Tag: "naming"

Sometimes Crowdsourcing Sucks.

So I’m sitting at my desk and a tweet comes across telling me that a “Company Slogan needs a name.”  Not sure how to interpret that… So I check it out.

Apparently one of the crowdsourcing companies out there has an automated broadcast that just says “[Fill in the blank] needs a name” and this was just an instance of a client asking for something that wasn’t anticipated.  (They already had the name – they needed a tagline.  Mystery solved.  Except I get a bit more confused when I look into it…

I haven’t used this particular crowdsourcing service, so I’m not sure what questions they ask of their clients.  This particular client offered a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that was communicated thusly:

Our Unique Selling Proposition is “The Absolute Unquestioned Leader in Quality. Lowest Price and Responsiveness”

And therein lies the problem with crowdsourcing as it is performed today.

Business owners and marketers are often the people least qualified to communicate what makes their solution unique.  In most cases USP translates into “whatever we think the clients need to hear to be compelled to buy our stuff.”  Why else would anyone ever describe quality, low price, and service as unique?  Everyone says they offer high quality and low prices with great service.

Google today lists 43 million hits for the combination of three words.  The first link is to a Marketingprofs article titled “Quality, Service, Price: Meaningless Claims That Can Drive Customers Away.”  That’s a pretty clear sign this is the wrong direction to go, right?

So, let’s assume that we have a couple hundred people ready to help this company out.  Each of them spends ten minutes developing concepts.  That’s more than 33 hours of time (already an issue for many that follow and rail against crowdsourcing) applied to a task that has almost no chance of helping the client.  It’s the latter part that gets my blood boiling.

Crowdsourcing suppliers should have some level of responsibility for the projects that they allow on their systems, and legally they do.  I’m pretty sure if someone requested a logo that directly copies the Nike Swoosh they’d be shut down by the sites that offer the service.  Similarly, if someone directly asked for “a completely useless name or logo that had no value whatsoever” the providers would step in and stop the debacle since it demeans the service. So why, when a client asks for something that any responsible or experienced marketer would see was folly, would the provider not step in to set things right?

Making it worse in this case is the client’s closing clarification. “We are looking for a slogan that states this in a strong way and will stand out.”

The reasons why crowdsourcing sucks as it exists today are many, but very few of them have anything to do with the core concept itself.  A great idea poorly executed is still a great idea.

Crowdsourcing providers… Step up.  Take some responsibility for the work being requested on your systems.  This is one issue that you can solve without investing in technology.  One person with a degree in marketing sitting in a chair reviewing projects as they come in… that’s enough to fix this.  So why isn’t anyone doing it?

Do crowdsourcing providers have an obligation not to allow their clients to get ripped off, or are they merely inverse flea-markets where buyers say what they want and everyone else tries to fit the description – even if the want is completely illogical or useless?

Incidentally… Where can I buy a lamp made out of matchsticks?


Syfy executives nervously look at rising water. Landor abandons ship.

First the new Syfy channel leaders came out and said they were changing the name because “Sci Fi” was too limiting, and “Syfy” opened lots of doors for them.  The world at large wondered how a misspelled homophone could create any options at all.

Then the president of Syfy was accused of not being honest about the origins of the name and had to respond, saying all sorts of random things in the process, such as:
In response to a question about why they selected the name he said,

“…we didn’t come up with a name that we liked any better than what we’ve gone with…”

So basically he suggests they selected the name because they ran out of good ideas, or perhaps didn’t have any to begin with.
He followed this by saying…

Naming is an incredibly incredibly tough exercise.”

…and then almost immediately said…

“…the hardest and toughest thing to ever get to is a name that everybody likes…”

…which is exactly the wrong thing to try for in the first place.  What you want is to find a name that some people love and some people hate.  Something that creates an identity that people care about one way or the other.  (I happen to think he may have accidentally found this, but his answer suggests that he doesn’t understand the basics of creating a workable identity.  ALL great brands have people who hate them passionately.

Other tidbits he offered?

it’s cool and contemporary”

Great.  Cool and contemporary basically means that they have to do this all over again in a few years to stay cool and contemporary.  Remember when we thought Michael Jackson would always be cool?  If the King of Pop can’t do it why would we think anyone else could?  Cool moves on, and for a brand to remain cool it must constantly adapt.  Coolness is the most expensive and difficult image to maintain.

Yeah, the president of the channel may have earned a few points by being honest, but did nothing to suggest he really understands what he got out of the new brand.  And… if you want more proof that Syfy isn’t doing a good job with the brand. Check out the New York Post article in which Landor’s executive director denies that Landor had anything to do with the name.

In an earlier post I suggested that Landor fell down on the job by not preparing Syfy execs adequately to launch this brand.  I now believe that they’ve fallen down twice.  First, they were not able to get anyone ready to talk about the brand (whether or not Landor developed it or not – they were consulted and should be able to do this for any brand they are asked about, not just ones from their own minds) and then again when they deny they had anything to do with development of the brand.

Since when does a respectable branding firm not come to the aid of a client in trouble?

“While we’d love to take credit for all the branding initiatives
our clients take on,” writes Ken Runkel, executive director of Landor
Associates, the branding firm hired by Sci Fi. “We just can’t.

“Yes, we worked with the SciFi Channel, and it hired us to consult
on the project. However, Syfy was a name generated internally and
pre-tested at the channel before our involvement,” he wrote.

Does every one of Stokefire’s clients take every bit of advice we deliver?  Absolutely not.  That doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to defend our client and help them prepare for the pressure of a controversial brand launch.

Landor should better.  Syfy isn’t a horrible brand – it still has potential.  The fact that Landor isn’t moving to get the Syfy execs ready for onslaught seems to indicate that something bad happened along the way.

Anyone have any insight into why Landor is just walking away from this one?

Syfy? I Don’t Buy It.

No, really, I don’t.  I get it for free with basic cable.

Oh, and also I don’t understand the choice of name.

Sure, it has positives.  The name selection is of the type that gets a TON of free press, even landing prestigious mentions on the Thingnamer Blog and lesser known publications like the New York Times.  The name ties in to current trends such as text-typing where semi-intuitive abbreviations are used in place of the actual words – (OMG 4Rls!)

The problem I have with the new brand isn’t the name itself (okay, that too…) but more that the reasons for the rebrand seem disingenuous.  The stated reason for the rebrand was the understanding that “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”  This statement is from the current head of the channel.  The previous channel leader said

“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,”
 “But we can own Syfy.”

Let’s have this conversation out loud, why don’t we?  If the “Sci Fi name is limiting” then isn’t “Syfy” equally limiting?  And is it really possible to own the Syfy brand as anything other than a visual mark?  Don’t the audible connotations (heck, it’s the same word, isn’t it?) have precisely the same connotations no matter which way it is spelled?

Next issue? How about this statement:

The testing we’ve done has been incredibly positive.

Based on the response to the announcement I’d say the testing wasn’t complete.  Of course, I’d rather not perform this sort of testing to begin with.  Coke (and New Coke) learned the lesson about testing long ago.  Until the brand gets into the wild you never know how it will be received – even if you invest millions in testing.  The focus grouping industry is there mostly to make executives feel like they have justification to move forward with a mainstream idea.

Here’s the real deal, folks.  The SYFY brand is going to be just fine for the next few years.  NBC and GE have enough money to throw at it so that if they want to become a household brand they can do so and this name won’t hold them back.  The four letter name has some interesting design possibilities to develop the brand.  You can almost picture it with the I(heart)NY or DKNY arrangement.  The name is just risky enough to appear edgy and to get press around the event.

Think about this… How many of us have ever talked about the Sci Fi channel?  Ever?  I’m certainly on that list prior to today.  And now I’ll probably keep an eye on them and read their press releases to see if they actually can execute the new brand. 

A few years from now this name probably will be changed again. 
Text-type abbreviations will fade (because they’re so 2008?) and be replaced with some strange
Minority-Report-esque way of communicating and the Syfy brand will look
dated (a bad thing for a channel focused on the future) but until that
time they’ll do just fine. 

Where Landor fell down was not with the name but with the talking points for the executives.  A strong branding firm doesn’t let the executives make fools of themselves with nonsensical justification for the rebranding. This is a lot like Lexicon (a peer branding firm) that allowed Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer to suggest they chose the name Zune because it sounded cool.  No capably led organization would ever change its name from the correct spelling to a made-up homophone of the same word because the original word “is limiting.”  That’s crazy talk. 

Am I in the minority with my lack of complete hatred for the name?

Useful Branding Tool Of The Week: Acronym Finder

We do a lot of work in the non-profit space, much of it focused on adjusting or developing brand names so that they’ll stand out in the acronym jungle.  Acronym Finder, when used in combination with other tools such as dictionaries and information consolidators, can be a big help when trying to get a client to move away from a name that will grant them instant anonymity.

Usually clients come to us because they want to get away from acronyms, but sometimes they still want us to see if we can find a way to work with one.

Here’s an example of how to use it:
Let’s say you or your client thinks that “AABC” is the perfect acronymic name.  Just take a quick look in the Acronym Finder to see how much competition there is.  Sometimes an acronym is relatively clear, sometimes it’s amazingly crowded.  Is your client going to be more effective than the 80+ current meanings of the acronym?  (It categorizes verified acronyms by type, and lists unverified acronyms on its sister site – the Acronym Attic.)

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With “ABC” it’s even worse.

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Yep, that’s 252 verified uses for the acronym and 250 that are yet to be verified.  Think you can out-shout those meanings?  Just compiling a list of all the hits and handing it over to a client (in 4 point font) is enough to allow you to move on to something more constructive.

We also check our shorter name candidates and name-parts using this tool.  Sometimes a word can be so common that it will basically be ignored by all.  Stokefire’s legal name has one.  Check out the hits on “consulting” as a word represented within acronyms.  (You’ll have to click on that option under the search box when you do this on your own.) That’s 500 confirmed hits on acronyms with the word in it.  Probably not a sign that the word will be useful on a daily basis.  Of course, everyone breathes, too… and that isn’t a signal that you yourself shouldn’t breathe.  So – it’s worth checking, but the results aren’t always easy to apply

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In summary, it’s rare that we recommend going after acronyms for pretty much anything, but if you absolutely insist that this is the way to go then why not do yourself a favor and check out the competition first (both from organizations and general use)?  If there’s a well-known or large organization with deep pockets already using the acronym it may be a good idea to keep looking.

Hope you’ve found the Useful Branding Tool Of The Week (UBTOTW?) helpful!


Client Update – Open Text Goes Petal to the Metal

A couple months ago we were contacted by Open Text (a $1.4 billion technology firm) to help them launch their Web 3.0 program.  The products and platforms were just about ready to go, but there was no agreement on what to call it.  With Content World (their annual convention) rapidly approaching they picked up the phone and got us working on the problem.

The solution they were branding is a plug-and-play social platform that allows for organic formation of working teams, knowledge-bases, and other social benefits that are typically absent from Enterprise Content Management.  Rather than just storing away corporate data, this makes it available to everyone (after they’re authenticated, of course) and ensures that the best ideas and findings are identified and encouraged to grow.  Pretty cool, right? 

We worked with senior-level executives in charge of marketing, product management, and product development to come up with the new identity.  It is important to note that this wasn’t just about coming up with a name – it needed to be deeper than just a label.  It had to be something that people could embrace, something that developers and designers can integrate into the way the product looks, feels, and works…

We developed about two hundred concepts and presented approximately twenty-five to the Open Text identity team.  Of those we quickly reduced it to a list of four and sketched out what these identities could do and how they could be executed. 

The Open Text team worked hard to identify the identity with the most promise – one that could grow with them as the movement became real and turned into a corporate mission. 

The name?  “Bloom.”

(It’s our first product name that got Twittered.  Or is it “Tweeted.”)
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We love the selection and can see that it connects on many, many levels.  For instance:

  • The solution encourages users to grow
  • The solution enables the cross-pollination of ideas and teams
  • The solution enables organic growth of orgnaizations and ideas
  • The solution maximizes the value of other products – making them work beyond their current potential (allowing them to bloom.)
  • The solution allows for the harvest of the best concepts

It’s also got a great sound and mouth feel.  It has that double letter that allows it to feel modern (given today’s trends involving long vowels) but won’t age as quickly as the uber-trendy nonsensical stuff that clutters this space.  And after checking in over 40 languages we found no horrid translation or transliteration issues.

The name was announced at Context World and has been received well by the user community.  We’re looking forward to more from this very capable executive team.
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Must… Not… Respond with Wry Candor…

We’ve been watching reaction to our last post with interest.  A few kind comments were sent via email – people who truly believe that we’re entering a new era – if only for a short while.  We had a slew of twitter hits and then… we had this:

the company Stokefire are just running out of ideas for names and trying to convince their clients of an alternative direction?

Dude…  That’s just harsh.  (Although I note that John Amy, the commenter, is from the UK, so perhaps the waves of hope and change haven’t yet reached his shores.  He’s likely still soaking in the cynicism and skepticism.)

Rest assured, World, that we’ve not run out of name ideas.  (Yeah, we said “World”… Remember we’re in the era of hope.) We just think that for the next six months a lot of the old-style aggressive names aren’t going to work so well.  After that we’ll have to reevaluate.  People in the US don’t want the Rant phone.  We don’t want Cocaine the energy drink or Meth coffee.  We as a people want to believe that we are better than that.  If we (as branders) don’t address this near-term there’s a good chance that our clients will suffer.  I don’t care how great a job we might do with an edgy brand – it won’t do as well now as it would’ve a year ago.  There’s less money, there’s still a lot of left-over edgy messaging from companies that are slow to adjust, and the concept just doesn’t connect like it did before.  The market isn’t disillusioned (the key to the success of edgy branding,) it’s both terrified and hopeful.  Neither state lends itself to investing in an edgy brand.

Want us to develop that edgy brand anyhow?  Sure!  We’ll do it, but we’ll deliver it (as we always do) with a lengthy analysis of the risks, costs, and effort involved.  By the time you read through it there’s a good chance you’ll end up asking for a do-over – or perhaps you’ll delay the launch of your brand until the market is ready to receive it.

There’s a loosely related topic I hope to address soon.  With the economic melt-down there are many luxury brands that haven’t quite established a solid base of clients to keep them afloat.  We all no the mantra “Never Compete On Price” but we’re starting to see this erode.  What happens to luxury brands when they start to drop their pricing into the non-exclusive range?  When the recession ends will they be able to reclaim their status, or will new brands have to be built to replace them?

Alas, that is a topic for another day.

Is The Era of Wry Candor Ending?

I’m intrigued.  Over the past few months there has been a marked change in the way new brands have been launching.  The over-the-top honesty seems to be fading.  Many of the techniques and strategies we might’ve advised as having the potential for immediate impact are looking less appealing now.  People just don’t want to hear honesty – they want to believe there is something better.

We’ve been discussing this off and on for about a year – the idea that when everyone is being forthright and plain spoken in their dealings the effectiveness of the approach is impacted.  This might be why a message of hope just defeated the Plain Talk Express…

I am officially predicting that we’re going to see a whole slew of advertising and new brands that attempt to capitalize on the new era of “hope and change” that seems to have begun a bit over a week ago.  The “Yes. We. Can.” movement is here.  Marketers are moving away from the wry approach – and are even dropping the sexy sales pitches.  Heck, even luxury isn’t selling.

If I’m right then Samsung is probably going to regret their recent name choice.  I’m guessing the Rant isn’t going to do well in this market.  Instead look for new names to pop up that speak to our hopes and dreams.  Phones with names like Breathe, Lift, Give, and Chance are going to be here in a matter of months.  Count on it.

I’m getting emails with promotions attempting to capitalize on this “new era.”  At first I felt guilty that I wasn’t embracing change.  Then I saw seven more emails from vendors selling everything from sweaters to website updates using the exact same “Change and Hope” phrase.  Change and Hope are the new Sex and Luxury.  And maybe Candor, too.

I of course blame Obama’s speech writers and strategists.  In a nation that seems to be in crisis he’s pretty much the only thing staying afloat.  Everyone wants to be associated with him.  If he continues to do well and somehow reaches his potential it could have lasting impact on the worlds of marketing, advertising, and branding.  We’ll see advertising as oration… back-to-back empowerment messages for everything from Rolaids to leather repair kits.  If he fails spectacularly I’m guessing you’ll see an abrupt switch back to wry cynicism.


My hope?  That somehow this new era actually sticks.  As much fun as it is to market with a wink, it would be far more fulfilling to live in a world where people embrace positive ideals and endeavor to speak in ways that are both easy to understand and beautiful to hear.  Sure, it’ll make my job more difficult (I’m a good speaker, but not so good on artful oration.)  But I’d love to watch a market  develop around hope – and then develop brands that can both embrace this positivity and stand out in a sea of great words and ideas.

Anyone else with me?


Ohh… you mean LISTEN to your customers… Got it.

The last two weeks have been very good to Stokefire.  A flurry of contract signings and interest.  I’ve been talking with the staff about it and felt it was worth a short post to explain what appears to have led to the bump.

We’ve gradually adjusted our approach over the last year to be more reflective of how we really operate and why people invest in us.  We’ve got exactly the same development process that we had before, but we’ve started to disclose the fact that we’re not a traditional naming firm (if such a thing exists), because a naming firm is expected to deliver a batch of names and then push you out the door (perhaps after droppin’ a logo on you, too.)  After about two years serving the non-profit marketplace I had the belated insight that I should ask our clients why we’re doing so well there.  In almost every instance we were hired for the stuff we don’t advertise.

That’s not really a good sign, is it?  Especially for someone who is supposed to be on top of this kind of thing.  (Okay, so that’s a little disingenuous.  I’m pretty sure we’re not going to advertise all our best aspects – but we probably should’ve disclosed more than we did.)

We’re hired for naming – not just because we’re good at naming – but because we’re good at all of the things that surround naming.  Before we even start the naming process we develop the full brand strategy and roadmap. We’ve gotten some great projects on the strength of that alone.  And on the other side – after we develop the name we help the organization and other creative partners to make the brand come alive.  We build that compelling and useful user’s manual, assist in the development of a visual brand that builds on all the stuff we’ve already delivered, and… well… we provide a bit of secret sauce that quite frankly you’re going to have to invest in our services to see.

Ultimately we’re being hired because we build a cohesive and compelling story that ensures every action our clients undertake is driving them towards their vetted goals.  Oh yeah… I forgot.  We check out the client goals to ensure they’re realistic and desirable before we work on them.  That was another thing we heard was a motivating factor.

Final proof of our unadvertised strengths being what was driving business has come in the last two weeks.  We landed a series of projects that – for the first time – have nothing to do with name development.  A few months ago our prospective clients realized that while our core offering was great, it was also something that they didn’t need and started slyly negotiating with us so that we’re essentially delivering a donut.  Our core offering has been neatly extracted from our service and we’re given a name at the start (one with some existing issues that we’ll have to live with) and told to develop a brand strategy, roadmap, and marketing campaign to make it work.  In some cases the name has been around for decades, in others it’s only been around for a few months – but in all cases clients are realizing that the traditional appraoch they were trying to use (marketing and advertising blasts, mostly) wasn’t working because there was no real strategy in place.

There are a lot of firms that would turn down an a la carte approach to branding because they couldn’t control the outcome.  Not us.  We’re finding that it’s a true test of our abilities – and it is much like what happens when a client selects a naming concept that scores near the bottom of our list (as has occassionally happened.)  A great branding firm can build a story around just about any name and create an identity that succeeds in spite of the handicap.  Sure, we’d love a crack at fixing the name, but that’s not always going to happen.

If there’s a lesson in this it is perhaps to make sure when your prospects start asking questions you do more than just answer them.  In some cases (as with us) neither party will know exactly what is really being asked.  Clients were calling us and asking if we did membership campaigns (which we don’t actively sell) and we were answering that it was one of the features of our full naming process.

The client was looking for a solution and we had it hidden inside of something they didn’t need.  We should’ve listened and said yes and adjusted on the fly.  Instead it took a series of similar conversations (“can you do x?” “Well… yes if you also want y and z”) to determine that not only can we do what they were asking for, we can do it better – or at least differently – than anyone else. 

I’m pretty sure we lost a handful of opportunities early in 2007 when I personally didn’t see how the concept could be developed.  Apologies to my team and to the customers who we couldn’t help for that misstep. 

Shame on me.  Here’s to hoping other creative professionals can learn from my mistake and my too-slow realization. 

Two Quotes from Spinal Tap

You might not intuitively understand why we’d post quotes from Spinal Tap on the Thingnamer blog… but maybe this will help:

Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest): “And then, we looked at each other and said…”
David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean): “Said, look, why not?”
Nigel: “…we might as well join up. You know?”
David: “So, we became the Originals.”
Nigel: “Right.”
David: “And, uh, we had to change our name, actually.”
Nigel: “Well, there was another group, in the east end, called the Originals and we had to rename ourselves.”
David: “the New Originals.”
Nigel: “the New Originals.”
David: “Yeah.”
Nigel: “And they became…”
David: “…the Regulars.
They changed their name back to the Regulars. And we thought we could
go back to the Originals, but what’s the point?”

Who knew that two fake rock stars could say something that would actually give intelligent business-people a lesson in naming.  The lesson?  Do some research! 

A good number of people who approach us have found out too late that the name they’ve selected is actually owned by someone else.  (It can cost a heckuva lot of money to undo a name.)  We come in and help them do it right…

We love our jobs because we get to save a whole lot of people a whole lot of trouble.

Which leads to the second quote…

Derek: “We’re lucky.”
David: “Yeah.”
Derek: “I mean, people should be envying us. You know?”
David: “I envy us.”
Derek: “Yeah.”
David: “I do.”
Derek: “Me too.”

Amen, brothers.


Vista 2.0? Nope.

Alternate title – “Pardon the Interruption”

Microsoft let it slip on their Vista blog that they’ve selected the name for the next version of their product.  We here at Stokefire HQ had assumed that they’d just do the normal techie thing and just iterate the version number from 1 to 2.

We were wrong.

Really wrong.

After spending what we can only imagine is Billions on developing the Vista brand through advertising, branding, marketing and every other -ing they could invest in it seems that the Microsofties are going to admit defeat.  Rather than try to re-convince people that the Vista product isn’t really all that bad and that THIS time they’ve gotten all the bugs they introduced in Vista 1.0 resolved they’re just going to go back to good old Windows.  Windows 7, in fact. 

(Any time you have to trick people into using your software you know you’ve got negative brand equity.)

There’s actually a pretty interesting thing happening here.  Because the last numbered Windows release was 6 and the next one is 7…  hmm… it’s almost like… hey!  Wait a minute! 

Vista. Never. Existed.

Brilliant! Now do it while waiving your hand slowly across your body…

These are not the droids you’re looking for.

…and… Scene!

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