Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's In A Name? Everything!

Do you call it H1N1 or Swine Flu? Did you call it the Car Allowance Rebate System or Cash for Clunkers? Do you say Economic Stimulus Package or Government Bailout?

Unless you're a medical professional or a government employee, the latter most likely in all three instances.

For the same reason we use U.P.S., not United Parcel Service, FedEx not Federal Express, and I.B.M. not International Business Machine, our complex minds deal more efficiently and effectively with simple things. Or, as the old saying goes, K.I.S.S! (Keep It Simple Stupid).

But simple isn't enough. I recently worked with a client on developing a brand name. They got the simple premise, but weren't grasping the other two critical ingredients: Unique and memorable. This client was locked into a brand name that was generic like The Dog Groomer or H-E-B. These might be simple, but they aren't unique nor memorable. Names like Doggy Style (yes, it is a real name) and Whole Foods are, satisfying all three criteria.

Working with media clients over the years, particularly local market televisions stations, I encountered brand name issues often. Station call letters created the conundrum. With a few exceptions, most were forgettable. Only people on the inside knew what acronyms like KRGV, KSHB or WPPY stood for. Most viewers use channel numbers as their reference point. Yet, in markets where ratings are determined by how viewers fill out diaries, call letters is one way to receive credit for a program that was viewed. But if viewers don't remember who they are watching, what's the point? Call letters like KARE, WOOD and KAKE are the exceptions. Why? They form a word. Words are more memorable than acronyms.

You might be thinking at this point I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth. After all, I did mention U.P.S. and I.B.M. earlier. But they didn't start out as acronyms. They were birthed as words, much like the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) and shortened after being established over time. In these rare instances, they became more memorable as acronyms because in word form weren't unique, simple or memorable.

That opens up another can of worms: Names that on the surface really have nothing to do with the product itself like Nike, Amazon and Yahoo! Yet, I'd be surprised if anyone doesn't know what they represent. You can redefine the meaning of a word (think: "Spam" and "Blackberry") with the right strategy. Over time, the name and idea can become synonymous.

Don't let lack of URL availability influence your decision on a brand name. Do you think Google, Spike and Target would have changed their brand names if the respective URLs weren't available? My guess is they would have done whatever they could to secure the URLs even if they were already taken. Why? Keep in mind that Coca-Cola (mostly referred to as Coke, another example of simplification) is worth about $66 billion but it's physical assets are worth just around six billion. What accounts for the difference? Brand essence and brand name. Find the right brand name first and then find the ways and means to take complete ownership.

When you consider that what you do can ultimately be copied but not your brand name, then you must do everything you can to create one that is unique, simple and memorable, distills the essence of who you are and/or what you do, and won't be confused with anyone else in the mind.
These are my Guts feelings.

1 comment:

  1. Always insightful and useful info, Kurt - keep up the good work!