site map


Recently in Bad

October 26, 2007 | Tate Linden
A few readers of the blog and even a couple clients have pointed out that I am prone to the occasional rant. (But they've also been kind enough to note that it is informed or at least well researched ranting.)

As noted on an earlier comment today, I rant for a reason. I question stuff I don't get. I challenge people to defend their brands. When it doesn't make sense to me I'll say so.

I wouldn't call it ranting though, I'd suggest that I'm poking - and perhaps provoking.


I poke because I care. Naming is seen by many in marketing and branding as something you throw in for free when taking on a design project. And the work produced in these instances tends to be exactly the sort of stuff that gives the naming field (such as it is) a bad name. I make my living in an industry where almost every name is a potential Exxon Valdez for the field. When one of us messes up it affects all of us. And even if the product was given away for free it still drags us down (a free oil spill is still an oil spill.)

I provoke because provocation gets read. And they get forwarded. And people respond to them. Naming has low visibility. If I poke at someone's brand for not making sense chances are excellent that if they're legitimate they're going to respond - perhaps by poking back, or by actually addressing the issues that I raise. If they don't respond then the bad brand stands exposed and identified as below the norm. Either way the industry gets more visibility, a high likelihood of some smart discussions, and more people passionate or informed about brands and names.

I poke because I've got to be me. One of Stokefire's founding principles is that we're supposed to be who we are. (No sense putting on a costume to help other businesses try and be themselves - it gets too complex.) I'm a guy that believes all the cards should be on the table. When I screw up you'll know it. When I believe your brand can be improved I'll tell you. And when your brand is strong enough that you don't need my help (as happened last month with DARKSKY) you'll know that too.

I poke because I believe. If I didn't believe that branding worked I wouldn't bother. But good branding does work. I'll point out branding companies that use the same technique for every project (much as Igor pokes Landor on occasion.) I'll poke names that say more about the gutsiness of the namer than they do about the brand they're supposed to represent. I'll rage against names that have such obvious issuses with them that they never should have left the concept stage. I'll express my astonishment at those who suggest what you're called and how you convey yourself to the market doesn't matter at all.

I poke because it clarifies my thinking. Often I'll start writing and will change my opinion as I begin to think things through. Or it'll come when someone points out that I've been ignoring a critical aspect of an issue. But I had to put my thoughts on the page - in the virtual public - for it to happen. It helps me to figure out what's really at the center of an issue.

And... it feels pretty damn good. Try it yourself. Find something in the branding world that doesn't make sense to you and just start poking at it. Try to figure out what the creator of the brand was thinking - or not thinking. What was the goal of the name, tagline, or brand campaign? Pretty soon you'll start seeing all brands that way. And all those compulsions that branders everywhere are trying to force into your head will suddenly not be so compelling.

October 15, 2007 | Tate Linden
I actually happen to like the AMA quite a lot... So it is with a bit of sadness and angst that I question the addition of what appears to be a new feature in the Marketing News magazine. In September the acronym was "USP." They give us a friendly hint that it doesn't have anything to do with the Postal Service. And then they tell us that it means "unique selling proposition" and go on to explain what that means. If you know marketing you know what USP means - and if you don't you probably won't be reading a magazine only given to AMA members...

This month the acronym is SaaS - standing for "Software as a Service" which the folks at the AMA seem to think "effectively renders the terms ASP (application service provider) and on-demand obsolete."

A few points:

One - ASP deserves to be rendered obsolete. Why go to the trouble of making an acronym that means something and is pronouncable and then ignore both the meaning and obvious pronunciation? I see the letters A, S, and P and I say "asp." One syllable. Neat. Maybe a little scary. Why make it three? Weren't acronyms meant too save us effort?

Two - There's no way SaaS will make ASP obsolete. SaaS is almost impossible to type correctly on the first try. Most word processors automatically switch the last letter to lower case. Mine did so, then suggested that what I really wanted to say was Seas, Sagas, Saabs, Sass, or Salas. At least ASP doesn't violate any word processing standards that I can think of.

Three - How would you pronounce SaaS? Does the last letter give it emphasis? Does a double A give it a long vowel sound? It could be "Sass" or "Sayce" or "Says" or "Sayz" or "SaySUH" or something else.

Four - If SaaS is the acronym of the month then why isn't it found anywhere on AMA's website?

There's more, but I've got proposals to write and clients to serve.

This all begs a single question for me.

Why would an organization teaching about marketing suggest any acronym as being "of the month"? Acronyms are shortcuts. Acronyms eliminate the message. Acronyms take the oomph out of marketing. Acronyms cost more money in the long run...

When was the last time you thought to yourself... THAT is one beautiful acronym? (FCUK excepting...)

P.S. - I do know that the feature is meant to be educational... but if that's the case then why suggest that the acronym is good? Ah well. Perhaps I'm just grouchy today.
September 25, 2007 | Tate Linden
We've named a whopping two whole companies in the "sustainable" or "green" or "eco-friendly" or "tree-hugging" or "Gaia" or "Mother Earth" or whatever other catchword you want to use.


And we still haven't used a cliche. (We wish we could have said "thirty-seven" or "a hundred twenty four"... but we've gotta start somewhere.)

Both "green" brands we've helped to develop are fresh new concepts that convey what is at the core of each company without blending in to the crowded ecomarkets.

emPivot is a green media firm that empowers its audience to change their views on issues involving sustainable living (tagline "View green from every angle.) webmeadow is a solar-powered technical development company. Both companies are led by charismatic leaders with great vision - and both work in crowded markets with all sorts of "me too" names.

We've helped our clients step outside of the "green" label and establish identities that show there is an alternative to using camo in the masthead.

...and this gets down to what we believe is the role of the professional namer in business.

Should a namer just give a client what they say they want? We're going to go out on a limb and say "no." Our job is not to give a client whatever they say they want - because often the client either doesn't know what they want or doesn't know what's possible. (Both emPivot and webmeadow had great ideas to begin with, but the ideas evolved as we went through the generation and evaluation process.)

We've had a client say they want "A name like 'Flickr' - you know... with that cool short ending" and we didn't give it to them. We've had a client ask for a name with four letters - and they ended up selecting one with twelve, because it actually met the goals we discovered and developed together.

There are quite literally thousands of people in the United States who are qualified to provide lists of names that satisfy exactly what a client says they want. There are hundreds that make a living doing almost exactly that.

There are few, however, that help clients understand what identites can do for an organization, how to launch a brand, or what really matters when trying to decide between multiple strong naming ideas (or even a strong one and a weak one.) Our view is that as namers we are responsible for the words our clients choose. If our clients are set on an identity that is going to handicap them in the long run (or short run, for that matter) it's our job to tell them about that risk.

If namers were only responsible for the generation of lists of names then namers would be no better than a talking thesaurus - and those already exist. If namers are only responsible for producing letters and sounds for clients to consider then I'd put up my own son, Theodore, as a perfect (if high maintenance) source. (He's particularly talented at words with gargles and raspberries in them - and he'll give you near-infinite variations.)

Here it is, folks. Namers don't just make lists. Everyone can do that. If you make lists please don't tell us that your names are more creative, different, or better. Since all you're providing is a bunch of concepts without any guidance or evaluation you can't make any claim other than the number of ideas you provide. While quantity is important during the creative process, quantity is your enemy during the evaluation and implementation phases.

Here's the gauntlet: If you're a namer that deals in lists without context (e.g., no evaluation, implementation help, or detailed guidance) we're saying you're not a namer. You're closer to all the people my wife and I tried to ignore when we were getting ready to name Theodore. Even the great man we named him after gave us lists to consider (and oddly enough he didn't put his own name on the list.)

So... name listers aren't namers.* Anyone want to pick up the gauntlet and mess with us?

Poke. Poke. (Hey, we're Stokefire, after all. We gotta find other uses for this poker.)

(* - Note that we aren't afraid to use name listers ourselves on occasion. It's a critical part of the naming process - especially when a project gets a bit stuck - it's just not the whole thing.)
September 18, 2007 | Tate Linden
We've long stated that acronyms are one of the fastest ways to anonymize your company. We were this close to being proved wrong recently.

How did it almost happen? Apparently a town near Seattle (named South Lake Union) wanted to bring public transportation to town in the mode of a trolley. What could possibly go wrong?

I mean, really... the South Lake Union Trolley is completely innocuous, right?

Alas, the South Lake Union Trolley was not to be - even though folks started selling shirts to show their civic pride and publicizing the new service with "Ride the SLUT" emblazoned on 'em. How many other towns would gain a cult following for their public transit systems? Cool, no?

One article did have an interesting quote right at the tail end, though...
With the streetcar, said Don Clifton, a Cascade resident, "We learned how fun it is to change the name of things."
Amen, brother. (Though it'd have been even more fun to leave it!)
September 17, 2007 | Tate Linden
I'm not sure how I missed this site amongst the clutter of naming sites on the internet. An intriguing concept - using a marketplace of sorts to sell names that someone has thought of and wants to sell. If you're a great namer then this just might work...

...but I think that great naming must be in the eye of the beholder because I'm not so sure that the names being sold are the sort of thing I'd advise my clients to buy - even if I was the one to invent the terms.

Consider the following:
  • Juventure -
    • Supposedly an ideal name for a young venture capital firm. Someone might like to check their homonymic dictionary before grabbing this one. May work very well amongst the Hasidim, however.
  • Stringia -
    • The site lists this as inspired by string theory. We've got friends from Jersey that are already using this word to describe their hair in comparison to someone who uses conditioner.
  • Xirant -
    • The claim on this name is that it is "semantically meaningless." We don't see that. We see "tirant" with a single letter x-ed out. Or if you get creative the "t" just got lazy and flopped over at a 45 degree angle. "Fast, strong, and masculine?" Sure. And prone to genocide too!
Okay, so I'm being a little picky here. We've said it before - any name can be ripped to shreds by someone with even a little bit of experience. But these names certainly make it easier than it should be. (Perhaps if the analysis hadn't been provided we'd be less likely to jump on the issues. If the site had advertised just domain names we'd be far more kind.)

What really got our blood flowing this morning wasn't the quality of the names themselves... it was the use of the (r) after every single name listed. You see, you can't just slap an (r) on something and have it protected. Trademarks don't work that way. You've got to file for protection in specific classes and receive notifcation from the US government. NameSale has never done this for any of the listed names (that we can find.)

They did file for protection on their own name - but that lapsed on July 7, 2005... meaning that the (r) after their own name isn't there legally either.

It's a Monday so I've almost got enough ire to slap "NameSale" in my own website name just to prove a point. Sadly "The ThingNameSaler" looks absolutely horrific and makes no sense at all. It was a good idea though, no? Maybe I could sell and make a fortune!

What should the folks at NameSale have done? Well - if they wanted protection in the US they should've used (tm) or (sm.) Perhaps someone over in Sweden can search the PRV and tell us whether some of these were actually registered over yonder. We're guessing that since there's money involved in both filing and searching that neither was done for these names...

Come on people! If you're going to play in the naming space at least come with your B game.

(Actually, the names provided aren't bad ones... they're just not great names. It's obvious that many of the names in the list were rejected by clients of theirs and they're just trying to recycle them. They're just going about it a little backwards.)

If you want to have more fun just check out The Wayback Machine.You can see how the list of names has evolved over the years. Interestingly enough, the Juventure name hasn't sold since late 2001. (But maybe this post will be the one to push it into the sold column!)

Good luck in the sale of the domain NameSalers! We'll check up later in the year to see what's goin' on.
September 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
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....
September 4, 2007 | Tate Linden
(No, We Still Don't Like Acronyms.)

Why? Because except in rare instances they're forgettable, confusing, costly, and time intensive. ...among other things, of course.

Forgettable because most acronyms (and initialisms) have no connection to the idea behind the letters.

Confusing because if someone wants to get to know the organization or product behind the letters they've got to learn two different names - the abbreviated one and the long, drawn-out one. Additionally, the pronunciation of an acronym or an initialism is often not intuitive.

  • ICQ = "I Seek You" (instead of "Ick!")
  • IEEE = "I triple E"
  • IALA = "Eye Allah"
  • LED = "Ell Eee Dee"
  • IUPAC = "Eye You Pack"
  • SQL = "Ess Cue Ell" or "Sequel"
  • FNMA = "Fannie Mae"
Each of these examples follows a different rule for pronunciation. And this list covers less than half of the potential pronunciation issues. It seems to me that taking the extra effort to say your name, then spell your name, then explain that the letter sounds are actually letter sounds and not full words (as in "ICQ") is more trouble than it is worth. Which leads me to...

Costliness... Supporting two unique identities - the short and long version - takes money. It appears in the use of different names for internal and external documentation, or in different logo presentations, or in linear inches when writing job descriptions for publication in the paper, or - relating to the last issue listed - in time spent explaining what the acronym means.

Time is a significant disincentive for the use of acronyms. If the goal is to do something productive with the hours in your day and your staff is forced to expalin the acronym every time they say it to someone new... aren't you losing a bit of money every time conversation is side-tracked? Yes, you could argue that the additional conversation is about your company so it's "all good" but wouldn't you rather have a conversation better targeted to what you want from the person you're talking to? If it takes 15 seconds to clarify your name each time you say it and you say your name to ten new people a day... that's 2.5 minutes a day or 12.5 minutes per week per staff member. Almost an hour a month of lost time multiplied across your entire sales staff.

It seems to me that it is better to have the listener ask a question about what you can do for them or the value of your offerings intead of asking the most basic question (i.e. "Umm... what's that mean?") Acronyms have a way of making people feel stupid - they're the professional version of "AMonkeySaysWhat?" - forcing us to stop the speaker to clarify an issue that the speaker should've addressed or let the speaker go on as we focus on the fact that we have no clue what was just said. There's an old military prank that guys pull on new recruits - commenting that the hardest part of the job is cleaning up after all of the spent B-1RD (pronounced "Bee One Arr Dee") fuel in the hangar. It's a rare recruit that figures it out in the first couple days.

Want a few more reasons?

How about these:
  1. We did fine for centuries without even having a word to describe what an acronym was. It wasn't until the 1940s (shortly after The New Deal) that the mess of long-winded government programs likely forced us to come up with a way to describe the alphabet soup. Do you really want to be associated with annonymous government programs?
  2. Typically you can't trademark your acronym by itself. And you can't prevent others from using the same one that you do. There aren't enough letters in our alphabet to allow every company and association to get their own short acronym reserved all for themselves. So...
  3. You end up sharing your acronym with hundreds our thousands of other entities and no one can ever find you.
Think the big guys are immune? Think again. ABC - an acronym "owned" by the American Broadcasting Company - seems to have a bit of trouble keeping others off of their letters. On the first page of an ABC Google search we find:
  • " yet Another Bittorent Client"
  • Australia's public broadcasting network
  • The national trade association representing merit shop contractors
  • The audit bureau of circulations
  • ...and references to three different branches of the American Broadcasting Company.
If we're generous and we allow a contextualizing term like "towing" to be added to ABC we should be able to find our local tow shop, right?


Unless you're fortunate enough to be in Hammond, Indiana. Those guys are easy to find. Most of the other 1.8 million "ABC Towing" hits are for other companies in other cities and states - and are entirely unrelated to the guys in Hammond.

Acronyms, plainly stated, are perhaps the fastest way to become permanently anonymous in business.

That said, there are exceptions. One quick look at FCUK and you'll see there are ways to get attention. But (thankfully?) there can really be only one FCUK. However, I know without even looking that even this name has been copied. I'll give ten to one odds that FUKC and FCKU are both being marketed as copycat brands... (But that is a rant for another day.)

Aww heck... I couldn't resist!
August 30, 2007 | Tate Linden
Looks like the DSCC has selected the four finalists to vote on. (See yesterday's post for context.)

They are:
  1. Sorry W - I'm The Decider
  2. Now You Know Why I'm a Democrat
  3. About Dem Time
  4. Look where voting republican has gotten us
Anyone feel moved?

Quick thoughts:
  1. The first concept references the President - even though he's not running for office. Why would we apologize to him - or use his language to justify voting Democrat? And weren't we all the "Deciders" last time (and the time before) when he won? If we're the deciders then we're worse at it than he is.
  2. The second concept makes little sense to me. I actually don't know why you're a Democrat - and the statement prevents me from asking any questions. We feel like an idiot for not knowing. Or at least I do. And the fact that the Dems already have the Senate (and haven't done a helluva lot with it) calls into question the entire statement. Lastly, I thought you voted Dem to prevent W from wreaking havoc. That's not an issue any more.
  3. About Dem Time? Cute. Slogan-like. A little bitter. And... Dems already have the Senate, so it sort of lacks punch. How can it be about Dem time when it has been Dem time for the last two years? Are we talking presidential, senatorial, or just general politics here?
  4. And the last? Where has voting republican gotten us? And why does it matter since most voters didn't vote that way in the last election? Sure there's the whole war debacle, but a Dem controlled Senate hasn't fixed it. On the plus side - if we did vote red last time then this is the only message that speaks to us. But it only has teeth if we voted red and regretted it.
We can do better.


Maybe if they started by telling us what the slogan was supposed to do for the party and the platform we could've produced something better... That of course would require the party to have someone who knew what the heck you could achieve with a slogan.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?
August 29, 2007 | Tate Linden

I just read on POPwink (a couple days too late) that the Dems are looking to come up with a new bumper sticker. I had no idea.

You should read Michael's post over there, and I must agree that his judgement (that the ones they've come up with are "hideous") is spot on.

The choices they've laid out for us are:
  • W IS OUT - Send the Right Wing with Him
  • What Have Republicans Done For You Lately?
  • 2006 Was Just the Beginning. More Dems in '08
Ouch. Y'all already know I dislike naming contest and such, so I won't go into that here.

Is the left wing in such a state that they have to recycle old concepts? Two of the four are just reworking old slogans "No Child Left Behind" and "What Have You Done For Me Lately." One uses a visual key to link W (as in Bush) to Wing (as in right) but seems to ignore the fact that the left has a wing too. The last option seems to endorse doing whatever we did in '06... but somehow doing it better.

None of them seem catchy. None of 'em seem smart. None of 'em speak to me (as one of the centrists that typically decide elections.) None of them take advantage of the location of the message (a bumper.) None of them are memorable (without having to recall either right wing rhetoric or bad pop songs.) These are conversation enders rather than conversation starters.

But what if you could fix that? What if you had a phrase that sounded catchy, implied at least a bit of intellect, could speak to disaffected centrists, used language that mixed well with the bumper medium, and could be used by talking heads as a conversation starter?

I think it's possible.

Something like "The Right Turn Is Left" (tm)(sm)(c)(etc...) above a contextualizing message such as "Democrats for ___________" (where the blank is a platform cause) or "Vote Democtratic in '08" seems to fit the bill.

It throws wordplay, logic, message, direction, context, mnemonics and all sorts of good stuff (like the fact that this is a "Googlenope" as I write this) at the reader without preaching about "W" or gloating about 2006...

...and you can almost hear people chanting it at the Democratic Convention if you listen hard enough.

(Added bonus - the logical Republican response "The Right Turn is Right" or "The Left Turn Is Left" loses all of the power and wit that the use of the conflicting statement brings. It's a hard slogan to fight effectively.)

Anyone else think there's a better option?
August 21, 2007 | Tate Linden
This is only loosely related to naming. And yet I find myself unable to stop myself from writing about it. Perhaps you can scream at me (like a banshee?) and I'll stop.

According to Web sources, a banshee is a wailing, weeping, screeching, or screaming harbinger of death.

So why is the term coming up in business? Perhaps as a warning to those that make bad business decisions? Or because of the reference to Celtic mythology?

Sadly, no. Mostly it's just because people don't know what the word means.

There's "Grow Business Like A Banshee" from the American Chronicle - perhaps a reference to the fact that when you tell people they're going to die they're more apt to buy life insurance? Chet Holmes (CEO of Chet Holmes International) wrote the article without a single reference to the helpful screeching babes. Based on the article it seems, in fact, that the term "like a banshee" is actually a stand in for "people who can multiply by two." Who knew?

There's someone going by the handle "daibebtates" on 43things that wants to "learn to type like a banshee." This is one guy I do *not* want to have in the cubicle next to me.

Though not technically business related, there's a woman who met a guy who'd "want to kiss and make out like a banshee" but never went any further. I'm tellin' you... death can be such a turnoff. Makes sense to me that after shouting into a woman's mouth about morbid stuff I'd be in absolutely no mood for hanky panky.

Only related to business when preceded by "doing my...", Kitty Foreman of "That 70s Show fame shouted "I have to pee like a banshee" as she rushed to the bathroom. We are left to wonder why we heard nothing from her once the door shut.

Professors even fall victim to misuse - saying things like "This thing will be spinning like a banshee" as if it were a subclass of dervish. Or perhaps a brand of wooden top.

The real cause for this post was something read to me by my wife (honest!) that came from O, The Oprah Magazine. The name of the piece was "Network like a banshee." Is it just me, or does everyone else also picture someone showing up, grabbing a beer, a snack wrapped in a greasy napkin, then turning to the crowd and shouting,

C'mon - with all Oprah's money you'd think she could hire editors that catch this stuff...

At least Yamaha got the name/sound connection right. (Though the whole ATV as symbol of impending death is a little distasteful to me given the safety issues it has...)

Lesson in naming:(?) Don't use a word just because it feels right. Make sure you spell it right and don't unintentionally choose a homonym or eggcorn that makes you look foolish or uneducated. The ear isn't always right...
August 1, 2007 | Tate Linden
I don't know about you, but when I need cheering up I don't have to go far. I'm not sure who is behind the "Bad Product Names" blog, but more often than not I am entertained when I read it. The most recent post - on an education firm - had me in stitches for quite a while.

The company describes itself thusly:
Learnia's comprehensive solution includes integrating benchmark assessments to deliver a wide range of timely, actionable reports to meet the specific needs of every level of education professional. Learnia also provides valuable information on developing relevant instructional strategies and interventions, and a Client Services program that helps ensure success for you and your students.
...and already I'm feeling severe pain in my side just from reading this stuff.


Apparently the "learning power for the classroom" they provide does not include any lessons on rhyme.

It is a great name, actually. It just wasn't used to its full potential. This one needs humor and gumption to pull off well...

The name was developed by the team at Strategic Name Development - a firm whose work I very much respect. This one I'd love to hear a bit more about, however. Was it suggested in jest and the client liked it? Did you suggest that they use it with a dose of attitude and they didn't get the point? (Yeah... I know you can't really say... but I figured I'd ask just in case...)
July 20, 2007 | Tate Linden
We don't have the answer yet, but we're checkin' it out.

We've identified a few patterns and we're lookin' to see which one takes the cake as the all-out-overused champion of them all. We'll look to Seth Godin's list, TechCrunch, and a few other places to see what we find. Is it:
  • Trunkatn Wrds
  • Zwitching Lettorz
  • U51ng Numb3r5 4 n0 r34s0n
  • Using "-ster"
  • iThink uKnow dPrefix thing...
  • Calling yourself a ".com" (kinda like we do... only serious-like.)
Or something else? Come take the survey and tell us! And if you don't want to hazard a guess at which is most common, at least grace us with your opinion as to which is the most annoying.

My peeve? I'm pickin' truncation. Flickr be damned. And I'll go out on a limb and pick truncation as the most common fault as well.

C'mon folks - show that you care! We might not be able to stop the madness, but at least we can show we won't go quietly.

Results of our back-of-the-napkin research to come next week.
July 16, 2007 | Tate Linden
A close friend recently confided in me that they read my blog, but really only find it interesting or entertaining on days that I'm "pissed off" about something. Typically I find a topic that irks me for some reason and it'll take me a good week or two to get the rant out of my system.

My rants are a bit like Columbo. Just when you think I'm all done I'll come back with "just one more thing..."

Anyhow, my current issue is the fact that I can't figure out how some of my peers in the industry do their stuff. Last Friday's post seems to have been well received (though may have something to do with me buying tickets to Aruba for a few people) and I find that I'm unable to get myself off the same topic. Though this time it has a slightly different focus - we're back to people's names.

There's a link on Maryanna's website (that's Maryanna Korwitts, not "Kowitts" as I'd printed last week) that allows you to get a first name report card for yourself. You can try it here. It's pretty cool.

...Except that it sucks for me.

Sure, my reportcard says I'm a "Logical, Pioneering, Practical Individualist" but it also suggests that I'm not creative, I'm not sexy, I'm bad at relationships and I have trouble getting my ideas across. On the plus side, I'm somewhat healthy, and I'm gonna be pretty well off in the money and job department. (If I were a female I'd be pretty sick, so I had some good fortune there, too.)

What really gets me, though is that according to Maryanna I share my "first name vibration" with Bob Dole. (And also Babe Ruth, Frankie Avalon, and Kate Jackson, but who cares about them?) Excuse me, but Tate Linden does not share anything with Bob Dole. Tate Linden wouldn't know where to find Bob Dole to share anything with him even if Tate Linden wanted to. Tate Linden is not, however, above making jokes at Bob Dole's expense.

I know that no one is saying that a name guarantees a particular personality - but with the name "Tate" I just can't figure out where these ascribed qualities are coming from. I know there's a Tate George (baskeball player) and a Tate Donovan (actor) but few of us Tates have made much of a name for ourselves to establish a precedence. Most of what I've seen has shown that folks with 'my' name are pretty creative. Is it that we folks with the name don't know we're poorly endowed (namewise, of course) and thus aren't held back by our moniker's downside? Anyone have any idea why "Tate" isn't seen as an artisticly talented sex god who is like totally into monogomous committed relationships and can talk like Jon Stewart (though is much taller, of course)?

What I wouldn't give to have a name like Ava - which is evidently a "potential winner!" (Along with Dyanah, Samara, Ericha, Kevan, Margery, Leigha, and dozens more. The thing they have in common for me? Aparently I have never met anyone who is a potential winner.)

But what peeves me more than anything else is this: Deepak is sexier than I am. Oh, and my little son Theodore is completely hosed. Unless he goes by TJ, or Theo. (And no, Teddy and Ted aren't too good either.)

Major apologies to both my wife and son. For different reasons.
July 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
This Post is PG-13. Youngsters please go about your business elsewhere.

Frequent readers will know that I really do try not to slam peers in the industry over their work. I will occasionally discuss slip-ups (and we've pointed to a few from Landor), negative stakeholder reactions (Weber Marketing Group has been exceedingly helpful in bringing an inside look at a difficult project,) and bad decisions made by consumers. I did once tear apart a firm in New York for putting together a video that was so awful I couldn't help but watch the catastrophe multiple times to be sure I absorbed all of its horribleness.

After yesterday's post and numerous comments and emails on how strange Maryanna's business was, I was prompted to look into what else she has going.

Lo, she's a corporate namer.

...With an online portfolio containing "just a few of the many names created at Biz Naming Central."

This is the part of the story where things begin to go badly for Maryanna. Sadly it appears that it's the start of the story - and it pretty much stays on track from what we can see.

Maryanna has listed a slew of names - many of which are highly evocative. And most of which (again sadly) are fatally flawed. Also note that we couldn't find a single name on the list that was connected to a business we could locate online (not even a mention of the company in an online phonebook!) But maybe we didn't look hard enough.

It is obvious that Maryanna is a highly creative individual - we at Stokefire just happen to believe that creativity must be tempered by practical and experienced analysis, and we find that the latter is severely lacking. Here are a few (or more) examples:
  • "Accesstar" - Mortgage and Lending Services. Not too bad until you do a parse check and find out that that final "s" doing double duty ending "access" and beginning "star" now makes the name parse literally as "Access Tar." Might be good as an asphalt supplier, but the connotation that getting to your money might has anything to do with that sticky black substance rather ruins the name for us. It's a name that will horribly backfire the first time there's bad press.
  • "Buildonics" - Construction Planner and Developer. Okay, this one has two issues. The first is that the "bui" is an awkward grouping of letters. The eye expects to see "bul" and (two of the three people that read the name over my shoulder thought it was the latter.) The second - and more critical - issue is that the name doesn't make audible sense. Buildonics links (for us) to Ebonics (though we suppose any phonics would likely do.) We think that Maryanna was going for "We're fluent in building" but what it strangely evoked for the Stokefire staff was "We know how to mimic Bill Cosby." No, this wasn't a race thing. It's just that when you say "Buildonics" out loud it sounds just like "Bill-donics." As in Cosby. Is it just us?
  • "The Nutshell Cafe" - Organic Food Deli. This is another two-banger. First, the connotation that the organic food (already thought of as less flavorful than the bad stuff like Twinkies) might have the texture of nutshells... probably isn't going to win much business. Second - let's do a quick parse check. "Nutshell" parses into "Nuts Hell" - and again makes an easy insult when the service is a little slow. Is it so bad that we'd never use it? Nope. But we'd certainly make the ownership aware that the name could backfire.
  • "Head High Living" - Image consultant/coach. Lesson number one for an image consultant: Don't use a name that makes it sound like you're stoned. Unless that's what you are... and then we'd wonder why you didn't use "420 Living" since everyone we know who is into that can't help but giggle when they hear someone say that number.
  • "Clique Hire" - Recruiting Firm. Yeah, we get that "Clique" and "Click" are homonyms (for people who don't know how to pronounce "clique.") That's pretty cool. But there are two big problems. First, no one will know how to find the company when they hear the name unless you take the time to explain how to spell it. Second, the term "clique" brings to mind all sorts of negative qualities that one typically doesn't associate with good workers. I personally hear "clique hire" and the image of a gum-snapping, fur boot-wearing admin who can't answer the phone because she's drying her nails. Again, it's probably just me.
  • "Hyyrus" - Computer and Small Business Support. Hey look - it rhymes with "Hire Us!" Coolness. Oh, and it also rhymes with Virus. Regardless, it makes us wonder what the alternate spelling does for the company. It feels like creativity for creativity's sake, not because it has a real purpose. (We hire our computer guys because they get the job done, not because they try new ways of fixing things.)
  • "iiDon Security Associates" - Hi-rise Security Firm. We didn't know this line of work existed, but it does make sense. We have to wonder about a few things - such as how the name is supposed to be pronounced ("Two Don," "Aye Aye Don," "Edon"), what the two "i"s are supposed to mean, why they aren't capitalized, and whether or not they're supposed to evoke the twin towers (and why a hi-rise security firm would ever want to be linking their own success to such a tragedy.)
  • "Phlaire" - Unisex Hair Services Salon. Thankfully people don't need to know how to spell a barbershop to get their hair cut. However, I'd argue that any spelling of the word "flair" is going to be hard-pressed to pull in the average American male as a client of a "hair services salon."
  • Pebblethorn Landscape & Design - "High-end Soft & Hard Landscaping Company." Potential slogan - "Pebblethorn - For Quality You Feel In Your Sole" or perhaps "Another Yard By Pebblethorn - Shoes Strongly Advised"
But one name had us in tears for a good 15 minutes. Apparently there's a sound and recording company with some real... gusto... out there. Had it not been for this wonderful treasure of a name this whole blog post never would have happened. But it did.

The name?


Rather than explain to you why this name is so striking to us, I will instead just list what we found in Google when we looked for the company. (I've edited the findings for our most delicate readers. If you search Google you'll likely see the beautiful/horrible truth.)
  • From "Surf Messages" - "if you stay in the south of my pants you can get access to my d*** real quick and surf my spunkwave. oh and bring some f****n weed..."
  • From "NG BBS - weirdest fetish you've heard of?" - "Watch out for the spunk wave Chun-Li! O no she's drowning!"
  • From "SENT IN THONG PICS!" - "The people on the beach wouldn't have a clue... until I c***, then they would have to run for cover cos of my tidal spunk-wave."
  • From a thread on a bulletin board entitled "I have the sperm capacity of an oil tanker" - "watch out for a tidal spunk wave..."
  • And most incomprehenibly and poetically of all - from a site called "white teen sex orgy" - "She His young hard teen archives threw many her was head other back and name let When out moan a long, deep upon moan as embraced the tidal spunk wave floor..."
We await Spunkwave's first release with, well, to be honest... a bit of anxiety.

For some creativity comes easily. Sadly it often is the case in this world of specialization that creativity and hard analytical skills aren't paired in the same person. Perhaps this is the case here.

And bringing this back to something a bit more related to what we do at Stokefire - we know that there are different skills required to name well. It's why we break our name generation process into multiple parts. We've found that the skills required to pull names out of thin air are different than those required to iterate on a single promising idea to find the best option. A mix of pure creatives and analytical types is required to discover, develop, analyze, adjust, and release a great name. Having all of one type results in greatly reduced chances for a strong identity.

That said, we did think there were a few interesting or promising names on Maryanna's list. She's certainly got creativity. But her apparent approach puts the responsibility for knowing whether or not the creative name is a good one on the shoulders of the client. We at Stokefire feel strongly that our clients shouldn't have to know what makes a good name - that's what our expertise is for. We're not cheap - and part of what you're paying for is our ability to prevent you from (and this is going to sound really bad, but we don't mean it that way) releasing your own "Spunkwave."

The names on Maryanna's list appear quite similar to the stuff that shows up during our creative sessions. Perhaps that's what the list actualy is - since there's no mention that the names are in use (only that they were created.) And for a creative list it ain't bad. But creative lists aren't what a client needs.

Clients need guidance.

What good is a big bunch of creative names if the client has no tools with which to measure how appropriate they are for their particular goals? Sure, it's better than a kick in the face (though that kick will often be less expensive) but what does it actually get you?

More on name lists versus brand development and on the creative process... to come.
July 2, 2007 | Tate Linden
Quite a few of our clients often call into question one of the most basic assumptions we tell them to make. The assumption? If a name can be shortened in any way - via acronyms, dropping syllables, or just using the first portion of the name - your customers will find and use it.

(The companion parable to this - that you should never try to create your own abbreviated name from your full length name unless your clients force the issue - is something I'll address another time.)

Most recently a client protested that I was being overly pessimistic and that people aren't that lazy. Here's what they said in as close as I can get to an exact quote:
That's an overreaction, Tate. You should have more faith in the human race, nyo? We're not that lazy.
Perhaps you can guess which word I'm going to point out as proving my point.

No, it isn't the apostrophe-"s" of "That's". It's "nyo."

If we can't take the time to pronounce a two syllable thought ("You Know") then how can we expect ourselves to say the long version of anything?

If you examine where this particular example of truncation and shortening comes from I think you'll find that it traces back something like this:
  1. Do you know what I mean?
  2. Ya know what I mean?
  3. Know what I mean?
  4. You know?
  5. Y'know?
  6. Nyo?
  7. (and very recently) Ye-o?
Listen closely next time you're having a conversation. The verbal shorthand we're using for "You know?" has almost nothing to do with the letters contained in the words of the phrase. We've got a definite "y" sound and an "oh" sound - but everything else seems to have fallen away.

I'm sure there are linguists out there that would be upset about this for all sorts of reasons. And I'm certain there are others that show this as proof that our language is healthy and adapting. My only reason for bringing it up is to show that we're always going to try to make things easier for ourselves.

It isn't General Electric, it's GE. It isn't Kentucky Fried Chicken - it's KFC.

And Stokefire? You'll never see us call ourselves "SF" or any other shortening. It's one of the reasons why we don't use mid-Caps in our name. Midcaps promote the use of acronyms and abbreviations. We figure if we're going to go to the expense of creating a name for ourselves and printing it on business cards we probably shouldn't be using a name that begs to be abbreviated. After all - we try hard to get our name in front of our prospective partners and clients... why would we want to double our effort by putting two names out there? (The real one and the abbreviated one.)

We endeavor to have a name that doesn't go the way of "Do You Know What I Mean" and instead begs to be sounded out. Maybe even emphasized. And we endeavor to create those for our clients. Sure, there's power in GE, KFC, and IBM - but those names have millions of dollars of marketing to keep them in the minds of prospective clients. For companies that wish to be a bit more economical with their marketing dollars it makes sense to get a name that doesn't break down into an acronym.

Seems to be working well for Google, doesn't it?
June 28, 2007 | Tate Linden
I received a letter in the mail from one of my representatives yesterday. It contained a newsletter with the title "Whippletter."

As you can probably guess (since you're one of our highly intelligent readers) the esteemed Senator's last name is "Whipple" (First and middle names are Mary and Margaret.)

My question: Does this cramming together of words actually do anything positive for the Senator's brand?

My follow-up question: Since no guide is given to how to pronounce this munged word what would you think the pronunciation should be?
  1. "Whipp-Letter" - ignoring the emphasis and going with the intuitive identification of word parts.
  2. "Whipple-TER" - going with the change in emphasis as the type indicates
  3. "Whipple-Letter" - ignoring the shortening entirely and forcing the word to make audible sense.
Potential lesson in naming:

When looking for creative ways to conjoin two terms you should consider the impact to more than just the way the words look on the page. Show them to people and ask how they'd pronounce it. If people stumble (as most did when I asked around the office) then consider getting rid of the confusing bits. (This is related to a widely accepted concept - that the human brain will look for familiar patterns when trying to figure out how to pronounce something. But sometimes the model identified doesn't provide clear guidance - like the brand "Vild" - is it pronounced like "Wild" and "Mild" or like "Sild" and "Gild". Interestingly most people hit on the latter pronunciation even though the former is more common.)

What do you think?
June 25, 2007 | Tate Linden
Managing expectations is one of the hardest parts of developing powerful names. We work hard at the beginning of a project to ensure that expectations are set correctly. There's a misconception that names can do absolutely everything for a company. For example, here's a (slightly modified) list of things a client wanted from their name on a recent contract - before we helped them pare it down.
  • The name should not use any of the current buzz words or industry descriptors
  • The name should double as the new industry terminology of choice
  • The name should publicize both the existing industry and our own company
  • The name should be easy to say and spell
  • The name should not feel out of place amongst the existing company names in the space, but should still be unique.
  • The name should be intuitive
  • The name should make people feel good about being associated with us
  • The name should attract upper-echelon clients
  • The name shouldn't alienate or existing lower caste clients
  • The name should help to keep clients engaged with us for multiple purchases
  • The name should be progressive and contemporary but should not need to be renamed again due to it going out of style.
  • ...
The list went on from there. And it got even more conflicted as we got into it.

Let me be very clear: Names are the starting block, not the finish line. A good name can help set you apart from your competitors - and can perhaps help with a couple other goals as well... but it cannot get you repeat customers in most situations.

You cannot, I'm afraid, have a name that does absolutely everything for your company. You also cannot have a name that doesn't have at least a few drawbacks. All the best names in the business have flaws - Google sounds like baby-speak, Caterpillars are squishy and eat crops... But the names set them apart - allowing them to get noticed and position themselves versus the competition. From there the companies can take over.

Memorability, evocativeness, pronunciation, strategic fit... these are things we can work on with a name. (We have twenty-six other variables we throw in there too... but you can't have a name with all thirty variables pegged at "10.")

For anyone out there struggling to find the perfect name... just stop. Perfection is not attainable. When you break a name into its constituent variables some will be strong and others won't. Just ensure that the portions that you're leveraging the most for your business are associated with the strong aspects of your name and you'll be set.

Forget the All-Everything name. Just try to get one that is good at something while avoiding any major pitfalls. You'll be so far ahead of most other companies that you'll forget you ever wanted anything more.
June 21, 2007 | Tate Linden
Best. Jingle. Ever.

Please note that I am made unjustifiably happy by the idea that there's a company out there with this name. Or at least it appears that there was a company with this name. I can't find any website for them (but of course I can't speak or write in Japanese, so this isn't surprising.)

Sometimes a name (and jingle) can be so bad (or badly translated) that it becomes almost endearing. This seems to qualify. And before you ask - Stokefire doesn't plan on developing names for translation into Japanese and back to English any time soon. You'll just have to wait for us to expand before you can get gems like National Rich You Grow Corporation and such.

The following text is the only information I can find on the company (and it isn't from a reputable source):
At the dawn of the 21st century and a small Japanese demolition company by the name of Nihon Break Kougyou (Japan Break Industries) tried to come up with an edge to compete in a very difficult arena. They decided to release their corporate theme song to the general public and lo and behold and it became a top ten hit in Japan!
And here's the full lyric just in case you'd like to read ahead while listening...
Break it down! Break around. We're coming to your town. To destroy, if you employ! We'll work without a sound.

The building can't take it for very much more Pieces of concrete are hitting the floor They're the things that get in the way of world peace (The Peace of the Earth is Kept!) Break Out!

Japan Break Industries Steel ball Da Da Da

Japan Break Industries Chemical anchor rock this house to the ground

We bring the house down! We bring the bridge down! We bring the building down! From east to west

We get it on! We get it on! Japan Break Industries

Break defence! Break offence! A faulty residence. Wood and bricks, we'll unfix! For a low expense!

Pile head welding is our forte We got support 24 a day Hammer of justice, high up in the sky (Doesn't this YUMBO go into an eye?)

Break Out! Japan Break Industries

Diamond Cutter Da Da Da

Japan Break Industries Automated compressor let your echoes shake the ground!

We bring the house down! We bring the bridge down! We bring the building down! From east to west We get it on! We get it on! Japan Break Industries

[Musical Interlude]

Japan Break Industries Steel Ball Da Da Da (Ooh!) Chemical anchor Da Da Da (Da!)

Nihon Break Kougyou Diamond cutter Da Da Da (Hey!)

Japan Break Industries Automated compressor let your echoes shake the ground!

We bring the house down! We bring the bridge down! We bring the building down! From east to west We get it on! We get it on! Japan Break Industries

Break it down now!
May 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
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?


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!


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!
May 18, 2007 | Tate Linden
Yep. I'm addicted to The Office - and am not quite sure what I'll do to recreate those uncomfortable laughs I've become accustomed to for the off season.

But this post isn't about my love for the NBC show, it is about the website and company names mentioned on the show's season finale.

The website mentioned? Try: Yeah - it doesn't go anywhere. But you wouldn't believe the number of hits that "creedthoughts" is getting all over the internet. Someone had the foresight to register a week before the episode aired (one can only assume someone on the production staff did it to prevent someone else from profiting) but the .net and a few other sites were snapped up shortly after the line was spoken.

As far as names go - I actually quite like "Creedthoughts". I imagine that for lovers of the show the site would speak directly to those who wonder "what the hell is he thinking?" and it would attract quite a crowd of regular readers. Much like schrutespace, I suppose.

UPDATE: There IS a creedthoughts blog. It is here.

The show did have a rather uncomfortable naming-related moment when Michael Scott wraps up his interview with David Wallace (CFO of Dunder Mifflin):
David: What do you think we could be doing better?

Michael: I've never been a big fan of the name Dunder Mifflin. I was thinking we could name the company something like "Paper Great". Where great paper is our passion. We're grrrrreeeat! I dunno. Could be good. Or, uh, "Super Duper Paper". It's super duper. I dunno. Something like that.

Interviewer: Okay.

Michael: Okay.

Interviewer: Thanks for coming in Michael.
What scares me the most is that this sort of thing really does happen in conversations with prospects and clients. I'll be the first to admit that client-submitted ideas often do quite well and we can build strong identities around them. However... In this case I just was made uncomfortable on every possible level. Wonderfully so, but... still... And if anyone is interested, both and are available for immediate camping and opportunistic exploitation as of 11:47 EDT on Friday, May 18th. Imagine the peaks in traffic you'll get when the DVD launches!
May 8, 2007 | Tate Linden
It certainly beats banning them outright, doesn't it?

I'm really not quite sure how I feel about this story:
An energy drink called Cocaine that was pulled from store shelves in Illinois last week is being discontinued nationwide.

The company that produces the drink said today it's pulling the drink because of concerns about its name.
What the company doesn't say is that some states had banned the sale of the product because they felt it glamorized drug use. So - I've a strong feeling that this was less about "concerns" and more about "bottom lines."

The company is taking the step of re-naming their product.

As I think about it more I think I am leaning towards an opinion... I don't like it. There are quite a few reasons to be concerned. A few right off the top of my head:
  1. Free Speech: Do companies have a right to sell products with provocative names that do not cross the line into profanity? Heck, do they have the right to sell products with profane names? It seems to me that the answer to the first should be "yes." The answer to the second question I'm not as sure about. I've strong opinions about free speech and its value - and limiting someone's ability to say a word or sell a product is a step that I'm not sure we should have taken here.
  2. Censorship: Similarly, I hadn't heard any advertisements about the product. Only the media (and we bloggers) were giving it publicity. I can understand the FCC cracking down on this if they broadcast it - but they didn't (as far as I know.) It is fine for the press and public to criticize a product and say that it shouldn't be sold - but for the government to act on these opinions and force the company to rename is different. Opinions are one thing. Enforcing opinions leads to censorship.
  3. Where do all the bad products go?: The only reason anyone was buying this drink was to push the envelope and show how edgy they were. From the folks I know that have tried it I've heard it tastes horrible. Have a crappy product? Give it a name that pushes people's buttons. Make it collectible. It is a time honored tradition to find ways to move product. Saying that certain types of names are off limits for no reason other than that they offend some people's delicate sensibilities (there's no profanity here, remember) means that products without strong appeal in and of themselves will have a harder time selling. That's great for product quality overall, but bad for the average or below average product that loses an escape route.
  4. Slippery Slope: Okay, so we know "Cocaine" isn't allowed. What about "Dope", "Morphine", "Speedball", "Ganja", "Uppers", "Drug of Choice" and the like? Are all of them not allowed? How about naming an energy drink "Vodka?" Would that be allowed? Or "Binge/Purge" because that would glamorize a sickness. Or "Steak" because Vegans everywhere would be upset. Or "Eenryg" - because it might offend dyslexics.
  5. A Clueless FDA sez What?: In a warning letter to Redux - the folks behind the Cocaine drink - the FDA claims that the product being sold is not only a drug, but a new one:"Your product, Cocaine, is a drug, as defined by Section 201(g)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1), because it is intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, 21 U.S.C. §§ 321(g), 321(ff), and 343(r)(6). Moreover, this product is a new drug, as defined by Section 201(p) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(p), because it is not generally recognized as safe and effective for its labeled uses. Under Sections 301(d) and 505(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(d) and 355(a), a new drug may not be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce unless an FDA-approved application is in effect for it. Your sale of Cocaine without an approved application violates these provisions of the Act."
Yes, Cocaine is a provocative name. It was named purely as a PR stunt and it worked. (Sadly.) But no one is claiming that there is actual cocaine in the product. Note that the FDA hasn't taken action against Sunny Delight - and these people are selling cancer (or is it instant immolation) in a bottle! Imagine if a piece of the sun were to get into the hands of an unsuspecting consumer! Oooh! Or what about Victoria's Secret? What if her secret was actually cocaine? Sounds like we'd have to ban it, right?

Both the FDA and consumers at large are smarter than this, aren't they?

The real reason I'm a bit up in arms about the action taken here is that there is no law that I know of that prevents people from selling products named after illicit drugs. I remember there were nail polishes a couple years back that referenced illicit sex and drug use. Why didn't we ban them?

C'mon US and state governments - if you're going to ban something with the backing of the government YOU NEED TO PASS A LAW MAKING IT ILLEGAL. Until that time you're just using knee-jerk censorship.

So knock it off. Let Cocaine (the non-controlled energy drink) be sold. Figure out how to limit commerce in a way that isn't going to backfire (no "I know it when I see it" stuff) and put it on the books.

Namers across the land will thank you. Or at least I will.

And if I'm mistaken and there IS a law about names that glorify certain substances I'd love to hear about it.

Tate Linden Principal- Stokefire 703-778-9925
May 4, 2007 | Tate Linden
Stop with the emailing! I will write about it. (But I do so under protest.)

Yeah, you all are exactly right. I don't like it. There are so many reasons for me to potentially be displeased that it becomes even less likeable due to the fact that I have to sort through the pile of bad stuff figuring out what reasons I want to share...

Whatever... Let me start digging.
  1. Where the heck did Google pull the "i" prefix from? I don't see it on any other products or services provided by them. iGotnoidea.
  2. Okay, so I know where they pulled the "i" from. They got it from Apple. (And I suppose until recently they might have gotten it from Cisco too.) Note that only the iMac, iPhone iTunes and iPod are well known - and Apple has tons of stuff with the iPrefix that we don't talk about much.
  3. Five years after they send a cease and desist order to WordSpy for verbing "Google" they appear to be verbing the word themselves. If I'm not mistaken, if you hear "I Google" doesn't that imply that Googling is something that one can do? Think about it... if someone says "iGoogle" couldn't a logical response be, "you do?"
  4. With all the great new ideas Google puts out there, where do they get off using a copycat name? (Is it because they're trying to disprove my theory?)
The only way I can see this name as being good for Google is if there's a merger coming up that we don't know about.

I have about five other reasons why this ain't a good thing, but I'll leave it to the many other bloggers who have already covered this. Just rest assured that I'm probably as peeved as you all thought I'd be about it.

I'd be more peeved if I didn't just get "Shaun of the Dead" for a birthday present from my wife. (Yeah, I'm probably the only person in the world that has this on his top ten movies list, but I wear that badge proudly!)

Tate Linden Principal - Stokefire 703-778-9925
May 3, 2007 | Tate Linden
...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
May 2, 2007 | Tate Linden
It is a sad day for us. A potential client came to us asking for help with a name a few months back. We loved the concept, we loved their attitude, we loved the people - but for a few reasons they decided to name themselves. These things happen...

But so do unfortunate names.

I won't mention the full three-word name (out of respect for what is actually a great company,) but the logical shortening of the name is The VD Group.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that"

May 2, 2007 | Tate Linden
...but sometimes it can help.

VIMO - a search and comparison engine for finding doctors announced a new name in 2006. They used to be "Healthia."

I personally have no problem with the name VIMO - it evokes the concept of Wine for me - as in "Vino". This led immediately to a connection with the toast "To Your Health!" And that seemed to make at least a little bit of sense to me.

This, however was not what the company leaders apparently intended. Here is a quote from a VC blogger who wrote about it last year:
So the folks at Healthia were happy to announce yesterday that they have selected a long term moniker for their company (and without retaining a "naming consultant"). The new name Vimo evokes:

(i) vim, as in health, vigor, and vitality;

(ii) the Gujarati word vimo, meaning insurance;

(iii) the Swahili vimo, meaning measurements and also stature;

and, most importantly

(iv) the urban slang vimo meaning sexy, cool and impeccable.
I was unable to figure out where the blogger got the connotations from (The press release doesn't mention them) but I hope that the justifications he provides aren't the ones they used.

Here's why -
  1. VIMO doesn't connect strongly to "vim." Why? Because Vimo appears to naturally be pronounced "Vee-Moe." While I don't condone it, if you wanted to make the connection with vim noticeable you'd have to play with capitalization - like "VIMo" or "VimO" - or you could force the correct pronunciation by using "Vimmo."
  2. Given that the service is sold in the United States and that their target customer likely speaks neither Gujarati nor Swahili, the fact that the name has meaning in those languages means absolutely nothing to the consumer. Since the service being sold is a portal and not an end-use (e.g., they are going to find someone who will solve a problem - and that someone will require a discussion or visit off the website) there is no incentive to stay with the site long enough to have these definitions sink in.
  3. The urban slang dictionary is notorious for having bogus definitions. Most of the terms in it appear to be from people trying to make up new trendy-speak so that they can say they started it all.
Still, this isn't a bad name - and I'd even go so far as to say it is a good one. Nice length, nice sound, fun to say...

The place where the name falls down (and where a naming consultancy can help) is in telling the story. Rather than telling people what the name evokes:

"Our new name, Vimo, communicates vim, vigor, energy and enthusiasm -- collectively characterizing our commitment to empowering consumers in their quest for reliable healthcare information,"...

... the leadership could make a stronger connection. Sure, the first three letters spell "vim" but where is the rest of that communication coming from? The letters themselves? The implication that wine is involved? And then there's the question of how "vim, vigor, energy and enthusiasm" characterize a commitment to empowering consumers to do anything. It just sounds like marketing-speak to me.

I can't stand marketing speak. As soon as I start hearing words like "paragon" or having a search engine described as enabling a "quest" I just tune out. Does anyone out there listen to this stuff? I certainly hope that the stories Stokefire builds actually sound like something people might say in real life.

Vimo is a fine name. Just give the bogus stuff a rest and speak with your own voice. Leverage the more obvious meanings not the hidden ones... and tell it like it is.

I wish you all a pleasant start to your day, and may you have the best of occurences coincidentally befall you as you progress towards the darkening hour.

Tate Linden Principal - Stokefire 703-778-9925
April 25, 2007 | Tate Linden
Okay, there's more than one thing, but this one is on my mind today. A fellow namer came up with a great name and I was about to go give 'em major kudos - and maybe even mention their name here... and then I saw how the client had executed on the name.

Sadly, we as namers often don't get the opportunity to do more than we're hired to do - which is to name a singular thing. Companies identify a need to create a new product name, or perhaps rename the entire company, and set about finding a provider for that service. Once the provider is found they allow the provider to work within the confines of the project, but don't allow the provider to affect the rest of the environment at the company.

My friend renamed the company, creating a rich and meaningful word that leads the mind to all sorts of visual cues and imagery. The client apparently loved the name and adopted it. And then the project apparently ended...

Here's the problem. The company changed their name - but their product naming is still more in line with who they were before the change. So we have this wonderfully flexible and approachable name on the masthead, and then we see these flat unpronouncable three letter acronyms for the products they sell.

Let's let namers name, eh? If you stop at the name on the masthead or door your clients are going to be confused when they get to you. There's a reason why Apple sells the Macintosh and not the APL-05G. If you give yourself that cool name you've got to embrace it and what it means.

Here's to hoping those three letter acronyms at the afore(un)mentioned company are gone post haste.

I'm rooting for you!

Tate Linden Principal - Stokefire 703-778-9925
April 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
I6.jpg'll be the first to tell you that I've got a really cool wife. She's stylish, smart, funny, and there's that whole thing about her carrying my unborn child that makes her all the more appealing...

Anyhow, my wife was flipping through a magazine about pregnancy and came across this great little invention that is basically a soft and stylish blanket with a short strap that links around the neck of a nursing mother so that the little tyke can drink in privacy. The product is made by BEBE AU LAIT - a very classy sounding company in this namer's opinion. Even the tagline, "nursing covers for chic mothers" points to upscale and stylish customers. So it rather makes me wonder what the heck they were thinking when they named this spiffy new product...

Hooter Hiders(tm)

Really. That's the name.

Apparently it got the name because some male friend called it that upon seeing it in use.

I must admit that the name is quite descriptive.

But, no, I don't like it.

My reasons:
  1. When was the last time you heard a style-conscious breast-feeding mom refer to her life-giving breasts as "hooters?"hooters_triplets.jpg
  2. The disconnect between the word "chic" and "hooters" is huge. In fact, when searching the internet for "Chic Hooters" I found many hits. All of them seem to be porn sites that evidently can't spell "Chick." Imagine walking into a trendy boutique in New York... now ask yourself if you'd expect to see the bra section labeled "hooter holders."
  3. If a husband is going to buy his wife something for her... assets... I'm guessing more often than not it is going to involve the displaying of said assets rather than the hiding of them. Why does this matter? Because the name "Hooter Hiders" is a name that I believe is more targeted at the male psyche than the female one. Think I'm being stupid? Ask yourself this: Why aren't there any companies marketing breast pumps as "Knocker Kneaders?" I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that men aren't good at spelling silent letters.
  4. It is never a good idea to go up against La Leche League. Based on what I've read of theirs (and I do like 'em... I really do) it seems that anything that inhibits the fresh-air experience of breast feeding in public is to be shunned. The Courts often support them. Feeding an infant is pretty-much the only time a woman's breast can be publicly displayed in the United States while staying within the bounds of the law. Upsetting a bunch of lactating women by suggesting that they abandon their rights... yeah... not so smart.
  5. You will never get any desireable spokespeople to stand up and proclaim your product is worthwhile. Can you imagine Oprah, Gweneth, or Angelina saying they can't live without Hooter Hiders? Anna Nicole (GRHS) might have been up to the challenge, but few others would dare.
  6. EXTRAFUNTIMEBONUS Reason: The name logically doesn't work. Hooter (singular) Hiders (plural) implies one of a few things. Choose from a sampling:
    1. More than one of the product is needed to entirely hide one hooter
    2. Only one breast should be hidden
    3. The product is sold in packs (and thus must be referred to with the plural) like Huggies.
    4. A secret membership organization that advocates either:
      1. Going around placing one of their breasts in hard to find locations OR
      2. Finding owls and forcing them into said hard to find locations (presumably after aforementioned breasts have been removed.)
  • Note that there's a pretty good reason they likely didn't go with the grammatically correct version of "Hooters Hider" since it would be homonymic with "Hooter Cider" and I'm thinkin' that wouldn't go over well.
There are a couple of ways that the name could work - but they're even more risky than I would personally advocate for
  1. Get the backing of La Leche League and use this as a way to dissuede the populace from asking to have breast-feeding women cover their breasts. Make them use to "proper name" for the product. "Oh, you mean you want me to pull out my Hooter Hiders? Sure... just ask me to use it and I'll do so." Most of the people offended by the sight of a woman's breast probably will have trouble saying the word "breast" so I'm guessing that "Hooter" will be a near impossibility.
  2. Market 'em to husbands. Instead of going for chic and trendy go for comical. Have the designs show a woman holding a big bottle of beer up to her chest instead of a kid.
  3. Wait for the next "Sex and the City" type show or movie and pay major bucks to get the product mentioned in the script or used by one of the sexy progressive women.
If Hooter Hiders does choose to market to men I know just the professional race car driver to pitch the product.

Until then this one goes in my naming Misstep Hall o' Shame. (I may change my opinion of the kind folks at BEBE AU LAIT send us a sample and my wife can actually use it and also tell her grandma what it is. I think I'm safe in saying that she won't be able to bring herself to do so...)

Tate Linden Principal - Stokefire 703-778-9925
April 9, 2007 | Tate Linden
(I can say that, can't I? It's not a euphemism I'm familiar with, but I'm sure someone will take offense...)

There was a time long ago when the staff at Stokefire thought to themselves "Why is it that so many business start blogs, only to watch them fizzle and die?"

We were haughty. We were confident. We occassionally had an hour in our day in which we had time to think to ourselves how wonderfully haughty, confident, and gosh-darn right we were.

We are no longer haughty. Apparently haughtiness takes time. So do blog entries. Oddly enough, things that also take time include rewriting your entire naming process, going through a visual rebranding, responding to requests for proposals, and just plain getting your butt in front of people that want to do business with you.

We are humble.

And we now sort of understand. It happens because life happens. It happens an hour or a day at a time. Soon there's a week of no posts. And then two...

...and then you start getting notes from your clients and fans wondering what the hell happened.

We have some of the most incredible clients in the world - and we forget that one of the reasons they find us incredible (or at least they say they do...) is because of this very blog. When in the midst of a client workshop someone raises their hand and stops us - asking "when are you going to start blogging again" we know we've done something very wrong. We thought that focus on the client experience was paramount, but our clients were wanting to engage with us and see if there were lessons that our staff was learning while working on the project. They liked the fact we wove stories about them into our every day conversation. They wanted to see their name in backlights...

We were being stupid.

So... Hello to all of you out there who threatened to drain our laptop batteries if we didn't get back to it. Hello to my wife who barely stopped short of pointing out that if she can handle nurturing our unborn child in her belly while upholding our constitution and spending nights readying our home for the baby I can darn well invest some effort in keeping her entertained for five minutes of reading while she drinks her morning tea. Hello to Dana who I must also kindly beg to begin her posts again. Hello to Nancy, Denise, John, JT, Kevo, Florence, Mark, Jeffry, the five guys named Mike, Brent, Evan, Claude, and the rest of you that have been kind enough to come back regularly, comment and basically validate our online existence.

Hello blog.

I admit it. I've missed you.

And yes... I've got a whole lot to talk about. (Gotta remember to mention office space tomorrow...)

I'll start tomorrow. Promise!

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 26, 2007 | Tate Linden
In what I consider to be a very smart move, Nissan is looking at changing their current tagline. For some reason the tagline "SHIFT_" is not gaining traction. Of course, me being me... I'm going to spend some time telling you why it isn't working.
  • The use of a special character in a slogan is just plain weird. I'm pretty sure it was meant to be seen as a blank for the reader to fill in, but that isn't readily apparent when read. It almost seems like something you'd see in a click-language.
  • The idea that we could latch on to a concept that has no real identity (shifting) is pretty absurd. They've used the word to connote change, but the concept of change is one that can't define a brand. If your brand is in constant flux then you can't hang on to anyone that wants to buy your product. Think about it. Right after you're lured into buying a Nissan they go and change things up again and you're stuck being connected with a brand that no longer appeals to you. We don't want change - we want the stuff we want.
  • Rule number 43 of taglines. If you have to resort to a special character or something you can't pronounce in your tagline you're not done building yours yet.
  • Rule number 72(a) - If your tagline can be turned against you by the addition or subtraction of a single obvious letter you probably need to do some more work. The number of references to "SHIXT_" and Nissan exceeds 1500 on Google.
  • There's such a thing as a tagline with too many meanings. There was nothing solid to latch on to here. Nissan didn't decide which meaning they wanted, instead choosing for it to mean the act of shifting, mental shift, shift in expectations, stick shift, and more.
What really gets me steamed, though - is that this could be a great tagline... for an internal effort. Nissan was (and is) hurting - and they did need to shift... but they didn't need to tell their customers. Why share the fact that your bottom line is hurting and something needs to change? Sure, candor is often a good thing, but when it comes to cars people need to feel that the company is strong. Who wants a regular-use car for which there is no longer an accountable manufacturer?

About two months ago I found a great document lauding the success of this tagline and showing how great it was that Nissan was able to use the same message internally and externally. It appears to now be offline. If I can find it in my files I will repost it here. It's a great read - especially in light of the recent talk.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
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
March 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
This one is courtesy of YouTube.

The name is M5 Industries., but evidently Adam Savage was hoping for something a little more British...

mythbusters.jpgThe tale of the name picks up part way through Adam's answer to an unheard question.

This is an example of what can happen when you don't do the required research when developing a name. Memory is a funny thing, ain't it?

My guess? Though he says he was going for a reference to James Bond's tech shop (MI6) I think he probably was remembering their Secret Service (MI5). Additionally, in the US we really don't use "MI" for anything - but we do have a fondness for guns like the M60 and fireworks like the M80. There also might be a little bit of Europe in the name if you consider the BMW M5 as an influencer.

I'll call this one "Plausible."

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 19, 2007 | Tate Linden
A good friend sent me a link today to an (expired) vote on what to name Adobe's new "desktop runtime." For the record I have no idea what a desktop runtime is and I really don't much care to invest the time to find out. The key here is that it was given a pretty cool code name by the folks at Adobe prior to launching the full product. Here's what Adobe Labs has to say about the product and code name:
Apollo is a cross-OS runtime that allows developers to leverage their existing web development skills (Flash, Flex, HTML, Ajax) to build and deploy desktop RIA’s.
All you developers out there probably now understand what the product does. I'm still clueless. But that's beside the point. The point is that the code name "Apollo" is still pretty darn cool.

Now the downside.

Adobe is now in the position where it must alienate the developers that have been working on or hyping the product code named Apollo. Why? Because Adobe can't use the name, and doesn't want to come right out and say that they were foolish and didn't check the US Patent and Trade Office before they started using it. If they'd checked they'd have seen over 1300 live and dead marks pertaining to the word.)

Mike Chambers - Sr. Product Manager for Apollo over at Adobe - says as much on his own blog when you read through the comments (starting at about XIII or so.) Sez Mike:

Hehe... Yeah, I like Apollo too. Just remember that there are a lot of considerations when choosing a name, not all of them in our control. (for example, is it already in use, is it something that we could trademark, etc...)

I've said it before. I will continue to say it in perpetuity. Code names that have any meaning at all are bad.

  1. If they have any meaning that pertains to the product or its goals then the intended audience will latch onto that meaning and identity.
  2. Once the audience has accepted the code name they'll raise a huge cry when you try to change it. (Apollo is a cool name. It's just a name that they can't have.)
  3. Typically companies don't want to look like idiots so they refrain from giving the real reason for the change from code name to production name (A.K.A. "we were too lazy to do a five minute search at to figure out that we were going to have some big problems pushing this name through legal.") Kudos to Mike for letting word get out in a friendly and informative way.
  4. ...of course, if the code name misses the mark (as did Google's initial name of "Backrub" - which was meaningful, but rather awkward) then all you've done is weird people out before you try to convince them that you do in fact have a cool product on your hands.
So - if your meaningful name hits you've got a battle to reorient your clients to the new identity and if it misses you've got to start all over again with a new image. I'm not seeing a benefit either way.

If you instead have a policy of naming every product after something innocuous (and gods are not innocuous, by the way) or - even better - don't give your product a code name and instead push to get the real name reserved as quickly as possible then you almost all of the potential headaches.

You've still got to find the right name, however.

If only there were Thingnamers in the world to make things even easier. What a wonderful world that would be...

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 9, 2007 | Tate Linden
Frequent readers will know that I've got problems with the way most organizations utilize taglines. The typical company uses their tagline as a way to fit in rather than a way to stand out. Consider the following examples:
  1. Making your dreams a reality (or) Turning your dreams into reality. With over a million hits for the combinations on Google it's clear that the slogans aren't doing a thing for the firms that use them. And also note that there's nothing at all here to tell us what industry the firm is in.
  2. Customers are Number One! Yep. And if they weren't you wouldn't be in business.
  3. Creativity. Strategy. Execution. Really this is a reference to the trend to have three single words as the tagline. No one ever pays attention to it. And it sounds reeeeeally pompous.
I was asked what I thought led to strong taglines last week and after a few minutes of thought I came up with this:

The best taglines have a few things in common:
  • They represent the brand spiritfast.jpg
  • They specifically apply to the company using the slogan - to the exclusion of any other company in the industry
  • There's something unexpected or unique - perhaps rhyme, interesting word choice, or an attitude that hasn't been seen in the industry. It has to have at least a little risk.
  • They address a specific audience and are meant to drive this audience to do something (like buy the product, think about particular qualities, talk about it, bug their parents, or something else.)
I was also asked whether there was a test that could be applied to determine if a tagline was great. I think that longevity comes close, though longevity isn't a requirement. Certainly there have been some powerful taglines that were created for singular events.

In some industries (such as with automobiles) you'll find manufacturers changing the tagline every year or two. Sometimes this can be good, but usually it is a sign of a major problem. Just look at what Buick has done over a four year period:

2001 - It's All Good 2002 - The Spirit of American Style 2004 - Dream Up 2005 - Beyond Precision

I challenge any of you to find the common brand theme or thread here. I see optimism, patriotism, creativity/aspiration, and accuracy. How do these ideas come together in a cohesive brand package?

Answer: They Don't.

I have a feeling that we'll be seeing yet another tagline from Buick soon - as they realize people don't buy Buicks for their tight handling or precise fit.

Contrast this tagline churn with what Saturn has done:

1990 - A Different Kind of Car Company 2002 - It's Different in a Saturn 2004 - People First 2006 - Like Always. Like Never Before.

Common threads? How about 'being different by valuing the relationship with the buyer/owner'? Every tagline references that in some way. This isn't tagline churn because the previous one was ineffective, it is churn that brings out deeper aspects of the core brand.

If you're going to invest in a new tagline every few years shouldn't you at least make sure that each one builds on the last?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 1, 2007 | Tate Linden
logo_iowa.gif...I'm sure I could think of a better parody given time, but... well... this result doesn't really fill me with joy.

Actually, it wouldn't have mattered which way the vote went - the fact that the credit union was unable to disclose the real reason for the name change (hint: it probably wasn't just confusion) meant that the membership didn't have enough data (in either vote) to cast an informed ballot.

While I don't have 100% confidence that the University gave an ultimatum to the CU, I'm more confident in that cause than I am in any other. I'm pretty sure that if this cause had been disclosed initially the name Optiva would've been accepted more easily. In my casual perusal of online commentary I've found that many of the complaints about the new name reference the fact that the old name was the whole reason that they were a member in the first place. Many wanted the strong tie to the University and thought it was almost criminal to tear it away.

But what if the CU had been able to communicate that they had to disassociate themselves from UofI?

Imagine if Weber Marketing Group had been able to work with the full membership to find a way to honor their desire to feel connected to the school? Disclosing that the university was trying to protect its brand (saying, in effect "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here") could've brought a rallying cry from the membership instead of a cry of foul play.

This is not to say that a naming contest was the right way to go - but certainly offering members a chance to contribute to the identity - to make sure that the new identity at least addresses the values the membership holds most dear... that would've been worthwhile.

At Stokefire we're approached occasionally by membership organizations and non-profits that wish to have their leadership team develop names without involving (or occasionally even informing) the membership until it is time to vote. While we may offer consulting support for these organizations we've never taken on a full naming project under these terms. (And FWiW, a good portion of our consulting effort goes towards trying to persuade the client to involve the membership and be as forthright as possible.)

This Optiva re-vote seems to validate our take, no?

Kudos to OptivEx for beginning to tell the full story, to the membership base for showing that there are consequences when an organization becomes disassociated from its membership, and yes, even to Weber for weathering the storm.

To those that find it surprising that I might not be ripping apart Weber... I find it interesting that no one has ever questioned whether the name Optiva was one of the top candidates suggested by the Weber team. Maybe that's because not many people know what the naming process is like. I don't have inside insight into how Weber runs their projects, but when Stokefire works with clients we present numerous candidates and make suggestions as to which are the best for various purposes. We've had a few clients go through the process and select a name that we think is a poor candidate (or that we didn't develop.) The client still has every right to disclose that we were the naming expert for the project - and it isn't likely that we would ever mention publicly that we advised against selecting a name our clients end up with. (Dissing clients - or making them look foolish - is never a good thing.) Our goal is to advise our clients as to the strongest identities available and then to do our best to support the identity choices that our clients make - even if they don't exactly follow our advice.

A few links for you:

I have enjoyed (albeit wincingly) reading the opinions of Nicholas Johnson and see them as an example of what happens when a really smart guy who cares doesn't get enough access to the information he needs. Today he provides an overview of the second vote and links to areas where you can find more backstory. Any CU or membership organization considering a top-down naming effort needs to read Mr. Johnson's words before they go through with it.

I've also watched Michael over at Popwink as he has opined on the issue - today just summarizing the final vote and showing some snapshots of the CU's home page before and after the vote.

[Edit - Thank you to JT the 'Hawk-eyed' reader who noted that I've been watching hermits rock as well. Greg's post today has some interesting quotes from the event last night.]

The story was also picked up by the Iowa Press Citizen and what appears to be another site owned by the same folks - HawkCentral. Both sites have comments enabled and the boards are heating up quickly. My quick Google search found no other news outlets covering the vote.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
serveimage.jpgI just watched an advertisement about five minutes ago for Special K2O - a fruity protein-water drink.

I am truly saddened for 2(oh) reasons.

First, it is my belief that this is an unwise brand extension. I'm sure that some executive at Special K Headquarters thought that this was a logical step - probably using a justification like: "People eat Special K to get their vitamins, so it makes sense that people will think of us when they need a healthy drink. It's like a fruity breakfast in a bottle you can drink any time!"

The problem with this line of thinking is that people typically don't drink protein water for breakfast - and breakfast is what Special K is most strongly connected with. You'll note that Special K hasn't moved into the frozen dinner aisle, and has avoided developing lunch meats... They're strictly an early morning thing.

Think about Special K for a moment. What are the qualities that come to mind? For me I think of crispy flakes accompanied by cold milk. I also have a secondary response connected to healthfood (albeit processed health food.) The only connection to fruit I may have is via my addition of a banana or strawberry to the bowl (though I'm sure Special K has experimented with fruity cereals and breakfast bars.)

This isn't brand extension, it is brand dilution. I expect we'll see this product disappear (or get rebranded) within a few months.

The second reason I'm displeased with the product is the name. Even upon reading or hearing the name I'm not quite sure how to spell it. Do a search on the (presumably) correct name via Google today and you'll get approximately 850 hits. Now try a search with the "Oh" as the number zero. As of this moment there are at least 10,300 mentions. That means that less than ten percent of the people trying to write about the product are actually getting the name right.

The folks at Kellogg didn't factor in a major linguistic change that began in the 1990s (or perhaps earlier) and really took hold in the last couple years with Web 2.0. When a word ends with a phonetic "oh" sound most tech-savvy types will assume that the sound refers to zero. "Two dot oh" or "two point oh" (and even "two oh") have strong connections with numbers, not letters.

You know there's something wrong when your own investor site gets the name wrong.
Special K20 Protein Waters deliver five grams of protein per 16 oz. bottle with 50 calories. Special K20 is available in three flavors: Strawberry Kiwi, Lemon Twist and Tropical Blend. Suggested retail price for four 16-ounce bottles is $5.99.
I admit that the product name is saved somewhat by the fact that most buyers don't need to spell the name to buy it. The supermarket (thankfully) doesn't require you to spell the products before purchasing them. I can think of some specialty ice-cream brands that wouldn't make a dime if spelling mattered in brick & mortar product sales.

Still... don't you think it odd that 92 out of 100 mentions of the product don't actually mention the product? Add in the fact that specialk20 is camped and the correct product name (as of right now) is still available for registration and you've got a strong indicator that something is very wrong.

What do you think?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 20, 2007 | Tate Linden
focus-group.jpgI'm starting to get worried.

In the last few weeks I've noticed more people are asking me about focus groups. Every couple days a client or prospect suggests that we use focus group data to either:
  1. confirm the direction we should take for a rebranding effort - or
  2. confirm that the name(s) we have developed are worthy of launching
Color me displeased.

Those that know me well can probably pick out the word that annoys me in both suggested uses. The word is "confirm."

Focus groups don't confirm. Focus groups just focus. You give them something to discuss and they discuss it in ways not done in the real world. Unfortunately many companies use the results of focus group testing to change their strategic direction, target audience, or even their name.

I recently talked with a financial firm that used "reliable focus group data" to determine that the thing their customers wanted in a financial institution was trustworthiness and financial stability. Great... except that I'd guess that these same qualities have been identitified by every other financial firm in the country. By saying these same things about themselves they disappear into the mess of standard-issue companies.

I absolutely abhor hearing companies and organizations espousing trust as a primary virtue. They end up looking like NAR - who decided that they should shout about the ethics training they give their agents because their focus group data showed that people don't trust real estate agents.

How many of you would buy from a used car salesman that repeatedly told you that he took ethics training - and told you stories about how trustworthy and friendly he was?

Very few companies know how to use a focus group correctly. It seems counter-intuitive to use them to find new ideas, but that's the only thing we've found them useful for. Instead of asking what is important to a focus group - why not ask:
  • What is it that we do differently than other companies
  • Why did you choose us over the competition
  • If you didn't use us who would you go to for our type of services
  • Why would you choose them?
  • What could the competition offer you to entice you away from us?
  • Is there something that we do today that if we stopped doing you'd leave us?
Get people to discuss the stuff that really matters. No one selects a bank because they're the only bank that is trustworthy. They're all supposed to be that way. If everyone is supposed to do (or be) something then why say that you do it?

Here is my plea: Stop trying to confirm your ideas with focus groups. You will rarely learn anything other than how smart you are (and you'll wonder why your smart ideas don't work.) Instead use them as a tool to help you come up with new ideas.

How do you know when you've got a new idea? Take the output of the focus groups (using questions like those above) and compare the answers to your own internal responses. Then look to your competition and see what they're saying in their marketing. If you've got output that isn't being used elsewhere in the industry and is underappreciated at your own firm you've got something that could actually bring positive change.

Ideally the output will focus on things that are the opposite of what your competitors state. Like "we like you because everyone else wastes our time trying to be our friend and you just take care of business and let us get on with our day." That's a market opportunity waiting to be exploited.

I will guarantee you that your new idea will have nothing to do with "trustworthiness."

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 15, 2007 | Tate Linden
Two concepts that I thought would never successfully mix: anything involving the word "viral" and my nether regions.

I have been proved wrong.

(Please note that I am going to do my darndest to make this a PG-13 post. Maybe even G if I can find a way. If you are offended by "Hoo Has" and the like you may want to surf elsewhere.)

afeita.jpgIn what may be one of the most unusual successful viral marketing ploys, Philips Norelco has launched - a site dedicated to getting men to shave... well... everywhere. Backs, buttocks... and a couple other things starting with the letter b. And throw in a couple "p" words too.

The product they're pitching is the "BodyGroom" - a razor specifically made to shave you all over. I'm not quite sure how this particular razor was modified from, say, any other electric razor on the face of the earth, to perfectly shave your business, but it certainly is causing a stir. Thousands of bloggers are talking about it already - and it was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal yesterday as well.

More intriguing to me is the fact that the term "Optical Inch" is spreading like wildfire too. The website with the name is already camped and for sale. There are hundreds of bloggers talking about it.

But why? Why is it that an optical inch is desireable at all? This strikes me in just about the same way that the logic used by guys with combovers and toupes use. Something akin to "Hey, if I wear my hair just right I might fool people into thinking there's more here than there actually is."

This line of logic is one that doesn't sit well with me. Long ago I decided that the moment I had an urge to start parting my hair near my ears I would shave it all off. As you can see this moment has come and gone.

Men of the world -consider this: You may be gaining an optical inch by using this new wonder-product, but (hopefully) at the end of the day the final method of measurement isn't going to be visual.

In establishing your brand it is often said that you want to under promise and over deliver. I think that this product (and its marketing method) are ensuring that its clients do the exact opposite.

The ad campaign is in my opinion a good one. The brand that they are building, however, seems critically flawed. I don't think I could ever willingly associate myself with a company or product that so overtly preyed on a man's insecurities with a solution that so clearly didn't help the situation.

That said, I am involved in open-source research that could make this "Optical Inch" laughable. Get 'em to stand back a bit and who knows how big the "benefits package" could get.

Operators are standing by.

At a distance.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
sf-triton.jpgStokefire's chief Thingnamer (A.K.A. "me") is in San Francisco this week for (among other things) the first meeting of a huge group of folks that do what I do for a living - name stuff. I'm staying at Hotel Triton - a boutique owned by Kimpton.

Kimpton's slogan is "every hotel tells a story" so I figured I'd try and figure out what the story is at this one. I recently helped another boutique hotel create their own story, so I'm particularly interested in the topic.

Here's what has happened thus far:
  • We called ahead to ask if we could get early check-in. They couldn't promise it, but said they'd try their best. We were very thankful for anything they could do.
  • Pulled up in front of hotel at a sign saying "valet parking" for Triton. We got out of the car and for two minutes wondered where the valet was. They did show up. Our car is now being kept in an extremely safe place. At least it should be for $37 a night.
  • We walked into the lobby (very colorfully decorated) and up to the desk where we were asked for ID and credit card. They told us about the schedule at the hotel and welcomed us while preparing our room keys. We asked some questions about the decor and neighborhood - the staff was highly knowledgeable. Kudos!
  • The elevators are lit with deep blue and purple lights. Tres cool.
  • One of the room keys didn't work, but we got in anyhow. The room was a bit dated and scuffed. And small. But this is San Francisco - so it's expected.
  • Five minutes after we checked in there was a knock on the door and a very friendly gentleman gave us a note, a bottle of water, and six chocolates. Talk about service. Here's what the handwritten letter read:
Thanks for joining our KIMPTON IN TOUCH program! Should you need anything, please do not hesitate to contact us! Enjoy!

- the Triton Family

I was very impressed until I realized two things. First, I hadn't registered for any program, and second, my name wasn't Mr. Gray - the man to whom the very kind letter was addressed. This did not, however, keep me from being appreciative, nor did it prevent me from tasting the very fine gifts. In my defense, I didn't actually catch the error until after I'd sampled both.
  • The bathroom has an unintended extra bit of entertainment. The toilet isn't particularly well bolted to the floor, so when you sit or adjust your position there's a bit of a thrill. Will you fall in? Will the toilet tip? Will your unmentionables be unpleasantly moistened? We informed the front desk of the issue and await any potential remedy.
The story thus far is a little hard to read. I can see that a lot of thought went into certain things, like the decor, the attitude, and even some of the personal touches - but the execution isn't really there. Sort of like a puzzle that has pieces that just don't quite fit together right.

I didn't spend any time looking into why Triton was named Triton - though there's a mythological green-patina guy in a little fountain in front of the building, so I'm guessing there's a story there that I could learn if I wanted to. I haven't been compelled to look into it yet. (I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing. I'd love to have a story behind a boutique brand... that's the whole point about boutiques - they've got personality and a story...)

More interesting to me was that most of the materials given to me upon check-in kimpton.jpg(including our keys, our welcome pack, and the KIMPTON INTOUCH program materials) had no mention of Hotel Triton at all. There's no real effort to create an experience here - just stuff to point out that you could also be having an experience at other Kimpton locales.

Why would a hotel conglomerate allow an owned hotel to have its own name and yet not allow them to personalize the experience down to the way they communicate with their clients?

I think my perception of this place would be better if they (Kimpton) had avoided one of the things I find truly annoying about many service industry marketing campaigns. Rather than showing me that they've created a place I'll enjoy they instead tell me that they've done it. Here's the quote that came along with my card key:
Our Hotels embrace their own unique story to create a unique guest experience with only one person in mind. You.
This is complete bunk. If each hotel has its own unique story then each hotel is probably going to appeal to a different type of person - many of which are explicitly not me. Got a hotel that plays hard rock? Not for me. Got a hotel all done up in pastels? Not for me.

I'm not sure where this idea that personalization on a global scale is a good thing (or even possible) got started, but it has got to stop. It is a logical impossibility.

You can and should build a hotel experience that focuses on creating a memorable guest stay for every guest. You cannot build that brand by saying the experience was expressly created for every individual in advance. Customization is only effective after you establish a relationship. Customization beforehand means you're probably going to give me a product that doesn't fit.

I think Kimpton would do well to step back a bit and let Triton try to spread its wings a bit. The fact that the two identities don't know how to relate to each other (Triton coasters and Kimpton keys) implies there's something amiss. It seems a perfectly nice hotel, and I welcome the coming chapters in the story over the next few nights. I'm certain that they'll fall into place better the first.

Gotta head out to the Thingnamerfest... so I'll be talkin' at ya again tomorrow. Perhaps some pictures and stories are in order. I'll see what I can do.
February 7, 2007 | Tate Linden
Some call it "corn mushrooms" or "the fungus delicacy that attaches itself to corn." But those that don't have the gift of marketing-speak seem to talk a little more freely. Consider "Corn Smut," for instance.

Or my favorite... (Boy I wish I could make this more suspenseful...)

"Sleepy excrement"

The product? Huitlacoche. (or Cuitlacoche)

Hunghuitlacoche2.jpgry yet? Just wait!

From recipes to go:
...common in central Mexico; during the rainy season, a fungus develops between the husks andhuitlacoche.jpg the ripe kernels where the kernels will blacken, contort and swell to form this musty fungus; valued for centuries in Mexico; has an earthy and distinct taste finally similar to mushrooms or truffles; lends a black hue and resonant aroma to stuffings for empanadas, tamales and quesadillas; makes distinctive sauces; usually sold cut from the cob and frozen; needs cooking to release flavor and aroma; often sautéed with roasted garlic and onions, and either fresh marjoram, oregano or epazote, then simmered with a little water or stock; harvested during the rainy season, usually late spring to early fall.
This lovely delicacy has been the target of USDA eradication efforts (they view it as a blight) - which may be one of the reasons why it is so darn hard to find in the States.

cuit4.jpgIn the late 1980s the James Beard House attempted to popularize the food by calling it "Mexican truffle," and some unknown marketer calls it"corn caviar."

This post was inspired by an old blog post at wherein the author eats an entire can of the stuff. You gotta go read it - mainly to see pictures of what they put in the can. (Imagine corn on steroids. Now imagine corn on steroids getting covered in mold. Oh. And filled with puss, too.)

Why am I writing about this on a naming blog? Because I think this is an excellent example of a product that ain't gonna benefit from a name change - no matter how great that name change is. Call it Ambrosia, call it Cocaine, or call it McDonalds... the name won't help it. It still looks like doo-doo (those Aztecs were smart.)

Remember the "You're soaking in it" tagline? Or secretly replacing the house coffee? That's just about the only approach that I could see working here. Hide the food inside stuff that people can't see and then surprise the audience with the fact that they just ate some really good tasting... mold. cuit3.jpg

On second thought, perhaps that won't work. I smell lawsuits.

Fellow namers - what do you think? Could you name (and brand) this well enough to make it a popular delicacy in the US? (No fair paying Oprah and Michael Jordan to endorse it. The Corn Smut lobby couldn't afford it.)

This one is beyond my pay grade.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 1, 2007 | Tate Linden
Can you find success by copying a name or category prefix from a big Web 2.0 site or company? I wanted to find out.

Here's what I did. (Warning: This may get a little boring/technical/nonsensical. Go to "Findings" below the table if you're not interested in my process.)
  1. I found a list of the top (approximately) 1000 Web 2.0 sites and companies compiled by Seth Godin. The list is ranked by Alexa - as good a source as any for my gauge of success.
  2. I scanned the list for prefixes, words, numbers, and letters that were at the start of the website name. (This didn't have to be an actual word - it could be a single letter that is meant to be sounded alone like in ebusiness, or numbers, like "321contact.)" This was not a scientific process. I used a spreadsheet and sorted by alpha to locate groupings.
  3. For each common prefix I counted up the number of "hits" there were in the top 1000 and the top 100 (the latter number being a somewhat arbitrary measure of success.)
  4. I measured the ratio of companies with each prefix in the top 10% to the companies in the top 1000.
  5. I then subtracted out the "initial mover" that brought about the trend in usage (if one existed in the top 100) - assuming that if there is at least one in the top 100 that they are the attracting factor for the term. (I know it isn't really true in all cases, but I gotta start somewhere.)
  6. I measured the ratio of copycat prefix users to see how effective the names have been at drawing traffic.
  7. I completely ignored everything about the companies, websites, users, and any external factors that might be influencing one website to draw more traffic than the others with the same name prefix.
Here's the resulting table:


  1. About 19.5% of the top 1000 Web 2.0 sites fell into a recognizable prefix/first-word usage group.
  2. 20% of the top 100 websites were a part of the prefix groupings
  3. The corresponding success rate (for being in the top 10%) for all companies in the prefix groupings was a approximately 10.26%, meaning that those companies not in the prefix groupings had a success rate of just below 10%.
  4. But when the First Movers are subtracted and we analyze only the copycats the success rate is reduced to 4.1%, implying that non copycat names have an approximately 11.4% chance to succeed. This is an increase of over 180% achieved just by not following the prefix groupings of other top 1000 sites.
  5. The best success rates for pattern matching names are for beginning with the word "news", any grouping of numbers, or a variant of the word "You" (as in you or your). And even these success rates aren't exactly awe inspiring.
  6. Personalization is well represented in the top 100 (just factoring in the prefixes - there's probably more that hide the personalization elsewhere in the name) There are multiple examples of each (I, My, You) prefix in the top 100. And yes, not every "I" refers to personalization - but I'm going to stick by my story.
  7. Success rates for companies that have first mover status for names and have attracted copycats in the top 1000 is 40.00%. (This is mitigated by the fact that we assume the top-ranked name is always the first mover - something that is not always true.)
  • Generally speaking, copycat naming does not work.
  • The impressive success rate for first movers with copycats likely isn't a causal relationship (e.g., naming with a new prefix won't get you a 40% chance of being in the top 100) but it certainly makes the case that starting trends is more likely to get you attention than following them.
  • More research in this area would be absolutely fascinating for me - I'll be looking to write a deeper study for publication in the near term.
What do you think? Are the outcomes as you thought they would be? Is my logic horribly flawed?

Will you read my amazingly dry research report when I have the time to publish?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 1, 2007

Cartoon Net Promo Sparks Boston Scare

NEW YORK A marketing campaign for Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force turned into a daylong terrorism scare for the city of Boston and a PR nightmare for Turner Broadcasting over boxes that were mistaken for bombs placed around the city and elsewhere nationwide. Police arrested Peter Berdvosky on one felony charge of placing a hoax device and one charge of disorderly conduct.

Folks, terrorism scare? Not something you want your brand name associated with.

- Adweek, February 01, 2007
January 29, 2007 | Tate Linden
I read a short blurb on page M6 of the 1/28/07 Washington Post (Registration Required) that I just wanted to quickly address.

If you're a pop star and have your own line of name brand clothing you probably should wear your own brand instead of everyone else's. Jessica Simpson appears to have missed this lesson. A quote from the Post indicates:jessicasimpson.bmp
Her shoe line, launched in 2005, is popular with shoppers looking for trendy styles, but the singer and actress has reportedly ruffled feathers for failing to embrace one of celebrity fashion's most basic commandments: Thou shalt wear thine own brand's clothes. "A PR disaster," says Claire Brooks, president of brand consulting company ModelPeople Inc.

I agree with Ms. Brooks. But this is more than a PR disaster, it devastates the brand and makes what might have been a strong personal name brand into a weak one.

The power of using a recognizable personal name for consumer goods seems to me to be that it connects the consumer to the named person. If a consumer learns that the named person doesn't actually use the product then the link between product and person is more tenuous - and this weakening has the potential to devalue both the product and the personality attached to it.

Imagine if Trump didn't ever stay in his own hotels or if George Foreman had silly Austrialians in sweaters demonstrating his products. What would that say about their products?

Maybe Jessica is just adding to her well-groomed ditzy blonde image.

Think of the products you use that are named after a well known figure. How many of those products aren't used by their namesake (or their living relatives?) If you can't think of any just consider the name-brand folks below:

  • George Foreman
  • Donna Karan
  • Martha Stewart
  • Ford
  • Tommy Hilfiger
  • Michael Jordan

I'm no fashion maven, but it seems that the most succesful designers live and breathe their own stuff. If they didn't then they'd be encouraging the use of competitive products.

Anyone out there able to tell me what's up with Ms. Simpson? Perhaps this is a case of having sold her name to a company that just sticks her name on the product and doesn't allow her any influence? (I've heard many horror stories about this - especially amongst sports stars - and they all end badly.)

(I probably should revisit this topic and look at the difference between designers and the name on the label. They are two distinct groups and I shouldn't have just lumped 'em together.)

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

January 26, 2007
Manliness, as personified by Burt Reynolds, right, didn't help push sales of Miller Lite.
CHICAGO ( -- Apparently deciding that market-share losses violate "Man Law," Miller Brewing Co. is shelving its "Men of the Square Table" ad campaign.
Manliness, as personified by Burt Reynolds, right, didn't help push sales of Miller Lite.
The campaign, by Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, debuted last spring with considerable buzz. The ads featured celebrities Miller and Crispin apparently thought personified manliness, such as actor Burt Reynolds, football star Jerome Bettis and wrestler Triple H, who would meet in a glass cube to settle questions about manly behavior, such as whether it's permissible to put fruit in beer. (It's not.)

Pop-culture references The spots drew laughs, hundreds of thousands of entries to an online "Manlawpedia," and pop-culture references (a wholly-unrelated-to-beer Chicago Tribune story Sunday asked if it was a violation of "man law" for men to wear scarves), but Miller Lite's sales lost ground to its rivals. Sales fell by low-single digits last year, while rivals Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light saw sales climb in the mid- and low-single digits, respectively.

When asked, Miller executives said they believed "man laws" would gradually seep into the popular culture and eventually boost sales. But their patience appears to have run out.
January 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
Occasional commenter Steve Manning from Snark Hunting spotted this truly horrendous branding campaign (courtesy of Little Debbie Racing.)

His title for the (unaltered) picture? Little Debbie Does NASCAR.


Who out there doesn't see what's wrong with this campaign? How can this get past corporate? I know there are all sorts of sickos out there - but I can't imagine there are actually enough of them to support a snack brand.

And, for the record, the name Debbie has officially been crossed off my list of candidates for the Linden-to-be. Probably an overreaction - but I didn't like the name Debbie to begin with.

Thanks McKee Foods!
January 18, 2007 | Tate Linden
Perhaps I'm missing something - but I don't understand why "America's #1 Name-Branding firm" would:
  1. Post their commercial on YouTube
  2. Not invest at least enough money in their commercial (and soundtrack!) that it seemed professional. (It sort of looks a cut below the stuff you see on cable television after midnight. And given that their own firm does video production it calls into question their abilities.)
  3. Open and close the video with something that appears to be a velvet painting of a tiger.
  4. Have the following text flow across their home page - all in one line.
Edon is America's first unconventional advertising, marketing services, PR communications, Web design, consumer research, and move film and DVD production agency store that offers realistic and affordable fees and where you the customer manage the project's budget, and not the ad agency. And we're the only ad agency in New York that provides its customers with a barter club membership, and PC computer services and convenient walk-in stores with PC terminals to get instant access to the Internet. Now is your ad agency offering you all of this?

After you read this sentence, stop, close your eyes and try to remember what it is that Edon actually does.

I personally didn't do very well. And for the record, if my hypothetical advertising agency offered me walk-up Internet access, barter club membership, walk-in stores, and PC computer services I'd have to wonder why they were investing their earnings so poorly.

Who do you know that wants to go to their advertising agency to search the internet and get their computer fixed? (It kind of make me wonder if Stokefire's business would improve if we offered to mow lawns or make mix tapes for our clients.)

I'm not arguing about the quality of most of the names the company has developed - many are exceptionally good (though Glucerna was not a winner with me.) I guess I'm just surprised that a company so invested in creating a good first impression for their clients would do so poorly with their own.
January 17, 2007 | Tate Linden we throw the mention right back...

If you're interested in following the developing conversation in the Credit Union Rebranding world then I suggest you add OpenSourceCU to your list of frequently visited sites.

The Optiva and Red Canoe brands are getting mentioned again and OpenSourceCu is sending traffic our way to learn a bit about the history of the conversation. (Thanks!)

And whether you're a fan of these names or not you'll find that the conversation has been amazingly civil and educational thus far. Here's to hoping that it stays that way.

For the record - we Thingnamers have said all along that Red Canoe is a pretty damn good name with great potential. We continue to believe in it and the work that our (unaffiliated) branding compatriots at Weber Marketing performed on that job. As for Optiva - we're less thrilled, but can see that the name could work if given a more substantial branding effort.

Unfortunately our bias against Latinate names is something we can't seem to get over.

January 16, 2007 | Tate Linden
I'm not sure how many focus groups they had to ask before they came up with this. (And I use this as more evidence that focus groups are pointless.)
Original Orville Redenbacher = Geeky, quirky, and a little cool.

CGI Orville = Basically just skeeves me out.

C'mon people! Bringing back a computerized version of a dead guy to sell popcorn? if they could make a commercial with Che Guevara selling Nikes I'd perhaps have a different opinion. Or maybe I wouldn't... especially if he looked as freaky as poor dead Orville does. Redenbacher Reborn?

Edit 1/22/07 - Interesting... We've gotten about a half-dozen hits from Con Agra corporate on this post. Might there be a chance that someone over there pulls the project? (Actually, turning the negative PR into a campaign in itself may be worthwhile... Something like "There's no replacing Orville. We're Sorry..." You read it here first.)
January 16, 2007 | Tate Linden
The number of people who insert random letters into their childrens' names continues to rise. Not coincidentally the number of people who can't spell these names seems to rise in tandem.

The latest example? Jennifer Freeze of the Southeast Missourian wrote an article about this very thing - citing examples of people taking names already in use and making them their own. Consider the statements that she made - including:
It was Hollywood movie star Keira Knightley's name that inspired Hobeck to name her baby Kiarra, who was born in August.
Eleven baby girls born last year at Southeast Missouri Hospital were named Hailey, Haley, Halie, Hayleigh or Haylie -- each name pronounced the same way.
"With Jordynn, my husband and I each knew a male named Jordan. We wanted to separate her name from a manly version," Rash said. "My mother says I will pay for that later since there will be nothing with her name printed on it."
But in this very same article Ms. Freeze says this:
And Brittany Spears' second son, Jayden, sparked the use of "ayden" in baby names like Hayden, Cayden and Brayden during the past year.
There are two problems with this statement. The first is evident when you use Google to search on this name. The first hit says: Did you mean: Britney Spears'?

The second problem involves the name Jayden being more common after Britney used the name. It may be the case - but other stars used conventional spellings of the name first - including Will Smith.

...and before this these "-aden" and "-ayden" type names were known as Gaelic, Old English, and Hebrew options.

Please... parents... knock it off with inscerting random letters (or removing importnt ones) from conventional names. Kids are not Web 2.0 products.

And besides... how many weeks of their lives do you think they'll spend correcting the world on their spelling and pronunciation of "Jhaydien." (It's not like they're going to forget who stuck 'em with the name.)

And last. With everyone now naming their kids with off-the-wall monikers, the only way to really have your kid stand out is to give him a name like Mike, or maybe Joe.

Unless it's a girl, of course.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 11, 2007 | Tate Linden
Heard this on the local NPR affiliate this morning (text taken from the Sydney Morning Herald):
A travel poster spotted in India reads: "Have You Seen Nepal?" but the mountains pictured surround Peru's own Machu Picchu, according to Peruvian mountain climber Ernesto Malaga.

The official news agency Andina reported that Malaga was in New Delhi when he saw the poster, meant to promote visits to Nepal's Himalayas, 16,000 kilometres in the opposite direction.
Lesson number 142 in developing location-specific taglines: Always check to be sure that the location is actually where you say it is and has the stuff in it that you say it has.

This message provided to you by Stokefire, Canada's leading Australian Rules Football Team from Venice, France.

January 10, 2007 | Tate Linden
[Ed. - Having some trouble with formatting this post... apologies for the way it looks.]

It takes an awful lot to truly peeve me. (And let me say this early... this post is entirely the opinion of its writer and not that of Stokefire or

AutoBlog (currently residing at for some reason - and yes, I removed the link) has done it. I don't think I've ever seen such a poorly named company that lies to its prospects and engages in shady business practices (like sending me spam.) Until now.

First, I'll take on the name: AutoBlog.

Why is this a lousy name? Try these on for size:stupidity.jpg

AutoBlog sounds like someplace you'd go to get your vehicle-information fix. Oh wait... it is a blog about that kind of stuff. A very popular one at that.

It could also be something that people new to blogging would use to make creating a blog easier.

The name is already in use in the technology market (as seen above) and these blokes just stole it, so if anyone looks for the product they'll find the "real" site, and not these guys.

But there's more! What sort of shady business practices is this company involved in? How about these (taken from their web page):

They say "Autoblog automaticaly posts your site to more than 2 million websites!" and then a few lines later say "Advertising using Autoblog is 100% SPAM FREE advertising! You will never be accused of spamming."
  • I would like to officially state that AutoBlog Spammed my blog with something called an Automatic Post that I can only assume was put there by their own product. The three posts linked directly to their sales page. Perhaps there are another 1,999,999 other sites that were given this valuable information as well...
  • If this isn't SPAM then I'm not sure what is... Unless they think SPAM is only SPAM when sent via email or sold in rectangular metal containers.
They say "Your ads stay visible for a long time - daily re-submissions are not required!"
  • But they fail to mention that tools such as Akismet can block out nearly 100% of the posts their product submits. never showed any of the SPAM posts they attempted to put on our site.
  • Technically the latter part of this statement is correct...
They say "No matter if you are professional advertiser or new to online advertising - AutoBlog is suitable for everyone."
  • ...that wants to be slammed with complaints and get their site removed from their hosts.
They say "Every 2 week [sic] you will receive an updated list of over 100,000 TESTED URL's [sic] to add to the software."
  • ...but they don't tell you what they test it for - and it obviously isn't to see if your posts actually get through since I'm gettin' hit with it.
The owner of the copyright for the website (listed as "Trusted Articles") appears not to have ever built a real website. The email belongs to - whose only web page is the one the copyright is listed on. Which calls iteslf AutoBlog, of course... and translates the name into an IP address as soon as you enter the page.
  • Perhaps this isn't shady, but it's a little strange.
Still interested in buying the service? Great! Just use your PayPal account and send payment to the following very trustworthy sounding email address:
  • Why aren't we paying especially since theres a "Free 2 week trial, cancel at any time?" Gmail is effectively anonymous.
And when you buy the service for the list price through PayPal you see the following information:

"Note: Your subscription will automatically renew at the rates stated above unless you cancel prior to the end of the billing period." ...interesting, eh? Especially since we're not told ahead of time how to cancel.There are a few lessons here, but the majority have nothing to do with naming:
  1. Naming: Don't use confusing or popular names. Unlike me, most people won't take the time to figure out what the heck you mean, and just like me everyone that knows the popular name will be upset with you for stealing it.
  2. Branding: If you're going to start a business (shady or not) at least put in the effort to appear legitimate.
  3. SPAMMING: In case y'all haven't learned by now... it is a bad idea to SPAM a site specializing in naming and branding. It certainly won't help you win business.
And if anyone is still reading - here's some random information you may be interested in. (I do not suggest that you attempt to take matters into your own hands by using this information to contact someone to get the SPAMMING stopped.)

The host information for AutoBlog is here (the site itself was registered anonymously.) The administrative contact is (312) 343-4678, or perhaps (312) 829-1111.

This guy may or may not be the man that runs the service. I'm pretty sure he isn't, since this press release says the guy is American.

Slugsite has some interesting information and shares my opinion of AutoBlog. Nice to see that I'm not alone.

And whatever you do I would certainly not advise that you purchase their own service to send out SPAM that links back to their website and points out that their product does, in fact, qualify as spam. That would be mean. And besides... you'll probably end up being billed for eternity.
December 13, 2006 | Tate Linden
Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Katie Arcieri of the Capital Gazette. She talked with me about Anne Arundel's recent efforts to brand itself as the Informatics Capital of the World. A brief excerpt of the discussion can be found here towards the end of the article.

Here's how I was quoted:
Tate Linden, principal consultant of Stokefire Consulting Group, a Springfield, Va.-based brand development firm, said the claim that Anne Arundel was at the center of the informatics corridor was “aggressive,” considering that the county still seemed to be in the education process back in March. According to a county Economic Development Corp. press release dated Jan. 31, “informatics is about to become clear to more than 100 business executives” at a county tech council breakfast in March."

“The constituents said, ‘Maybe this is a word that will encompass everything,’” Mr. Linden said. “The advantage is, you don’t upset anyone by it, but you have to wonder if there’s anything in it.”
I'm not entirely sure that it makes sense, given that I'd been rambling on about related stuff for about 8 minutes before I said this gem. Ms. Arcieri isn't at fault here, though - this one is on me. The quote is accurate, and I can't expect that she give it a five paragraph preamble to contextualize it.

In case anyone is interested, here's a rough overview of the points (with embellishments) made in the conversation. Perhaps one of these will make my quotes make sense.
  • I did some quick research while talking with Ms. Arcieri and found that business leaders will still getting educated about what informatics was as recently as mid 2006 - and the process only started in early 2006 (as noted in the county Economic Development Corporation's own press release.) In my opinion when you're the capital of the world in something you shouldn't need to go to a meeting to learn what it is.
  • Informatics isn't well known - even in the informatics industry. Ms. Arcieri noted that many in the industry didn't know they were in the industry at all - thinking instead that they are in high-tech or database fields.
  • Since informatics (as a term) isn't well known the slogan and claim are forced to do double-duty. Not only are you having to go up against other tech-center cities, you must then help educate everyone as to what informatics is. The strength of any statement is weakened with it is followed by the phrase, "which means..."
  • I noted that it wasn't clear who the slogan was supposed to help. Was it focused on the existing businesses to help them feel better about staying there? Perhaps it was aimed at getting new companies to locate in the area. Or maybe it was a public service to get the concept of informatics into the mainstream.
  • When I looked up the meaning of informatics on the web I found a slew of definitions and while they were all related (it has to do with information) none were the same.
  • When a term isn't well known and is also somewhat ill-defined it seems like an aggressive strategy to use it as part of a publicity campaign. This term (and the way it is presented) isn't engaging enough to get people to go seek it out a definition, so the claim is going to be meaningless for most people.
  • Because informatics is such a general term, the claim that you are the capital of the world (or the corridor, or whatever...) becomes nearly empty. Princeton's wordnet defines informatics as the "gathering, manipulating, storing, retrieving, and classifying" of recorded information. That's a whole lot of things to be claiming. It'd be more meaningful (and perhaps believable) to pick one of those subheads. Otherwise you're about as believable as Leonardo was as he shouted "I'm the King of the world!" from the front of the Titanic.
  • Another quick search showed that Silicon Valley is better known for informatics than Anne Arundel is. Google showed ten times as many references for the former. Aren't world capitals typically better known in their field than non world capitals? (Or is this like state capitals that are less well known than other cities in the state - like Sacramento vs. San Francisco?) One of the keys to creating taglines that work is that they must be believable. Once people do know what informatics is they may not be able to swallow the claim. Sure, the NSA is in the area, but at least according to Google the Silicon Valley has a stronger connection to the field.
I know it is far easier to throw stones at slogans than it is to create them, and I've been told that this slogan was developed by a branding firm - though I don't know which one.

I can see some more creative and effective ways to apply this concept -

Want press? Use "All your informatics are belong to us." That presentation would get people looking up the word (and would also cause a backlash from people who hate that phrase being repurposed.)

Want press and controversy? Ultimately informatics in this area is used for government intelligence of some sort. Why not use "Anne Arundel: Big Brother's Brain."

The reason I am not fond of the informatics angle is that it takes no risks, gets forgotten, and doesn't get people involved. The way to create successful slogans is to step away from what is expected. Think Las Vegas. Think NYC.

...or at least think creatively...

"The Informatics Capital of the World" will not get press outside of the DC area. And press is what the area needs to actually become the informatics capital of the world.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 11, 2006 | Tate Linden
NBC had a contest to name Carla and Turk's baby. Of the final ten names, how many of them are just various forms of Carla and Turk being munged together?

Well... there's
  1. Cartur
  2. Curk
  3. Kirk
  4. Tarla
  5. Tula
  6. Turla
How many women do you know that would allow their kid to be named thusly? (I haven't broached this with my own wife for fear that I will be unable to have more kids after the conversation.)

The four remaining choices that had at least a smidgen of a chance were:
  1. Isabella
  2. Jasmine
  3. Olivia
  4. Ricky
Why were the other options even on there? To force the voting public to pick one that actually had a chance?

I'm actually thinking that the naming contest worked and gave the show a name (Isabella) that works better than any other - but I'm pretty sure that the deck was stacked. You'll note that the actual number of votes wasn't shown.

As for how effective the campaign was... I didn't hear of it until after the fact - and I'm even a fan of the show. Anyone out there like the show more because they participated in the naming of a kid? Okay - other than Rita S. who got five letters of her name in print for submitting the winning name...

And note that if a single munged name had been submitted instead of 6 of them it would've soaked up more than 20% of the vote - and might've gotten even more votes since it'd have been unique rather than one option amongst a majority. How would Scrubs have handled a character named Tarla anyhow? Jokes about Carla mis-hearing her name would only be funny for about half an episode.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 10, 2006 | Tate Linden
The National Association of Realtors - (The Voice of Realty) - has a page on which they tell potential home buyers and sellers How to Choose a REALTOR.

Let me summarize their guidance:
  • Make sure you hire a REALTOR because they are held to a "Code of Ethics (which in many cases goes beyond state law)."
  • Working with a REALTOR that has access to a Multiple Listing Service "will give you access to the greatest number of homes."
  • Make sure you ask your REALTOR to clarify state "regulations, so you know where you stand" on the duties for your type of agent.
  • Know the difference between a buyers and a sellers agent and make sure you know whether your agent is representing you or someone else.
  • Check that the agent has an active real estate license in good standing.
  • Check what real estate designations the agent holds.
  • Will your agent "show you homes that meet your requirements and provide you with a list of properties he or she is showing you" in exchange for your commitment to work with them?
I just don't get it. I'll respond to each item with an eye to how the REALTOR and/or consumer is affected or represented.
  • Use a REALTOR because they're held to a "Code of Ethics." First, why would anyone point out that people need to be trained in ethics. Does the REALTOR profession attract unsavory types? Second, I checked on the Code and found that it contains 17 unique articles and 81 standards of practice. That's a whole lot of stuff to assume that every single REALTOR in the world has memorized. Even with the Code hung on the wall where they can see it every day I'd wager than less than 1% of REALTORs could list every article and practice. If it near impossible to live and breathe by the Code then why have it at all? (Other than to tell people you have a code.) The required 15 hours of training per year (I think I have that number right) just isn't enough to memorize the code and keep current on other real estate issues. FWIW- I'd bet that Google's Code of Ethics is known by 99% of their employees - and they can probably recite it perfectly.
  • MLS access gives you access to the biggest number of homes. Okay. MLS does give you access to homes, and people do use it - but in many cases it doesn't give you access to homes that are listed by owner and most MLS services are restricted so that only agents can search them, meaning that if your agent uses one as the sole method of advertising your home then people without an agent won't be able to find you. In most cases MLS gets you access to REALTORs, not buyers. (I understand why NAR would want this - as it does help REALTORS... but it doesn't necessarily mean that the client will be best served.)
  • Have your REALTOR clarify state regulations/Buyer-Seller Agent Distinction. I've been in at least five real estate transactions and this has always happened without my prompting. I know I should care about it, but it isn't top of mind for me. REALTORs have it as part of their spiel - but repeat clients know the spiel - saying they either represent you, the other guy, or both... then you sign something and get a copy showing what that role is. Also, given that REALTORS (potentially) have a higher code isn't it more important to learn about that? Why is this the customer's responsibility?
  • Check that the agent has an active real estate license in good standing. This is common sense, but I know exactly no one that has done it. Ever. I've asked a dozen folks and everyone laughs at me. Yes it is the law, but it isn't the consumer's job to out the impostors. Seems like something NAR should be doing on behalf of its constituency, no? (I certainly don't check every restaurant for a liquor license when I buy a drink. Do you? And I certainly don't check for health-code violations online - even though they are available - because if I only ate at the clean places I'd never go out.)
  • Check what real estate designations the agent holds. What exactly does this mean? What kinds of real estate designations are there? What is the advantage of having one - or more than one? A search turned up at least twenty designations on NARs own site. Rather than checking on what the designations are doesn't it make more sense to ask what the designations give the client? Will they make more money? Will they save money? Will they have a smoother transaction? Will it be faster? Does a desgination that doesn't provide a material benefit to the consumer matter? Seems kinda like putting makeup on a pig. If designations are important then isn't it more important that an agent have a designation that specifically represents the situation the buyer/seller is in? Should a non-specialist recuse themselves if there are better options available to the buyer? (Certainly seems like the ethical thing to do, doesn't it?) Do they need to disclose that there are others that specialize in the area the client is interested in? (Again... ethical.) Do they need to disclose that designations exist at all?
  • Will your agent "show you homes that meet your requirements and provide you with a list of properties he or she is showing you?" If you are an agent and all you do for your clients is show homes and make lists then you don't deserve to have clients. If I told people that the reason they should work with me is that I make names that fit requirements and I show them candidate lists I can't imagine that anyone would ever hire me. This level of service is assumed. If you don't show houses and give lists you go out of business. So why ask the question?
If I were a REALTOR and found that my clients were being given guidance like that seen above I'd be calling up NAR and telling them to get their act together. The NAR is hurting the good REALTORs and doing no favors for the brand by allowing the bare minimum to be passed off as allowable.

I have heard from REALTORs that the annual training requirement can be fulfilled in a single marathon day - and that there is no test given to confirm that the information learned is actually learned. There's no follow-up weeks or months later to see if the information is retained. One REALTOR commented that a few people in the room had actually dozed off. (Apparently the only requirement is that you be physically in the room... coherency and consciousness are not mandatory.)

In my light reading of the Code of Ethics I couldn't find a rule against this, so it must be okay.

Why not figure out what actually makes a good REALTOR and focus on those qualities? Don't ask what people are looking for. Don't use focus groups. When people are asked what they look for in a REALTOR they don't know how to respond. And getting a whole group of people together gives you a whole lot of answers that are provided because they don't know how else to answer. Sure people want ethical REALTORS. We also want people who breathe, who are decidedly male or female, who like food, who speak our language, and who don't swear at us under their breath or launch into song when they get stressed. I'm guessing the latter options didn't show up on the surveys, but I'd wager that breathing would actually be found more important (and no less irrelevant) than ethics. Ethics is a given. People don't want to deal with unethical people in any business. So don't talk to us about whether or not you're ethical.

Training in ethics doesn't matter - being ethical matters - and you can't promise that. What can you promise? What about creative services? What about taking care of paperwork or fast transactions? What about a promise to never ask for a piece of information more than once? What about keeping track of what the strengths and weaknesses of each house visited are and helping clients keep things straight? What about restricting your services to areas in which you are qualified to deliver informed opinions - and referring business elsewhere when you're in an unfamiliar neighborhood?

I don't want a taxi driver, I want someone that can actually help me.

What about providing services that matter?

The NAR is sick. Once enough of their constituency notices and comments perhaps they'll take some medicine.

Prescriptions are available...

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 9, 2006 | Tate Linden
You may have thought it wasn't possible, but it is. I'm going to write yet again about the confused brand that is REALTOR... or is it REALTORdom? ...REALTORness?

Would you believe that I receive about a dozen hits a day from REALTORs - and a few letters a week too. So far everyone has been in agreement about the problems with the REALTOR brand. Unfortunately I haven't had a single post from a REALTOR willing to speak out against the problems with NAR or the representaton they give to REALTORs.

That hasn't changed - on my site. But I came across a post on the Sellsius blog where a whole bunch of REALTORs have vented. The post in question shows the top 10 complaints with the NARs site. Seems like the association that is supposed to represent all REALTORs is only representing those with deep pockets. Here's a sampling of the complaints:
Charging extra for enhanced listings Charging extra for leads Sponsored links divert traffic away from member listings Banner ads distract consumers Lack of member trust in a for-profit website
I had no idea that the NAR was doing things like this. Some I can see as reasonable - there's always going to be preferential treatment for larger or wealthier members - that's the nature of organizations. Elephants rule. As for other aspects I'm a little stunned. If I was represented by an organization that sold advertisements on my own product pages I would be miffed. They're not just being unhelpful, they're actively working to lose business for those that they represent.

I would assume that any organization that represented me (hypothetically) would allow me the courtesy of selling to my prospects once they had found me. The NAR continues to offer alternatives to my targets even after they've selected me as their REALTOR.

How can the REALTOR.COM problems be fixed? How about:
  • No competitive links from detailed listing pages unless the REALTOR is compensated for the clicks. Google does this for free - and REALTORs are paying NAR for the business they lose.
  • Increasing the default level of service given to a listing to at least the level provided by free sites such as Craigslist. One picture? Are we in 1995, or what?
  • Banner advertisements on a REALTOR's listing page should pay the REALTOR, not NAR.
  • REALTORs should be able to have their own banner advertisement on their listing pages (for a fee, of course) - and should be able to veto advertisements from those that work in their farm area.
  • REALTORs should never have to pay for leads from their own representative organization. If the organization isn't there to help businesses succeed then why is it there at all? Shouldn't membership fees cover the minimal effort required to forward contact information?
If I was a member of an organization that worked this hard to make a profit off of me I'd probably not be a member for very long.

Why are there so few REALTORs willing to rock the boat or leave the organization? Why is the NAR so overt about not representing their constituency. Why won't anyone speak out on this blog other than me?

Wait... I've heard about stuff like this.

Oh crud... is the Mafia behind this?

Tate Linden John Doe 123 Main Street 703-555-1234
December 8, 2006 | Tate Linden
Okay. This post was going to be about how companies with dead blogs are perceived by the marketplace, but then I realized that the topic would be too broad. Waaay too many companies and people have dead blogs - and most of 'em probably don't understand what a dead blog does for a brand (personal or professional.)

But there are some companies that should understand the implication of a dead blog. I would suggest that any company actively involved in the business of branding should know that an inactive or rarely updated blog does more damage than it does good.

Reasons? How about these:
  • The sites become the target of other bloggers (like this one) who immaturely point to the inactive blogs and say "how can a company involved in branding leave such a big hole in its own brand?" We've been waiting to catch a word... any word... from these guys for ages.
  • Surfers who do end up finding the site may think that the company is no longer in business if the site hasn't been updated in almost a year. Kinda makes you wonder what sort of meaning the site is rich with...
  • If prospects get to a site that hasn't been updated for ages and also has blank pages all over the place then I'm pretty sure the prospects are going to motor their way over to other purveyors of branding.
  • And finally - if your name suggests that you've got plenty of labor sitting around then you'd better find time to get at least one of your experts onto your blog to keep things up to date. Monkey - groom thyself!
I hereby pledge to pull down my blog - or at least notify everyone that I'm closing up shop - if I'm alive and unable to keep the standards of the blog high. Anything else cheapens the field of branding. (I reserve the right to ditch the blog if I'm dead or get mad cow disease.)

Maybe the active branding and naming blogs can come up with a catchy name for blogs of indeterminate status.

My Submission: "Schrödinger's Blog Syndrome" I'd suggest that someone grab that name and run with it, but no one will ever be able to spell it... (Certainly we Americans have a problem with umlauts. I for one have no clue how to type them[ed: or didn't until Bob helped me out!]. Perhaps the Germans can make it work.)

Proper usage includes:
Oh crud. Yet another blog lost to Schrödinger.

Looks like Schrödinger has been adding to his blogroll

With about 20% of naming bloggers afflicted with Schrödinger's Syndrome we're keeping a close watch on William Lozito for signs of weakness.

That's it. If y'all don't stop messing with me I'm going to go Schrödinger on this blog.
Not bad for a Friday morning. (Too bad that someone already has the website.)

Tate Linden Principal Cönsultant Stokefire Cönsulting Gröup 7Ö3-778-9925
December 5, 2006 | Tate Linden
It has been far too long since I've mentioned the REALTOR brand respresented by the National Association of REALTORS. So long, in fact that I've got a backlog of things to discuss.

First up: How do you say "REALTOR?"

Other than the apparent need to SHOUT the word (and yes, the NAR demands that you capitalize the whole word) the pronunciation isn't exactly clear. Check out this link that shows the regional preferences for saying the word out loud.

Upon examination you will find that there aren't any significant preferences. The pronunciation seems to be pretty random.

This can't be chalked up to regional differences - like the word "Crayon" can. When you take a look at the comparable map you'll find that the pronunciation "Cran" for "Crayon" is used commonly in the Northeast, but not as much elsewhere.

Why am I bothered by this?

I am bothered because the NAR exists to represent the interests of its constituency, but doesnt seem to do a good job of it. Realty is a verbal industry where REALTORs should be communicating via their own physical (audible) voice. According to the survey less than half of the respondents are saying the word correctly. And it isn't the fault of regional dialects. My own REALTORs often used the incorrect pronunciation, and my family is split as well. If the question of whether the word was pronounced "REEL-ter" vs. "reel-TOR" had been asked I'd bet we would have even fewer folks saying the word correctly.

If you were responsible for the success of a brand that most people couldn't pronounce what would you do?

Me? I'd do something a lot like David Fletcher suggests and start by helping my own membership say the word correctly. If the Rotarians can recite a twenty-second speech at the end of their meetings (often populated by a few REALTORs) then REALTORs should be able to say their own brand correctly in their meetings at least a few times.

C'mon NAR! Let's see some progress on the REALTOR brand. Pronunciation is an easy fix. It won't be so fun when I bring up the questions that NAR tells the end-client to use when selecting an agent. (My regular readers had better know what question the NAR suggests buyers and sellers ask first. And bonus points if you know why I think it is pointless.)

(This may turn into a theme this week unless someone can find me a person at NAR willing to listen...)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
...then you should be paying better attention to the news.

Nancy Friedman over at Away With Words points to quite a few talking heads that are yapping about what to call the goings on in Iraq.

Is it "Civil War" or "Sectarian violence"?

According to Google there are hundreds of thousands of articles on the subject and over 13,000 blogs using both terms.

This seems to me to be another example of PR savvy people having insight into the weight of an existing term. "Civil War" is a loaded name for Americans. By definition (literally) what Iraq is going through is civil war. But the powers that be don't want to cause the associations... so they are using less familiar terms.

Sectarian Violence means violence between two different groups. Civil War is fought between members of the same nation.

Sounds like they both work to me...

But the weirdest thing in all of this is that President Bush - the guy that unabashedly calls our most powerful weapons "Nuke-u-lar", is known for having a small vocabulary, and often invents words when he can't find the one he wants... just nails this term every time he uses it.

Until the last three weeks I'd never said nor written "sectarianism" in my life. I can't imagine that Bush has had it in his vocabulary for long, nor can I picture how long Bush had to practice saying it before he got it right. (Kinda makes you wonder why he hasn't invested the effort on the weapons side...)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
November 29, 2006 | Tate Linden
I remember seeing a sign with those words as I rode across the country in my father's yellow Pontiac Sunbird in 1976. I think it kept me laughing for about two states. Every time I thought of it I was unable to speak until something else distracted me (usually my elder sister threatening to bring me to an untimely end.)

I was five, okay? I'm bigger than she is now, so the threats have ceased.

I often wish I could remember what state the sign was in - or at least wish I had been smart enough to snap a Polaroid of it. Alas I have no idea where I saw it and didn't have the camera ready.

So when I read Laura Ries' blog about a gas station with an unusual name I was prepared to reminisce... but I ended up being more grossed out than anything else.

Why would anyone name their gas station Kum & Go? (I agree with Laura that the name is pretty crude.)

A look at the company history doesn't provide much help (other than to indirectly point out that the company was founded by two men whose last names begin with K and G), and neither does the infamous (and profane) urban dictionary. What is helpful though is a look at an online etymology dictionary for the word "cum." The key is to notice that the crude application appears to have begun in 1973 - or more than a decade after the company had established itself. (I'm not clear based on the description whether the sexual overtones were applied to this particular spelling or on the root word "come" from the 1920s. You certainly can't argue that the word "come" is off limits for convenience stores...)

So the question seems to become one less focused on why they named the company Kum & Go and more on why they didn't adapt when culture introduced a negative connotation.

What would you do if your own company or personal name became slang for a sexual act? Certainly it would be cause to evaluate ones name and see if the association will hurt the brand, or if the brand can take advantage of the new meaning. In this case it seems that the company evaluated it and decided that sticking with the name was a nod to the "risk taking" atmosphere mentioned in the company history. The fact that the connotation isn't addressed at all seems to be part of the strategy.

Certainly not one that we would recommend (though it certainly is buzz-worthy even if it doesn't do anything to reinforce the original brand.)

That said, I think I'll leave Pump and Munch well enough alone...

(Thanks for bringing up the topic Laura!)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
November 21, 2006 | Tate Linden
I've been on a bit of a tear lately about naming contests. I've been pointing out that it is great PR, but poor business practice to leave your name to a popular vote. You can check the past two days on this blog for more in that vein... needless to say, I'm not a fan.

I had, however, assumed that the naming contest was ideally suited for things like zoo animal naming contests. Why? Because a contest draws attention to the fact that there's a baby animal. People like baby animals. People give money to see baby animals. People tend not to give money to see middle-aged or old animals when not in the immediate vicinity of a baby animal.

So... naming contest involving baby animal = free press = increased donations and interest.

Apparently there are people who disagree with me. One person claimed that an elephant naming contest ended in - I kid you not - tragedy. The poor animal shall for ever be associated with fast food.

This brings up a point related to something suggested by Jeffry Pilcher of Weber Marketing. What happens if the winning name isn't liked by the organization. This is actually a very real concern. Assume that you have a half-dozen or so finalists. The chance of any one name getting more than half the vote is pretty slim - and the majority of people who participate in the voting will have had their favorite name eliminated. Not only is the organization at risk of disliking the name... the majority of the intended audience won't like it either!

Let's hear it for brand-building through massive alienation!

(Will someone please knock me upside the head so I can get off this topic?)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
November 20, 2006 | Tate Linden
I think I am.

But before you judge me, let me say that community involvement is actually a great thing, and companies should be invested in their local communities. Especially if they expect local residents and businesses to do business with them.

So, why bash community involvement? Because it seems to be coming up a lot as justification for poor business practices.

The easiest (and most relevant) issue to pounce on here is the naming contest discussed on Friday. Naming contests are being used as proof of interest in the community - since if the company wasn't involved in the community then why would they ask the community to name them?

Here's my beef with this line of thinking: Community involvement is rarely the primary purpose of the company being named. One would hope that most businesses exist to provide a needed good or service to an audience. If every company existed for the sole purpose of being community involved we'd know everyone's name in our community, but we'd be dirt poor, have no food, and probably no public services either.

There are a select few organizations that are truly centered on community involvement - typically these are advocacy groups, community organizations and the like. These organizations may be well served by a name built from within. In fact, I could argue that an organization that represents the citizens of a community would have a hard time justifying the expense of hiring an external expert (since it removes resources from the community.) Using the naming of the organization or service as a chance to build the community would contribute directly to the attainment of the primary goals of the organization. Zoo animals, schools, park organizations, and kids sports teams are the sort of things that lend themselves to naming by committee.

But what of companies that exist for other purposes?

Banks, software companies, and restaurants usually do not exist to encourage community involvement, but they do benefit from being community-involved.

Unfortunately many companies believe that all you need to be successful is to be community involved. Sure - it helps (often in huge ways) but it can't be the center post of the tent. Businesses have to provide a service first, and then they can differentiate that service. Think about it... at some point you actually have to communicate what you do to make money...

Since service businesses hinge on the value of the service provided (as in - am I getting the best value for my money by going here, or could I do better across town?) it seems like good advice to work on actually making the service more valuable in ways central to the type of service provided.

Bringing this back to naming... what we say by having a naming contest is that we're concerned about being involved in the community. We want to show that we're listening. We want our constituency to feel like part owners (though you'll note we're not actually giving away stock here...) so they'll spend money with us.

Sure, it works for stuff like Pandas at the zoo (free publicity! increased donations!) but you'll note that once the product/panda has grown up people don't visit/donate anymore - at least not because of the contest. Naming contests give you short term recognition but almost no long term benefit.

Sounds suspiciously like an advertising campaign, doesn't it? But one that you can never change. The name sticks around 'forever' while the fact that you named by contest fades away.

Where's the benefit?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
November 17, 2006
Next, who isn't intrigued about growing old, as we all, hopefully, have to? One guy who's cheerfully there already is Pete Lustig, an e-marketing manager, aged 84, in Illinois. He shares the journey and time traveler tips in his lively Late Life Crisis blog. It bears the tagline, "Too soon we get old; too late we get smart," so here's where I go in search of some short cuts to the smarts, before it's too late.

Virgin Atlantic Gives Short Shrift To BA’s New Clubworld Seat. The campaign includes a picture of BA boss Willie Walsh in the new BA Clubworld seat with the strapline “Sorry Willie…still 7.5 inches too short”, illustrating how much the Upper Class Suite is longer in length.

‘Can Superman Rescue Ben Affleck’s Career?’ How strap line for an article in the Guardian should really have been titled 'Can a Supername Rescue Ben Affleck's Career?'.

Woman with heartburn sues Coke and wins. How’s this for an ad slogan: “Things go better with (a reasonable amount of) Coke”? Coca-Cola may have to think twice about certain taglines now that a Russian woman has sued the company, and won, for allegedly getting heartburn from signature product. tries to convince smokers to quit with guerilla marketing campaign. Using the tagline on stickers they hope get plastered around on cigarette ads: 'Contains Urea'. Urea is constituent of urine, and apparently is contained in cigarettes. Urea, is universally known as carbamide, as recommended by the International Non-proprietary Names (rINN).
November 17, 2006 | Tate Linden
...then why are they so often used to name stuff like:

A sheep, an online forum, a public elementary school, a panda, a bunny, a chat room, an elephant, a local baseball team, a poop hauler, a development plan, a book character, a videogame monster, and literally tens (or hundreds) of thousands of other stuff.

What don't you see named by contest very often? How about children?

Why is this?

My opinion is that people don't have contests to determine the names of things that truly matter to them. They open up naming contests when the actual outcome doesn't really matter.

Naming by popular vote is a great way to create buzz in a community, and you'll note that things like zoos, public schools, and online communities are looking for ways to bring communities together. The naming contest is free press and might give proof of community involvement and a bit of a backstory.

Perhaps this is what annoys me about the naming contest idea; naming contests are not establishing a brand, they're a marketing tool. Marketing is supposed to tell your target audience something about your product or company - and this program suggests to your audience that you don't know what you're doing. Additionally, it lets your audience affect your brand in a permanent way - and the area affected is one that your audience has almost no experience in.

How many of the people that will enter the contest or vote on the results will have any clue as to what makes a good name? For elephants, schools, and chat rooms it doesn't matter. The goal there is to get people involved early, so it is the journey and not the result that matters.

For companies looking for growth the result is more important. If they want to expand outside of the name-submitters and voters they'll need a name that has appeal to more than just the namers and that fits with the brand.

I guess I like the concept of the naming contest, but not the results. It's honorable to want to involve the community, but perhaps not as smart to actually take their advice on things they know very little about.

Think of it this way - If you have kids (or have a kid on the way) you know that relatives, friends, coworkers, and even strangers will suggest names for your unborn child. Did any of you actually write down all the suggestions and then have the entire group vote on which name you would use? I'm thinkin' the answer is "no." You honor the suggestions, but the result matters too much.

I wish the example was more perfect, but it has its own problems. Most people don't hire naming experts for their kids, instead following general naming trends (like the huge number of Jennifers in the 60s, Dakotas in the 90s, and two-syllable boys names ending in -er an -en that seems to be omnipresent now.) Still, we want to make sure that the name is "ours." We won't let the public tell us what to do (at least not consciously.)

My thoughts are too scattered today to really do the topic justice, but there's a lot more depth to this. (An interminable delay at Cincinatti airport last night seems to have crossed a few wires.)

I promise I'll be bright-eyed on Monday, at which point I may come back to this topic and say something that makes sense. In the mean time, anyone have any examples of company names that came from naming contests that have stood the test of time? (I know of a few, but I'm holding them in reserve.)

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

November 6, 2006 | Tate Linden
I wrote about this a few weeks back and got quite a few emails suggesting that I was "full of it" and must be joking.

Sorry. This isn't an example of my wild imagination getting the best of me. Pen Island is indeed a company that sell pens. If you click the link make sure you check the web address. This is an example of a poorly parsed name.

Even Snopes - the popular urban legend debunking site - backs me up on this one.

Parsing has become far more important since the late 1990s when companies began moving to the Web. Previously innocent names became potential landmines when the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) made the use of spaces in company names somewhat obsolete. (Sure, they could have used hyphens or underscores, but it is easier to remove a space than it is to add an unfamiliar character.)

We've added a research project to our list over at Stokefire. We'll be taking a look at the number of companies that have elected to use names that utilize the Web format (must like "Stokefire" does) over the last few decades. Preliminary research shows a drastic change during the nineties, with usage increasing from a handfull of well known companies to being a recognizable trend on the NASDAQ exchange, the Fortune 500 list, and in Silicon Valley.

With so many companies building Strungtogethernames we'd have thought that the practice of checking for parsing problems would become standard. I suppose that it some sense it has become standard since there are actually not very many companies with major problems. Still - the fact that anyone is letting these issues get through means that there's still some learning to be done.

In our quick search we found quite a few examples (many of which we linked to previously, but through an external site.)

The list of websites that sound naughty but aren't is quite extensive. We strongly suggest that regardless of how inoffensive the websites are you'll probably be offended by more than a few of the implied names. If you don't want to see them then please stop reading now and go here.
November 6, 2006

YouTube Sued by Utube. The Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corp., a Toledo, Ohio, company which operates under the website, has a brand naming issue with the Google owned company and has asked that YouTube to stop using the or pay Universal Tube’s cost for creating a new domain.

Sean "Diddy" Combs, the hip-hop star who changes his name more often than a secret agent, has declared that he would like to named be the first black 007.

Forbes writer meets Alex Castro, founder of a Seattle startup called Pluggd. "Pluggd," When asked about the 'mis-spelling' of his company name (which is irritating and hard to remember," Castro was frank: "It is impossible to get words with vowels that aren't already taken up on the Web." "Plugged," with the grammatically correct "e," would've cost Castro $10,000. The "e"-less version ran him $8.99.

Rita's Water Ice Lets Customers Name New Product. The nation's largest and fastest-growing Italian ice chain, announced the success of it's unique product naming strategy. "Today's consumer wants to be involved in the world of advertising that surrounds them -- they want to feel like they have a say in what companies are trying to sell them," said Denise Zimmerman, president and chief strategy officer of NetPlus Marketing, the firm steering the effort. "One of the great things about the Rita's campaign was the combining of online and offline channels to immerse the consumer in the product and the naming process. Who better than someone who has actually enjoyed a product to help name it?"

The Groomsmen a film out on DVD November 14, is about a groom (Ed Burns) and his four attendants and how they wrestle with issues related to friendship and maturity a week before the big day. The tagline on the box, "Till Death Do We Party,"would be hard to top in terms of irrelevance to the film. For instead of this film being a story about a last-gasp bachelor party, it's a coming-of-age/coming-to-terms tale of guys growing up.

Just when you thought Harlequin romance novels couldn't get any, well, racier, they're now introducing a new series "set against the backdrop of the thrill-a-minute world of NASCAR." And the publisher's tagline? "Falling in love can be a blur. Especially at 180 mph."

November 2, 2006 | Tate Linden
Naming ain't easy.

Claude Labbe (and quite a few other folks) alerted me to this story:
Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corp, a small Ohio-based manufacturer that employs just 17 people, claims its website became a victim of YouTube's success after being engulfed by 68 million hits in August.
68 Million hits. And I would bet that of those people that accidentally went to the wrong site - exactly none of them thought "Wow - this is such a coincidence! Even though I was looking for sophomoric videos I could really use some industrial tubing right now. Where can I send my money?"

UTube is suing YouTube to cover the costs of the misdirected traffic.

This should be an interesting case to follow. While YouTube could get some positive press from helping UTube, I wonder if UTube could've prevented the entire debacle by using forethought.

When picking your domain name we advise
November 1, 2006 | Tate Linden
October 30, 2006 | Tate Linden

Ever hear of personal branding? We've spoken a little bit about it here, but at nowhere near the depth that it is covered in this week's Time Magazine.

I've held the belief that everyone has a brand and can't avoid sharing it with the world. Think you don't?

Ask yourself a few of these questions:

  1. Do you have kids?
  2. Are you energetic?
  3. Do you eat everything on your plate?
  4. Did you study in school?
  5. Do you have an iPod?
  6. Do you dress comfortably when traveling?
  7. Are you the life of the party?
  8. Do you like playing videogames?
  9. Do you have a blog?
  10. Do you own a pet?

Did you answer any of them?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions you've branded yourself. If you answered "no" to any of the questions you've also branded yourself. Heck... if you saw the list and thought "I don't have time for this" or "this is stupid" or "I want to see where he's going with this before I answer anything" then... yes... you've branded yourself.

Oh, and for you wiseacres that think by shutting yourself in a room and never talking to anyone you'll avoid branding yourself... Hope that you enjoy being branded as a recluse.

You see, anything about you that you communicate to other people becomes part of your brand. Even if you don't say a word or move a muscle you can still establish your brand solidly. As soon as you walk into a crowded room you are immediately checked for your brand by everyone that sees you. They see if you're stylish, confident, good looking, healthy, happy, and just about anything else that you might be showing. They're even potentially filing away bits of data about you like, "You're that guy who wore stripes and paisleys together" or "the woman that fell into the cocktail sauce."

Why are people looking for shorthand? Because we can't handle the complexity presented by human beings. We need a mental shorthand to help with recall. (Suddenly all those high-school nicknames like "Shorty", "Freckles", and "Pig Pen" begin to make sense...) We find one or two things that are distinctive about a person and we use them as the tabs on our mental folders so we can always find who we're looking for.

So - even before you spend a dime you probably already have a brand. It may not be good, but it is certainly there.

The idea presented by Time (that companies can help you with your personal brand) is pretty interesting to me. People often see themselves as so multi-faceted that they couldn't possibly simplify themselves down to the one or two things that will lead them to success in life. In job interviews we often throw dozens of great things about ourselves at the interviewer - hoping that at least a couple of 'em hit the right spot and get us hired. So we say we're confident, we're organized, our only flaw is that we don't know when to call it a day, we get along well with everyone, we're a natural leader who knows how to be a team member, we're looking for a job that helps us grow but we have all the skills we need to do it perfectly today.

Not only do most of us not say anything that will help to create a compelling shorthand in an interviewer's mind, we often contradict ourselves in the hopes that one of the two things we say will match with what the hiring manager is looking for.

So - the idea than an industry would spring up to help people land jobs, write personals, and basically be ourselves(only in higher concentrations) actually seems useful. It helps us carve out mental space in the minds of the people we interact with. If you carve out the right mental space with the right person you can end up with your dream job, the perfect spouse, or the best friend you've always wanted. Isn't that worth a couple thousand dollar investment?

But there are downsides. Once you've branded yourself to get that dream job you must find ways to live within that brand. If you've misstated yourself at all it can come back to bite you. Did you say that you were "detail oriented" when you should have said "aware that there are details?" When your copy isn't flawless it isn't going to go over well with the boss.

Even if you nail your brand perfectly it may lock you into a role that doesn't allow you to grow in ways that you want to. Branding is usually about finding the compelling differences between you and everyone else - and the desire to do a little bit of everything doesn't help you stand out. Everyone says (or thinks) it - and most also say they're interested in personal growth. Once you pin your brand to your chest you're going to have to live with (and as) it for a while. Are you comfortable with that? Does your life-history tell the same story?

Remember in today's world we now leave a trail of bits and bytes behind us and Google is there to sweep them into little organized bins. In looking for my name you'll find hundreds of hits, including articles I've written, my own blog posts, memberships in online forums, and even stuff that other bloggers and thought leaders have said about me. If I were to suddenly decide that I wanted to spend the rest of my life as an accountant I might find that my online identity would prevent any reputable accounting firm from hiring me. Anyone with knowledge of computers and the Internet would know in an instant that I had no experience. (You can read numerous stories about bad stuff happening and being found online if you look for 'em. You can't outrun your online identity.)

Is personal branding worth it? Actually I think it is - if you aren't doing as well in life as you think you could be. If you're happy then why bother? Same goes for big business - if you're happy with where you are (and where you're going) then why would you ever invest money in changing that?

(This is actually a pretty big problem for companies that are about to encounter bad times - they don't see that they need to change and are caught flatfooted when times change and being the best record-player manufacturer goes from being something to boast about to something worthy of shame.)

Here's the real key, though. Investing in your brand won't do a darn thing for you if you don't know who you are or what you genuinely want to do with your life. If you don't know what direction you want to go then chances are good that improving your directionless brand will improve your chances of landing a job (or mate) that you probably don't want or can't support for the long term.

How do you figure out who you are and where you want to go? You could hire an expert. Or if you're saving your money you could just take a look at your own life. Just by walking around your house you can learn a lot. Are all your cosmetics lined up on the counter? Do you move your furniture when you vacuum? Do you have a piano? Do you use it? How many dirty dishes are in your sink? Do you have art on the walls? Is it original or reproduction? Each one of these questions points to something that you are or believe in. Even seeing where you put your money (electronics, politics, baby-food, your church) could help you figure out who you are.

It's what you do with the things that matter to you that probably define you best of all. So - you've got time, money, and effort. Where have you been investing them? Once you figure that out then you may be in a better position to develop a brand that can support your real goals.

In closing this exceedingly long ramble, you should consider how effective companies have been in trying to rebrand themselves as something that they are not. We've talked about how Altria (Philip Morris) has a name and brand image that doesn't really support who they are - and the response from the public has been overwhelmingly negative. Aspirational branding (when you aspire to be something, but aren't yet there - like the "altruistic" cigarette maker) doesn't work for companies. And it doesn't work for people either.

Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group

October 27, 2006 | Tate Linden
What do you do if, after giving your business a try for two years, your leader resigns and a division of your business undergoes "voluntary administration?"

Well - if you're Retail Cube you try renaming yourself to something forgetable. Something like (okay, exactly like) RCG Ltd.

Let's see. How easy will it be for people to find this company? Well, a search in Google finds more than 3 million hits. So at least we know they'll find something.

Who uses the name already?
October 24, 2006 | Tate Linden
Yep, it is another post about people, not companies... but it all ties in with branding... trust me.

I like Dana (my associate.) She keeps me in line. She reminds me about stuff. She generally makes Stokefire look good... so I take exception to people that want to call her names.

Especially ones that use the word "Bastard."

Okay, but there's a problem. Some really smart people have stated that the prefix from Dana's last name ("Fitz") literally means an illegitimate child. Here... read what some smart guy had to say about it:
October 23, 2006 | Tate Linden
Never heard of Apollos Rivoire? How about Paul Rivoire? Still no? (c'mon folks... you can figure it out...) Well... okay. I'm pretty sure you're gonna know Paul Revere.

Why the series of names? Because Paul's dad (father of the guy that rode a horse and shouted a whole bunch) used all of 'em. He changed his name (numerous times) because "the bumpkins pronounced it easier."

Can you imagine if Apollos Rivoire hadn't changed his name - and still named his eldest son after himself? Would we as Americans laud this recent French immigrant as an American hero? Would we (bumpkins) even be able to pronounce his name?

Okay... Now let's try another name:
October 19, 2006

If it is named and notable it is probably here:

"Colour, like no other" is a pretty apt description of what Fallon has created for Sony Bravia. It's like that movie "Colors" from way back when, only with the actors portrayed by exploding paint.

Tagline "Set yourself free" used by Sony's Vanguard MMORPG seems a wee bit counterintuitive, given the number of intervention groups there are for MMORPG addicts. Perhaps they were suggeting being free from showering, daylight, and socializing with real people?

Sarah Lee's slogan "The Joy of Eating" focuses in on "how food plays a central role in our lives." Evidently the hunger-striker market was worth losing.

The digital-tv and broadband company UPC Norway changes its name to Get. ... We actually like the name, but boy does that sentence look strange. We are dying to ask "To get what?!"

Travel consulting firm gets a new name:

The Advito name links the concept of “advice” with “ito,” a form of the Latin root for “journey” or travel. Together with Advito’s strapline, “Good advice travels far,” the name perfectly expresses who Advito is and what its consultants deliver.

  • Okay... but how do you say it? Advice + Ito = "Adv-eye-tow", right? Or is it "Adveeto? Or perhaps Ad-vih-tow? We could use some adveesing ourselves.

Not to be out fake-Latinized, Diagnostic Ultrasound Corp changes name to Verathon Inc.

The Verathon name is a unique fusion of two ideals that embody the company’s mission and beliefs. Veritas (from the Latin for “truth”) reflects the company’s commitment to being true to the needs of patients and health care professionals, and Marathon describes the company’s passion for enduring achievement over the long run.

We're pretty sure you're going to figure out what we don't like about Verizon's latest press release (Hint):

The spin-off will result in a new public company that will be separate from Verizon and that will be called Idearc Inc. (pronounced EYE'- dee-ark)

AllTheRage renames to ATR warehouse, thus averting widely predicted acronym shortage.

October 19, 2006 | Tate Linden
Lesson in Latin: There's a Latin root word which means ‘to open’ or ‘to give access to’.

Lesson in English: Regardless of what a word means in Latin, if it may mean something else in English you should probably pay more attention to the English connotation than the Latin one.

...and here's the company we suggest needs to learn the English Lesson: The formerly named MeridianEaton that today announced their new name... Aperian.

We can't get over the similarity between "Aperian" and what we imagine our president might pull out of his brain when reaching for the word "Apelike."

Aperian LogoThe full name (and therefore the website) is Aperian Global - which makes us think of someplace that Charlton Heston would damn to hell. We might've considered
October 18, 2006 | Tate Linden

I was talking with a friend last night about the process of naming and I was asked a rather pointed question:

What makes a bad company name?

I responded with a lengthy monologue talking about acronyms, insults, generic names, and even a whole diatribe about naming without purpose. After about ten minutes I was stopped with a second question:

Okay... so is this something that every naming professional agrees on, or are these just your personal peeves?

I had assumed that about 3/4 of what I was saying was known and communicated by most naming professionals, but I figured I should check it out before I committed to it. One sleepless night later and I have some results.

What follows are the number of books (out of nine that I checked) that refer to a particular issue as being bad news for a company name.

October 17, 2006 | Tate Linden
We at Stokefire are not big fans of purely reactionary naming. Heck, we're not fans of aspirational naming when the thing you aspire to is something that people already expect from you either.

That doesn't stop it from happening, though.

That is why we're doubly disappointed in the name coming out of the merger between Peoples Energy and WPS Resources as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times today. (And an even better article by Robert Manor containing expert analysis was released in the Tribune. Stokefire wasn't quoted, but we had a nice email exchange with Mr. Manor - one side of which can be found in the comments section of this post.)

We made up the term "reactionary naming" on the spot, but we could just as easily have called it knee-jerk naming, reflex naming, or any of a dozen other options that hint as to the cause. What we mean by our term is that the name is a quick response to an external market force. Anyone else remember when a major network news organization quickly rebranded itself with the tagline "Real News" after a story they broke on automobile safety (real lesson: don't drive with lit model rocket engines strapped to your vehicle) turned out to be faked? (We can't find the story, but we think it happened in the early nineties.) We're pretty sure that the new tagline didn't make people believe the news any more than they had prior to the scandal.

Reactionary naming results in companies pointing out that they're not as bad as whatever they're trying to distance themselves from. This, in turn, results in making the populace think about the negative issue in conjunction with the company trying to avoid this very connection. A company naming itself Unron would by its very nature be calling up imagery of the scandal.

Aspirational naming can work when the thing aspired to is extraordinary or unique. Aspirational doesn't work when it points to
October 16, 2006 | Tate Linden
adidas may have found the Kryptonite to weaken the Nike hold on basketball-shoe dominance. At least in theory. You see, they've put two different ideas together - a cool brand idea and a trendy alternate spelling of a number.

We like one of 'em... but the other smacks of highscool cool-kid tactics.

The adidas brand is being recentered on the idea of a team - a "we, not me" approach. This is a direct attack on the current market leader - Nike. Nike spent millions of dollars pushing the idea that being an all-star is the ultimate goal, and that to be an all-star you gotta be able to humiliate your opponent - freezing them, dunking over them, putting the ball between their legs... The goal was to out hustle your opponent one-on-one.

People weren't wearing Nikes because they wanted to be team players, they were wearing them because they wanted to "Be Like Mike." Sure, Jordan was one of the best team players ever, but there's a reason why the posters plastered on the walls of aspiring ballers never seemed to contain thrilling pics of him passing off the ball. Think Jordan and Nike and you get high-flying, toung stickin' out, in your face skill(z).

That adidas would go in the other direction and point out that one person can't make a team (as evidenced by Jordan during his time with the Wizards) points to how seriously they're taking this. Not many people go against what Nike does. They've had a magic touch of lately.

What I personally like about this is that they're actually going after a larger market than Nike is. Sure everyone thinks that they're all-stars, but
October 13, 2006 | Tate Linden
Our blog has become pretty popular amongst the Real Estate crowd. We get a half-dozen hits a day through Google and Yahoo search engines from people looking for help with Real Estate, Realty, and Realtor taglines or names. We also get a few links from realty professionals that seem to like our stuff. (Thanks folks!) Sure, it isn't a deluge, but the flow never seems to stop.

Interestingly, of the hundreds of realty visitors we've gotten on the blog we've never had a single inquiry about how we can help - other than one of the following questions.
"Can you point me to any FREE name and tagline resources on the internet?"

"Can you show me where the free real estate slogans... Or free real estate taglines are?"

"Do you provide free Realtor taglines or free Realtor slogans?"
Not much variation, is there? We get these questions a lot. And we never hesitate to provide links to those resources. (In fact, you can click right here and here and here and here and here and even here if you just want to get that free help right now. Just be aware that some of the help provided may have trademark or other legal issues for you to wrangle with.)

Okay... now that everyone except for you has left our site I'll get down to my real issue.

Here's my question for the realty folks:

How is it that people working in an industry where they are constantly fighting against low-cost or free resources (such as the "Save 6%" and "FSBO" options) such a huge number of professionals try to boost their own business by using the exact same class of service (free) they warn their own clients against using? Is it that they don't see the value?

Not only this - but these same professionals ask for help - and they leave a trail of crumbs that prove they're using free services.

Let's take a quick look at the type of advice being given on the free sites. Here's a real-life sampling of suggsted taglines from the free services:
Let our experience work for you Take a Q from the crowd and call Que Scott first Experienced in Living and Loving Bucks County making sure your real estate needs are met Trust us to find your dream Home
See anything here that sets these agents apart from their competition or gives their prospective clients a reason to do business with them? I'm not sayin' that these slogans can't work... I just don't see that any of them are adding any value. Just check how many hits you get for the key phrases like "Let our experience" "your real estate needs" and "find your dream home." When you see tens of thousands - or even millions - of hits you know there's a problem. No one will remember your slogan, and no one will think about what it means since they hear it just about every day from every other business.

One of our recent projects involved coming up with a slogan for a local real estate company. The owner of the company worked with us over a period of two months to develop (among other things) an effective slogan that has never been used in real estate previously. The slogan speaks directly to the target market, suggests a whole suite of unique services, and allowed the firm to develop a concrete personality that compells target prospects to do business with them. It also filters out clients that won't appreciate what the company offers. Last - the slogan takes advantage of key aspects of the company owner's personality... so very little work was needed to implement the slogan across the brand.

For those of you that think the "filtering out" aspect is losing you business, think again. If you could get rid of all the tire-kickers in your business wouldn't that allow you to spend more time either with your existing valued clients or working on finding prospects that are more likely to sign with you? This is more than just focusing on a neighborhood - it involves finding a lifestyle or life-stage that is in need of your services. And one would hope that no one else is actively serving that lifestyle right now - and there aren't many lifestyles that fit that description - especially when it comes to realty.

If any realtors are still reading this and think that good slogans can still be found for free we encourage you to go for it. In fact, if you can find a good source of free slogans we'll add it to this post so others can benefit - and we'll provide examples of the slogans suggested.

But of course we're always willing to take on new realty projects if you feel you can't get what you need for free.

...Oh... and what's the slogan we developed for our client?

Why not ask them yourself? (We reserve the right to remove the link if too many folks write to 'em.)

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

October 12, 2006

We scour the web for branding stories so you don't have to. And because it's our job.

Truck ads exhort men to be aroused. By trucks. Beer-company women are nowhere to be found.

Chinese company tries new formula for success: Take existing powerful American brand, translate to local language, put the word "new" in front of it, wait for money to roll in. If this works the strategy will multiply like... bunnies.

Amadeus gives us a program guaranteeing best available rate for hotel rooms. The name? "Best Available Rate." See, the right field can provide names sometimes...

'Texas Forest Country' name being touted to attract retirees. Little Red Riding Hood expected not to visit as often.

We stand corrected. Patrick Ramsay's tagline "Wines you can swear by" is an effective use of profanity. But we're not sure that "Arse" is really swearing on this side of the pond.

Microsoft cares about your family. "Saftey is no game" campaign gets real. We anticipate even more eight-year-olds will keep the virtual world safe by upping their quotas of gangsta and pimp killings. If only GTA citizens would say thank you.

We bow our heads and thank the 911th United States Army Technical Rescue Engineer Company. Sure it's a mouthful, and will inevitably be shortened to 911 USATREC... but when you risk your lives for your country you can name yourself whatever you want.

PalmSource - the spinoff that made the Palm Operating System was acquired by ACCESS. Since resistance is useless PalmSource prepares to be assimilated. PalmSource shall henceforth be named... ACCESS. Of Borg.
October 11, 2006

ABC World News drops "Tonight" from name. Nation tries to tune in yesterday, tomorrow, and this morning but fails to find Charles Gibson anywhere.

Halloween Action Committee makes effort to rename Halloween to "Freakfest". We say that the name Halloween Action Committee is no Prince Charming itself.

Eric’s Family restaurants change their name to Love & Hunger. We thought Hooters had a lock on that. Oh... nevermind. That's lust.

A new brand of baby food starts with all the different foods mashed up together already - saving your kids all sorts of time. We're hoping that "peas with mint and fruity rice pudding" are two distinct offerings, but even so... peas with mint? Naming content: What's a Piwi?

Snatch Master as name for a data mining tool? Why are you laughing? No, really. Why?

MacAddict wants to re-brand as Mac|Life. Because when was the last time you used the | key anyway?

Can Kohl's target Target? Uninspired minds want to know. And as far as cage matches go, we think "a battle with J.C. Penney for middle-income clothing buyers" is something we'll not be watching on Pay-Per-View.
October 10, 2006

Leo Laport, "Podcaster Of The Year", presumably wishes his new title was "Netcaster Of The Year".

Hotel Istana rebooks rebrands itself to fly business class.

Banks spend less on advertising this year as BB&T doubles it's media spending– a buck to the market trend, but what's with BB&T's new 20 million dollar branding effort: "There's Opportunity Here?" Is it worth the money?

Mirror Mirror on the wall, who's the most excited of them all? Mirror Mirror Imagination Group that's who (key the theme music!) The world's only beauty and lifestyle futurist agency implements new Brand Excitement division (in addition to their Crystal Ball Trend Surveillance & Navigation Tours). We like the concept, but wonder about the implementation...

Can astrology be used to name a store? We call Bullfish on it. What do you think?

Staying with the profane theme: EFMARK-Bantek dropped the F-bomb and went for "The Value of One" a.k.a. Pendum, Inc. Sounds almost Pen-smart...

October 10, 2006 | Tate Linden
We've amassed quite a library of books on names and naming over the years, and thought it might be interesting to analyze the names the expert namers have given their own books. We were thinking that the best in the business would show their expertise by using the name of their book as proof of competence.

Overall we've been pretty disappointed.

Here's a quick sampling of books on our shelf that are dedicated almost entirely to naming:
October 6, 2006

We will be out doing some research for our blog (as well as relaxing) the next few days. We'll be back in on Tuesday to blog back in. Until then here are some stories we found in the branding world today.

Shaw Enough: Shaw Communications re-brands its subsidiary companies and changes Cancom Tracking to Shaw Tracking. Why? Find out why the Shaw brand is on course to drive this new commercial vehicle communications business with this strategic brand alignment.

Whirlpool Canada gives Maytag a welcome home. Where has that iconic repairman been?

Babies "R" Us looking to grow into SUPERSTORE with their sibling, Toys "R" Us. Look at the steps that got them up and sprinting ahead.

JC Penney throws a few cents in to increase their refined brand assortment by adding Liz Claiborne's, Liz & Co. women's fashion line, and CONCEPTS by Claiborne men's line.

October 4, 2006 | Tate Linden
We direct you to this bit of PR.

If you don't have time to read it just check out our Abridged and Bulletized version (Really, it is shorter):
  • Sinus Buster is first FDA registered Capsaicin nasal spray
  • Sinus Buster is on its way to becoming a household name
  • Sinus Buster is outselling their closest competitor by 3 to 1
  • Sinus Buster is outselling their closest competitor by 24%
  • Price Chopper is an upscale store
  • Sinus Buster costs twice as much as their closest competitor
  • Sinus Buster isn't spending much on advertising
  • Sinus Buster is unique because it contains the same chemical that provides the heat for hot peppers.
  • The inventor of Sinus Buster is a wild self-defense instructor who teaches women how to destroy attackers.
  • The inventor has done more than 50 live demonstrations that involved him getting sprayed in the face with pepper spray
  • The inventor has been on Oprah
  • The inventor suffered from cluster headaches and a runny nose.
  • The inventor tried every modern medicine but couldn't solve his problem
  • Someone sprayed the inventor in the face with pepper spray when he had a headache and the headache went away.
  • The inventor finds this promising.
  • The inventor invents pepper spray designed to be shot up the nostril willingly
  • The inventor squirts hot pepper up lots of noses and the owners of the noses love it!
October 2, 2006 | Tate Linden

Show of hands... how many of you think that it would be okay to name your new communications company by combining the names of two of the biggest energy providers in the world?

Anyone raising their hand should pay less attention to directions on the internet, should send us $20, and should know that they are quite wrong in holding their opinion.

Enter the folks at Texxon.

September 27, 2006 | Tate Linden

Apple is starting to look an awful lot like a mega-corp. Remember all those stories about McDonalds, Disney, and Microsoft coming down hard on defenseless non-profits and day care centers that either use part of a name or a visual likeness one of their characters? Now it is Apple's turn...

This is pretty odd when you consider that this is the same company that released "Sosumi." They went from challenging the establishment to being the establishment.

The latest? Apple is going after a startup firm for using the term "Pod." Even when "Pod" is part of a larger word...

This smacks of the trouble Apple got into when

September 26, 2006 | Tate Linden

I've been asked to write a short article on naming for a publication targeted at government contractors. The list of readers for the publication reads like an out-of-order alphabet book. BRP, CDK, FTG... the names just pile up one upon the other and I can't figure out which one does what.

So... I'm thinkin' that this will be my topic. With so many companies all trying to use exactly three out of twenty-six letters of the alphabet, the chances of finding three memorable and previously unused letters is pretty much zero. (We don't have the time to check Google - but trust us - it isn't likely that any one of these contractors holds their three-letter-acronym all to themselves.)

Want to see what I'm talking about?

September 25, 2006 | Tate Linden

How much power is there in the letter patterns you use to make your company or product name?

We believe that there's a huge amount - but the problem is that as soon as a pattern is established in the marketplace the power quickly turns to the dark side. (Remember when everything ended in ".com?" Other than - The first major company to name itself thusly - how many of those guys are still around?)

Nancy Friedman over at Away With Words got us thinking about this one today. In her post about Web 2.0 Naming she points out that "The names of most Web 2.0 companies are derivative, poorly constructed, and just plain silly"

Thank you Nancy. We agree.

Specifically she blows the whistle on "oo", "ee", baby-talk, and name truncation.

What's interesting to us is that folks like Seth Godin (a pretty smart guy in our opinion) are so much in favor of the types of names that Nancy - and Stokefire - oppose. Seth's post about how he named Squidoo is quite illuminating. Note his use of the double-o.

In the post Seth talks of how Squidoo came to be and why he likes the name so much. He also points to Flickr as an example of a good name.

Seth - a much read author and trend setter - may have done more to affect the process of naming-by-amateur than anyone since Bezos. Note that Seth's article was written in 2005. Since that time Web 2.0 has flourished (or at least the idea of it has) and companies have done their best to look an awful lot like the pioneers of the concept.

We imagine the average company-namer thought something along these lines:

  1. Seth thinks Squidoo and Flickr are cool?
  2. ...then using double vowels and truncating words must be the key to a good name!

What these namers missed was that it was the fact that the names were unique that made them good. People put a jumble of letters together and then check Google to be sure that there aren't many hits (as suggested by Seth) and PRESTO! New Web 2.0 Compatibr Name! It is a template approach that leads to copy-cat names that are hard to tell apart.

Pop-Quiz time! Can you tell us what naming convention led to the creation of Frappr, Preloadr, Blogr, Weekendr, and Resizr.

We think your flickering imagination can answer that pretty easily.

We agree that Flickr and Squidoo are indeed cool - especially when you consider that they were on the leading edge of the naming trend. But we sincerely hope that Seth doesn't think that the slew of e-less names (or double letter, or child-speak - each a derivation of a pattern he advocated) is helping anyone.

Seth - if you're listening/reading... A follow-up to your original post about the new rules of naming would be helpful. We think that people are focusing on the wrong part of the lesson. Your readers are copying the form and not the intent of your words. It's time for you to start taking some vowels from the double-letterers and give 'em to the truncatrs.

As the probable father of Web 2.0 naming we feel it only appropriate that you be the one to end it. Faair is Fr.

Tate Linden
Principal Consultr
Stokefire Consultr Group

September 22, 2006 | Tate Linden
About two months ago we heard about this story - but we didn't know what it entailed. Back in July Coles Myer said they were preparing to rebrand and rename their company. What they didn't say back then was that Coles Myers is spending $900,000 per month on the project. And now the project has lasted five months, leading to a $5 million bill.While we haven't seen any official press releases - The Australian News says Mccann-Erickson and Futurebrand are leading the project.

One may wonder how the company is paying for this. Perhaps the "retrenchings" of about a dozen marketing general managers (saving $3 million) and 2500 other employees (saving an undetermined sum) is part of it.

Here's the problem with this
September 21, 2006 | Tate Linden
Okay, we really don't get this one by the formerly named Se-Kure Controls. (Now named Halo Metrics)

Specifically the underlined segments from their press release below don't seem to have much to do with our existing knowledge of halos -
A Halo is an invisible forcefield,” described the firm in a prepared announcement. “It is a powerful energy that projects an aura of security around the products it protects. Halo fits with our vision of the future and our reality of today.

Halo Metrics,” the firm added, “is intended to show that we can measure this difficult space between loss prevention and merchandising. Our experience in measurement, proving that ROI will be improved by openly and securely displaying product, stands us in good stead. It is the backbone of the trust we have built up over the years.”

The firm concluded: “…We need to anticipate the changing face of retail by successfully integrating loss prevention, merchandising, marketing, and operations, thinking beyond our current offering to other areas we can provide solutions.”
And then there's this...
September 14, 2006 | Tate Linden

Based on this press release, Stokefire is tempted to put out daily press releases stating "Yes, we're still Stokefire."

What happens when your government tells you to change your name - and you refuse? Probably something a lot like this:

September 6, 2006 | Tate Linden

In an apparent effort to make the glass half-full, Canada's government... wait. Nix that. "...Canada's New Government" begins its sixth month in office.

I'm a little perplexed here. If I go to buy a car and note that it is six months old and has five thousand miles on it I'm certainly not going to consider it new. Not even almost new. In fact,

September 5, 2006 | Tate Linden
Hey folks -

Just wanted to let you all know that we are indeed alive. We closed for the holiday weekend and are prepping for most of the company to travel offsite for the end of a contract we're working on.

As for the naming news of the day - how's this:

Philips Semiconductors rebrands and develops (subscription) - UK Philips Semiconductors is to be re-branded for its future development as 'NXP', marking a milestone in the company's 53-year history as it becomes independent ... (clip truncated by Google.)

Let's go through this again folks: Three Letter Acronyms are Evil Incarnate.
August 31, 2006 | Tate Linden has entered the server rental business. While we're a little fuzzy about how this fits with their original ("we're an online bookseller") or more recent ("we're an online consumer goods seller") strategies, we're more intrigued by the name they've chosen for the new enterprise.

Enter the happy funtime bad-translation naming crew: the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is here. It sounds a little like something that Godzilla might fight for control of Japan
August 30, 2006 | Tate Linden

We're not quite sure what to make of this one, but we'll share it with you nonetheless.

Today, i-mate introduced two 3G new Windows Mobile 5.0 devices. The i-mate JASJAM, the rebranded HTC TyTN (aka "Hermes") and the i-mate SP JAS, the rebranded HTC MTeoR (aka "Breeze").

Not only do we have no clue how to pronounce these non-aka names, we have no idea how to spell them when we're not looking at them as we're typing.

We're not even going to analyze 'em. Just know this

August 29, 2006 | Tate Linden
We wish we could have been a fly on the wall for this one:
National Healthcare Technology Inc. (OTCBB:NHCT) is pleased to announce that the Board of Directors has selected a new company name -- Brighton Oil Inc. The Board has approved the name change and will recommend that the shareholders approve the same, and upon doing so the company shall officially cause the name change to Brighton Oil Inc.
Talk about a change of direction. One day you're curing cancer and the next you're drilling for oil?

Actually, after looking at this one a bit more we're even more confused. Yahoo says they're a 2 person drug company that makes stone veneers. Another site lists them as in the "professional and management services" business.


Anyone care to venture a guess as to what this company actually does well?
August 25, 2006 | Tate Linden
What happens when a naming consultancy goes rogue? They put all their hard work and creativity into naming an organization only to find that their masterpiece is wasted on a still-crappy company? They'd want payback, right?

That has now happened. But before we get to that story, let's take a quick look at the precedence for renaming companies in trouble.

The temptation is certainly there. When a company has something to hide there's a strong inclination to find a quick fix. What could be easier than a name change? Philip Morris and WorldCom certainly found something attractive enough in the concept to take the chance. Now known as Altria and MCI, the two companies are working hard to show they've changed.

Okay, that's not quite right.
August 22, 2006 | Tate Linden
Are you ready for this? Microsoft is rebranding... something. We're not really sure what it is, but it is being rebranded. Remember Hotmail? That's part of it. And Microsoft's online Beta tools - who can forget those? (It's okay. We didn't know that MSFT had a beta site either.) They're all part of the new program. And the name is...

Windows Live!

Not bad... But the real problem isn't the name (which everyone will at least remember half of.) The real problem is
August 11, 2006 | Tate Linden
Alright. Perhaps they should think about renaming this one.

Can you call something a Blu-Ray model if it doesn't play the Blu-Ray discs most people want?
August 10, 2006 | Tate Linden
This is the first post in what I hope will be a regular feature of the Stoked Brands blog. We'll find new or noteworthy names in the news... and poke 'em a bit with sticks to see what happens. Sometimes it'll be the big names, other times (like now) it'll be the stories that fall through the cracks.

Yesterday it was announced that Winona Excavating was fined $100,000 for naming a company in bad taste. How bad? Well, the fine was levied by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (or MPCA). Winona Excavating's spinoff company was named... Wait for it...
August 9, 2006 | Tate Linden

Sure, we've heard the stories about people having these dreams, then waking up, writing them down, and in the morning turning those ideas into billions of dollars. You'd think that naming would be an area where this would be a tried and true practice.

Based on our experience it is not so.

Here's the latest example of a midnight ephiphany that we probably shouldn't be telling you about:

August 8, 2006 | Tate Linden
Web 2.0 is here. We're not quite sure what it is, but it has something to do with trendiness, MySpace, company names that have been shortened and end in "r", and an unshakeable belief that maybe there was something to that whole internet bubble of the late 1990s. Add in a shine-effect logo and you're set.

Rather than give you a history of how we came to a time when everyone was trying to be different in exactly the same way, we'll just give you a short-cut to making yourself like everyone else.

Step on over to
August 2, 2006 | Tate Linden

Our new friend Mike posted this to his blog a couple days ago:

"Tate, perhaps you can explain why my company is inflicting this sort of thing upon us. Here's an excerpt from the "branding guide":

Through extensive research, we learned that customers want to do business with a company that has knowledge, that uses its knowledge and experience in innovative ways, and that has a commitment to achieving improved clinical and financial outcomes for its customers. This insight underscores the appropriateness of our brand position. We measure outcomes and deliver results."

Thanks for the link and for suggesting that I could fathom why your company would inflict this upon you. Personally I believe that your branding team has been overrun by focus-group fanatics.

Here's how I translate the text you posted:

June 29, 2006 | Tate Linden

Thanks to an anonymous email I'm blogging about the Realtor GRI program today. Don't know what the GRI is? Apparently neither does most of the world. This doesn't stop the National Association of Realtors from charging their constituency extra money for additional training - and the right to use the GRI logo (and taglines! - but we will get to those in a moment) on their business cards and other marketing materials.

GRI stands for Graduate REALTOR Institute. As stated here,the GRI symbol "is the mark of a real estate professional who has made a commitment to providing a superior level of professional services by earning the GRI designation. REALTORs with the GRI designation are highly trained in many areas of real estate to better serve and protect their clients."

Okay... so if GRI's are trained to better serve and protect their clients, then what are the normal everyday vanilla kind of REALTORs trained to do?

June 28, 2006 | Tate Linden
Once again William Lozito has dug up some interesting stuff over on his blog (though he admirably credits Jean Halliday of Advertising age for the original material.)

Based on the research displayed on William's site it appears that car manufacturers are bowling through taglines and marketing strategies at a rapid pace. Every few years there's a major change in direction - such as Buick's alarmingly fast transition from "It's All Good" (2001), to "The Spirit of American Style" (2002), to "Dream Up" (2004), to "Beyond Precision" (2005.)

William suggests that this is proof that "even the biggest and the best have difficulty sticking to a marketing strategy and related slogan or tagline." We agree with him.

But we also note that
June 27, 2006 | Tate Linden
Okay, so they don't say that exactly, but it sure feels like it.

Philadelphia's new slogan - "Forever Independent" does a great job of reminding people of the major historical events that occured there, and I'm actually pretty fond of the sentiment and the potential that the slogan holds.

While the potential is there for some great programs, Philly has chosen only one option - pointing out the centuries old events. Kind of makes me wonder how they could justify the use of "forever" when they pretty much stopped with the independence-type activity shortly after our nation was born. Since then one could argue that Philly has been a center of conforming influence for the good ol' US of A.

So, why I am I still fond of the slogan?
June 22, 2006 | Tate Linden
What has gotten into the minds of supposedly reputable companies? Or rather, what has gotten into their sales departments?

We received two identical packages from Cook's Illustrated yesterday - neither of which we ordered. The boxes had "Open Immediately... Free Gift Inside" printed in large letters.

Thinking that my wife had ordered something from them I opened them up. The first box was a cookbook and free celebrity chef coin. The second box was...
June 19, 2006 | Tate Linden
I'm a huge fan of Minor League Baseball - and went out to the Potomac National's game this past weekend to soak up the Americana. I've always been fascinated by the advertising that goes up along the fence... and it was pretty impressive this time. Some great local businesses ("Fat Punks" restaurant for one) and a smattering of representatives from larger organizations.

On this great day there was a single advertisment that hovered like a cloud over my otherwise sunny experience. Yep - a Realtor again. I'm not going to name names, since I agree with the idea that we should be supporting the local teams. I'd hope, however, that with that support one could realistically expect to get something in return.

This Realtor had a picture of themselves with their little pet (I was too far away to see if it was a cat or a dog) and had the following slogan:
June 16, 2006 | Tate Linden

I think someone put a sign on my back when I wasn't looking. Every day - no matter where I go - I get stopped by acquaintances and associates who want to tell me of the latest horrid branding effort they've come across. Some of them tell me so that I'll have the opportunity to help out the poor souls that are stuck with the strategy, some tell me to show me they've soaked in the messages I deliver in my seminars, and some just tell me to watch me cringe.

This doesn't just happen at my desk. It happens in my neighborhood, at the store, or even while I'm eating lunch at a local diner.

Honestly, I love it. I have my ideal job.

I love the fact that I'm not only helping companies develop solid brands, but I'm also able to educate consumers to look for companies that have solid identites. Many rather large companies do some pretty odd stuff when it comes to attracting customers.

The latest story is brought to you by Dana FitzGerald - Stokefire's Client Relations Consultant.

Dana saw a commercial for Wachovia that I'll paraphrase second-hand (so it is entirely likely that this will be rather like a game of Operator where what I say has nothing to do with the original commercial.) It goes like this:

  1. Enter boy preparing to leave the country the next day.
  2. The night before he leaves (after bank hours) boy realizes that he doesn't have his Passport (because it is in Wachovia's vault.)
  3. Boy's dad calls the banker at home
  4. Banker meets dad and boy at bank (still after hours) to open the vault and retrieve the Passport.
  5. Everyone is happy.
  6. Tagline - Something like "We're obsessed with customer service"

Nice story, right? Well

June 12, 2006 | Tate Linden

Who is advising the National Association of Realtors with their latest campaign? In their latest bold move, the NAR has chosen to focus on some pretty odd stuff. The message?

Paraphrased, it says "We're not just Realtors, we're your trusted advisor, your friend, and ... wait for it ... we make your dreams a reality."

First, if anyone ever told me they were my trusted advisor I would immediately cross them off the short list of folks that actually were. Second, an association representing many thousands of people cannot offer much in terms of friendship. That's a personal connection between two individuals, not a corporate policy. As soon as the organization says it it becomes disingenuous.

And as for 'making our dreams a reality'? Why is there such an attraction to this phrase for Realtors?

June 9, 2006 | Tate Linden
Like Beer? Looking for the best beer? Good news! There are apparently many companies making exactly the product that you're looking for!

Here's what they say about themselves:
June 8, 2006 | Tate Linden
The Wall Street Journal - a bastion of valuable information on marketing, finance, technology, and almost anything else that involves money - has been getting on my nerves of late. In a world where the line between online and offline is getting more blurred by the day, WSJ has been holding the line firm.

In a strategy I can't figure out, WSJ decided long ago that other than a few (apparently random) articles, the content in their online newspaper should not be accessible without paying for access. I'm not just saying the details of the article are hidden. The titles, summaries, and extracts are hidden too.

Want proof?
June 7, 2006 | Tate Linden
If you've met me or read my articles in the past you'll know that I believe that one of the critical elements of a successful business is the ability for that business to set itself apart from the competition.

Easy concept, right? Look at what other people are doing - and then don't do the thing that makes them appear to be the same.

Great, we're on the same page then. Now picture yourself at a tradeshow (IFE, to be specific.) You're walking down the aisles, looking at all of these great franchises that you could be a part of... and you begin to notice a pattern. Whenever a franchisor closes out a conversation they hand over something to help the potential franchisee remember them.

Pop Quiz! What is it they hand across to cement the deal in most cases?
June 6, 2006 | Tate Linden

Imagine a world where you can get paid for who you know. Cool, right? You list your contacts and if someone wants to talk with them you can charge people for access! Whee! Isn't for-profit networking fun?

Not so fast, kiddo. Let's think about this for a moment. Why should you be allowed to make money off of me? How do I know that you're not just sending me someone so you get a payday and not because this is a good person for me to network with?

Vshake - a new for-profit networking site led by Sagi Richberg and Sergey Gribov - attempts to add a dash of Multi-Level Marketing and profiteering to the networking concept. If I invite you to join my VShake network I will get paid any time you pay anyone else for access (to you or one of your contacts) - or anyone pays you for access.

Sorry folks, but I don't go for MLM concepts, so you won't be getting an invite from me any time soon.

May 31, 2006 | Tate Linden
Round and round the wheel goes, where it will stop no one knows...

Evidently the more I talk about Realtors and taglines the more people come here looking for the information.

So, let's play the game. Can you name the companies that have selected the following taglines?
May 30, 2006 | Tate Linden
Let me start by saying I love Constant Contact as an email campaign manager. I just used it for the first time this morning and find it to be intuitive, powerful, and effective - especially compared to Microsoft Outlook. All the great tracking tools and CAN-SPAM compliance are in one place and accessible from any computer with Web connectivity.

I found them through word-of-mouth, but apparently they're looking for a bit more than that.

Here's the part I don't love.
May 26, 2006 | Tate Linden
Quick, who uses the tagline "Men should act like men, and light beer should taste like beer?"

If you know the answer to that - then can you name the sub-brand?

Answer -
May 18, 2006 | Tate Linden
I've often found it ironic that oil companies such as Shell and Exxon spend so much money communicating how clean and environmentally friendly they are - but aren't willing to spend the minimum wage salary it would take to get someone to keep their bathrooms clean. This seems to me to be a failure not of the brand, but of buy-in. Independent owners would keep their facilities clean if the parent company actually valued cleanliness, but
May 15, 2006 | Tate Linden
The name fanatics among you probably know what TLA stands for - but the rest of you likely don't. Here's a hint: Toyota Australia just decided to brand their new performance vehicles as "Toyota Racing Development". They've already helpfully shortened this name to TRD.
May 4, 2006 | Tate Linden

I know people mean well, really I do. Everyone (including myself) thinks that if something sounds catchy and memorable to us then it will sound catchy to other people. Unfortunately, in branding this is often not the case.

Here's my version of Groundhog Day: A prospective client calls me on the phone to ask if I can help with coming up with a company name. "Of Course!", I proclaim. Names and taglines are a big part of the branding service we provide, and both are major sparks for brand success.

The prospect continues. "Great! You see, I've already got this great tagline and I want to build my entire business around the concept."

My sixth sense activates at this point, since I can guess with about 75% accuracy that the name will be one of three things, but I'll get to those in a moment.

"Do Tell" I prompt.

"You're going to love this!" they breathe. The slogan is...

May 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
I am seriously peeved.

Every day I see people driving along in their cars, SUVs, and mini-vans with their windows rolled down about two inches. Are they getting a breath of fresh air? Unfortunately, no. They're universally about to do one of three things.

Either: 1) They are about to blow smoke out the window 2) They are about to flick ash out the window OR 3) They are about to throw a lit cigarette butt out the window.

I do not recall having seen a window in that position for any other reason.

Why am I talking about this on a branding blog? Well, because of the negative perception of smokers that it creates. What are the negative perceptions? Glad you asked.
April 28, 2006 | Tate Linden
This release came across my desk today:

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB via HRMarketer) April 27, 2006 --, a premier source for diversity recruiting, has released its Prestige Package, a new job posting/branding package designed to attract diverse job seekers by including companies' work culture profiles in their job listings.

Click here for the full text. (Emphasis mine, above.)

Why did this catch my eye? Well, a few weeks back I received notice of a position for a branding expert where it was quite obvious that no one knew what branding was. This new release seems to say that job postings like that one are a thing of the past. If a branding firm handles job postings they'll be on-target and relevant, right?
April 27, 2006 | Tate Linden
Following on yesterday's quick analysis of branding getting slammed in the media, I found this little blurb on the IABC website - posted by Anders Gronstedt. It is a reworking of an old joke, but made me chuckle just the same...
You go to a party and you see an attractive girl across the room. You go up to her and say, “Hi, I’m great in bed, how about it?” ...
April 25, 2006 | Tate Linden
I like the idea of people "taking it" to the gas companies, as this begins to pertain to the effect of a brand on the populace. Exxon is seen as an uncaring, price-gouging behemoth (mainly because it acts like one) and people are fed up.

A chain letter has circled the globe suggesting that we boycott Exxon/Mobil to make them lower their prices - in hopes that this will result in the corporation lowering their prices. Good idea for some industries, but not for gas and oil.
April 24, 2006 | Tate Linden
I suppose that there's no such thing as a perfect host when it comes to websites. Everyone has down times, no one really can give estimates of when things will be back up, and customer service is usually pretty spotty. That's just the industry (or so you'd assume from reading blogs, anyhow.) Every single host is great when you set up - they bend over backwards to get business, then do very little to keep it.

So, Lunarpages, my webhost let me down today. Here's how:

April 18, 2006 | Tate Linden
Adrants put up an opinion on VW's new advertisments (yes, that's VW) that seem to imply that their cars can protect you from drunk drivers. I am not a fan.

Saturn tried this message a while back and it didn't last. Volvo owns the safe car brand, so unless you bring something to the table that Volvo doesn't have you just end up diluting your own brand message. This isn't a great ad, and probably not even a good one. It is entirely dependent on the SURPRISE factor, and that ain't gonna sell more cars. I give it a D for message (because the safety brand is already claimed) and an A for daring. Who would’ve thought that cars commercials would be reminding you that there’s a chance you could die while driving. Imagine Jet Blue showing a water landing in a commercial… or a Greyhound bus sliding off a road and tumbling into a ravine… How exactly would those add value to the brand?

We interrupt this blog to post a message from Volvo to VW... and that message is: "Step off, punk!"

...aaand... we're back.

Anyone else notice that the formerly uncrossable line where you can't actually show a real accident happening in a car commercial keeps getting crossed with bigger and bigger steps? There were the verbal claims, the crash simulators, the crash test dummies, the slow motion crash, and now hyper-realism... When are we going to see blood, or even the one guy that wasn't wearing a seatbelt in the back seat getting thrown out the window? THAT would be a big-time seller, wouldn't it? One wonders what the legal ramifications of this are. I'll need to pause my TIVO next time to see how long the disclaimer is. "...professional driver on a closed course..." and "...past performance is not indicative of future results..." are probably in there somewhere. If anyone has the text from the disclaimer I’d love to see it. It will create buzz, but I don't think that buzz of this type will add to the bottom line. Time will tell.
April 14, 2006 | Tate Linden

Everyone knows what that means and who wears the label. It’s a strong brand invented by an opposing campaign and worn unhappily by John Kerry. Why did it stick? Because it was easier to quickly understand that the lengthy discussions that justified Kerry’s actions. Which do you want to hear – the two second sound-bite or the two-minute well-reasoned response? Kerry was too smart for his own good. “Flip-flopper” turned out to be a compelling brand that connected with the intended audience even though the guy that was stuck with the brand didn’t want it in the first place.

I’ve often said that if you don’t enforce your own brand then someone else will invent one for you – and this is an excellent example...

Well, there’s another candidate in a small race in Washington State’s 8th Congressional district who is beginning to be painted with the branding brush by her opposition. Darcy Burner is taking on first termer David Reichert for a seat in Congress. Mr. Reichert’s supporters have jumped on a few issues, calling into question the integrity of Ms. Burner.

Why am I interested? First, because I know Ms. Burner quite well (she isn’t technically family, but I consider her as such) and know most of the claims to either be untrue or so vague as to be irrelevant. (I say the following in the interest of full disclosure. We’re not related by blood, but we’ve got strong ties through adoptions, in-laws, and a few other twists and turns. The exact details are available if anyone wants to listen.)

Second, this appears to be an excellent case of opposition branding, and it gives me a chance to point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of a grass-roots (or even campaign sponsored) effort along those lines.

Here are the attacks I’ve seen (as best I can summarize them - you can find more here, here, and here):
  1. Ms. Burner inflated her title to “Microsoft executive” when she was in fact a manager of some type. Tell the Truth.
  2. Why won’t Ms. Burner come clean about why she left law school? Did she flunk out? Tell the truth!
  3. Ms. Burner is inexperienced and trying to cover it up! Tell the truth!!
  4. Ms. Burner hasn’t voted in every local election so why should we believe she’ll be active in representing us in Congress? Tell the truth!!!
I’m sure there are many more statements being made, but these are the ones that are making their way around the blogosphere most aggressively in the last few days. I must admit that the theme being used (Ms. Burner isn’t telling the truth, or is hiding something) is quite clever (even if a bit cliché for political campaigns.) She can’t refute it without appearing to be hiding something. You can never prove that you are completely honest, so by perpetually accusing someone of dishonesty you can keep them on the defensive forever.

Unfortunately for her detractors, Ms. Burner seems to have right on her side. I spent a few hours digging around to see what I could find on the claims, and this is what I unearthed.
  1. The “Microsoft executive” angle. This one seems to be getting the biggest press right now. The argument is that Ms. Burner intentionally stretched the truth of her responsibilities at Microsoft by calling herself an executive. Many came to her defense by pointing out that every dictionary they could find defines an executive as something like “A person or group having administrative or managerial authority in an organization.” That should be the end of the story, since Burner was a Program Manager – and thus had the qualifying managerial authority the definition requires. So, the follow-up argument has been that when people actually employed by Microsoft are asked if Program Managers are executives many have answered negatively (thus proving that contextually she’s stretching the truth, even if factually she isn’t.)

    That’s fine, but in press releases and articles from Microsoft and about Microsoft, positions from Business Development Manager to CEO were referred to as executives. If Microsoft’s PR department calls someone of similar rank (a non “lead” manager) an executive I would think that the title would apply to Burner as well. This should be the end of it, but it isn’t – and here’s why being right often doesn’t matter. Attacking is far easier than defending – even when the attacking claim is wrong. This is why candidates and companies must establish their own brand before someone else does it for them negatively.The attacks on this issue now approximately are summarized as “even if Microsoft and the dictionary both essentially state that Burner is right, we all know that only the top people in the company are really executives, and everyone else is just a manager, a director, or a VP. It's all about common use, not technical correctness. Let me put this one to bed (until the attackers change their angle.) In looking through the first 50 hits on Google for the words “Microsoft” and “Executive” there were multiple examples of non-senior Microsoft employees being identified as … Microsoft executives. Here’s the kicker – when an article wanted to make it clear that a really high-level executive was involved they used one of three basic identifiers: “senior executive,” “top executive,” or “chief executive.” There were even cases where lowly directors were labeled as top executives, which in my own eyes seems to really be somewhere on the slippery slope to puffery. Using just the tag ‘executive’ is not. Microsoft even hires for “non-executive” executives on their own website, and refers to upper management as “senior executives” on their website. So – tell me again why this isn’t a dead issue? Oh yeah… “Tell the truth” is easier to remember than “Even by Microsoft’s own hiring practices, PR group, dictionary definitions, and common usage, calling myself an “executive” is correct.”

  2. Unfortunately for Ms. Burner, questions about why one leaves school can only be answered in two ways. Either she opens up her report card or she ignores or deflects the issue. The problem with opening the report card is that it is again the start of a slippery slope. If the report card can be called into question, then everything that she’s ever done on the record can be brought forward and the onus is on her to deliver it. Why did she move to the West coast? Is there a documented answer? Why is she really running for Congress – is there something conflicting in her public statements? It becomes a witch hunt (which isn’t surprising in a political race, I know…) that she can’t win because even if the opposition can’t find anything they can always say she’s just too good at hiding it. My take – Burner should be as open as possible without detracting from her own messages. Let ‘em ask the hard questions and she can provide the hard answers. Let ‘em keep asking until they’re done. Being honest with one’s constituency should be at the core of any solid political brand. How can you get reelected if your base doesn’t know when you’re telling the truth?
  3. When it comes to experience, I find it intriguing that a first-term candidate would have anyone on their side of the fence shouting messages about inexperience at the opponent. Sure, one term is experience, but if Burner wins she’ll have just as much at the end of her term. Her Harvard credentials probably mean she’s a fast learner too. An alternate attack has also been tried – Reichert’s “decades of public service” capped by the arrest (and widely publicized prosecution) of one bad dude. Yep – the constituency knows of this and will be reminded repeatedly by what is actually a very astute team of marketers on Reichert’s staff. Unfortunately for Mr. Reichert, Ms. Burner is a likely better representative of, by, and for the people she will be representing than he is. Why? She understands what it is like to be a Microsoftie, is familiar with military family concerns, and in about a dozen other ways can relate to her constituency in ways Reichert can’t. Sure, Reichert has a big arrest and has served his time as a public servant, but he’s not taking the time to connect on anything other than family values and national security. To solidify his brand he should be connecting with something that resonates more with his constituency – and probably should be spending more time at home. Regardless of how little threat he thinks Burner represents, the idea that he’s not home protecting his turf or listening to his constituents (now or in the past) opens up some big soft targets for Burner.
  4. The public record of voting in the community is an interesting attack. (I do not have any first-hand knowledge of when either candidate voted, but you can find claims here. I consider myself to be involved in politics and a frequent/regular voter, but I know I’ve missed a few elections along the line. My reasons are my own, and I would assume that Burner’s are her own as well. I know there are all sorts of messages on the airwaves about how voting is a responsibility, but realistically in our system voting isn’t a responsibility at all. Voting is a right and anyone can choose to vote or not vote as they see fit. If voting were a responsibility then most of the country would be thrown in prison during every mid-term election. Heck, if I remember my history right, when fewer voters turn out it results in elections skewing to the Republicans. Why complain about one less Democratic vote. Were I in Reichert’s (or the conservative’s) shoes I’d be playing this exactly opposite. Why not laud the competition for handing a victory to the Republicans? (I’m sure there’s a close election that she didn’t vote in that went to the Repubs, and this would be a more compelling message than pointing fingers and saying “shame shame!!” It would be a far more sophisticated attack with a much simpler and compelling message.
Personally I’d rather work on the Burner campaign, because I see it as more connected to the community. Reichert needs to play defense by playing offense, and that means finding ways to stop meaningful dialogue before any points can be scored by Burner. Reichert’s brand is established (Family Values and Security) but very shallow. Burner’s is more of a challenge, because she’s less slick and produced. She needs to find a way to deepen her connection to her constituency as “of the people” – and find issues that a disconnected leader (such as she could brand Reichert) can’t easily respond to. Examples include addressing issues of concern to Microsofties, mothers, families with adopted children (or that have given up adoptees), and people that are a bit fed up with the ultra-security focus that is being shoved down our throats. (I mean, really… when was the last time you remember when our threat level wasn’t “elevated”? At some point shouldn’t “elevated” become “normal” so that we can make it meaningful? If the threat level never changes then why have it in the first place…)

There appear to be a plethora of branding issues and opportunities for both candidates, though currently Burner isn’t taking advantage of opportunities to set the perception of her opposition. Reichert and his supporters are doing just that, and until Burner can come up with a way to get the spotlight off of her (and defense) an onto either real issues or her opponent I fear that she’s going to be playing at a disadvantage.

That’s it for today.

Final disclosure - I’m not working for either campaign, and no one involved in either campaign knows that I’m posting this.
April 12, 2006 | Tate Linden
This job posting came across my desk today:
Account Executive
Groovy, gregarious ACCOUNT EXECS needed to help expand an exciting, stable business specialising in an innovative service for retailers and franchisees. STRONG UNDERSTANDING OF BRANDING required. Working within a small Sales/Marketing team, you will be responsible for sustaining and building relationships with A-LIST clients subscribing to this TOP NOTCH, unique service in South Africa. This is a DREAM POSITION for experienced, Degree holders with a passion for BRANDING/SALES/MARKETING. Do not delay!!! Contact Barry or Katie at [Name Removed to Protect the Guilty] NOW to find out more...
Let me catch my breath. They mean to tell me that I could have the job RIGHT NOW? And that this REALLY is my DREAM POSITION in which I WILL be working with only A-LIST clients SELLING them TOP-NOTCH services? WOW!!! (It's almost like they're trying to force us into rhythmic verse by visually emphasizing every other syllable.) I'm guessing that if underlining and italics were allowed that these only would have added to the effect(!!!).

Without looking into the company (sorry, not ready to work South Africa yet) I’d wager good money that the service they provide has something to do with a deposed African prince (or perhaps a persecuted bishop), a large sum of money held by the government, and your own personal bank account number.

The only thing that rings true in this job posting is that they need branding help. Sure, they could be a respectable luxury service in South Africa, but they talk like a local auto dealership commercial played on late night cable. You know the kind; high volume, lots of flashing graphics, low production values.

If you were going to work for this firm and were actually good at branding, how confident would you be that your performance review would actually be based on your skills? I can picture my own 360 degree coming back with “INSUFFICIENT use of EMPHASIS CAPITALIZATION and PUNCTUATION!!!” (Note that whole sentences in caps aren’t as effective. One must EMPHASISE ONLY the words that you’d POKE YOUR FINGER into a GUY’S CHEST on to MAKE a POINT.) How would they know when the company had actually made the genuine and compelling connection between who the company really is (LOUD!) and who their target client is (Naïve and HARD of HEARING)?

Is there a lesson in this somewhere? I think there are a few:
1) Unless you are actively trying to annoy people you should try to abide by the advice given in Strunk and White">Strunk and White's infamous book. I have two copies (rarely opened) that remind me not to get too crazy when I’m feeling creative or edgy. The idea is to help people experience your words internally without realizing they’re reading them, and DOING THIS!!! DOESN’T HELP!!!

2) Remember that job postings are advertisements too. You can reinforce or destroy your brand with just a few words. I’m pretty sure you won’t find Rolex or Tiffany using emphasis-caps in their advertisements, and I’m doubtful that this company offers services that are more TOP-NOTCH than either of them.

3) Even if we give the company the benefit of the doubt and assume that the business is legitimate, this does show that taking a contrarian approach to advertising is not always a good thing. Stokefire almost always fiddles with unique approaches rather than doing what everyone else does. Sure, you can ride the coattails, but someone else is wearing the coat, and that’s who we want our clients to be. Creativity is good, but make it an intentional reinforcement of the brand, and not (as in the best possible interpretation of this job posting) an annoying flurry of words that don’t do anything but show your targets that you can cheer-lead.
I’m sure there are more lessons, and hope that some of you feel confident enough to post some (genuine or humorous, it’s all good…)

Oh, and to anyone that wants to point out that my own punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and grammar could use a little brushing up, [scathingly beautiful and perfectly worded retort removed after reports of uncontrolled crying, temporary blindness, cats and dogs living together, and Rapture-like experiences were received. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.]
April 10, 2006 | Tate Linden
I just read the Wall Street Journal's ego piece on Armani. I think he's dissing me personally... or if not personally, he would be dissing me personally if he knew me, or knew of people like me, or saw that I had a Ficus-naming contest.

Anyhow, he provides five tips in the article (for which you will have to pay to read) and the last one is:
"I can't accept men wearing sports jackets in a board meeting. Sports jackets are for weekends."
Dangit! All I wear are sports jackets (except for on weekends.) I'm guessing he won't approve of my jeans, broadcloth shirt, and leather shoes, then. Nor will he enjoy my acute lack of anything resembling a tie around my neck.

Personal note to Giorgio - Yeah, most boardrooms probably call for a matching ensemble suit/tie combo. Not all of 'em do though. Mine? No suits, please. Sure - if you want to be seen as a conformist then by all means. Even in one of your suits I'd still think that a guy would be out of place. Classy, probably a tad too warm, maybe thirsty too, and likely better looking than all of us - but still completely out of place.

Also - your first comment that "Polyester is a fantastic fabric" makes me feel a little better about disagreeing with you. I've tried polyester and, frankly, was not particularly impressed. Especially poly shirts... I mean, come on. You tuck 'em in and before you can get your hand out the tail has already removed itself from your pants, and done so in such a silky and quiet way that the only way you'll find out is after you've passed by the cute receptionist who blushes at your predicament.

Hypothetically speaking this type of event would have been before my non-hypothetical marriage, of course. That is, if this had happened at all, which I am most assuredly not really saying it did. Not.

That is all Giorgio. Rest assured I could have gone on far longer, but feel you have been suitably upbraided for now. Be glad this one was just between us.
April 10, 2006 | Tate Linden
I never owned a Barbie, though I think my older sister did. I was a big fan of the 12” G.I. Joe figure with real clothes, velour-covered head, and clunky plastic boat with plastic guns that only made noise when you went "ptchoo ptchoo" with your own mouth, however. Unfortunately, G.I. Joe is not the subject of the blog today – though I will take a moment to internally reminisce about the old days. Ahhh… Good times.Alright. The brand I’m poking today is Barbie. I guess this is the first official poking via the blog, since my Realtor rant wasn’t really against the brand, but against the practices of the individual practitioners under the brand heading.

So, why Barbie? Because she was written about in Harpers Magazine this month. (Sorry, no direct link to the article because they apparently want you to buy the magazine and not freeload.) You can see comments *about* the article here. The portion of interest to me begins near the top - where Barbie begins to lose limbs.

Why would girls around the world (or at least in Bath) be ripping apart this doll? Oddly (or perhaps unsurprisingly, given the nature of this blog) I believe it is branding. The probable purpose of the doll was initially to act as a visual role model – always proper, always high-heeled, always skinny. Barbie could not physically do anything wrong – she couldn’t bend enough to get nasty. Bad things started happening for Barbie somewhere around the 70s (but don’t quote me on this – I was only just gaining consciousness then) when ERA started to mean something outside of baseball. Women did not want to be represented by the skinny stiletto-heeled darling. I even remember the day in the mid-seventies my own mom talked to my older sister about Barbie and how she wasn’t a real representation of women. My basic takeaway from the conversation – that Barbie was a bimbo and not someone she should try to emulate (or whatever word a six-year-old would use instead of “emulate”.)

The reaction from Mattel/Barbie was rather predictable. “Let’s get us some positive role models!” They made Barbie good at math, an astronaut, a teacher, a college student (attending at least a dozen schools, no less,) a world traveler, and more. Interesting concept, but Barbie wasn’t really ‘built’ for the types of activities she was dressed for. Sprinting, perhaps (since heels don’t touch the ground in that sport) but I’m guessing that even in low-gee environments she’d need to stand flat-footed eventually.

I’m going to stop the brand poking at this point today to ask a question. Who is Barbie really marketed to today? If the backbone of branding is based on specialization, then we should be able to identify a limited set of target consumers/buyers for the brand. Any ideas?

My guesses:
  1. Obsessive-compulsive collectors. People that want to own every piece of clothing and every doll available. I submit the inclusion of Barbies themed with Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, and other collector-desirable brands – as well as tie-ins with popular collectible trends such as troll dolls and pogs.
  2. Beauty-queen moms. Former pageant types that want to convey the importance of looking good to their daughters. Why else would there be so many hundreds of Barbie's dressed in glittery stuff, while no well adjusted five-year-old would wear such a thing outside of the talent show circuit?
It is rather strange to think that with one core product (a single plastic doll) Barbie may have diversified its offerings to the point that it can no longer effectively market to the core (originally targeted) user of their product. They’ve spent so much effort trying to appeal to every possible consumer that they’ve alienated just about everyone except people that like to collect everything.

As for the violence aspect mentioned in the article... I was going to write today’s entry entirely about that, but about two paragraphs in I realized that the violence was not necessarily a function of the brand focus, but in fact a function of the company's inability to create products for the end user. It is the lack of focus on the right market that (in my opinion) is causing the girls to rip the dolls to shreds.

Why treasure something that doesn’t represent what you want to be, is completely disposable, and comes apart in seconds, but is presented in a box dressed exactly the way you are? It’s about as genuine as me dressing up in heavy chains, a muscle shirt, and pants that say to the world “I just wear a belt to keep my waistband above my knees.” No one would be fooled into thinking I was a gangsta. The little girls aren't fooled either...

Obscure closing thought: It doesn't matter what sort of fun and colorful label you put on a hot cup of coffee, nor how much an adult may like it - if you give it to a kid they're not going to use it the way you want them to. A sip, maybe two - and then the coffee will be poured on the carpet - or more likely on the little brother. Give them grape soda and, barring a visit from Murphy and his law or sibling rivalry, you'll have to surgically remove the kid's tongue from the bottle after they try to get the last drop. At the core of the brand there's got to be an identity that connects with the target - and Barbie just doesn't have it today.

April 5, 2006 | Tate Linden
If you're reading this then you're probably pretty aware of the concept of branding and which brands you like.

Okay, here's a question for you. Without looking, can you name the brand of socks that you are wearing today?

I bet most of you have no idea. I didn't know myself. Why is it that I know what type of shirt (Tailor Byrd) jeans (Lucky) shoes (Camper) and underwear (Jockey - probably more than you wanted to know) that I'm wearing, but when it comes to socks I've got no clue? I didn't even need to check the brand name on any of the other stuff.

Okay - so now I'm intrigued. I pull off my shoes (thankfully I'm at my home-office today) and check for a brand name. Nothing - no tag (though I'm glad of that - nothing to itch), no sewn in name on the ankle, bottom of foot, or toe. Not even anything remarkable about the design - no raised toe-stitch or splash of color.

I shop at name-brand stores and buy socks that cost about $10.00 a pair. I would have thought that anyone charging that much for what is essentially a disposable piece of clothing would be intersted in creating some brand recognition by informing their consumers of their name. After all, if I don't know who made my socks then I probably won't be able to find them again.

I know that some sock makers put their names on their goods - or have signature looks - especially Gold Toe. I also understand why it might not be intuitively important to have a visible name (most men's business socks aren't meant to be seen.) But it seems to me that those that skip the label step miss out not only on advertising, but on brand loyalty as well.

How is this applicable outside the world of socks? Think about how you label your own product or service - not just the sign on the door or name on the box. Once people are using your product as intended and have thrown away the wrapper are they going to be able to find you again? Will they remember your name? Will they be able to refer more business your way?

If you only want one sale (or your product is so bad that you don't expect repeat buyers) then don't let it concern you (and stop reading this blog!) If you want buyer loyalty then minimally you have to give your buyer enough information to find you again when it's time to renew/repurchase/reengage.

Addendum: I hereby pledge to buy only socks that I can actually find again if I like them. Life is too short to serially change sock brand loyalties. And, though it has never happened, I will hereafter be prepared to answer the sock-related question, "Who are you wearing?"

Addendum II: Trackback to a wonderful (and profane - you've been warned) POV stated by a peeved consumer. The stated view is that there's no reason to have 'branded socks' among other things. Great to see real people upset with the bunch of copycat brands on the market. Click Here to view. The language is a quite rough, but the sentiment is valid.
April 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
The Washington Post had an interesting article on Real Estate agent advertisements over the weekend. Follow the link to: Answer Man: Grimacing Over Real Estate Agent Ads.

Stokefire has helped quite a few Realtors and brokers craft their brands and we've yet to be convinced that a picture in an advertisement or business card is critical. The referenced article seems to back us up on this.

The current thinking in Realty seems to be that one doesn't sell a house, one sells one's self. Anyone can get you the house of your dreams, but only I (Blonde haired, dimpled, smiling) can get it for you in my uniquely personalized way.

This thinking may have worked a few years back, but now with more than 70% of Realtors (Coldwell Banker's numbers from ref'd article) putting pictures on their cards you may be more unique without a picture than with one. I've sold three homes in the last decade and have witnessed the change by looking in the 'card tray' after a showing. Everyone's cards used to look the same because they were conservative and respectable. Now they look the same because they have a picture, tagline, three phone numbers, and are essentially a jumbled mess of information. Obviously I don't think this is an improvement.

This is not to say that I think personal branding is bad (I don't.) Personal branding is great, but I just don't see a picture as critical for business success unless you're a) a model or b) a personal trainer. These are two industries that really do depend on looks for success. If 70% of the competition wasn't doing the same thing in Realty then perhaps this method would work, but as it is, each new photograph makes all the rest less impactful.

So, if a Realtor's smiling face isn't enough to reinforce a brand, then what is? How about using an original (or at least regionally unique) message? Search Google for Realty taglines and you'll find thousands or even millions of hits for things like "Home of Your Dreams" and "Find You Your Ideal Home." How do I feel about tags such as these? How should you, the target client, feel about them? How about insulted? *All* Realtors should be trying to find you the ideal home, so saying it in the valuable space of a business card or advertisment is wasted space. It's like Stokefire having an ad-blitz with the phrase "Stokefire - We Breathe!" [Ed. - that's a keeper!] There's no added value - you're just telling people you provide the same service as everyone else - and worse - that you're not as creative as the better ones.

Here's another way to see this. If you were going to sell your house, wouldn't you want to know that the person selling it was going to be able to have your house stand out somehow from all the rest for sale in the area? If a Realtor can't get themselves to stand out, then how the heck are they going to have your home do so?

Don't even get me started about the big Realtor campaign hitting the airwaves now that essentially shouts "Use Realtors - We've Taken An Ethics Course!" Not only does this not say that Realtors are ethical, it points an unflattering light on the fact that Realtors might have been unethical in the first place. Just because someone sits through a four hour lecture on what it means to be ethical does not mean that they have achieved a state of ethical being once they're done.

I truly value the services that good Realtors provide. The ones that get it - that Realtors can increase the value of a home, that they can take care of most of the difficult aspects of a home sale (such as negotiations, paperwork, prepping the home for sale, etc.) - are worth far more than the six percent that they frequently charge. The ones that don't get it are worse than going it alone.

That's enough brand poking for today. I may come back to this at another date to get into some of the finer points of Realtor branding and why a bad agent is worse than no agent, among other things.