Recently I discovered a wonderful infographic on the different meanings of colors in various cultures. It got me thinking that people who are branding a product, service or company might be unintentionally offending some of their potential customers. In the use of colors for example, Westerners/Americans would consider grey to be a good logo color to show respect, but in Japan the color for respect would be white and in China it would be yellow. Grey in Japan would be more aligned with words like modesty or reliability.
Sometimes the potential for offending your target customer is obvious. For example, Assitalia is one of the biggest insurance companies in Italy. I am sure the company developed its name without thinking about international considerations and in Italy the name is fine. But if they ever wanted to expand to an English speaking country…well, let’s just say there might be a problem.
But sometimes the potential for offending your customer is less obvious. Most of the large companies I work with agree to conduct foreign language checks to ensure that the names have no problematic connotations in the major foreign languages. In one instance that prevented us from making a major mistake. It turns out one of the names we developed had an obscure slang reference in the Spanish language to a body part that…well, let’s just say it was not a good choice of name.
Some of my smaller clients do not want to do foreign language checks because they are not planning to sell internationally. That is a mistake! Even if you have no plans to sell your product internationally, you need to beware of potential unintended consequences of your actions.
For example, people of Hispanic or Latino origin in the US represent over 17% of the population. What if you unintentionally chose a name that had a bad (but not obvious) connotation in the Spanish language? Would you like to offend over 17% of your potential market?
It is relatively easy to investigate potential unintended language consequences. There are linguistic companies or freelancers who will do this work for a reasonable fee. You can also try to do it yourself if you know different native language speakers. Just ask them questions like:
• How is this word pronounced by a native speaker of your language?
• Is this word similar in sound or appearance to other words in your language? If so, what do those words mean?
• Are there any inappropriate associations with this word? Is this word similar to any slang terms of the language?
Finally, if you want to check to see if a common word is being used as slang for something else in the English language you can always check the Urban Dictionary. However, be aware that, even though the Urban Dictionary is regulated by volunteer editors (similar to Wikipedia), some of the content of the Urban Dictionary is sexual in nature (for adults only!).
There is a new drug for overactive bladder with the brand name Myrbetriq. I don’t know about you, but my first thought upon hearing the brand name was “HUH?” What is a Myrbetriq? How do I pronounce it? Surprisingly, the FAQ section on their website does not have a “how to pronounce Myrbetriq” button but the physician website does, and it is pronounced “meer-BEH-trick.”
I’ve named Rx drugs before and I can tell you that the landscape is not a simple one due to numerous FDA regulations about implying benefits in the name, as well as potential trademark issues. However, I have never resorted to choosing random letters out of a hat…which is the only explanation I can come up with for why Astellas Pharma US, Inc. chose this name. Clearly the person who chose this name was not aware of the science behind complex and/or difficult-to-pronounce names.
Science is solidly in the camp of simple brand names. A study (1) at the University of Michigan looked at fluency, familiarity and risk perception in names. Speciﬁcally, in one study, the researchers asked participants to rate the potential harm of food additives with easy-to-pronounce or difﬁcult-to-pronounce names. Consumers consistently rated names that were difficult to pronounce as being more risky than those additives with names that were easy to pronounce. In another study, the researchers asked people to assess amusement park rides with easy-to-pronounce or difﬁcult-to-pronounce names as to whether the ride would be adventurous and exciting or too risky and likely to make them sick. Consistent with the food additive study, difficult-to-pronounce names led to more people thinking the ride was too risky and likely to make them sick. The researchers concluded that “people perceive disfluently processed stimuli as riskier than fluently processed stimuli.” In other words, if it is difficult to pronounce then it must be risky.
Given this conclusion, the makers of Myrbetriq should have branded their drug with a friendlier, easy-to-pronounce name since some consumers may be reluctant to try a drug with such a difficult-to-pronounce name!
Almost everyone loves a good magician. The magician’s sleight of hand technique in making a coin or playing card disappear delights us, as we usually take pleasure in being fooled in this manner. Once fooled, our brain rapidly kicks into gear and tries to figure out how he or she did the trick. Sometimes you figure it out, and then you get even greater pleasure. But even when you can’t figure it out, you are amazed!
Magic tricks only work if two things occur. First, the magician must divert your attention away from where the actual trick is happening, and second, your brain must fill in any missing information by combining what you already know with whatever you perceive at that very moment.
The science behind this “filling in process” by the brain is fascinating (read the Discover magazine article referenced at the end of this post). The sub-headline of the article says it all… “The eye and brain work in a partnership to interpret conflicting signals from the outside world. Ultimately, we see whatever our brains think we should.”
Truth be told, the magician is not creating the illusion–your brain is creating the illusion that something has happened (when in reality the magician has done something else). Using this technique from magic can lead to powerful branding.
This “filling in” process has been shown in numerous studies to be important to generating lasting recall and favorable persuasion. If the person’s brain is engaged and filling in the gaps, then the person will remember the experience and be favorable towards it.
Let’s say you want to name a new product (or it could be a service or a company or something else). A strong name for this product would give the consumer enough information about the product so that the consumer’s brain is engaged and starts to fill in the missing information, just as it would if you were viewing a magic trick. This was validated in a study in The Journal of Consumer Research in 2005 where the investigators looked at differences in names for crayons. The findings indicate that consumers preferred “slightly ambiguous” names such as “Blue Haze” or “Alpine Snow” to plain descriptive names such as “Blue” or “White” because the engagement of the brain with a slightly ambiguous name causes the brain tries to complete the “puzzle,” which leads to stronger recall and persuasion.
A great brand name will provide some sense of perspective to the target customer and the product itself, but it won’t provide the whole story. A great name leaves enough to the imagination so your brain gets engaged in the product/name combination and makes you curious about a product and willing to investigate it further. Just as a magician would tantalize your brain with enough “facts” and cause your brain to “fill in” the rest of the story, a great brand name is magical.
Apologies to Dishwalla for borrowing the lyrics from their hit song “Counting Blue Cars,” but this lyric is actually a wonderful observation of human nature. It is also representative of a common mistake in naming. Nobody counts white cars. So why do so many companies give their products generic or descriptive “white car” names? I face this issue regularly with clients.
Most clients lean towards generic or descriptive names despite the obvious issues with trademarks. They want to name their product “Fast Chop” because “fast chopping” is the main benefit of their product. The obvious reason why clients prefer generic or descriptive names is simple: they believe it saves on advertising costs. Every package of their product is a descriptive billboard that communicates their main benefit!
What they fail to consider that most times their competitive set consists of products called EZ Chop, Speed Chop, QuickChop, TurboChop, etc. To the end consumer, “Fast Chop” is a white car in a sea of white cars. Nobody is going to notice “Fast Chop” even if the name is prominent on the package. Any advertising that is done will be wasted as well. Consumers will think the product is great, but when they get to the shelf they will be confused by all the similar names and similar products.
If all you see all day is white cars, but one day you see a blue car…I bet that would get your attention, wouldn’t it?
Keep your competitive framework top-of-mind when considering the name of your product or business. Don’t settle for a “white car” name if the market consists of white car names. Insist on a blue car name…one that communicates the product benefits in a unique way.
No, I’m not talking about Dallas. Nor am I referring to the hip hop rap MC of the same name. I’m talking about Differentiation. If you understand this Big D, then you will have a real key to building your business.
Full disclosure: I consider myself a disciple of Al Ries and Jack Trout. They are true “Marketing Gods” for their work in Positioning and Brand Development. I first read “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” in the early 80’s and have referred to it regularly since then.
I recently had two very different name development jobs that presented a wide spectrum of name potential. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but the situations were real.
One client wanted a descriptive name for a product that would exist in a category of descriptive brand names. To exaggerate, the client wanted a “Fast Pain Relief” name in a category with brands like “Ultra Fast Pain Relief,” “Super Fast Pain Relief,” “Faster Than Everyone Else Relief,” etc.
Another client wanted a made up name that had no reference to the product or category. I’m talking about names like “Blue Elephant” for a pain relief product. Sometimes this naming strategy makes sense, but not in his product category. He had a real opportunity to become the market-defining product by choosing a name that helped consumers understand the benefits of using the product.
I always present a wide range of options for names because I want the client to see the possibilities. However, I always recommend an approach based on a strategic examination of the market in which the product competes, and that is where the Big D comes into play.
To help you in this task, consider using tools that can identify ways to differentiate. I recently discovered this highly visual approach…check it out and see if this could work for you:
Sadly, my story about Differentiation in names has an unhappy ending. Neither of my clients chose to differentiate their products with names that would enable them to stand out in the crowd. “Mr. Descriptive Name” chose a descriptive name for his product, and “Mr. Wild Card” chose a wild card name. As a result, each of their products now has an uphill battle in marketing because the names they chose are not differentiated versus the competition. So choose wisely and think “Differentiation” when branding!
Back in the mid-2000s, A.G. Lafley (during his first tour of duty as CEO of P&G) championed the “First Moment of Truth” which represented the time when people are looking at the store shelf and trying to decide whether to buy the product.
Later, P&G emphasized the “Second Moment of Truth,” which is when people try the product at home, to rationalize why they spend oodles of money on Research & Development.
Google VP-U.S. Sales and Service Jim Lecinski jumped back in time to coin “ZMOT,” for the “Zero Moment of Truth,” which is the time when people research a purchase online before shopping for the product. By the way, if you have not read Jim’s book you must do so. It is a free download.
As a professional name developer I believe there is an even more important moment of truth. I call it the Minus One Moment of Truth™ and I believe it can help guide the choice of a name for your company, product or service.
What is the Minus One Moment of Truth? It is the very first time your prospective target customer hears of your company, product or service. If you are choosing a name for your company, product or service, please do the necessary research to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for your key target customers, because understanding it will yield a lot of clues for your name choice (and your marketing).
For example, let’s say you are developing a new name for a plumbing service. You have done the research and discovered that the vast majority of new customers hear of your company through recommendations of other satisfied customers. In this case, your Minus One Moment of Truth is the instant that George tells Sam that his plumbing is leaking and Sam tells George that he should call “XYZ Plumbers” because they will do the work fast and won’t charge you an arm and a leg (or whatever your unique points of difference are). The conclusion from this example is your name had better be easy to remember because you are relying on Sam to convey the information to George and for George to remember it until he can contact the plumber.
How can things go wrong in this example? Well, what if George does not remember the exact name but remembers that the plumber was supposed to be inexpensive? He uses Google to search for inexpensive plumbers in his area and finds Affordable Plumbers, Discount Plumbers, Cheapskate Plumbers, and SaveMore Plumbers. Here is where failure in the Minus One Moment of Truth leads to a disaster in the Zero Moment of Truth. If George can’t remember the name from his first encounter with Sam, then XYZ Plumbers loses because Google will provide many alternatives. Clearly XYZ Plumbers needs a name that conveys its unique point of difference in a way that will make the Minus One Moment of Truth a memorable event.
Here is another example. Jenny is an artist who wants to rename her art business. She spends a lot of weekends at art fairs around the country and she also has an Etsy e-commerce store. What is her Minus One Moment of Truth? In looking at her business, she believes the Minus One Moment of Truth happens on her Etsy storefront as the Etsy store is her biggest sales volume generator. So she thinks that she needs a name that will search well and therefore she wants to include keywords that relate to her inventory. I’m not going to argue against that approach, but I will point out that she needs to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for her business. Do the people who buy her product come from searches on Google or Etsy, or do they come from people who have met her in person at the art fairs? If the former, then yes by all means consider inclusion of relevant keywords. If the latter, keywords may not be that important because the Etsy sales are generated by people who met her in person. These people are likely to get her business card and be driven to her web presence by that connection, so perhaps the new business name can be something memorable about her as an artist.
I’m not suggesting that you should violate the fundamentals of developing a good name (and my “Top 5” fundamentals of name selection are shown below). But I am suggesting that you understand your target market and how they first hear of you and then apply these fundamentals:
Fundamentals of a Good Name:
1. Is simple and concise (easy to pronounce, read and spell).
2. Is legally available from a trademark standpoint and has domain name options.
3. Is differentiated versus competition in the category.
4. Is easy to remember.
5. Delivers the idea or concept behind the product or conveys something real and specific about the product.
So don’t name your business, product or service without considering where your target customer first hears the name…the Minus One Moment of Truth!
So Apple is launching a new "lower cost" iPhone later this fall. They are planning to call it the iPhone 5C according to the Business Insider tech blog.
So what does the "C" stand for?
Apple claims it is for Color because this plastic backed phone will be available in a wide range of colors.
Consumers might interpret the "C" in a different way…C = Cheap?
What's your call? My 2 cents say Apple could be making a dumb decision…even if they prevail and advertise that "C = Color" the marketplace will call it C = Cheap. Or maybe C = Confused?
Not a smart decision by Apple.
Well, it hasn’t been long since we had the Royal Naming of the Royal Baby: George Alexander Louis. His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, to be exact.
Across the pond the Brits are touting the historical significance of the name, while here in America many people are laughing. And the fact that the name has a serious Seinfeld angle is only making it worse (George Louis Constanza was the character played by actor Jason Alexander, so this character has 3 out of 5 of the names).
Prince William and Duchess Kate did not just pull names out of a hat. They really worked hard to come up with names that had meaning, not unlike the way I work for my clients as a professional name developer. Personally, I think they made a great choice, but you have to keep these 3 important branding factors in mind:
- Cultural Factors – We are talking about possibly the future King of England, not a sitcom character. Americans might find the name amusing, but I am certain British Royalty could care. An important rule of name development is to make sure the name is relevant for the Target Audience you care about. Score: William/Kate 1 Everyone Else 0
- Names With Deep Resonance – No fewer than six British kings have borne the name "George.” In addition, its personal symbolism for Prince William made it an obvious pick for months in betting pools across the country. The last King George was George VI, Prince William's great-grandfather, whose valiant battle with a speech impediment when he inherited the throne after his brother's abdication was dramatized in the Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech." Picking a name with such deep resonance is hard to do but it looks like they did it, and the relevant Target Audience will remember the name because of it. Score: William/Kate 2 Everyone Else 0
- The Power of the Master Brand – If you think anyone in the relevant Target Audience is going to call this kid George Alexander Louis, you are wrong. He will be known as Prince George. Sounds a lot better, eh? People in the US forgot that there was a powerful Master Brand operating here…Prince will precede the baby’s name forevermore. Game, set, match to William & Kate.
In conclusion, I believe that the Royal Family did a great job in picking the name of the Royal Baby. What do you think?