Naming: June 2007 Archives

Brand Naming: Sprint Drops Nextel Name

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SprintSprint Nextel seems to be borrowing a page out of AT&T's brand naming handbook by dropping the Nextel name in its "Sprint Ahead" campaign and its NASCAR sponsorship. Starting next year, the Nextel Cup will be the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and at least one blogger feels fans are fed up with the constant changes to the name of the race.

Many analysts seem wary of this move, since Sprint Nextel's marketing to date has created a meaningless brand name for many customers.

iPhoneThe new campaign is designed to focus on the customer and not the phone, explaining on how wireless improves people's lives. Part of this is the launch of the 'whyPhone' initiative which is an early response to the pressure the Apple iPhone will be putting on the company.

I covered the Sprint Nextel name change awhile ago and I am not surprised that the company is shortening its name to Sprint.

Sprint is a much stronger consumer brand name and has a rich heritage, while Nextel is primarily a B2B brand.

The familiar Nextel yellow color that Sprint has been using will be dropped in favor of "neon-hued streaks of light." Sprint has made a conscientious decision, I think, to walk away from Nextel's equity, hoping to gain improved brand perceptions and brand equity among the larger consumer market.

It strikes me that Sprint is tinkering with the packaging rather than what's in the package. By that I mean their unfortunate deterioration of service.

Sprint's new campaign feels like the classic Pepsi Generation strategy. Once a category becomes commoditized with little product differentiation, like cola or cell phones, the focus becomes more on the user and the user experience. I believe this is a sound strategy but takes massive spending and time and more time to be effective. Time will tell if Sprint is making this type of commitment.

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Name That Job

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PeopleNaming companies' employees aren't the only people who think names matter. Studies have shown that having the right job title-especially if they get to pick it themselves-can be more important to employees than getting a raise. Even the Department of Labor acknowledges such titles as "Chief Blogging Officer," and no large corporation these days can manage without a Vice President of Search. British communicator John Smythe has just written a book about "the other CEO," the Chief Engagement Officer.

Here are just a few of the creative titles people have today:

If you need an unusual job title and can't think of one yourself, you can visit The Cubes™ Job Title Generator.

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Oxymorons (or, more properly, oxymora) are one of the better-known and more popular figures of speech. It doesn't take a degree in literature to see that there's something funny about phrases like "jumbo shrimp" and "advanced beginner."

jeep_pioneerAs a naming strategy, oxymorons are something of a two-edged sword. If you decided to call your company "Crash Airlines," you might drive customers away, or you might attract people who want to fly with someone who has a sense of humor. Most companies prefer not to take the risk, but a few have jumped right in:

  • The Fluke Corporation manufactures testing and measuring equipment. Customers don't seem to worry that the results they get might be a fluke.
  • Jeep manufactured an SUV called the Cherokee Pioneer from the 1980s to the early 2000s. In American history, at least, the Cherokee were settled natives whom European pioneers displaced.
  • Some Krispy Kreme doughnuts may be both crispy and creamy, but cream itself is anything but crispy.

krispy_kremeIn politics, interest groups often choose names that are not merely ironic but downright misleading. Phillip Morris Tobacco bankrolled "Californians for Statewide Smoking Restriction," which sponsored an initiative to weaken smoking ordinances.

Most often, however, it's consumers who decide that a particular product name is a contradiction in terms. (The top candidate in this category is probably "Microsoft Works.") Rob Hof of BusinessWeek argues that the iPhone is not a phone, but a computer. The Los Angeles Business Journal called Hollywood Park, Inc. "the most misnamed company in town" after it sold Hollywood Park to Churchill Downs. And there's a certain irony in ordering your laser toner from the Ink Jet Superstore.

It may not be possible to avoid having your brand name used against you, but it's a good idea to plan for the possibility and to make your product live up to its name. It's much better to catch people's attention with a deliberately incongruous name than to have dissatisfied customers conclude that your product has been misnamed.

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Brand Naming: Can Too Many Names Dilute Your Brand?

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Even though we make our living creating them, there's such a thing as having too many brand names-at least when a company uses different names to refer to the same product or service. Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc told it this way at Book Expo America on June 12th:

By 2004, we had 18 total imprints... I remember being at a meeting in New York with Barnes and Noble. Several of our executives had gone to that meeting, and as we presented our newest products with some enthusiasm and fanfare, we did the traditional business card exchange. The Barnes and Noble executives looked at the cards kind of quizzically, puzzled by them, and then they looked up at us and said, "Do you guys all work for the same company?"

Every imprint had a different name, so every executive had a different business card. And while those names were meaningful to the executives, as far as booksellers were concerned, they were clutter. They served primarily to confuse the stores about where to order books. To make matters worse, there was no meaningful distinction between many of them, and they were competing for internal resources.

But back to the names. A name that doesn't mean anything to your clients and customers isn't very useful, and having too many names for subdivisions that customers can't tell apart just undermines your primary brand name. Thomas Nelson recognized that it had a problem and got rid of most of its separate imprints and sub-brand names, keeping only a few, like children's books and big-name authors. That gave the name "Thomas Nelson" more prominence with the likes of Barnes and Noble.

HallmarkBy way of contrast, Hallmark Cards has created several successful imprints which cater to different markets. They've been creating cards for African Americans under the name "Mahogany" since 1987. That name resonates both with elegance and good taste and with darker skin tones. It tells shoppers who to buy these cards for. "Shoebox" (named for the fact that it is, or was, "a tiny little division of Hallmark, and for the shoebox of postcards Hallmark's founder started out with) is now the nation's number one brand of humor cards.

Multiple brand names can work either for or against your company. The moral of the story: every name has to have a good reason for its existence.

Changing Your Name When Your Business Changes

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Sometimes, as with the change from "IPTV" to "Mediaroom," a company picks a new brand name because the old one didn't go over very well with consumers. Sometimes a company discovers that its name has rude connotations in another language, and changes its name in order to avoid offending people.

everyZingAnd sometimes a company changes its name because the original name is too narrow to cover the scope of the work the company is doing. That's what happened to PodZinger, the audio search company that just changed its name to EveryZing in order to expand into video search.

PodzingerWhile podcasts, the source of the first half of the name "PodZinger," can be audio or video, a lot of the most popular online video is not delivered as a podcast, and plenty of YouTube fans would be hard-pressed to tell you what a podcast is. Business 2.0 blogger Erik Schonfeld takes the name change as evidence that podcasting itself is a dud, but I'm not sure that follows. Nevertheless, even podcasters debate the appropriateness of the name "podcasting," and Alexandra Berzon is right that having "pod" in your brand name might drive away potential customers. While "EveryZing" doesn't automatically say "search," at least it's general enough to cover multiple media formats.

Not all companies that started out focused on one thing end up having to change their names. Berzon points out that Kiptronic, an ad-insertion service, has a name that applies equally well to audio and video. It's worth noting that the URL their home page redirects to has "podcaster" in it, but the page itself refers to "automated ad insertion for downloadable media." And Technorati, once primarily a blog search tool, has redesigned itself to cover "photos, videos, blogs, and more" without needing to change its name, a nice portmanteau of "technology" and "literati."

If you provide specialized services and expect to continue to operate in that particular niche, it may make sense to use a name that reflects it.

  • However, more often then not, companies that start in a niche expand and grow beyond that niche.
  • Therefore, I recommend a name that is broad enough to accommodate unforeseen growth opportunities and expansion to new markets and businesses.

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BenQ to Qisda: A Bad Brand Name to A Bad Brand Name

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Anyone who reads our blog on a regular basis knows that we do not make a habit of being negative. That's too easy, anybody can do that.

However, this post is an exception.

BenQ I've never understood the Taiwan-based electronics company Acer changing its brand name to BenQ. I think it's fair to say that this name has no meaning to English speakers, but Wikipedia indicates that it's an acronym for "Bringing Enjoyment and Quality to life."

The new brand name, Qisda, has nothing going for it. But maybe that's a bit too harsh:

  • It does start with the letter "Q," which is the least used letter in English alphabet, thus making the name distinctive
  • Our proprietary consonant research of the English alphabet indicates that the letter "Q" is associated with innovation

Apparently, this Taiwanese electronics company is fond of naming its brands after acronyms:

  • Qisda reportedly stands for "Quality Innovation Speed Driving and Achievement"

Alphabet Soup BowlHowever, Qisda falls short of the mark in English, because the letter "Q" always appears before the vowel "U" and takes on the sound "kw" as in quest, quarter or queen.

When speakers of English see "Q" followed by a vowel other than "U," they quickly recognize it as a foreign word and invariably muddle the pronunciation.

For example, it's been almost 6 years since September 11, 2001, but the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, still enjoys two very distinct articulations in the media:

  • Al K- Da
  • Al Qwada

Now BenQ is asking speakers of English to pronounce another "Q" name followed by yet another vowel.

In my opinion, this is a classic example of a brand name developed internally with management sitting around the conference room table with little to no regard for the target market.

If you want to see what others think of the new Qisda name, there is an interesting image on Engadget.

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USDA Helping or Hurting Organic Beer Brand Naming?

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USDA logo I am very interested to see the brouhaha that is developing over whether most organic beers can legitimately claim being "organic" at all, not least because it turns out that "almost all U.S.-made organic beers contain hops that have been chemically treated to fight mildew and insects."

anheuser-busch logoThis must be bad news for all the new organic beer labels that are coming out lately, including a whole bunch from New England like Wolaver's and Peak Organic.

The former has seen sales increase 18% yearly, which says something about America's love for microbreweries and organic products.

steinlager logoOf course, Anheuser-Busch has gotten into the act, with its Stone Mill Pale Ale and Wild Hop Lager. And therein lies the rub: Anheuser-Busch and others are trying to take advantage of a clause in the law that says just 95% of a product's ingredients need to be organic to be classed as USDA Organic on the label. So they are pushing to have their non-organic hops added to the list of exemptions.

But as one activist pointed out, "organic means organic," and, "when you're selling products that contain some ingredients that aren't organic, you lose the meaning of the word and the meaning of the organic movement."

This obviously puts bona-fide organic beer makers on the back foot. Most true organic hops come from New Zealand, where Steinlager has just announced a new Pure version of its popular beer brand name.

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Princess_Diana.jpg The late Princess Diana may no longer be with us, but the Princess Diana brand name has been going strong for the last ten years. Time Magazine published a great article about the "Dianabilia" industry that keeps us digging into our pockets to buy more things bearing her name.

MarilynMonroe.jpgElvisPresley.jpg Time posits that she can join the ranks of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe who can "still shift the merchandise long after they're gone."

There are three books coming our way, TV movie and a line of bath products launched by Paul Burrell, her ex-butler. He also has a wine, furniture and rug collection out in addition to a talent show called "American Princess."

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Microsoft Mediaroom: the Ingredient Brand Name

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Microsoft Mediaroom Kudos to funnyman blogger Long Zheng for guessing a few weeks ago that Microsoft was planning to rename its IPTV platform with a "friendlier" name Microsoft Mediaroom. This new brand name is supposedly the AppleTV killer.

The Mediaroom brand name will be announced today in Chicago and is supposedly "more appealing and descriptive of its expanding features."

The rollout of this Internet TV platform has not been very smooth and comes on the back of AT&T's $4.6 billion upgrade of its fiber-optic lines which will enable the delivery of its (possibly doomed, certainly awkwardly named) U-verse service. This will make Mediaroom a reality in living rooms across the nation.

Mediaroom will function as an ingredient brand the way Gore-Tex is sold in conjunction with numerous clothing labels or computer makers use Intel Inside.

In this case, Mediaroom will be the key ingredient in IPTV services offered by telecoms like AT&T.

While the Mediaroom product name itself is not too bad and works as a metaphor, I am very interested to see if this means that Microsoft is willing to let its own brand name take a back seat to a telecom brand name when it comes to IPTV.

Paid Content says that the ingredient brand moniker means "service providers who don't see Microsoft as a marketing plus can skip it."

Wow, that's a brand-naming milestone for Microsoft.

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Product Name Stress

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Jaiku logo As you know, I have blogged before about how important it is to choose a company or product name that's easy to pronounce.

Avid users of are still debating how to pronounce its name. They obviously haven't read our post on it yet.

Part of the problem is that English is not a phonetic language.

  • How we pronounce words depends a lot on what language they came to English from, but even then English speakers don't pronounce imported words the way speakers of the export language do.
  • Even in English, "Nike" assuredly does not rhyme with "bike" — but the original Greek pronunciation would have been "NEE-kay," not "NYE-kee."

Worse yet, as John Xavier points out in his Linguistics Zone Blog, there are no set rules about where to put the stress in an English word.

We can guess where the stress goes in "Jaiku" because of the parallel with "haiku," but it's not always obvious which word should be the model for a coined name.

Verizon logo Xavier's example is "Verizon," which in fact rhymes with "horizon," but could theoretically rhyme with "Amazon" and have the stress on the first syllable.

That particular example seems to be stretching it a bit — I, at least, would not think of "Amazon" as a possible rhyme for "Verizon," but people did mispronounce it in the days before the ads saturated the TV networks, and many people mispronounce polysyllabic words when they see them written for the first time.

Does that mean you should stick with one-syllable names for your company or product?

Not necessarily. There's no way to guarantee that everyone seeing your product name will pronounce it the same way, even with a one-syllable name, as we said when the Wii first appeared.

"Verizon" is actually a great brand name. It may not make you think of cell phones, but if the network stretches from horizon to horizon, that's definitely a good thing. And "Jaiku" is witty and apt.

But if there's any chance people might mispronounce your product name, make sure you put a pronunciation guide — and better yet, an audio clip — on your website.

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Your Brand Name is Chinese to Me

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Chinese Coke BillboardWhen Greek people don't understand something, they say "It's Chinese to me," and they have a point. English and Greek are at least related; Chinese is completely different.

If you're thinking of expanding your business into China, you may well need to come up with a completely new brand name. A name that works well in English-speaking countries may be incomprehensible, unpronounceable, or even rude in Chinese. To paraphrase the Clicks2Customers blog, Chinese who work for foreign companies complain that their employers have names that their parents can't pronounce.

That works both ways, of course: Americans rarely pronounce Chinese words and names correctly, in part because most of us have so much trouble even hearing the difference in tones, never mind duplicating them.

Whichever direction you're crossing the Pacific in, however, you want a brand name which both sounds good and has an appropriate meaning.

As for why it should be harder to create such a name for the Chinese market than, say, the Spanish-speaking market — or even the Greek-speaking market — the answer lies in the alphabet.

Chinese characters are not an alphabet the way the Roman, Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, and even ancient Egyptian alphabets are.

According to Wikipedia, about 4% of Chinese characters are actual pictograms. Most of the rest are combinations of pictograms with phonetic indicators.

And now for the really bad news: you need to know 3,000 of these characters for basic literacy. The potential for "misspelling" your new brand name by choosing characters whose meaning undermines the sense of the spoken word is enormous.

No wonder translating a brand name to or from Chinese is more difficult than just creating a new name for your new market.

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Does Your Product Name Pass the Typing Test?

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keyboardBusiness 2.0 recently ran an article about . Before buying a domain name at auction, "dotcom mogul" Kevin Ham checks it against an imaginary keyboard by "air-typing." He's looking for names that people will type into their browser's address bar directly.

These days, most major products and all major brands have their own domains.

Most people who want to know about your company will look first on the Web. That means it's important for names you choose to pass the typing test. The easiest things to type, of course, are plain letters without punctuation, special characters, or even numbers — all of which are popular in product names these days.

If you're constrained by a maximum length (like a license plate or an SMS message), it makes sense to substitute numbers for letters, and if you're typing on a cell phone's numeric keypad, it's not necessarily harder to write "l8r" than "later."

But it is harder for a touch-typist on a Qwerty keyboard. You have to hold down the shift key and reach too far above the home row. Domain names (and e-mail addresses) with hyphens and underscores in them can slow down typing. And, of course, even if you use a special character like @, &, or * in your product name, you can't use it in your domain name. You might have to buy two or three domain names in order to cover all the possible spellings people looking for you might type in.

In addition to that, you have to consider the potential for confusion and mistakes if you have too many of the same character in a row.

If your company is called, for instance, "Pacific Crest," that looks fine written as two separate words, but typed in as a domain name (pacificcrest.com) the two consecutive "C"s are confusing. It looks wrong, even when it's right. "Pacific-crest.com" would be easier to read (and a search engine would parse it as two words), but people tend to drop, forget about, and stumble over hyphens in domain names, so it's not necessarily an improvement.

If your fingers feel like you're playing a game of "Twister" when you type a potential product name, it's probably a good idea to avoid it — unless you're in a position to buy up domains for all of the typos people are likely to make when entering it into their browsers.

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Luxury Company Naming is a Miner’s Best Friend

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Harry WinstonThe news that Canadian diamond mining company Aber Diamond Corp was changing its name to Harry Winston Diamond Corp after it's recently acquired retail division makes good sense.

Aber took control of Harry Winston last September and the renaming will better reflect ''the nature of the corporation's activities and in particular the broadening of the corporation's focus to include both retail and mining segments of the diamond industry."

The Harry Winston name, like Tiffany's, is synonymous with "diamonds" and "luxury."

De BeersMore than that, I believe that Aber is borrowing a page out of diamond giant De Beers's playbook. The secretive South African mining conglomerate has teamed up with the European luxury brand name VMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and has begun "mining the web" and furiously opening stores in the USA since 2005.

It is quite clear that diamond miners understand that linking their names with luxury retail brand naming is the way forward. Aber's greatest advantage in this case is that Harry Winston is a quintessentially American name, which must irk De Beers, who is working with a suspiciously French and recently unpopular brand name.

Plus, even better, Harry Winston has been around for decades in the USA: Marilyn Monroe mentioned the luxury brand name in her famous rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend".

Finally, Harry Winston is all about diamonds and just diamonds... while LVMH is also about, eh, luggage and cognac.

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Is Naming by Anagram nuTsie?

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Nutsie ImageMobile podcasting company Melodeo has just released a new service called nuTsie(TM), which allows users to access their iTunes music library from their cell phones.

At first blush the name seems, well, nutsy. But, as the Seattle Times explains, "nuTsie" is an anagram of "iTunes." This is entirely appropriate for a service that changes the way you look at iTunes.

But is it too clever? Anagrams are not obvious to everyone. Unless you explain the source of the name, there's a good chance people won't get the joke.

On the other hand, studies have shown that people who are asked to solve an anagram before seeing a brand name for the first time are more likely to believe they have seen that name before, whether or not they have. So far, at least, this hasn't created a wave of anagram-solving landing pages for new products.

Anagrams as names raise some interesting questions. By definition, an anagram for a word is not the same as that word, so it should be possible to trademark an anagram name like nuTsie without receiving a Cease and Desist letter from Apple's lawyers.

On the other hand, before you select a name, you might want to see what kind of anagrams jokesters (or competitors) might make out of it by visiting the Anagram Genius page. The first suggested anagram for "Strategic Name Development" was "Complete vendetta smearing." The server claims that "iTunes" is too short to yield useful anagrams, however.

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