Monday, January 23, 2006

The Art of Naming a Brand

Naming a brand - A function of marketing department that can be done by anyone from a 5 year old kid to a adult, that can be done in few seconds. But yet, for most firms & individuals it is the most difficult & frustrating task. Choosing a name for a brand becomes so difficult for firms that they are willing to spend some serious money on marketing consultants.

Does this sound familiar to whats happening in your firm? Then read on.

In this blog, I am going to write about the art of creating and applying names to products, services and companies.

Having studied several names of companies, products & services over the years, I'm firmly convinced of the utter irrelevance of names. Naming isn’t something as complex as the big, ultra-expensive corporate identity firms and naming boutiques will tell you.

Here's what I mean. Imagine that you're planning to open a low-cost, high-quality sandwich shop and you need to come up with a name to put on the empty awning out front. It's critically important, wouldn't you think, to communicate to hungry lunch goers that your lettuce is crisp, your bread fresh, your ham and cheese of prime quality?

So, let's see... perhaps you should name your sandwich shop after a pitch-black, dark, dangerous hole in the ground that reeks of stale urine and is so loud that you can't hear yourself talk. An abysmally bad idea, you say? And yet it's worked out rather well for Subway, one of the most successful restaurant franchises in the world.

Ah, but you say, Subway is a reference to "submarine sandwich," which is what it's called in those parts of the U.S. where it isn't, instead, called a hero or a grinder or a muffaletta or a hoagie. And, yet, if you go into a Subway sandwich shop, the wallpaper contains reproductions of antique newspaper articles about the opening of urban subway systems, back in the days when they were even noisier, darker, danker, etc. than they are today.

Let's try another example. Let's say you're going to open a high-quality copy shop that offers high-speed copying and printing services, faxing, computer services, shipping and office supplies. Would you give it a name that evokes... oh, I don't know... a depraved clown? Of course not. And, yet, for Kinko's, it's worked out well enough.

That these names have odd connotations is completely irrelevant. That's because what really matters is the quality of the product or service the name represents. Once the initial oddness of the name wears off, it soaks up these positive qualities like a chunk of tofu soaks up soy sauce, and the original meaning is utterly immaterial.

Hence Google which, by the way, is a play on the mathematical term "googol," itself concocted by a 9-year-old boy.

Automobile companies Chrysler and Chevrolet, which to our ears sound like perfectly reasonable names for cars, but which—when they were first introduced to the world—sounded exactly like what they were, the last names of their respective companies' founders.

Put another way, "Hershey" is a name that seems indelibly associated with chocolate, and yet there is nothing inherent in its two syllables to suggest chocolate; if Walter Chrysler and Milton Hershey has switched places early in their careers, we'd be snacking on Chrysler bars and driving Hershey cars, and we wouldn't even notice the lack of almonds.

So what makes this irrelevant discipline of naming so difficult?

It is because a name is so easy to come up with that an expensive consultancy that spends six months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to extrude a new corporate name is likely to be met with a good deal of skepticism. "Apex," the company founder says in shock. "It's just four letters! That's $250,000 per letter. Plus, it's right there in the dictionary! See, it means pinnacle! I could've come up with that myself!"

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