I was recently asked those two questions by a reporter for Forbes. The answers are so key that it’s worth restating them here. Let’s start with the question regarding the importance of a corporate name (or any brand name for that matter.) A corporate name or a product name is important because it represents an opportunity to introduce an idea about the company — what it stands for and, if possible, how it will act in the marketplace. Apple, Google, and Starbucks are all interesting corporate names. They each, in their own way, helped their company to communicate that they were going to be different than the other guys — a different computer, a different search experience, a different coffee house.
In my opinion they all helped to suggest this: "Look at us! We have a new idea!"
The reality is names don’t have to be clever or creative but, to be strategic, they must help to tell the company’s story.
Eight Important Guidelines
Based largely on experience — peppered with insights from consumer research conducted over the years — Lexicon Branding has put together eight guidelines for both corporate and product names:
1. Focus Just a few letters combined to create a distinctive impression.
2. Purposeful It has a clear role. It does something really well.
3. Enthusiastic It is never boring or dull.
4. Simple It is not a speech, a statement or a position.
5. Relevant But Unexpected This is an important one. Somehow, when linked to a message, the idea becomes relevant but unexpected. Amazon is an example: “The world’s largest bookstore” was how they began.
6. Competitive It is precisely what every other competitor is not.
7. Long Lasting It is the one element that should not change and it is the one thing that competitors cannot take away.
8. Un-frivolous In the words of David Ogilvy, “people don’t buy from clowns.”
Five Important Points
There are several points to be made about the importance of corporate and product names, today versus yesterday.
Brand names have always been important and helpful in the marketing of a product or service. A brand name is the maker’s mark, a guarantee of a certain experience and a level of quality or performance.
Each stands for a level of quality or performance
But until the 1990’s marketing was, more or less, two-dimensional. Print and broadcast. Both were limited to a few hundred publications and channels. Consumer access to information, reviews, etc was also limited and usually required work on the consumer’s part.
1. The digital world of today is three-dimensional. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and YouTube have greatly accelerated the places that a name needs to work and the consumers access to information about a product or service.
2. Like it or not, when a new brand is launched it is, instantly, global. This creates the need to understand both basic language issues and the deeper, often more complex, cultural issues.
3. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that trademark registrars around the world began to surge with new applications and new trademarks.
For example, in 1982, when Lexicon was founded, there were only 15,000 trademarks in International Class 9 (scientific and electrical apparatus) in the USA. Today, Lexicon faces a gauntlet of over 500,000 trademarks in class 9. Yet, we still have just 26 letters in the English alphabet.
4. It has only been recently that brands have moved from a single focus — Comet, Tide detergent, Cheer, Olay — to serve as “brand platforms” that carry a range of products. This is an important change and a trend that makes brand names not simply more important but strategically important. Names that offer the flexibility and the strength to carry multiple products and appeal to a range of consumers generate a very high ROI and represent high value IP.
Compare The Clorox Company’s ReadyMop, to P&G’s Swiffer. Swiffer is a two billion dollar brand.
5. If you compare the marketing challenges of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to today’s challenges, you will inevitably conclude that in the post WWII era marketers faced less competition, and more obvious gaps in the marketplace. Imagine how easy it must have been to position and name Nyquil. There was simply no other nighttime cold remedy at the time.
In conclusion today’s marketers are faced with the following:
More consumer choices
More potential TM conflicts
Geolinguistic and GeoCultural issues
Brands as platforms not as just products
And still, just 26 letters.
—David Placek, Founder and President