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What Can A Magician Teach Us About Branding?

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.



The Halo Effect of a Great Name

Tom Cruise is 5’ 7” tall, but you would never know it based on the way Hollywood portrays him in the movies. Just look at his relative height in these scenes from some of his movies.

Hollywood uses technical tricks like having the leading man stand on “apple boxes” or wear lift shoes, or have the supporting cast slouch or always be seen in a sitting position. Why does Hollywood do this? It’s because we all love a tall, dark and handsome leading man. There is a real “height bias” that demonstrates the principle of the “halo effect.” If the leading man is tall you will attribute other things to his character such as power, leadership, and positive emotions (i.e., the halo effect of height).

There are many scientific studies that prove this point. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, scientists Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable followed 8,500 British and American citizens through their lives and found that height was strongly correlated with business success. In fact, every inch of height above six feet earns a person, on average, an extra $789 per year.

Beauty is another factor that produces a halo effect. Various studies have proven that beautiful students get better grades than not so beautiful ones, and that good-looking criminals get lighter sentences than ugly criminals do for the same crimes.

The name you choose for your product, service, or company also carries a halo effect onto your business. Because the name is most often the first thing people will hear about you, impressions start to form the second they hear the name.

A great example of this halo effect is Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar was formed in 1925 out of the merger between Holt Tractor Company and Best Tractor Company (these companies were named after their founders Benjamin Holt and C. L. Best). According to company history, company photographer Charles Clements was reported to have observed that its tractor crawled like a caterpillar, and Holt seized on the metaphor. “Caterpillar it is. That’s the name for it!” So today if you have a choice between Caterpillar and Kubota construction equipment, which would you choose? Probably more often than not, you’d take the one with the halo effect of the caterpillar because being able to crawl over obstacles on a construction site is a primary benefit of the product.

Think about starting a new computer business in the competitive environment of companies with cold, technical names such as IBM, DEC and Cincom. What would you call your company? Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak decided on Apple Computers. In Steve Jobs’ biography, Jobs said he suggested Apple Computers because he thought the name sounded “fun, spirited, and not intimidating” (halo effect at work). Reportedly, Jobs and Wozniak considered alternate brand names such as Executex and Matrix Electronics, but settled on Apple. With the name Apple, they benefitted from the halo effect for their simple, accessible and affordable computer.

So the next time you have a naming challenge, don’t lean towards generic or descriptive names. Instead, go for a higher level name that carries a positive halo effect and enables you to stand out from your competitors. You should have an easier time getting a trademark (compared to generic or descriptive names), and you will also benefit from the halo effect in your marketing efforts.


What Can Batting Practice Teach Us About Marketing?

Since Spring Training is now in full swing (no pun intended), I thought I would use a baseball analogy to introduce a marketing concept. In a baseball game it is common for a player to go to the “on-deck circle” when awaiting his/her turn at bat. While in the circle, the player usually puts a weight on the bat and swings the weighted bat around a few times.

Psychologists would call this a demonstration of the principle of perceptual contrast. It is hard to observe an object in a vacuum because everything is considered in comparison to everything else. The weighted bat feels heavy, which then makes the unweighted bat feel lighter, thus making players believe they have a “faster bat” or a quicker swing.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said “Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures.” In my profession of brand development, the relative nature of product names is solid rationale for in-depth consideration of the competitive set.

An experiment by psychologists Zakary Tormala and Richard Petty applied the principle of perceptual contrast by measuring persuasion based on the amount of information people think they have about something in relation to the amount of information they learn about something else. The researchers asked people to read a persuasive message for two fictitious department stores, Brown’s and Smith’s. The message for Brown’s was always the second one read and never changed during the experiment; it described three departments of Brown’s. The message for Smith’s, which was always read first, varied from discussing one department through discussing six departments of Smith’s. Not surprisingly, the respondents felt more knowledgeable about Brown’s after learning relatively little about Smith’s, and vice versa, which demonstrates the principle of perceptual contrast.

By using perceptual contrast, you can change how others think about the brand name you develop. For example, in a previous Duets Blog post on Differentiation, I  discussed the client I had who 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. I always present a wide range of options for names because I want the client to see the possibilities. However, in this case, the client selected a highly descriptive name that was similar to the other names in the category and now faces the uphill battle of driving differentiation through excellent marketing.  A well-differentiated name choice would have given him a head start.

What is a “best practice” case for use of perceptual contrast? Apple was an unusual name for a computer company, but it did stand out in a world of highly technical names such as Microsoft and VisiCalc. Perceptual contrast further enhanced the name choice by using competitive technical gibberish as the “weight on the bat” to help sell the simplicity of an Apple Computer. Check out this review of historical Apple ads and notice how the game changed even more when Apple introduced the “Think Different” campaign. The evolution of Apple advertising is a wonderful example of perceptual contrast in action!


We Count Only Blue Cars

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.


The Big D

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!



The Minus One Moment of Truth – The Answer to Your Naming Challenge

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!


What Does Apple iPhone 5C Mean?

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.


Branding Lessons from the Royal Naming

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:

  1.  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
  2. 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
  3. 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?


As Seen On TV

One of my local stores has a huge selection of “As Seen on TV” products.  In reviewing their offerings, it occurred to me that the brand names are almost all descriptive & highly functional names that make it very clear what the product does. I’m talking about names like the “Furniture Fix™” chair and cushion support, the “Perfect Pancake™” cooking system, the “Perfect Fries™” French fry cutter and the “Wax Vac™” ear cleaner.

It’s possible that a simple, descriptive name may be all that is needed for a product that is usually accompanied by a long-format infomercial.  After all, you are going to demonstrate the product and show its benefits, enabling you to elaborate on the product’s premise over and over again, so why try to deliver a name that has deep and rich meaning?  All you really want to do is get people to pull out that credit card and pick up the phone!

Actually, the “branding” in “As Seen on TV” products is part of a trend in name development.  Many clients want highly functional names because they claim not to have the money to establish a name that is not obvious to the consumer.  That is one of the few pros of a descriptive name.

However, there are many more cons to using a descriptive name.  In general, the more functional the name, the more likely it genericizes the product and destroys the potential competitive advantages of the product.  How many variants of “fast” are there in the cleaning aisle?  How do you decide which one to buy?  It also makes trademark clearance a more difficult task.  Just try to get anything with “fast” registered for a cleaning product! And if you manage to get a descriptive name registered as a trademark, it will be a weak mark at best.

Not all “As Seen on TV” brands are taking the easy way out, though.  Consider “Poo~Pourri™,” the “Before You Go Bathroom Spray.” It’s not exactly a functional name, but I’m not buying it!


When Kate Spade Designed A Fragrance, The Name Came First

You might think fragrance houses would start with a fragrance then figure out a name. Actually, the name came first for Kate Spade. In a WSJ article, Deborah Lloyd, the president and creative director of the brand said, "We had the name before we had anything else." The name? Live Colorfully. Aligns with the bright handbags that Kate Spade designs. Here is the link to the article if you would like more details:


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