only exists once. The periodic table is yours to experiment with.
Time to get creative. I can’t wait to hear about, better yet, be part of that journey.
On this blog I already talked about what makes a name successful and how to pick a domain name, but many of you ask if I find a fabricated name to be superior to a descriptive name, and how to best navigate the types of names that one can consider, quickly. Short and actionable, I’ll give one sentence of advice on each type of name. 3, 2, 1, go:
Advice: Great as it immediately conveys what it is/does – only if you will never expand your product offerings – but limiting and hard to find a sound domain name
Advice: Not a top choice as existing connotations, domain name difficulties and Search Engine results can quickly come in the way for a new company
Example: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Advice: Great if you are the brand, you already have a legacy and if you are Bill, and not Lance
Advice: It’s genius, of course! In all seriousness, it is a great path, if easy to pronounce and recall, and backed by a great story
Example: AOL (America On-Line, Remember?)
Advice: A solid option to sound like a larger company from the start; only if your customers can recall your letters and if you can get hold of a reasonable domain name (sorry, three- or four-letter combos are all sold out)
Example: Wanelo (Want, Need, Love)
Advice: Great option if tied to a tag line – otherwise the same criteria applies as with Fabricated names
Advice: Don’t do it, it’s pure laziness – unless word of mouth is not important to you (Wait, you spell it just like Supply but with a v instead of the u?) and you cater solely to ages 18-28
Advice: Don’t do it out of laziness (I picked our street number, easy does it) as no one will recall it – do it only if you can create shared meaning (7-Eleven: open 7 – 11, 7 days a week) or showcase value (Social 123 – easy as 1-2-3). See my post on numeric names for details.
There you go – no more excuses. Just do it, or dig deeper via our white paper, or if all fails (or you have better things to do, like starting a business) call me for help, or call us for hands-on naming magic.
Steven Balaban is the founder and CIO of Mink Capital. He has read over seventy business books in the last six years and has recently launched the site Best Business Books To Read to share his knowledge.
“I am fascinated by the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. I first learned about the watch through a social media campaign that focused on a video that shows characters in TV shows, such as The Jetsons and Star Trek, using futuristic watches. The campaign claims that “The Next Big Thing is Here” and the video definitely gives that impression!
I remember the days when I was backpacking around Europe with my old camera and eight rolls of film. Now, I can travel with a 1.9 megapixel digital camera around my wrist. Am I really that old?”
Although launched only about 3 months ago, in the cell phone and gadget market, the Galaxy Note 3 is by now light years away from being a ‘new brand.’ Steven selected a truly innovative product, one I was curious about for a while and one that makes it hard to do our job; discussing the name, identity and digital brand atmosphere. We like to be challenged:
Cell phones fall into the category Fax and Copy machines once fell into. The inaugural product name (The iPhone, The Galaxy) sound sexy and/or inspirational, and at the time the iPhone 5c and the Galaxy Note 3 launch, they turn into fax machine names. More troublesome for Samsung though is the naming strategy behind the truly innovative part, the introduction of its Smartwatch. It has been degraded to ‘Gear’. Verbatim: The Samsung Galaxy Gear. Representing the only such ‘gear’ (there is only the watch), the choice is baffling to myself and confusing to the consumer, when all they want to call it is ‘the watch’.
The name is the first step to defining a brand’s identity, and with a 4-part name the brand identity design is quite a train wreck that is as hard on the eyes as it is on your tongue. You won’t fall in love with the name, nor the logotype, so what to do? Throw in Robin Thicke, add a hashtag (#DesignYourLife) and let’s not bring up ‘Samsung Galaxy Note 3 + Gear’ too often. Nor the Jetsons, Thicke replaced you and Knight Rider as of now.
Seems as though the majority of the budget was spent on the highly produced Robin Thicke commercials, hence they occupy the landing page in its entirety. A bold move, one that leaves the user ‘interacting’ with the brand and ‘exploring’ the site, but truthfully, it means that they are lost looking for details on what the SGN3+G (Forgive me for not spelling out the full name) can really do for them. We soon learn that the site itself has been overproduced as well, taking advantage of many bells and whistles of today’s web design yet leaving functionality and plain product info, features and calls to action behind. The web site is the number one informational source for gadgets, being so cumbersome to navigate, it leaves me thinking that the SGN3+G might offer the same clunky experience.
From a brand experience perspective I might leave the ‘gear’ behind and wait for a ‘smartwatch’ after all, as there will be many to chose from shortly. For now I, and perhaps Steven, will hold off on Robin Thicke and wait patiently to live the Jetsons’ life instead.
Car names run the gamut from great names that evoke strong imagery and emotion like “Mustang” via alphanumeric naming systems to underwhelming names like “Golf” that fall flat and fail to impart a personality. What is behind these sometimes great, but more often bizarre naming strategies of these car companies? Inspired by a late night conversation I had with the CMO of a large European car brand the other day, the question lingered and I had to dig deeper:
A broad overview of naming strategies in the automotive industry reveals that mid-price companies like Volkswagen, Toyota, and the European car company Skoda opt for either using real words as names — a lá Toyota “Land Cruiser” — or made up names like Volkswagen “Jetta”. Higher-end brands like BMW and Lexus tend to use an alphanumeric naming strategy. By using real names, the consumer connects with the model of the car: A driver of a Ford Mustang is more likely to say “I drive a Mustang” as opposed to “I drive a Ford”. Alphanumeric names tend to place the emphasis on the make of the car, the brand, over the model: A driver of a Lexus is much more likely to report “I drive a Lexus” than to say “I drive an ES”. That is the power of Alphanumeric names, yet its downfall is that they offer little emotional connection to the actual car model and most often lead to frustrating confusion during the shopping process.
As you climb to the top of the pricing scale, with ultra luxury vehicles such as Bentley and Rolls Royce, the strategy of using real names and/or fabricated words for vehicles comes back into play. Words such as Phantom, Ghost, and Wraith depict the current line of Rolls Royce vehicles conveying a sense of mystery and intrigue.
Here is our round-up of the top 5 best car names and the top 5 flat tired names. We focused on ‘real’ names and not ‘auto’ names (as I may call them, pun and all) as the 750 Li Sedan (BMW) VS the IS 350 F Sport (Lexus) might have bored you.
What do you think? Did we miss any?
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.