Naming

A Truly Universal Name

A Truly Universal Name

There is wide frustration with how difficult it is to find a name that is legally available and protectable in any product category or geographic market.

As a challenge, our naming team set out to see if we could create a name for a product or a company that would be legally available in every product category worldwide.

And we have succeeded! The name we created is:

Qwxzyo   

Pronounced QWIX – zee – oh

There are several reasons why a name like this could provide strategic advantage:

  • It is completely distinctive
  • The iconic letter Q is memorable
  • It is surprisingly easy to pronounce
  • The unexpected letters have impact when assembled this way

When companies have global ambitions to build a multinational, diversified empire, the ability to own an idea worldwide gets tougher and tougher. The coined-word route is a viable direction to consider.

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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Has Lost Its Brand

Although we understand the critical importance of trademarks in preventing others from profiting from your intellectual property, we are disappointed in the move by Delaware North to try to extract $51 million from the National Park Service for a shortlist of iconic location names in Yosemite Park. To us, Delaware North is holding these properties for ransom from the American people, for a few historic names that will have little to no value anywhere else.

Let’s back up a minute – last year, Delaware North lost the contract to run hotels and concessions at Yosemite National Park. Shortly thereafter Delaware filed suit, claiming that the Park Service (or its new contracted vendor) no longer has the right to use the familiar and iconic names of historic park facilities (Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Park, Badger Pass, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, and Wawona Hotel). It turns out the Park service had never trademarked the names, so Delaware North took advantage of the situation and trademarked them themselves. Rather than pay a ransom to use the names, The Park Service has agreed to create new names for the facilities.

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High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?

High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?Google, which we’ve held up as an example of both good and bad when it comes to branding, recently applied for a trademark for the word “Glass.” Not Google Glass, just Glass. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not going to give in so quickly. Everyday terms, such as glass, are usually not ownable by any one company, especially when they are descriptive of the product or service itself.

Trademarking Generic Terms
Generic terms are typically difficult to trademark, and for good reason. They are undifferentiating and cause confusion in the marketplace. The reason Apple was able to trademark an everyday word was that a word for a fruit does not in any way describe computing hardware. Glass, however, describes the appearance, apparent composition and function of the Google product. (Although, as this Mashable article attests, the product is not actually made of glass)

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Corporate Naming Lessons From Naming People

Marilyn Monroe

Many Hollywood stars have changed their names and gone on to successful careers that would be hard to imagine if they hadn’t made the switch. For example, Marilyn Monroe’s real name is Norma Jeane Mortensen.

Back in the 1970s, Herbert Harari, a psychologist at San Diego State University, found evidence that teachers discriminate against “oddly” named pupils. Eighty teachers were asked to grade four different papers written by fourth and fifth grade students. No matter which papers the names Elmer and Hubert appeared on, they averaged one full grade lower than the same papers attributed to Michael and David.

Since that time, other researchers have noticed the strong first impression that names create and demonstrated their role in creating expectations for the people they’re attached to (“What’s in a Name? Maybe it’s a student’s grade!”).

Corporations can also have loser names, something that can be confirmed by research or general intuition, and such names can unfairly and negatively influence perceptions of their performance or potential.

Changing a “Loser” Name
Many Hollywood stars have changed their names and gone on to successful careers that would be hard to imagine if they hadn’t made the switch. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Marion Morrison became John Wayne. Norma Jeane Mortensen became Marilyn Monroe.

While name changes in the corporate world are possible, the process is more complicated. New corporate names need to be accepted and supported by employees, customers and investors, and they can’t infringe on the good will of other corporate names.

Professional firms and corporations often get consumed by trying to preserve equity in existing names. Advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn had a name that was a tongue twister, so they switched to the initials BBDO, just as PricewaterhouseCoopers became PwC.

But if thoughtful enough, corporate name changes can benefit corporations as much as—if not more than—they benefit individuals.

Lessons Learned
Through the work we’ve done with past clients like GE, Disney and Adobe, we’ve put together a list of tips that may help you through a name change:

  • Individuals and companies have a choice in how they name themselves
  • Some names can be perceived as losers and some as winners
  • Loser names can be successfully changed to winning names
  • It’s important to live up to the conveyed or implied promise of a name
  • Short names are generally more impactful than long names
  • There is a fine line between names that are unique and names that alienate
  • Don’t let “equity” in ineffective names prevent you from developing better names

The main reason companies give for not fixing a sub-par name is that they don’t want to lose their “brand equity.” But, you have to give up something that’s not working to gain something that’s better. Advertising and promoting an ineffective name is throwing good money after bad.

Visit our website for more information on our naming services.

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When Naming or Renaming, Go Short

Brand logoIs there a correlation between the length of a name and success? It is human nature to shorten words to make communication easier and more efficient. People will eliminate the unnecessary part of the word, while keeping the meaningful part:

  • Omnibus becomes bus
  • Motion picture becomes movie
  • Television becomes TV
  • Gasoline becomes gas
  • Coca-Cola becomes Coke

Since companies don’t want to put obstacles in the way of communicating their names, short communicative names of one or two syllables are generally more successful. For example:

  • Apple
  • Target
  • Chevron
  • Dell
  • Nike
  • Visa

Short and Successful

This human tendency to shorten names can have a direct impact on your organization’s value. A recent story in The Harvard Business Review noted new research demonstrating that companies with short, easy-to-process names were more likely to attract investors, generate more stock trading and have higher valuations.

According to the study “Company Name Fluency, Investor Recognition, and Firm Value,” corporate renaming generally increased a name’s “fluency” and as a result translated into more value. Shortening name length by one word could result in a $3.75 million increase in value for a mid-size company.

Renaming

If your organization doesn’t have a short, simple name, what can you do?

Sometimes the public renames your organization for you. The San Francisco 49ers become the Niners. Nicknames like this convey fondness and familiarity. Sometimes they can be prompted. One of my favorite billboards in New York read: Our name is The Irving National Bank and Trust Corporation (You can call us Irving.)

We often see a long, cumbersome name as the result of a merger or acquisition. The investment bankers and lawyers who are involved aren’t thinking about corporate identity strategy. They’re thinking about closing the deal, and they don’t want the name to get in the way.

Yet this creates problems down the road in ways that end up costing the organization. If a company name is long and difficult to shorten, often the only hope is to go to initials. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers goes by PwC. But initials make weak names. They are difficult to remember, easily confused and hard to relate to—unless billions of dollars are spent over decades to make them familiar (e.g., IBM, NBC, GE).

The better course? Even in the case of a merger or acquisition, it’s usually better to look forward to the opportunity of a shorter, more fluent name instead of backward. When in doubt, go short.

Learn about Marshall’s work in naming and naming systems.

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Who Owns the Letter X?

Logo_XIt’s no longer “X” marks the spot on a treasure map. The use of “X” first increased as it became a go-to variable in beginning algebra. Then it evolved to become a secret ingredient of success, someone’s “X factor”. Now “X” seems to mark every spot, having found its way into the identities of a slew of companies, products and even universities in an attempt to create the perception that they are on the cutting edge. But what does it mean anymore, and can anyone rightfully own it?

There are several ways in which “X” has been used:

  •  Xerox was one of the first and logical users of “X”.
  • For EXXON, one “X” was not enough.
  • The X Games drew a new breed of sports enthusiasts to ESPN.
  • Microsoft wisely left its brand off the naming of XBox, the company’s successful entry into the gaming and entertainment market. But now it needs wordier names, such as XBox One and XBox Entertainment Studios, to explain why XBox still matters.
  • Comcast launched its Xfinity service to divert attention from its troubled brand though a new, hyperbolic and space-aged entertainment sub brand. In the end, it just confused a lot of people.
  • Ted, a set of global conferences, used TedX presumably to indicate an extension or auxiliary to the original, exclusive event.
  • Space transport company SpaceX seems to say it is headed to places unknown, perhaps in the same vein as the algebraic “solve for X” mode. It is instructive to think of the context of the X PRIZE, and www.x.com, Elon Musk’s first startup.
  • Universities are now joining the fray, each with its own purpose. Stanford’s StartX is an investment fund for student entrepreneurs. HarvardX is “a bold experiment to push the boundaries of learning through reimagined teaching, unprecedented research and cutting-edge technology,” or a response to the quandary of online learning.

With so many uses, all saying different, but ostensibly trendy things, is “X” going to go the way of “e”? Does it still add the desired magic to any identity? Can any one company or project really own it anymore? Or, is it really just a weak substitute for a creative expression of unique value?

If you’re thinking about using a trendy letter in your name, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are you using the letter to say something meaningful, or just to get attention? Attention getters typically have shorter shelf lives.
  • Does the use of a trendy letter create sustainable differentiation, or do you risk blending in over time as others adopt the same idea? This tactic has a very low barrier to adoption.
  • How long will it be before the trend is over and the market has moved past your naming convention?

Some companies have managed to take true ownership of trendy letter. Apple has done quite well (and protected itself very aggressively) with “i”. VMware has made a strong case for its ownership of lowercase “v”. The bottom line: be sure that what you’re doing is relevant, ownable and works with your overall brand strategy.

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The Washington Post: A Name in Limbo

Courtesy Adam Glanzman

A view of The Washington Post building on Aug. 5, 2013. (Courtesy Adam Glanzman)

When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post last month, the media began analyzing the sale and questioning the future of the legacy newspaper. One minor detail, however, that may have not been at the forefront: According to a filing with the SEC, the newspaper’s parent company, Washington Post Co., must change its name within 60 days of the deal closing.

There is no indication (as yet) that Mr. Bezos will change the name of the newspaper. But it’s my hope that he will retain the name. While I generally suggest that geographically based or product-based names can limit an organization’s growth by creating limited perceptions of their potential, this does not seem to be the case with The Washington Post.

“Washington” essentially means “national politics” and “Post” literally means to send, to display and to publish electronically. It seems to be a perfect word for becoming the digital medium of Washington.

Retaining a Valuable Position

What Mr. Bezos purchased is an organization that has tremendous credibility within Washington, D.C., and among top political circles within the district. This is a large and important national audience. The Washington Post is to politics what The Wall Street Journal is to business. The paper owns a unique, differentiated and valuable role within the media industry. And according to his recent statement, I think he gets this.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C., and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

If It’s Not Broken…

While his commitment to retaining the company’s mainstay values is apparent, the 60-day requirement may leave them with a new “coating.” If it were my call, the name would not be changed as long as the organization continues its unique focus on, and its credibility in, national politics and all that national politics impact. I would not like to see the Post become a general source of random news and lose its unique reason for being. Design, however, could play an important role by changing the visual expression of “The Washington Post” from a traditional newspaper masthead to convey that the newspaper has become a more contemporary medium.

It seems that Mr. Bezos’ main contribution would be to figure out how to turn the newspaper into a viable model for the distribution of credible news about national politics. He doesn’t need to alter the identity of The Washington Post to do that. In fact, its identity and equity is a major asset for his purpose. I would go so far as to say that the Post is one of few beloved institutions in the political sphere.

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