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March 10, 2008

Brand Names and Meatball Sundaes

Phillip Davis from the Tungsten Branding Blog recently interviewed Seth Godin on his Name Game podcast. The proposed topic of discussion was whether a brand name can be a “meatball sundae.”
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For those who haven’t read Godin’s latest book, a “meatball sundae” occurs when a company tries to use Web 2.0 marketing without changing its whole approach to doing business. I was a bit curious as to how a name could be a meatball sundae.

The interview didn’t really answer that question, but did include some memorable comments about product naming from the marketing guru who describes his job as “making a ruckus.”
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First, Seth Godin makes the point during the interview that naming your company after a minor character in Moby-Dick is a move no branding expert would advise, but nevertheless Starbucks has been wildly successful.

“The name had nothing to do with their success. And words like Google and eBay are terrible, terrible names, and yet the products succeed despite the name. […] The future of every naming agency [is] not going to be coming up with clever window-dressing. […] Those are the most creative, most confident people in business. The clients need to let them in the door. They need to let them sit with the engineers, sit with the product designers, sit with the customer service people, and design experiences that people remember.”
googlelogo111.gif That scenario seems unlikely to me at the moment, yet it would certainly ensure that those charged with naming a product knew its features and benefits inside out, and also knew the company culture. That kind of collaboration would unquestionably make it easier to come up with an appropriate name, even if it wouldn’t eliminate constraints like the need to find a name that hasn’t been trademarked yet.

Although Seth's advice is helpful, I think it's overly simplistic:

“Pick a name where you’re the only one, where you don’t have to pay a million dollars for the domain name, where you have the ability to spread the word from person to person to person without worrying about getting it misspelled, without worrying about it getting confused.”

The interview concludes with the following statement about the part brand names play in a business:
“The great companies, the great organizations, non-profits, schools, everything—are the ones who challenge our perception of the way the world is, and your name should do the same thing.”
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For more of Seth Godin’s thoughts about naming, read the following posts from his blog:

• The new rules of naming
• Sloppy naming
• Being brave with names
• Naming a business

We might not agree with every statement in every post, but Seth Godin is always good, thought-provoking reading.

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Posted by Diane Prange at March 10, 2008 10:59 AM
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