Sometimes a company will choose a “Blink” name for its product or service. Blink names are simple, straightforward and usually descriptive of what the product is or does. For example, you don’t have to think a lot about the name Zyliss gave their food chopper: Easy Chop, which pretty much says everything you need to know about this product. It easily chops food.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote Blink which covered in detail those decisions made in an instant. Gladwell’s premise is that in seconds a person can form an intuitive first impression that can be more valid than a carefully considered, well-thought-out, researched conclusion. Your unconscious brain takes over, which is exactly what happens with a Blink name. Your brain says “got it, now move on” in a matter of seconds.
Blink names are quite popular because companies want to save money in marketing their brands. Clients who choose a Blink name are essentially saying “I don’t have a lot of money to create meaning for a name, so I’m going to choose a name that is so simple even a caveman could get it instantly.” Blink names are like “tequila shots” as they are simple, quick and effective.
But there are a few issues with Blink names. First of all, you generally will have little differentiation by using a Blink name. As proof, here are a few competitors of the Easy Chop food chopper:
Not only is this a trademark minefield, there is the potential for substantial consumer confusion. Imagine your customer going to the store and looking for the Easy Chop product. Because the name is a generic description of the product function, he/she may get lost in the competitive confusion and end up buying the wrong product.
Another problem with Blink names is the potential for lack of registration in long-term memory. If the name of your product or service gets the “Blink treatment” it may be in and out of the brain so quickly that it just does not register, and therefore won’t be available for recall later when your customer is shopping.
“Think” names are different. A Think name causes you to pause and consider it because the meaning of the name is deeper than a Blink name. Think names engage the brain in a way that enhances memorability. They are like the “single malt scotch” that you savor and enjoy as it unfolds.
Sticking with the food chopper category, consider the name The Pampered Chef uses for its food chopper: Cutting Edge. This name is a Think name because it causes you to think about how a futuristic term (e.g., the cutting edge of technology) can apply to a mundane product such as a food chopper. By making an in-depth connection (something like: cutting edge => high tech => better design => improved performance => Cutting Edge food chopper is better), your brain has expended a sufficient amount of effort to store away the complex meaning behind the name, which enhances recall and persuasion for the product.
Think names generally require more marketing investment to register in the minds of consumers. To get Monster.com established as a premier job hunting site took a lot more investment than JobHunt.com.
But don’t go too far with Think names. If you make people work too hard to get the meaning behind the name, you will lose them and perhaps even anger them. In the food chopper category, the Starfrit Swizzz Prozzz Chopper is a great example of this. Sure, the name stands out because the use of “-zzz” is quite unusual, but “-zzz” does not have a lot of relevance for food choppers (certainly not as much as it does for sleep products, e.g., ZzzQuil® sleep aid). People will think about the name but in the end will decide it does not make sense, so they will reject it.
In my book, The Science of Branding, I discussed a study in The Journal of Consumer Research in 2005 where the researchers looked at the impact of Think names (aka ambiguous names). The researchers used crayon colors as a proxy for the trend in ambiguous brand names in all types of product categories (such as Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream). The standard Crayola® Crayon color palette contains over 130 colors including ambiguously named colors such as purple heart, razzmatazz, and fuzzy wuzzy brown. The researchers developed a 2×2 grid for categorizing color names based on whether they are typical or atypical and specific or unspecific. The resulting categorization put the Crayola names into 4 categories:
Common (typical, unspecific; e.g., dark green, light yellow)
Common Descriptive (typical, specific; e.g., pine green, lemon yellow)
Unexpected Descriptive (atypical, specific; e.g., Kermit green, rainslicker yellow)
Ambiguous (atypical, unspecific; e.g., friendly green, party yellow)
The researchers then measured how the names impact consumers’ product perceptions and purchase intentions. The results suggest that color names can influence purchase intent, and that this effect is related to the typicality and specificity (or lack thereof) of the names. In general, consumers preferred ambiguous names to plain descriptive names. But completely ambiguous names without some reference (e.g., Party Yellow) can be very confusing to consumers unless there is additional information provided.
The scientists speculate that the use of ambiguous and unexpected names creates a “mind puzzle” that the customer will have to solve. When the customer makes the connection and understands why the name was chosen, he/she will have higher recall of the name and positive attributions to the product. If you use a slightly ambiguous name, the consumer might actually enjoy the “mind puzzle” and won’t have to work too hard to get your point. When consumers solve the puzzle, they will then have a sense of accomplishment because they were able to figure it out. However, if you use a truly ambiguous name (such as Party Yellow), consumers may just get frustrated, confused and move on.
While I am an advocate for Think names, I recognize that certain situations might require a Blink name. If you are using a Blink name, you need to ensure that your customer sees the branding in a way that makes it stand out from the crowd and be recognized. For example, consider the Slap Chop food chopper. The Slap Chop name by itself might be perceived as a Blink name because that is how you operate hand choppers…you slam down the chopping mechanism onto the item you are chopping. But what makes the Slap Chop product stand out is its infomercial. Once you’ve seen it you won’t forget the name.
When a prospective client tells me that his/her product is “meant for everyone” I have to bite my tongue. You cannot target everyone. But that does not stop clients from trying to do so!
The main reason clients want to target everyone is they do not want to eliminate any customers from consideration. Let’s be clear – picking a target market is not about refusing to sell to anyone. Rather, it is all about deciding how to position your business and making sure that the right messages are delivered to the right consumers at the right time.
The other end of the targeting spectrum is “me,” as in clients who say that their product is for “people like me.” There is only one person like “me” and a target market of one person won’t generate a lot of business.
So how do you find your ideal target market somewhere between “me” and “everyone?”
The rule of thumb is to identify the smallest possible group of people who are united by some commonalities that will cause them to be motivated by your messaging. If you have a concise, well-defined target market you will be able to consistently delight your customers by providing them with meaningful value that meets their specific needs.
I’m an advocate of consumer research to gain an understanding of your target market. By asking the right questions, you can gain an in-depth understanding of the customers who are most likely to be attracted to your product. You need to gather customer demographics (e.g., gender, age, income, geographic location, etc.), beliefs (e.g., attitudes and behaviors), and a basic understanding of their “story” (motivations and concerns). Done correctly, research can provide a very specific understanding of your target market’s goals and challenges, and an understanding of how your product or service can help them, which will be an invaluable resource when developing your messaging.
Failing to identify the proper target market can be a multi-billion dollar mistake. Here is an example where better targeting could have resulted in billions of dollars:
Roy Raymond had an embarrassing experience trying to buy lingerie for his wife in 1977, so he decided to launch a lingerie shop geared toward men to make them more comfortable in buying lingerie. While his Victoria’s Secret store led to a multi-million dollar business, he missed the multi-billion dollar opportunity in lingerie. Despite his successful launch of a lucrative retail concept and expansion to a mail-order catalog business, he was selling to the wrong target audience for the wrong reasons. Women buy way more lingerie than men do, and the primary reason lingerie is purchased is not to make men happy, but rather because it makes women feel more confident. When Victoria’s Secret fell on hard times, Leslie Wexner (CEO of The Limited) bought the business and totally repositioned the company and its products to women. Today Victoria’s Secret is a multi-billion dollar megabrand.
I strongly encourage clients to thoroughly understand their target market before spending significant effort in marketing.
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!
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!).