As we begin the New Year, many entrepreneurs are looking for “the next big idea” for 2016, as in trying to find “the next Google.” How about trying to find “the next small idea” instead?
When introducing a new product or service it is usually best to think small. Thinking small requires you to be more focused and to develop a very simple idea. It also is a more budget-friendly approach to development.
Some of the best-tasting sauces are made through the process of reduction, where you simmer or boil a liquid mixture (such as wine plus seasonings) in order to thicken the sauce and intensify its flavors. When the sauce is reduced by half or two-thirds, you get a great-tasting sauce!
Developing a small idea can be done in the same manner. Identify a “pain point” for your target market, then “reduce” the idea by removing layers or steps or cutting out useless factors. By reducing the idea to its smallest essence, you’ll often find a narrowly defined need that gives your target market a real reason to buy. Once you have a small idea you’ll discover that developing messaging for this passionate consumer is also simple and straightforward.
Finally, developing a small idea often enables you to be #1, even if it is within a small group or category of product ideas. Becoming the #1 brand can lead to a very deep connection with a passionate target audience. When those passionate customers become evangelists for your brand, you may experience exponential growth in your business. In the end, you may end up with the next Google, but only if you start small!
Betty Crocker Lotion. Need I say more? This product is insane on two levels.
First of all, the person at General Mills who allowed a license to use the Betty Crocker name on a lotion product should be fired. Why would you risk the damage to a great brand name that has been used since 1921 in products that create “…convenient, delicious meals and easy-to-make, great-tasting desserts” (from the General Mills website)?
Second, the company that licensed the name Betty Crocker for use on a lotion should be forced to sit through a week of focus groups with American women evaluating this idea. I can assure you that the result of every focus group will be a brutal assessment that will be quite painful to watch.
Sometimes name development produces brand names that are subject to interpretation, but in this case, the name is so bad that the results can be predicted with near certainty. Betty Crocker Lotion is being sold in dollar stores most likely as a way to get rid of excess product that did not sell at retail.
One of the websites I read regularly had this article about “How The Clouds Got Their Names.” Fascinating. Check it out!
I’m a big fan of naming hurricanes. A hurricane is a large and significant weather system that can cause a huge loss of life and money. Naming a hurricane can provide a shortcut that leads to better communication about the danger. And besides, we humans like to have a “person” to blame. There aren’t many people in New Orleans who can say the name Katrina without cringing.
I’m not a fan of naming winter storms. The Weather Channel started naming winter storms three years ago because they felt that “…naming the storms will result in clearer communication about the systems.” Or maybe will increase ratings. Or gain sponsorships. I’m not sure which is the right reason, but I don’t like the idea of naming a snowstorm. It’s just a snowstorm already!
The Weather Channel has just released their names for 2015-16 winter storms. There are 26 names in total. They have continued their theme of using mythological names which is not surprising since “The Bozeman, Montana, High School Latin class, which provided the 2013-2014 list of winter storm names, also contributed to the 2015-2016 list.”
Here is the complete list:
I do appreciate the difficulty of coming up with unique names for each letter of the alphabet. But seriously, winter storm YOLO? They explain this one as: “An acronym for you only live once. The modern version of the Latin phrase, carpe diem, which is usually translated seize the day.”
Thanks Weather Channel. Is this a secret message to weather-weary Northeasterners to “MOVE SOUTH?” By the time we get to Y we will be on the 25th winter storm. I know that YOLO will definitely reinforce that message in my brain!
“Very superstitious, writings on the wall, Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall.”
“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.”
– Stevie Wonder lyrics for Superstition
With all due respect to Mr. Wonder, when it comes to branding, superstition may actually be the way in certain cases. Allow me to explain.
About 20 million Americans suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, or fear of Friday the Thirteenth. Before you scoff at this phobia, recognize that the American economy loses an estimated $800 to $900 million from reduced economic activity every Friday the Thirteenth (according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute of North Carolina). People who suffer from the fear of Friday the Thirteenth stay home or cancel trips on that day.
Is there any wonder why many buildings in the United States have no thirteenth floor? Would you brand something with the number 13? There is a brand of apparel called Lucky 13, but I think they are trying to negate the bad karma of 13 with the word “lucky.”
Or maybe you have heard of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (fear of the number 666 aka “the mark of the beast”)? The folks at Zillow.com examined real estate sale of homes with “666” in the list price, and found that those houses sold for 3.2% less than other similar homes (Zillow’s home page is http://zillow.com). However, that phobia did not stop the makers of 666 Cough and Cold Products from branding their products with it (I guess for when you have the devil of a cold?).
The number 7 is thought to be a lucky number, and some brands have embraced it. For example, Boots calls its skin care line No7 because the number seven was, at one time, used to denote perfection.
“7 for all mankind” is a high fashion denim clothier whose jeans (nicknamed “sevens”) have “…graced the bodies of notable female celebrities that include Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Jessica Alba, and Kate Bosworth” according to their website. There are many more examples of “7” brands.
Sometimes marketers can make a major error in branding if they are not aware of the superstitions of their target consumers. For example, if you are selling a product in an area of the US where there are significant numbers of Chinese-Americans, you may be aware of the “lucky” connotations of using the number “8,” which is pronounced “bā” in Mandarin and sounds very similar to the Mandarin word for “prosper” or “wealth.” However, you should probably avoid use of the number “4” which is considered unlucky because it is pronounced similarly to a word that means “death.” As proof, Zillow.com calculates that in areas where the Chinese population is great than ten percent, homes with a “4” in the list price garner sales prices that are 1% lower versus the estimated sales price, while having an “8” in the list price translates to an increase of 1.5% versus the estimated sales price.
Does superstition matter? Apparently it does to some people. And if those people happen to be in your target market, then you should probably pay attention to it!
Donald Trump is the leader in the race for the Republican nomination for President. A CNN/ORD national survey (conducted after his comments about John McCain) puts Donald Trump ahead with the support of 18% of Republicans, Jeb Bush at 15% and Scott Walker at 10%.
Why is the Trump brand doing so well?
Donald Trump is a celebrity and he has the highest name recognition of any of the candidates by far. A recent Gallup poll puts Trump’s name identification among Republicans at 92%. In fact, a poll by CNN found that only 1% of Americans had never heard of Donald Trump. Is his celebrity fame and name recognition driving his lead in the polls?
As a branding expert, I must say that celebrity fame and name recognition are certainly good. However, everyone has heard of Caitlyn (aka Bruce) Jenner and Kim Kardashian and you would not see them at the top of the polls if they were running for President. Clearly there is something more than just awareness.
I believe it is caused by Trump’s superior execution of a classic marketing technique: understanding your Target Audience. Trump knows he is not going to win over the politicos or the Washington Insiders. Instead, he speaks to the “common man.” His campaign features themes that the common man talks to his buddies about at the bar (but they never mention when they are in public). Trump has even branded this group as “the silent majority.” Trump is a smart marketer who understands his Target Audience!
For example, Trump constantly rails against the “Washington Insiders.” He says he’s fed up with Congress and is tired of “…being pushed around, kicked around, and acting and being led by stupid people.” Attacking the incumbents is often a good election strategy, but Trump has taken that tactic to a new level. Only 16% of Republicans feel like they’re being well represented in Washington (CNN poll), so Trump speaks to the other 84%.
Trump is appealing to what Victor David Hanson of PJ Media calls the “fed-up crowd.” “The fed-up crowd likes the payback of watching blood sport in an arena where niceties just don’t apply anymore,” he writes. “They enjoy the smug getting their comeuppance, as an uncouth, bull-headed Trump charges about, snorting and spearing liberal pieties and more sober and judicious Republicans at random.”
The Washington Free Beacon’s Editor Matthew Continetti calls Trump’s supporters the “radical middle”, who in years past embraced Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Ross Perot. “That Trump is not a conservative, nor by any means a mainstream Republican, is not a minus but a plus to the radical middle,” he continues. “These voters are culturally right but economically left; they depend on the New Deal and parts of the Great Society, are estranged from the fiscal and monetary agendas of the Economist and Wall Street Journal. What they lack in free market bona fides they make up for in their romantic fantasy of the patriotic tycoon or general, the fixer, the Can Do Man who will cut the baloney and Get Things Done.”
Trump is a smart and powerful businessman who understands Marketing 101. Understand your Target Market and give them what they want. It is a pretty straightforward formula for success in the marketplace. Is Trump a “lock” for the Republican nomination? It is pretty early in the game to call it, but I’m not betting against him!
I’m often asked by companies if they should change the name of a product, service or even the company itself. Here is my shortlist of 10 really good reasons to change your name:
1. People Can’t Pronounce or Spell Your Name – Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year: Zairge; Xwerks; Synthorx. If no one can pronounce or spell your name how do you expect people to remember it?
2. Your Name Requires Explanation – Xobni (pronounced “zob-nee”) was founded in 2006 and made software for mobile and email applications. The founders of Xobni loved the name because it was inbox spelled backwards. However, without an explanation, most consumers could not “get it.”
3. Your Name Is Generic Or Descriptive – If your product is called “Fast Chop” because “fast chopping” is the main benefit of your product, you may think you have a great name. But if your competitive set consists of products called EZ Chop, Speed Chop, QuickChop, and TurboChop then nobody is going to notice it. Advertising will be wasted because even if consumers think “Fast Chop” is great when they get to the shelf they will be confused by all the similar names and products. If your name does not stand out versus your competition you had better change it.
4. You Have A New Target Or Strategy That Won’t Fit Your Current Name – Speaking at Macworld Expo in 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple was dropping the word “Computer” from its name. “The Mac, iPod, Apple TV and iPhone. Only one of those is a computer. So we’re changing the name,” said Jobs. Today, Apple is a powerhouse of consumer electronics and is a great example of why a strategy change should drive a name change!
5. Your Name And Current Brand Identity/Execution Clash – In 2003 the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, officially changed its name to Altria Group. While some considered this a PR maneuver to distance the company from its tobacco heritage, CEO Louis Camilleri said that the name change was “an important milestone” in the evolution of the company. “It doesn’t signify an end or a beginning,” he said. “Rather, it marks how far we have come and gives us a framework for how much further we aim to go.” The sleek and modern Altria Group has been a star performer in the stock market since this name change.
6. You Are Ready To Enter The Big Leagues – Larry Page and Sergey Brin started a search engine called BackRub. A year later they changed the name to Google, which reflected their mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. Blue Ribbon Sports was founded on January 25, 1964. The company, started by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, officially became Nike, Inc. on May 30, 1971. Sometimes the name you start with is not one you want to use when raising money from the investment community!
7. You Can Add A Relevant Benefit To Aid Recall & Persuasion – Diet Deluxe was the name for a new frozen entree company which was renamed Healthy Choice to add a benefit to the product name. Sound of Music operated nine stores throughout Minnesota in 1978. After a tornado hit their largest store, the owner decided to have a “Tornado Sale” of damaged and excess stock in the damaged store’s parking lot promising “best buys” on everything. After Sound of Music made more money during the four-day sale than it did in a typical month, the company was renamed Best Buy. Is there a relevant benefit in your name? Should there be?
8. Your Current Name Is An Ego Trip – The biggest factor in selling or gaining an investment in your business is the degree to which the business can operate without you. If your name is the business name, then growth and investment will be limited. Subway started out as “Pete’s Super Submarines” in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Do you think that Subway would have grown as fast if it were still called Pete’s Super Submarines?
9. Your Current Name Is An Acronym – Sometimes the acronym represents the initials of the owners (e.g., A&W Restaurants after Roy Allen and Frank Wright). Sometimes the acronym is a shortening of a larger name (e.g., Aflac is the first letters of American Family Life Assurance Company). Acronym brand names are almost always bad. Not only do they take years of advertising to establish, the risk of mis-pronunciation is huge and can often cause negative brand equity. SAP is the market leader in enterprise applications and software. Their primary competitor, Oracle, loves to use the “sap” pronunciation and SAP-haters say the acronym stands for “Sad And Pathetic.”
10. Your Name Is Not Likeable – What is the “Acid Test” response? If you expose the name to your target customer and she smiles when she hears it or says, “That’s a great name!” without thinking about it, then you may have a winner on your hands. On the other hand, if she has a puzzled look or a negative reaction, you might want to consider a change. I also count “polite indifference” as a failure. If people have no reaction, then they are probably too polite to tell you how bad it is. And please do not expose the name only to friends and family. These people are programmed to be nice to you and so you won’t get honest feedback. If your name does not bring a smile to your customer’s face, then maybe you should change it.
Of course, each situation is unique and there are always costs to changing a name that should be considered. Are there other situations where changing a name can be a good idea?
I’m often hired for name development by entrepreneurs who are starting a business. However, many founders take the “do-it-yourself” approach to name development. Sometimes that works for them, but all too often they make a horrible mistake that is easily preventable.
My basis for this conclusion?
Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year (data from CrunchBase.com):
I defy you to guess what the business is selling. Go ahead…try…I’ll wait. Can’t do it? I’m not surprised. You won’t get a clue from the name, and unless you already know about these companies you are taking a wild guess.
I’m not picking on these companies for their names because there are many others with similarly confusing names. For the record, Zairge (zairge.com) is a mobile property management system that simplifies and accelerates productivity for the owner, employee and guest. Xwerks (xwerks.com) offers elite nutrition for elite athletes. Synthorx (synthorx.com) is a biotechnology company using synthetic biology to synthesize solutions.
While I have no information about how the names for these companies were developed, I strongly suspect they may have fallen into the “.com conundrum.” Many startup companies I work with insist on having a one word name with one or two syllables that has a .com website available. That virtually guarantees the use of nonsensical clusters of letters that result in a name without relevance. Letting the availability of a .com domain drive your name selection is a huge branding mistake.
Consider these names of these other startup companies from CrunchBase.com:
These three have nice, short, memorable names. They are common words that are easy to pronounce, read and spell. Beep is a startup that sells a device that facilitates synchronized music in every room. Shout builds marketplaces for passionate people. Swish offers mobile payment solutions. In each of these cases, the company has chosen a relevant name that builds a brand around the benefits that their product offers. But because they chose a common word they don’t have the “exact word” .com address.
So which is better: Having a simple, easy-to-pronounce name that has meaning, or having a name that gets you a one word .com address? My 25+ years of branding experience tells me that a name that has meaning is infinitely more important than a name chosen because you can get a single word .com address.
You can ALWAYS get a .com address that makes sense. The websites for Beep, Shout and Swish are: are www.thisisbeep.com, http://useshout.com, and http://swishme.com. The companies have found a clever way to get a meaningful name AND a relevant website.
You can do the same. Add “my” or “the” to the front of your name or add “online” or “world” to the end of it. If you need other ideas give me a shout and I’ll help.
But please don’t pick a name that looks like a random selection from alphabet soup just because you can get a .com domain. You will only create confusion and that is never a good thing.
A recent report by NPR indicated that the tremendous growth in craft breweries (now over 3000 of them) has resulted in them running out of names for their beers. Here is the complete story:
Of course this is utter nonsense. Brewers will always be able to find unique names. They just may not be able to use the names that are top of mind. It won’t be easy. Hint, hire some professional help!
For example, the article says that numerous “hop” names are already trademarked. “Hopscotch” is a popular name with many breweries using this name. Another popular name is some variation of IPA “Bitter End.”
Here is a novel idea…why not develop a strategic naming approach that leverages the brewery and develops a family approach to name development? As an example, look at the Russian River Microbrewer. As of today they have 21 beers on tap. The names include Pliny The Elder, Row 2, Hill 56, Blind Pig I.P.A. and Dribble Belt. In short, it looks like they are pulling names out of a hat. There is no consistent approach to naming. The end result is a trademark attorney’s delight because eventually they will hit a conflict (and may not know it).
But if they took a strategic approach to naming they could do two important things. First of all, they would build a brand. Second, they could put a stake in the ground that protects their names.
Here is one method that would yield ownable names for the Russian River Brewing Company. Use the “Russian” theme in all the names. You could use the brute force method and call your beers “Russian River IPA” or “Russian River Blond Ale.” Or you could shortcut Russian River by using the initials RR in the name. A more discreet way to brand the brewery would be to use Russian names as names for the beers. Here are some female Russian names that could be great beer names:
Are craft brewers running out of names? Nah. Will craft brewers have to work harder to get beer names that will pass trademark scrutiny? You betcha. I look forward to helping a few develop great names (and BTW, I’m open to a barter arrangement!).