Category: History

Searching for Steve Jobs’s “Dent In The Universe.”

Posted by: Tate Linden

Did Jobs make a dent in the universe? Damned if I know. Frankly, I can’t find a place far enough back to see for sure.

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
- Attributed to Steve Jobs

Actually, Jobs probably didn’t say that. At least the real one didn’t. Noah Wylie said this exact line in The Pirates of Silicon Valley while playing Jobs in a made-for-TV movie. Martin Burke (the director of the movie) admitted that he never actually interviewed Jobs, though he did “have two or more sources that verify each scene” which means that all he knows is that something like that happened, but not what was really said. Even wikiquote lists it as unsourced.

Noted leadership expert (and author of Organizing Genius) Dr. Warren Bennis (or perhaps his coauthor, Patricia Ward Biederman) hedged, writing in 1996,

To echo Steve Jobs, whose Great Group at Apple created the Macintosh, each of these groups “put a dent in the universe.”

Dr. Bennis uses the phrase again twice in 1997 in the same interview with David Gergen in reference to the ideas discussed in Organizing Genius and in another interview in 1998 Dr. Bennis is back to loosely referencing Jobs’s denting.

Jump forward to 2001 and Philip Elmer-Dewitt also uses it twice in an article for Time Magazine:

He loved to tell his designers that the computer they were building — with its icons, its pull-down menus and its mouse — would not only change the world, but also “put a dent in the universe.”

In the future, says Levy, “we will cross the line between substance and cyberspace with increasing frequency, and think nothing of it.” That’s what Jobs would call a dent in the universe.

Upon his death we see the likes of Macworld and Discovery News cite the quote and reference a Time Magazine article that doesn’t say anything about the context or timing.

But it’s Playboy, of all the publishers in the world, that comes through  and actually finds Jobs’s dent under a pile of 15,000 words in an interview he gave way back in 1985. Jobs says,

At Apple, people are putting in 18-hour days. We attract a different type of person‐‑a person who doesn’t want to wait five or ten years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a little dent in the universe.

So, while I can’t confirm that he made a dent in the universe, nor that Noah Wylie was quoting him directly with his often referenced script reading, it’s probably safe to assume that Jobs was at least thinking about the issues.

What bugs me more than the way this quote has grown from something he did say into something that he likely didn’t is the fact that he would think of it at all. For a man that smart and talented to choose a sledgehammer as his tool of choice seems… wrong. A dent gets stuffed with Bondo and buffed out. Pretty sure he didn’t actually want that to happen. Maybe I’ll look into it in my next post if there’s interest from the (possibly dented) world-at-large.

 

Happy +1, Us!

Almost exactly eight years ago I was sitting in my basement with a space heater blasting on my bare feet as I went through a stack of mail. It was mostly bills as I recall. But one plump envelope contained a notice from our friendly government saying that Stokefire Consulting Group, Inc. was officially incorporated. Oh, and also that we should start paying taxes and stuff.

The effective date for Stokefire’s incorporation was January 13, 2005, so we’re just past the start of a new year.

Since incorporation a whole lot has happened. Our clients have enabled us to develop outstanding and often award-winning work. We’ve worked with hundreds of organizations and many of the world’s best known brands, including Charles Schwab, Discovery Communications, Google, Heinz, Motorola, the US Department of Defense, and the United States Congress. At the start I couldn’t have imagined landing any one of them, but over the years I slowly got better at going after business that seemed improbable or impossible to win.

Since Stokefire hired its first employee in 2006 I’d struggled to find a way to teach employees how to bring in business. It never worked. I could show them how I did it, but it didn’t work for anyone else. On the plus side, it continued to work for me. We landed major projects, pulled business from agencies more than a thousand times our size, and for a while were nearly bulletproof in pitches, landing better than 90% of the work we went after. But nearly eight years in, my fingers on the keyboard and face in front of the prospective client was the only way it happened.

I write “nearly eight years” because two days before our eighth year in business I lost the right to claim sole ownership of the sales channel.  On her seventh day of employment, Lindsay (the newest member of our design team) got us a signed contract with a new client. I wasn’t even on the call. (Is it possible for me to retire from selling via blog post? Because that would be awesome.)

Congrats to Lindsay for giving Stokefire even more momentum as we blaze past eight years in business, and many thanks to all of our clients, employees, and partners who make it possible to keep doing what we’re good at and love to do. Without all of you I’d still be sitting barefoot in the basement.

And… For decency’s sake let’s just agree I’d at least be wearing PJs.

An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.

Yours,

Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)

 

Imagine the children!

What would happen if Saddam’s “Mother of All Wars” fell in love with Putin’s “Father of All Bombs?”


“Mother of All” has become a trendy way of saying “best” or perhaps “will redefine the meaning of” (though the latter doesn’t feel particularly prone to trendiness.)


How does this relate to naming? Well, there’s the obvious fact that both Saddam and Putin used these lofty words to refer to important things (okay, so they weren’t really products, but they still needed names…) And there’s the more relevant fact that “MoA” has been used thousands of times in products and services since it was coined. MoA appears to be more commonly used in commerce than FoA - at a ratio of about four or five to one.


Of particular interest to me is the fact that (as far as I can tell) there are exactly zero products that use the phrase “Mother of All” in their names that have become wildly successful – other than the originally referenced war, of course.


I predict that we’ll see similar results from “Father of All” in the coming years. We may even see it become more popular than MoA for a while. But I’d be willing to wager that no product with FoA or MoA in its name will ever crack the top 100 spots on Amazon or any other reputable mass retailer.


Could it have something to do with the fact that the terms are typically used tongue-in-cheek? Or that they’re too closely linked to pop-culture and prone to becoming dated too quickly? Or is it that the logical impossibility of something becoming the mother or father of anything *after the thing is already born* is just too goofy to consider seriously?


I’ll leave you with this thought. How is it that “The Father of All Bombs” could be invented more than a half-century after the nuclear bomb (a much more powerful weapon) was dropped? It seems that the FoAB is more like the smaller, better behaved nephew of the atom bomb, doesn’t it? But “The Nephew of All Bombs” just doesn’t have much oomph…


So much for truth in advertising….

The Naming of a Child

May 26th, 2007 at 8.30 pm
Theodore Joseph Linden was born.
Weighing in at 6 lbs 10 oz.
Congratulations Sarah & Tate!


images-1.jpg

Naming for the short term?

Oh, cute! A whale naming contest!


The local CBS affilliate is having a contest to name a mother and calf that have gotten lost up the Sacramento river. Cool right?


Right.


Except as I seem to recall, many of these whales that wander up rivers tend not to live to see the ocean again.


On the plus side, there’s not much at stake here with the names. Whales probably don’t care – or know – what we call them. On the down side we’re going to have a whole bunch of little kids following Bonnie and Clyde – or whatever their names will be – and I don’t know how easily they’ll believe the whales went to live on the farm with the pet dog.


So we’re naming two animals that may be doing their best to off themselves for some reason. Let’s make it a fun story for the kiddies!


Whee!


Interested in a better story about dying or dead whales? This one is my all time favorite. And it may just be the first story to ever use “Splud” to describe the sound of a whale exploding. After you read Dave Barry’s version I encourage you to watch the video – especially the 30 seconds following the explosion.


Bring the family!

Bookshelf Update? A Look at the How-To (and a couple how-they-did-it) Books.

I’ve had a few emails this month from readers who were interested in hearing what was on my bookshelf. It’s probably been about a year since I wrote anything about our reference materials, so I figure it’s about time to update.


But first, I must say that I’m not going to tell you what’s on my bookshelf. There are about 200 books there – most of them only read once or twice and now only very occasionally thumbed through. The stuff I use more regularly has a place on my desk. Forty-two books have that place of honor in my office – running along the back edge of my desk within easy reach. Thirteen of these books have a major “How-To” aspect to them – shedding light on how to develop, categorize, or evaluate names.


Here’s a list of the current “How-To” type books on my desk that are dedicated almost entirely to naming. The snippets of information aren’t really reviews. They’re just a bit of context to help you understand how the book is used:

  1. Blake, George. Crafting the Perfect Name: The Art and Science of Naming a Company or Product. USA: Probus, 1991
    1. An excellent, if dated, reference for people looking to name their own company. As with most of the books here, it does a great job educating you on the basics of naming, and even provides lists of source material in the appendix so you can start naming immediately. Unfortunately the lists are far short of what would be needed to perform a comprehensive naming project for a mid-size (or larger) firm. The age really shows when it addresses the legal aspects of naming – including the hoops one must go through to check if a name is registered. I refer mostly to Chapter Six when I crack the cover – the chapter on Names to Avoid.
  2. Barrett, Fred. Names that Sell: How to Create Great Names for Your Company, Product, or Service. Portland: Alder Press, 1995 (Amazon Rank = #993,472 in Books)
    1. A book aimed at people who have a basline of experience in naming. Barrett runs through all sorts of criteria for how to name companies, but in his effort to cover everything (he does come close) he drops any sense of order. He provides Twenty-Five different techniques for developing names – and these appear in a jumble of methods we’ve been unable to untangle. There’s gold here – it’s just a little hard to find. Barrett also provides another list of source words at the back of the book – and again the list is a bit lacking. A bit of a peek inside a namer’s head – all sorts of information but not in a structure that aids in learning. We’ve opened it a few times in the past year – mainly to remind ourselves how another namer might approach a particular problem.
  3. Cader, Michael. The Name Book: A Unique Reference Listing of Everything Imaginable That Has a Name (Except Babies!) New York: Random House, 1998 (Amazon Rank = #505,676)
    1. A book of lists that goes quite well with the how-to books. It offers very little how-to and a whole lot of reference. What’s great here is that the lists are intuitively sorted into groups. Interested in a powerful name? Perhaps you want to examine lists of Spanish monarchs, or Roman emperors, or military ranks… An amazing number of ideas to get the mind moving. Feels a touch dated, but when referencing historical stuff this might be a benefit.
  4. Charmasson, Henri. The Name Is the Game: How to Name a Company or Product. Homewood: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1988
    1. Charmason may be smart, but he suffers from the same affliction that Barrett does. There are some interesting methods listed here, but the book is dense and cluttered. Again suffers from age as major passages of the Trademark section are no longer applicable. Charmasson has some interesting takes on naming, though after the first couple reads I must admit I haven’t gone back to this one. It’s just not that useful and has been overcome by better and more readable books. (We’re putting it back on the shelf today.)
  5. Frankel, Alex. Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business. New York: Random House, 2004
    1. Prior to meeting other namers at Alexandra Watkins’ party I had little idea how the other namers worked. This book brought new insight into both the process of naming within major branding firms and the presentation of fully developed names. It is rarely cracked other than to illustrate a point to a client who wants to know how others do something. Incidentally, this is likely the best book ever written about the naming industry (in my quite humble opinion.)
  6. Javed, Naseem. Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World. Toronto and New York: Linkwood, 1993
    1. You may be sensing a pattern here. The How-To books just seem jumbled. Javed is a famed speaker and columnist and this book appears to be a compilation of his speeches and writings. Again no real order here, and no overarching messages or lessons. Add in the fact that I can’t personally follow what he is saying much of the time – and that time has proven quite a few of his examples false – and this has little value. Why is it on my desk? Because I can use it to show how our views, practices, and opinions differ from the mainstream. Some of the names he really likes fall into traps we try to avoid – and having an expert advocate for names a client likes (and then have that expert proven wrong) adds power to our words.
  7. McGrath, Kate, Trademark: How to Name your Business & Product. 1994
    1. We use this only as a primer for the basics of trademark law. It is not up to date at all, but the terminology it uses and the classes of names referenced haven’t changed much. If you want to understand what sorts of names can be trademarked and why then this baby is a good bet.
  8. Morris, Evan. From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names. New York: Fireside (Simon & Schuster,) 2004
    1. Not a how-to, really, but a “how they did it.” Fun to read and a good reference to trot out when a name covered within the pages is in the same industry as one of our clients. It usually helps expand the thinking at the brainstorming meetings. (We have a long list of books that cover the etymology of corporate names – we’ll get to that another day.)
  9. Nussel, Frank. The Study of Names. A Guide to the Principles and Topics. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992
    1. Really only on our desk as a reference, this book helps us remember the science of naming – especially some of the more obscure terms and their full definitions. Can’t remember what Morphosyntactics are? This is the book for you. I personally open the cover about once a month to a random page. It’s helpful in getting my mind onto a different path when naming. The whole book explains terminology in naming and lists examples of just about every type of name known to man. AND it is highly organized! Oh – and the reference materials cited contain some of the hardest to find and most useful older research documents on Onomastics.
  10. Rivkin, Steve. The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy. New York: Oxford, 2004
    1. Perhaps our second-most-favorite book on naming. Somewhere between a how-to and an industry overview. Fun to read. Can’t say I read it that much, except for the appendix containing the reference materials. We actually found many of our materials here. If you want to create a library of easily accessible naming books this isn’t a bad place to look for titles.
  11. Room, Adrian. Trade Name Origins. Chicago: NTC, 1982 (Amazon Rank = #1,006,067)
    1. Similar to the Morris book, this one does the same thing, but for more companies in less detail – and twenty (plus) years earlier. Great for finding patterns in naming that you want to latch on to or avoid.
  12. Wegryn, Jim. Funny Thing About Names. An Entertaining Look at Naming in America. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005
    1. This is a new addition. It’s on my desk mainly because it’s new – and because Wegryn appears to be just as much of a statistics geek as I am. Nice list of more recent research papers at the back, and a strong index that helps me to find relevant examples to share with clients and partners. A little more humor here than I’d like to see – but the title does warn us. I’d be more interested in reading the pure research behind this – because it looks like he did a lot of it (including an interesting bit on the history of street names that have impacted the English language.)
  13. Williams, Phillip. Naming Your Business and Its Products and Services: How to Create Effective Trade Names, Trademarks, and Service Marks to Attract Customers, Protect Your Goodwill and Reputation, and Stay out of Court! (City Unknown): P. Gaines, 1991
    1. Horribly out of date book that attempts to cover everything under the sun about names and trademarks in 90 large-print pages with lots of clip art. Covers some interesting territory with its random list of things you can name your product after (symbols, mythology, history, bible, geography, literature, and puns… yep, that’s it!) This is my “there is no one book that can show you how to name” book. From what I have seen so far there isn’t even a good list of name classifications in print yet. There is an interesting appendix at the back that shows all the pages of an old trademark application, but it bears little relevance to naming today.

This post brought to you by the letter “A”

…or maybe by both “A” and “E”. We’re not really sure.


The English language is a funny thing. You see, we English speakers have this strange way oflettera.jpg turning the letter A into a diphthong. (This has a lot to do with something called “The Great Vowel Shift.”) So even though we mentally think we’re only saying one thing when we pronounce the letter “A” we’re actually using two quite distinct vowel sounds – both “ehh” and “eee” (shown as /eɪ/ when the educated linguist folks write it.) That nice bright mental A sound you get isn’t a single sound at all – it is a blend.


Still need more proof? Try pronouncing the letter “A” without moving your jaw, lips, or tongue. Can’t do it, can you? (And yes… those of you who just did this out loud in your cubicles… your neighbors do think you’re going insane.)


What does this have to do with naming? Not a whole lot, unless you’re considering an acronym. Specifically an acronym with the letter A followed by the letter E. And further, it is only for acronyms that can’t be pronounced as words in and of themselves.


Consider the following potential acronym of “AEDP.” You can’t pronounce it easily in the English language (though if you tried it’d likely come out as “Ayeedipuhh”.) Since the word doesn’t work the reader or speaker is forced to sound out the letters themselves as “A-E-D-P”. Seems okay so far anyway, right? Well, not really.


Here’s why:

  1. As noted, the letter A is a diphthong containing the sounds of both the letters A and E.
  2. There is no intervening sound or disconnect between the first and second letters (like a glottal stop or a percussive burst, or anything to indicate that a new letter is starting.)
  3. Since the letter A sound ends with E and the following letter is actually an E there is no indicator that the second letter exists at all unless:
  • You artificially stop the flow of air somehow between the first two letters
  • You emphasize the second letter with a change in pitch or volume
  • You sustain the second letter unnaturally so that it is obvious that the E-sound isn’t part of the A-sound.

In Stokefire’s informal tests, the speakers strongly believe they are saying AEDP naturally and yet the listeners consistently hear “ADP” with a slightly elongated letter “A” sound.


The E vanishes!


How about that? A letter than can be fully voiced and yet not registered in the mind of the listener. Pretty cool, eh?


Unless of course the name is yours and you’re hoping that people interested in your organization will be able to find you.


(Hello to the wonderful association folks that just learned this as we reviewed naming candidates yesterday. Thanks for giving me something fun and informative to write about today.)


Tate Linden
Principal – Stokefire
703-778-9925

Carbon dating corporate names – The ‘ola Era

We had a client a couple weeks ago who was astonished that we would claim we could usually tell what era a corporate name was created. They seemed somewhat mollified when we trotted out the “.com” example – as a sign of the post Amazon.com Internet boom. They were a little more convinced when we brought up Flickr and the flotilla of corporate names with the missing penultimate letter.


Copycat naming isn’t new in the corporate world.


I’ve gone back as far as the early 1900s and found examples. I’m sure there are more even earlier than that – we’re just working our way backwards…


In the year 1900, the term “Pianola” came into use. A few years later Victrola and Crayola joined in. By 1928 there were almost 100 companies with the -ola suffix in America. For a world without much in the way of instant mass media this proliferation is quite impressive. Granola, Shinola, Coca-Cola…


What do these names have in common? To us it seems that they indicate a connection with what was new in the first third of the 20th century.


Think Motorola is an exception? It isn’t. Registered in 1930, the company likely leveraged the word Motor (as in car) and ola (to reference music) as a way to carve out a new niche for music on the road.


The next time someone asks you if you know how old a company is you may want to take a look at the structure of the name. There’s a lot to be found within the patterns you may find.


Tate Linden
Principola – Stokefire
703-778-9925

Zune: Fast and Full? Lexicon versus Ballmer

It’s pretty well known that when Microsoft wanted to develop a cool name for their new music player – Microsoft’s attempt at taking a chunk of business away from Apple’s iPod – they contacted one of the biggest branding houses in the business – Lexicon.


Lexicon developed the name Zune – a name that seems to connect with the word “tune” and has a “z” at the beginning of it. Lexicon’s staff used words like “fast” and “full” (focusing on the zoominess of the Z and the roundness of the “ooh” sound) to describe what the name does for the product. When Lexicon talks about it the brand sounds almost well put together.


Steve Ballmer evidently didn’t get the memo, however.


When asked what the name means he responded, “It means nothing. It’s just a cool name.” (listen for the quote in this YouTube video at about 1:01 into the clip.)


Sadly this sort of thing happens all the time. Someone, be it a naming firm or an internal asset, develops a name and finds all sorts of interesting factoids or associations about the name, goes to the trouble of creating an identity. The branding team embraces that identity and works hard to make it compelling.


But somewhere along the line someone forgets to brief the CEO. Or maybe they do brief him and he’s got other things on his mind. The problem is that the CEO isn’t actually involved in the branding process (or at least I would guess that is the case here.) If the folks at the top aren’t involved and haven’t been brought up to speed then all the work done by the branding team is pretty much worthless.


If I say we chose a name for the next new thing because it is laden with connotations and my CEO says it’s meaningless, what does that say about the product, the name, the CEO, and me? Pretty much nothing good:

  • The product doesn’t have anything interesting enough about it to get the attention of the CEO – or he’d have been involved in the branding process
  • The name isn’t compelling enough to engage the interest of the CEO to the point where he knows what it means
  • The CEO doesn’t value the work done by his branding team and marketing staff enough to remember it
  • The branding team produces work that gets ignored by the guy footing the bill. How good can the work actually be?

It’s stuff like this that shows the importance of executive involvement and buy-in. Just saying you’re willing to pay for a name isn’t enough. You gotta be up to speed.


I wonder how many other naming organizations won’t take a project if the top-level representatives of the brand aren’t on board? We won’t take a job in which we can’t access the top of the pyramid. It wasn’t always this way, but we’ve had issues just like this – where we build the brand and either the brand gets canned before launch or the launch gets completely bungled because the senior executives didn’t read a positioning brief that clearly states the whats and whys of the brand – and instead went with gut instinct. Imagine the horror experienced by a marketing team that is ready to roll out a fun-loving brand identity only to hear their leader convey the importance of gravity and attention to detail just days before the rollout. newcoke-can.jpg


We’ve learned our lesson.


It’s been quite a while since we would take on branding engagements where the top of the pyramid can’t be found. In fact, we’ve even made senior executive sign-off part of our contract. We’re not done until the CEO types can convincingly represent the brand identity. If they don’t believe in and understand the brand then we’ve still got work to do.


Side note: Just because the CEO understands the brand doesn’t mean that it will be successful. New Coke went down in flames even though the company leadership was thoroughly behind it. Bringing customers and membership along is a different issue – and one that we’ve addressed in the Optiva threads.


I’m sure other namers have some horror stories here… Maybe someone else can share. I’m especially interested to hear from Lexicon about how they responded to the Ballmer slip-up.


Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group
703-778-9925



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