site map

 

Thingnamer Banner

Recently in Corporate

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.
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: www.creedthoughts.gov.www/creedthoughts. 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 creedthoughts.com 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 www.superduperpaper.com and www.papergreat.com 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 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 24, 2007 | Tate Linden
This week's New York Times, Boston Globe (and any other papers that carry Rob Walker's "Consumed") had an article featuring Scott Campbell - a NYC tattoo artist(e?) that's been making waves in the corporate world. He's done work for Nike, Camel, Volkswagen, ZZ Top, and more. Personally I'm dying to talk to him. Not just about his artwork (which is quite cool) but about what he thinks about the concept of corporate tattoos in general.

sf_logo.jpg

I've still be mulling over the whole idea of what makes a brand tattoo-worthy, and considering (much to my wife's and my religion's disapproval) putting a little corporate logo of my own somewhere the sun doesn't typically shine.

What intrigues me most about Scott's work is his emphasis on authenticity. For a guy working on very corporate projects it seems like authenticity is a difficult thing to maintain. This isn't inking skin, it's painting pictures. It is a very thin line he must walk - and I must admit he seems to be doing a good job of it.

Scott - if you're listening out there - I'm curious to know if anyone has taken the corporate work you've done for posters or signage and had you ink their bodies with it. Are there people with your cool Camel logo walkin' around?

Other questions to consider:
  1. Is there a difference between the artwork done on behalf of a person and for a company? Is your process different when developing the design?
  2. How real is the danger of losing the authenticity-factor when getting paid by Nike? How do you stay 'real'?
  3. Among tattoo artists is there a level of respect given to a person getting a tattoo of their own design that isn't there if they choose a corporate logo or common rose/thorn type design?
I didn't say the questions made a lot of sense... they're just things I'm curious about.

If you're interested in this sort of stuff you might want to read this post about people branding themselves with the logos of the corporations they respect. I've heard Apple, Harley Davidson, and Nike are some of the most common tattoos out there - and there are whole websites dedicated to variations on each. The fact that most companies don't have this sort of loyalty fascinates me. Why aren't there people showing off their HP tattoos, or Safeway... or McDonalds?

I hope to have an answer to these questions later this year... but if you think you know the answer now I'd love to hear it.

Oh - and that Stokefire logo on this post - that's our new one! Here's to hoping that you can see the tattoo influence on the style...

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
March 27, 2007

Time Shutters Life

Three years after relaunching Life magazine as a newspaper supplement, its third incarnation, Time Inc. said it would fold the title with the April 20 issue, citing the decline in the newspaper business and outlook for ad revenue in the newspaper supplement category.

The iconic titles name, which will continue to operate online and through its books, had begun to find its footing after rocky start since its most recent reincarnation.

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 23, 2007

Monster launches new product

monster.gif

Monster Worldwide Inc. launched a new recruitment media product designed to aid employers in seeking people who are not actively looking for a job.
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 22, 2007
Tech products get a shot of bling with the new line Active Crystals which named between a partnership formed between Phillips electronics and Swarovski Crystals. First itmes to come out will be a flash port and headphones. Smiliar items that use the Swarovski crystals can be foundn on shinyshiny.tv.

images1.jpegimages-1.jpeg

March 19, 2007


jackiechan.gifInstaGreen Tea Beverage Mix is a vitamin-packed green tea product that delivers EIGHT TIMES the antioxidants of regular green tea.

To deliver this punch, Jackie Chan, kung-fu master, backs the product with his name and verve.instagreenblob.gif
March 12, 2007
Starbucks to launch its own music label named Starbucks Records. It is unlikely however that they will sell any records at all that the name is just marketed to consumers who remember the vinyl days of past. Paul McCartney rumored to be the first to be signed. Full story here.
March 9, 2007
In a Global Marketplace, Claiming a Name Becomes an Art in Itself.loius.jpg

When a snazzy new product goes on sale in many countries, its name must be one of a kind. Yet today it has become increasingly difficult to find a name for a company, a product, or shade of lipstick that has not been taken.
March 8, 2007
picture-14.jpgAgroLabs, Inc., announced today its new product line of single-serve, exotic The lead item in the Bali Island line is White Peach Juice made from peaches grown only in China.

Huh.
March 7, 2007
americone_dream_pint.jpg

images-1.jpgBen & Jerry have named a new flavor, Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream™. The concoction is "a decadent melting pot of vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. It’s the sweet taste of liberty in your mouth."
March 1, 2007
macys.jpgRetail giant Federated Department Stores, Macy's Cincinnati-based parent company, made that move Tuesday, announcing that its board will ask shareholders to change the parent name to Macy's Group Inc.
February 23, 2007
methcoffee.jpg

Introducing Meth Coffee. This rather controversial named product is marketed as a high caffeine beverage that provides an intense buzz and cocoa-tobacco finish. The "Meth" branding could generate a storm of publicity for this product in the same way that the use of the word "Cocaine" did for a recently launched energy drink.
February 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
We had a discussion yesterday with a prospective client that uses an acronym as their name. Or it used to be an acronym. Now it is just a few capital letters that have absolutely nothing to do with the organization. At some point in the last few decades the words used to describe organization changed (no longer matching the letters in the acronym) so they had to adjust the way they referred to themselves. The acronym became an anachronism.

Imagine a company called the National Record Player Company - that goes by NRPC. This name would serve them well through the 1980s - at which point the company switched away from record players to things like CD players, and soon after that to DVD players.

Kentucky Fried Chicken had a problem similar to this when they decided the word "Fried" held too much kfc.gifbaggage. They are now officially named "KFC" and the letters themselves have no official meaning anymore.

If you owned NRPC what would you do? Would you keep using the letters as you've been doing for decades because that's how people know you and there's strong brand recognition (even though the letters have had no words behind them for three decades?) Would you attempt to kluge together new words that fit the letter pattern better than the old ones (like BP did with Beyond Petroleum?) Or would you ditch the acronym and go for a brand new name that better positions you for the next three decades (while potentially honoring your past at the same time... but no pressure, of course?)

Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Each one will be loved by some and hated by others. Just take a look at our own blog and you'll see that major backlash can occur when nothing other than the name changes.

Membership organizations are particularly vulnerable to backlash when even the slightest adjustments are made to the brand. Today's society defines people by the company they keep. When an entity with which people are associated changes it reflects on the the members themselves. For naming this means that people who associate with an organization in part because of the name (perhaps because it is their alma mater) will not respond positively to a name change without a significant amount of justification and participation.

When was the last time you heard of a company or organization with a strong brand and lengthy history that renamed itself and received unanimous accolades? I certainly can't remember one. There's always dissent (though I believe that dissent is a good thing - but that's a post for another day.)

Off for my second cuppa joe.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 22, 2007
Cisco, Apple Settle 'IPhone' Dispute

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007 they haveCisco Systems Inc. and Apple Inc. said settled the trademark-infringementimages2.jpg lawsuit that threatened to derail Apple's use of the "iPhone" name for its much-hyped new iPod-cellular phone gadget. Cisco Systems Inc. and Apple Inc. have agreed to share the "iPhone" name, but both companies are staying tightlipped about what future products might come from the resulting deal to collaborate on "interoperability" between the companies' products.

redrock-logo.jpg

Redrock Oil Sands, Inc. has changed its name to Redrock Energy, Inc., effective immediately.

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

 

 

xm_logo.gif

XM and Sirius Satellite Radio announced thatimages1.jpg they're confident they will be a single company by year's end, but they haven't decided what they new entity would be called, nor the location of its headquarters.

 

viewmedia.jpgBioPharm Informatics LLC, a premier provider of Laboratory Information Management Systems consulting services and lab technology solutions, announced today that its name will change to LabCentrixSM. LabCentrix is a coined word that connotes putting each lab at the center of everything the firm does to ensure the very best technology solutions are deployed for each customer.
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 19, 2007
logohome.gifCoty Inc., the world's largest fragrance company, announced today the creation of a new global business unit which they have named, Coty Beauty, which will combine the mass businesses of the Americas, Europe and Asia.
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 shaveeverywhere.com - 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 15, 2007
Oklahoma Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Company Changes Name

The name change affects only the mutual insurance company that carries the Oklahoma Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Company label. See video of announcement.
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 9, 2007

 

ge-lumination-logo.jpgGE's LED lighting business is renamed Lumination

GE Consumer & Industrial has changed the name of its LED business from GELcore LLC to Lumination LLC.

GE says that the new name "reflects the fast–growing business unit's vision of imagination with light, and embraces GE's heritage of innovation and optimism for the future." ."Our name change emphasizes an important element of our growth strategy," states David Elien, president of Lumination. "Our focus since our inception has been lighting applications that leverage the benefits of LEDs to drive real value for customers."
February 8, 2007
tesco.jpg

PHOENIX, Feb. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- British grocery store chain Tesco announced today that its new chain of grocery stores in the U.S. will be called "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market," and formally revealed its new logo, during an event hosted by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. tesco-express.jpg The company is focusing on the Greater Phoenix area, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego and stores will begin to open later in the year.Tesco USA has plans of opening 300 small grocery stores in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix. The openings would cost approximately $2 billion and would take five years to fully complete. The company plans on opening the stores in the second half of next year.

In an effort to distinguish itself from other grocery or produce stores, the emphasis at Tesco will be on the freshness of food. The company hopes to ensure this freshness with large distribution centers and quick turnaround times.fresheasy.gif

Has anyone seen the new logo (the one above is not it)?? I could not seem to track it down. I would love to get a look.

Thanks for the pointer to the new loge Denise. Much appreciated!!! >>>>>>
February 6, 2007
DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. will rename its slow-selling Five Hundred model the Taurus, a name Ford previously used for a car that became the nation’s top-seller, two company officials said Tuesday.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on the condition they not be identified by name because the official announcement had not yet been made.The Taurus, considered by some the car that saved Ford, revolutionized the way autos look and feel when it was introduced in 1985.

Photo - Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally introduces the 2008 Ford Five Hundred at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 7, 2007. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES) 9:37 a.m. ET, 2/6/07
February 5, 2007

images.jpg



Apple Inc. and The Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd. Enter into New Agreement

CUPERTINO, California and LONDON—Apple® Inc. and The Beatles’ company Apple Corps Ltd. are pleased to announce the parties have entered into a new agreement concerning the use of the name “Apple” and apple logos which replaces their 1991 Agreement. Under this new agreement, Apple Inc. will own all of the trademarks related to “Apple” and will license certain of those trademarks back to Apple Corps for their continued use. In addition, the ongoing trademark lawsuit between the companies will end, with each party bearing its own legal costs, and Apple Inc. will continue using its name and logos on iTunes®. The terms of settlement are confidential.

Commenting on the settlement, Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO said, “We love the Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks. It feels great to resolve this in a positive manner, and in a way that should remove the potential of further disagreements in the future.”

Commenting on the settlement on behalf of the shareholders of Apple Corps, Neil Aspinall, manager of Apple Corps said, “It is great to put this dispute behind us and move on. The years ahead are going to be very exciting times for us. We wish Apple Inc. every success and look forward to many years of peaceful co-operation with them.”
February 2, 2007
newtundra34s.jpg

Toyota Tundra to be Unveiled Super Bowl Weekend:

Toyota wants to sell as many as 40,000 Tundras to Hispanic consumers — about 20 percent of the 200,000 it expects to sell this year.

"Our Hispanic campaign is critical to the success of this truck," McCullough said. "If we don't get the Hispanic market to respond, we won't achieve our goals.

The company previewed two Spanish-language television ads with the tagline "La nueva Tundra. Tan fuerte como el hombre que la manejar," which translates to "The new Tundra. As strong as the man who drives it."

Not the best tagline in any language. I suggest: As strong as the man (believes he is) who drives it. Ok, still not the answer but I am working on it.
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:

smallchartcopycat.bmp

Findings:
  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.)
Conclusions:
  • 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
January 30, 2007


BrandChannel just released their top brands results from all continents around the world. Here is what's in and what is out: In and out in 2006 Winners: Google Las Vegas iPod YouTube eBay Yahoo! Target Oprah Winfrey Sony NFL Losers Nicole Richie Britney Spears Havana Paris Hilton Hand-hand combat Mumbai Boxing W Hotels Bangkok NHL Source: ImagePower Newsmaker brands survey
 
January 30, 2007 | Tate Linden
I think we can all agree that branding is supposed to set companies apart - or rather set a specific company (the one being branded) apart from all others that it might typically compete with.

What would happen if every company in the world branded itself?

Is it possible for hundreds of millions of companies to truly be unique in their markets?

I believe what makes branding work is that the number of companies that invest in their brands is actually quite low. I've not seen any statistics, but certainly among small businesses branding is so rare as to be almost non-existent. And in mid- to large- companies I'd wager we're looking at less than 10%.

To my way of thinking, the lack of buy-in from the majority of companies makes the money spent by the companies that do brand go much further. It is easier to be unique when no one else is making an effort to do so.

But what happens when everyone is branded? Honestly I'd like to know. Has anyone envisioned a world in which every single company has carved out a niche for themselves?

Personally I think that in a world of branded products a generic solution becomes desirable. We're already seeing some of this in the young adult markets. A few thoughts from other experts on the topic:generic.jpg I think that there's validity in the argument provided by many educated affluent young adults - that global brands are in some way a little bit overly produced or manufactured. Once an organization gets huge there's so much variability and inconsistency (in staff, work product, direction) that a single identity can't really encompass it. Any solid brand is a gross simplification.

I guess this is why I am so constantly surprised that the smaller companies aren't branding. Small companies can genuinely build their brands and immediately see the effects. So long as most small companies aren't doing this (let's say it's an example of the 80/20 rule) this should work.

I'll refine my question(s)...

Do any of you think that there's a set percentage or ratio at which branding will cease to work for anyone? Is it 20%? Is it 80%? Is it when an unbranded company becomes unique by its very lack of brand?



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 (AdAge.com) -- 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 17, 2007 | Tate Linden
...so 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 12, 2007


AOL. Napster. Partnership. Imagine if those three words had been put together in a sentence way back in 1999. It would've been something out of The Onion. AOL was the massive, dominant corporate giant, and Napster was pretty much a bunch of punks who were raising hell. But times change, and companies change, and today AOL has announced that it has inked a deal with the music subscription service-- formerly, a name, synonymous with cyber-piracy--as the power behind the download service on its AOL Music site.

McCarthy, Carolin,. “AOL Ditches Dowload Service to Partner with Napster.” Weblog. Webware. 12 January 2007.

January 12, 2007 | Tate Linden
We like to give props to our clients when they do something noteworthy, and this qualifies:

lemerigotlogo.gifLe Merigot (a strategic branding client) and Blush Ultralounge (a naming and strategic branding client) now have their own website. (They also have an external webcam - but I'm not sure how long it will remain active.)

Both of these businesses were created by pushing the envelope. Evansville, Indiana is a tertiary marketplace and conventional wisdom would suggest that offering ultra-luxury room and board isn't an easy sell. (But tell that to the capacity crowd that filled Blush on New Years Eve!)

blushlogo.gifThat's one of the main reasons why we at Stokefire were so excited when contacted by Jim Brown (General Manager of the facility, and a VP at Columbia Sussex) to name and brand the $40 million project. An ultraluxury hotel and nightclub in New York, LA, or Vegas has been done. There's a playbook to follow. The same can't be said of a town the size of Evansville. This was a chance to try something new - developing a cosmopolitan offering that can work in a smaller town. There's nothing quite like it.

Casino Aztar is located directly across the street, and just outside the front door is The District - Casino Aztar's investment in providing something for the younger crowd. When I was on-site a couple months ago The District was already seeing success, with Jillian's and Ri-Ra packed during peak hours. (It was a strange and wonderful experience to fly into Evansville and be served by a beautiful woman with a genuine lilting Irish accent.) Le Merigot and Blush are basically the crown jewels of The District, and should help to provide a constant flow of traffic to the other businesses there durring off-peak hours.

Our work with the management team of both facilities was fun and challenging - especially when representatives from HR walked in while we were discussing why avocadoes are considered aphrodisiacs.

If you are in the Evansville area for business or pleasure and are looking for excitement I'd strongly suggest Blush and The District as the destinations of choice. Blush's identity was built around creating blush-worthy moments. Everything from the "matchbooks" (note that there's no smoking in Evansville) and coasters to the inclusion of special aphrodisiac-laden menu items encourages you to push your own boundaries and get your blush on. Even cooler, over the coming months and years there are more things being added to the environment - meaning that there will usually be something new to see, taste, or interact with each time you go back.

If you stay at Le Merigot you get some extra perks at Blush - including preferential admission. But staying at Le Merigot has its own appeal. The amount of attention paid to guests is amazing. Everything from a memorable signature turndown (that I won't spoil for you) to some truly impressive check-in processes that you may miss if you blink has been built around making your stay special. I could (and actually did) write dozens of pages about how special this place is - but you've got to see it for yourself to really understand it. Some of the experiences will be a lot like what you'd find in the big cities, but others are fresh approaches to hospitality that we haven't seen anywhere else.

If you want to know where the next generation of boutique hotels is being invented I'd suggest you check out Le Merigot, Evansville.

Have you been to Le Merigot or Blush in Evansville? If you have - what did you think?

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

[Ed. - Thanks for the fixed logo Randall]
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 Thingnamer.com)

AutoBlog (currently residing at 216.246.0.205 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. Thingnamer.com 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 support@trustedarticles.com email belongs to trustedarticles.com - 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: newmegaleads@gmail.com
  • Why aren't we paying sales@trustedarticles.com... 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 alex.k@hostforweb.com (312) 343-4678, or perhaps scsupport@servercentral.net (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.
January 10, 2007
Apple Computer Is No Longer. Steve Jobs announced after the announcement of the iPhone yesterday, something seemingly subtle, but actually really big: a name change. Apple Computer, Inc., will from now on forward be called Apple, Inc., reflecting the fact that Apple is more and more turning into a general electronics company instead of a computer/software company.
January 8, 2007 | Tate Linden
We Americans pride ourselves on our ability to understand stuff. A whole lot of us think we're downright smart... So, with all this rampant intellect bouncing around you've got to wonder why this happened:933007_75875.jpg
The Nintendo Wii game Necro-Nesia got a rename for it US release: Escape from Bug Island.
Sure, Necro-Nesia isn't exactly catchy... but I've amused myself by thinking about the meeting in which the switch came up. Seems like a group of people looked at what sort of names have been used before and then said lets use that! (Escape from Monkey Island, Escape from Gangsta Island, Escape from Rhetundo Island...) "We've got lots of bugs and they're on and island... and you've got to get off!"

Honestly, Escape from Bug Island is a pretty good name for a game in which you've got to get away from an island full of bugs. People who are interested in the concept of the game are going to want to play it based on the title.

Interestingly (to me) I think that "Bug Island" alone wouldn't have worked as well. It almost sounds like a kiddie game. And of course the objective isn't clear... are you making bugs? Are you trying to become rich off of bugs? Does it have something to do with spying?

Counterpoint: Note that Halo was quite successful with a less obvious moniker. It wasn't "Escape from Halo." Just "Halo." And the fact that the revelation of the meaning was part of the game (Halo was a spacecraft of some sort, I believe) made the name that much more interesting. In this context "Escape from Halo" would've given too much information about the game and defeated the purpose of the exploration and storyline.

Non Name-Related Parting Thought: I'm truly disappointed that Escape from Bug Island isn't taking advantage of the technology provided by the Wii gaming system. As soon as I heard about it I pictured people standing around the living room making compulsive fly-swatter motions around the room. Thwappp.... Thwap-thwap!

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 5, 2007 | Tate Linden
Okay, so I'm a recovering corporate trainer. There, I admitted it. I spent a few years with General Electric (now GXS) and Primark (now Thomson Financial) developing and delivering training for software packages. I figured that this experience would be enough to carry me through the development and delivery of my own company's coursework.

Unfortunately I forgot one of the first rules of training that I learned... "Prepare for the training like you had to deliver it the week beforehand." Actually I think that it was supposed to be the month beforehand, but even when I was working inside big corporations I rarely had more than a few weeks to pull together a course.

That said, I tried to pull together my course by finishing with two hours to spare. Here's my list of activities for the final two hours:
  1. Put finishing touches on Powerpoint presentation and send to color printer.
  2. Discover that color printer has no black or blue ink - and it won't allow me to print in red or yellow alone (not that I would have, mind you.)
  3. Send presentation to secondary b&w printer
  4. Notice that printouts appear to have been eaten by printer and then spat back out. No, really. There are almost visible teeth marks and some pages are crumpled and ripped - and spooky bits of ghost text are randomly distributed over my own slides.
  5. Throw away ruined print job.
  6. Go back to own computer and attempt to re-print to tertiary printer.
  7. Notice that my computer has frozen and requires hard reboot.
  8. Upon rebooting computer notice that working file has disappeared and four hours of work are gone.
  9. Notice that deodorant has stopped working. (This is not a joke.)
  10. Call tech support to see if they can get my file back. They cannot.
  11. Stay online with tech support when I realize I can't locate tertiary printer on my computer. Install print driver for 25 minutes. (Thanks Russel - it was time well spent!)
  12. Examine original working file to see how bad it was three hours ago.
  13. Realize that it was, in fact, truly awful.
  14. Go to trashcan and pull out mangled presentation.
  15. Make copies of mangled (but complete) presentation.
  16. Print out copies of supplemental handouts via tertiary printer. Marvel that something has worked correctly (though I later learn I didn't print enough copies.)
  17. Welcome my truly together presentation partner (Rachel Pastirik from Netdrafter) who arrives with everything printed out already, saving me from instant combustion.
  18. Rachel can't connect to our LCD projector.
  19. Give Rachel my computer (after all, my own presentation isn't on it anymore) and she's up and running.
  20. Start class almost on time. (We missed by three minutes)
I gave my presentation off of the handouts - which actually worked quite well since it prevented me from falling on some bad habits like reading from the screen.

Overall the reviews were strongly positive - and we had a completely full class. I look forward to seeing the new blogs appear on the scene in the coming weeks.

Is there a lesson in branding or naming in here somewhere? I think there may be. A good brand can help you to overcome truly horrific fumbles. Building the identity behind the name can be a lifesaver when things get tough. Our reputation (an intentional branding) as adaptable, fun, humble, and engaging really came to the rescue for us.

And the naming lesson? Well, it was nice to be able to refer back to our name when explaining what happened. Even when it looked like the light was going to be extinguished we were able to keep at it, poking, prodding and stoking until we got the fire going again. We had a highly successful class - and about halfway through I personally felt that my deodorant had caught up again.

But next time? Finish prep a week before hand. At least.

Last - a big thank you and hello to the class participants who were universally understanding, patient, and highly involved: Gretchen Martens, Yolanta Barnes, Deborah Crittenden, Julie Lassiter, Claude Labbe, Nora Nagatani, Martin & Ruth Saenz, Sally Galloway, and Monica Walker. Once you have your blogs online I'll proudly provide a link from here.

Tate Linden Principal Thingnamer Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 1, 2007 | Tate Linden
Happy New Year everyone!

As mentioned in 2006 we have rebranded Stoked Brands as Thingnamer due to the change in focus for the blog. We'll be holding off on a new look until Stokefire (the company that owns the site and promotes the blog) has gone through their own rebranding and is ready to launch their own rebranded stuff.

Ever since we selected the name Thingnamer we've gotten quite a few questions about it. Here's a quick response to the various questions we've gotten:
  • Did you (Tate Linden or Stokefire) create the Thingnamer name? Nope. We didn't. We spent a whole lot of time a couple years back explaining what it was that we did - and then received a challenge to say what we did in three words. I came up with a few options, including "We Develop Identities" and "We Name Stuff." On a trip to Switzerland I mentioned this to the founder of Santana Tandems, (Bill McCready) and his response - written in the facebook for the trip - was to say that my occupation was "Thingnamer."
  • But don't you do more than name things? Yes. The title doesn't exactly cover everything that I do, but it certainly covers a good portion of it. Compare my title to that of "salesperson" or "programmer"... there's a whole lot of stuff that people do in those positions that have very little to do with programming or selling - and yet we let 'em go on with their day anyhow.
  • So why did you decide to steal the name from Bill? I'll ask a question back here. Which is more catchy - "We Name Stuff" or "I'm a Thingnamer?"
  • So... you name stuff for a living... but you couldn't come up with your own title (and blog)? In a word, "Yes." In a few more words, I believe firmly that in many cases "The eye cannot see itself." We have developed hundreds of names - including Stokefire - but once you live with (or within) an identity or concept for long enough you cease to be able to see it with fresh eyes. Bill had never heard of my line of work and his instinctual simplification was far better than my own labored efforts. (This is one reason why we will bring in non-experts to assist with naming when we're deeply involved in a project.)
  • What convinced you that Thingnamer was the right name? There were approximately 50 people on the Switzerland tour and every single one of them was intrigued enough by Thingnamer to approach me and ask me about it. It wasn't that they didn't understand the concept - it was that they thought it was the coolest thing they had ever heard. And there's more, too. I went back and started looking for other ways to say the same thing (but to address the full weight of my job) and I failed. Anything else I tried was awkward or inappropriate. Thingnamer trumps Identitygiver, Brandmaker, Namegiver, and just about any other munge you might think of. It is fun to say, has a fun Superhero aspect to it (as though anyone would actually want to be born with that super-power) and upon hearing it the first response isn't "boy that guy is certainly full of himself" (which was exactly the response each of the other names got.)
  • Will Stokefire remain the same, or is that changing too? Stokefire Consulting Group has no plans to change their name at this time.
  • What will happen to Stoked Brands? It will fade away. Search engines will probably still drive traffic due to that name, and I'm sure at some point someone else will try to get the domain (we never owned stokedbrands.com.) If someone wants to run with that identity they can do so without upsetting the Thingnamers here. I do love the concept of poking brands with sticks - and will likely bring that aspect inside Stokefire for marketing - but I never really connected with the identity of Stoked Brands. The alternate meaning of Stoked (usually used in the same sentence as "dude") doesn't reflect my own attitude or language - and it didn't really reflect that of Stokefire either.
  • Don't you tell people not to use ".com" for their company names? Yes. The ".com" after Thingnamer on this site is a name-geek joke. It is probably funny to a total of four people in the world - and one of them is me - so it stays for now. It seems like every company named from 1999 to 2001 slapped ".com" on the end of their name to show how cool, high-tech, and trendy they were. These same companies almost universally dropped their suffix after the "dotcom bubble" burst. If I was being more obvious I would've named it Thingnamr Beta. More people would probably appreciate the humor...
That's all the questions I've gotten so far. If you have more of 'em just leave a comment with the question. Or you can sling mud at the new name. Or tell me how right I am. Or comment on my shiny scalp. It's a new year... everything is possible.

tate_one.jpg Tate Linden Principal Thingnamer Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 31, 2006 | Tate Linden

I often suggest that companies that assume meaningless names (or apparently meaningless names) are making a mistake by not leveraging the full potential of a good name.

Google Zeitgeist appears to show that nonsense names may be having a comeback.

Bebo was the number one most-searched item on Google in 2006 (just above MySpace - a name that is actually quite descriptive.)

Also noteworthy - eight of the top-ten "What is..." queries on Google were medicines. This actually makes sense to me since there are policies in place for regulated drugs that prohibit the use of names that suggest the effects of the drugs. How many of the following list could do you know?

  1. Carisoprodol
  2. Acyclovir
  3. Alprazolam
  4. Tramadol
  5. Hydrocodone
  6. Vicodin
  7. Xenical
  8. Xanax

The only place I've seen most of these names are in my comment spam and junkmail folders. I do find it interesting that not many people seem to be asking about the Viagra-type products anymore.

(The other two most-searched items were "hezbollah" and "ajax")

As an extra last-day-of-2006 bonus I'll list Google's last available information on company/product searches (from November.)

Bricks to Clicks: Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Sears, Costco

Cars: Ferarri, Lamborghini, Hummer, Mercedes, Porche

Random Assortment of Popular Corporate-site Searches from Around the World: eBay (Australia), Nexopia (Canada), Vodafone (Czech Republic), QXL (Denmark), La Redoute (France), Tchibo (Germany), Ferarri (Greece), Tokio Hotel (Hungary), Air Deccan (India), RyanAir (Ireland), Uniqlo (Japan), Friendster (Malaysia), TelCel (Mexico), LimeWire (Netherlands), Bebo (New Zealand), YouTube (Norway), Opony (Poland), Mercury Interactive (Singapore), ABSA (South Africa), Softonic (Spain), Blocket (Sweden), Araba (Turkey), BBC (United Kingdom), Mobifone (Vietnam).

Note: I'm leaving out the links so we don't get a whole bunch of false hits on our site.

I have yet to figure out exactly how to determine anything of value with regards to naming from the Google Zeitgeist (other than trends.) Certainly there's a lot of information on what business models are popular - Telecom, Social Networking, and Auctions are represented well - but there's little information about whether or not people actually know what these companies are doing.

Zeitgeist is a better buzz-meter than it is an evaluation of a company's worth or success. I'd be willing to bet a whole lot of money that not long ago Enron was at the top of the Zeitgeist pile - and they certainly weren't there for a positive reason.

Further complicating things, there are likely a lot of searches on company and product names for people who have no clue what it is that they're actually going to find. I've done this myself quite frequently when I've heard a name in the news or someone across the room mentions something... I just "Google" it and learn for myself what it is. This is especially useful when you're dependent on traditional media (like TV news) that taunts you with a story for 45 minutes before actually giving you what you want to know.

As 2007 gets going I'll work to find some better ways to leverage the Zeitgeist data - perhaps giving you all some insight into the trends we at Stokefire see emerging in naming. (You already know of our Flickr naming pattern... so we'll be looking for the next big thing.)

Happy Last Day of 2006!

tate_one.jpg
Tate Linden
Principal Thingnamer
Stokefire Consulting Group
703-778-9925

December 20, 2006 | Tate Linden
It's a rare day that we get the chance to read a book by a commenter on this very blog, so when the opportunity presented itself we took it.

Denise Wymore's book: Tattoos - The Ultimate Proof of a Successful Brand is certainly non-traditional, which seems to mesh nicely with our view of Denise herself.

When I got the book I figured (based on the title) that it was going to be a scholarly tome about the culture of tattoos, a comprehensive listing of the companies that have gained a following of tattoo wearers, and perhaps a good amount of information about what drove individuals to put stuff like a John Deere logo on their arm. (The link is to a blog post from early 2006 when I briefly looked into this concept myself...)

So - to the readers who are looking for an experience like the one that I was expecting - this is not the book for you. There are nine pages that list five things companies can do to make themselves tatoo-worthy. The five things are interesting and important, but won't necessarily get your own company the sort of cult status that Harley-Davidson has with the body-art crowd. tattolarge.jpg

This isn't a scholarly tome.

It is, however, a very interesting read - and it provides insight into one professional's experiences with nine brands that have had varying success with creating identities that may (or may not) be worthy of tattoos.

Wymore brings forward personal stories of connection (or lack thereof) with brands many readers will know well: The Westin Heavenly Bed, The Catholic Church, Craig Carothers, Saturn, Starbucks, iPod, Chico's, Texas, and The Huntington Beach Hilton. For each of these brands she provides a tale of how she has experienced the brand and then she provides a report card that goes over the five points and determines whether or not the brand is tattoo worthy.

I find a lot of value here, and those in marketing departments that are struggling to meaningfully connect with their target markets would do well to read the hits and misses that Wymore has found. The stories pound home the fact that in branding it is often more about the consumer than it is about the company.

For me the strongest chapter was about Wymore's literal near-death experience at a Hilton. Customer Service departments, marketing departments, and even operations staff should have this chapter as required reading. I've already told this story twice to clients (one of whom is a boutique hotel) and they've understood the implications. One of 'em even has gone so far as to create an atmosphere where the staff actively looks for ways to create memorable moments for their guests - using the power of the individuals that work at the hotel rather than the power of the parent brand to make the stay enjoyable (or perhaps "memorable.")

The book had its high and low points...

The Strengths:
  • First-person accounts of brand experiences that any decent marketer can digest and connect with
  • Compellingly built chapters that each provide new insight into what makes a brand,
  • Chapter summaries that reintroduce the five core ideas and rate their application
  • A casual style that makes it an easy read.
The Weaknesses:
  • The title is deceptive (I'm a Thingnamer, so you had to expect this one),
  • There is no wrap-up or summarization at the end of the book, so we're left with a scattered assortment of ideas rather than a strong singular lesson or direction.
  • There's no discussion with people who actually have tattoos of the brands mentioned - leaving what is for me a major hole. Maybe it's just me, but I wanted to hear from the people that actually took the plunge and slapped a tattoo of a certain brand of mattress or an iPod on their bod.
  • While the most tattoo-worthy brand is mentioned (Harley Davidson) it isn't analyzed in its own chapter - so we never get to know what leads to the ultimate connection.
I suppose the negatives flow mostly from my initial expectations and not from Wymore failing to deliver. What she has done is put together a series of stories that someone might have told you over a period of months while drinking coffee at the local Starbucks. You will learn something from reading this book, but it won't be statistics or a definitive "how to get people to wear tattoos of your brand."

You'll learn that Wymore knows quite a lot about brands and what makes the connection between company and customer, and quite possibly you'll be interested in talking further with her about creating that connection for your own company.

If you come in with the right expectations you'll find this a highly enjoyable and generally informative read.

And Denise... should you be ever be interested in writing that book that I was expecting to read just let me know. You've got a sure-fire reader here - and perhaps a co-author (time permitting.)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 19, 2006 | Tate Linden

Aztar to open hotel 'by the water'

Grand opening for Le Merigot, Blush Ultralounge set for Dec. 28

More energy is expected to soon be pumping in Downtown Evansville when the wraps come off Casino Aztar's new high-end Le Merigot Hotel and Blush Ultralounge and Tapas Bar.

A grand opening for the facilities is set for Dec. 28, Jim Brown, Casino Aztar president and general manager, announced Thursday.

Reservations are beginning to be taken for the 100-room high-end hotel for New Year's Eve forward.

"We are absolutely thrilled about opening Le Merigot and Blush," said Brown.

"These two venues are spectacular and the first of their kind in southwestern Indiana.... Both will offer local and regional visitors a fresh, new entertainment experience," he said.

The rooms are designed to attract primarily guests from 25 years old to their mid-40s.

The rates will range from $129 to $249 a night.

The hotel, Blush and Tapas are the newest additions to the $40 million The District at Casino Aztar on Evansville's riverfront.

The hotel name, Le Merigot, loosely translated, signifies "by the water," Brown explained.

The district still has one more site remaining for adding another entertainment venue in the future, he said.

The site sits behind the district's recently opened Jillian's Billiards Club and Ri Ra's Irish Pub and Restaurant.

The type of entertainment likely won't be decided until after Aztar Corp., the parent company of Evansville's Casino Aztar, completes its merger in January with Columbia Entertainment, Brown said.

The new district is creating a total of 260 new jobs, Brown said.

Around 100 of those jobs are for Le Merigot Hotel and Blush and Tapas, he said.

Job applications still are being accepted for certain positions.

The new hotel was designed by the Evansville-based architectural firm of Veazey Parrott Durkin & Shoulders. Evansville's Industrial Contractors was the general contractor. Los Angeles-based Laurence Lee was the interior designer.

Brown said a prototype of one of the hotel rooms was created in a warehouse, located about a block from The District.

"We wanted to be sure everything worked together before we built 100 of them," Brown said.

Le Merigot will be a departure from a traditional hotel experience as it combines warmth with technology, he said.

For example, some of the amenities will include Italian bed linens, goose-down duvets, plush micro-fleece robes and slippers, LCD flat screen TVs in both the bedroom and bath, in-room high-speed Internet, MP3 input and glass-enclosed showers with multi-unit body sprays and overhead rainmaker showerheads, Brown outlined.

"For slightly more adventurous travelers, Le Merigot will offer five grand suites, each offering an intoxicating view of Evansville's Riverfront and entertainment district," he said.

The suites will include spacious living and dining room areas, a master bedroom and an oversized bath, complete with an effervescent soaking tub, Brown said.

Blush Ultralounge is located on the hotel's first floor.

Brown said he believes the nightclub represents a hot Las Vegas-like nightclub, imported to Downtown Evansville.

Its menu will offer culinary creations with a Pacific Rim flair, along with a wide selection of sushi, Brown said.

December 15, 2006
Wii launch ad draws series of complaints over violence. Sword violence... which is different than the locality advertisements running in London Underground stations showing a group of people with bloody stumps instead of heads dancing in a hall of mirrors at the palace of Versailles. The strapline says visitors to Versailles will be "treated like royalty". Which is more offensive?

Virgin Galactic Appoint First Space Agents in NZ. Together with Virgin Galactic, House of Travel, whose tagline is "How Kiwis See the World" will help make the dream of going into space a reality for New Zealanders.

Make that a triple: whisky maker back for another round Johnny Walker has a new commercial that will air next week. It features the global tagline "Keep walking", which has been in use since 1999 and is based on the proposition that a drinker who is "moving up" to scotch is making progress in life.
December 14, 2006 | Tate Linden
William Lozito over at Strategic Name Development wrote an interesting piece about a WSJ article from Tuesday.

The two tidbits that caught my eye were the fact that most B-schools are named after major benefactors and that they're trying to corner the market on particular types of B-school students.

I do find it interesting that most business schools forgo the creative naming process and instead take the names of rich benefactors. I'm guessing that those names are probably part of the deal when you're laying $25 million or more on the line.

What does having a rich guy's name on the door means to the students, professors, and staff? What is the message? Does everyone who goes to Haas School of Business want to be like the benefactor? Does anyone actually know what the benefactor was like at this point?

In terms of naming strategy the benefactor last name seems to be a combination of descriptive (as in "this guy gave us wads of dough") and in some cases an empty vessel (as in "what the heck is a Sloan?") I understand the ego-centric desire to see one's name on a school... I can imagine benefactors dreaming about building a factory that pours mini-me businesspeople out through the doors annually.

I gotta wonder, though, if in most cases the school would be better served with a name that wasn't attached to a rich guy. Where are the schools named after the qualities that business-people should aspire to? Where are the schools that are named after the core beliefs of successful businesses?

I'm not going to hold my breath for this to happen though. I'm guessing that when someone is signing over a check for $25 million the whole "let's name this after fluffy bunnies and good things" is less important than "I'm donating $25 million, so I must be worth naming something after..."

The second aspect - that business schools are branding themselves to appeal to certain types of aspiring business students - makes a lot of sense to me though. Especially since the names of the schools provide little to hint at the experience to be had within.

This is also in line with what we tell our clients at Stokefire. It is far easier to attract an audience when you're consistently saying one thing to them. Once you identify what makes you unique, anyone whose top priority is to experience your type of uniqueness will move your school towards the top of their list. I've seen this happen on many occasions - even to the point where people will choose smaller specialty schools over the biggest names in the world. Stanford carved out a great niche for entrepreneurs in the late 90s based on their proximity to the Silicon Valley and the huge venture cap firms in the area. Many potential Harvard and Princetonites were pulled westward by Standford's repositioned brand.

All other things being equal, most consumers will choose a product made by a specialist over a product from a generalist. Stokefire's own experience matches this. We offer naming services that are sometimes far more expensive than those offered by our non-specialist competitors in the area. But the fact that we specialize and have deep knowledge and experience in our field makes the additional investment a better deal than can be found at the generalist shops.

Put differently, would you go to a famous dog groomer for your own haircut? Sure, they know how to cut hair. And maybe their experience will work for you... or maybe you'll end up looking like a poodle.

Going to the best-known business school in the world doesn't help much if the field you are going into has better specialty schools available. Want to produce movies? USC (boooo!) and UCLA (yeah!) likely trump Harvard every time.

In business (schools and the real world) specialization rules.

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





December 12, 2006 | Tate Linden
Just about every week I'll hear a variant of the following phrase float into my office from the shared hallway:
"... and if you're not getting enough traffic to your website then we can sell you our search engine optimization package. It's only $1500 for the first six months!"
...and just about every week I cringe.

Why am I bringing this up on a blog about naming? Because another naming blogger spoke about it first!

I agree with many of the points Tauno makes about the importance of links and key words - but disagree that this should potentially drive a business to create a SEO-friendly name. (And there-in lies the sum total of today's minor controversy.)

The problem with naming a website or company with SEO in mind is that humans aren't SEO-readers. So a website called search-engine-optimization.com may be easy to parse when reading, but non-intuitive for humans to remember. We know the web as a place where spaces are removed, not a place where spaces are turned into hyphens. (In fact, in an informal workplace poll most in our office assumed that sites with multiple hyphens were link farms or splogs.)

Stokefire has been a good name for us, but certainly wins us no awards for SEO naming. It would be a rare day that someone went to Google and typed anything close to "My company needs a name to stoke the fire and get us moving again." ...and even if they did I'm not sure they'd find us.

Other than putting keywords in our headers we haven't done much with SEO - and yet more than 50 percent of our traffic is from search engines.

So, why do we get so many hits?

Two words: This Blog.

Having an active blog on which you talk about your area of expertise seems to have a far greater impact on search engine placement than any domain name model or SEO trick ever could. For the $3000 that SEO costs (at least from the local folks here) you could be paying for the approximately four or five hours a week that a solid blog demands.

But blogs do more than just save money - they prove competence, give you the abilty to talk with your prospects, and even (dare I say it) give you fodder for the inevitable book you've always wanted to write.

I have many clients that ask about buying SEO, and I've always told them not to bother. Those that had already purchased it weren't particularly happy with the results because even if it brought additional traffic there was nothing on the website that actually engaged the visitor. Driving traffic to a brochureware site or a static page is futile. People visit, see that you're boring and leave...

If you have a great website with active content then you don't need SEO. If you have a blog and can write well you'll not only attract visitors - you'll keep 'em coming back.

But back to naming for the web... You can find hundreds of resources for naming your website online. Many have conflicting information. Here are a few thoughts from us...:
  1. First, try to use your name. If at all possible you want to bring the vehicle that you have spent all of your time and money to build into a solid brand online as-is. If you can't use your brand online then you'll have to spend even more time and money to build a second brand.
  2. Keep it short. The more letters you use the more chances your prospects have to mistype. There's a good reason why we didn't use stokefireconsultinggroup.com.
  3. Spell it rite. When the only way to reach you is through a keyboard it makes sense that you'd choose words that are easy to spell - and spelled correctly. Some new naming trends have made dropping the penultimate letter somewhat intuitive (as in Flickr) but other techniques - like vague phonetic matches ala Tabblo - end up sending traffic to the wrong sites.
  4. Remeber that on the web you can have more than one front door. Okay, so your own name is taken on the web. Why not use your tagline, a business descriptor, or add a few letters (like "inc" or "llc") to your name? The cost involved in grabbing a few (or more) alternate domain names that point to your site is minimal. Does this dilute the brand? Not really - since the domain name and the name of the company don't need to match. Put in the description of any household product (www.soap.com) and you'll usually find that it leads you to a company with a different name.
  5. Check with www.USPTO.gov (or other authority.) Wouldn't it suck to build a website, advertise the heck out of it, and then find out that someone else has a right to tell you that the name and site you've been advertising belongs to them? Well, it can happen.
  6. If you expect people to type your name then use ".COM" especially if you're a business. DotCom sells itself - other extensions are the opposite - you spend as much time communicating the extension as you do your own name. (.net, .tv, .mobi, etc...)
  7. Name it like you would a company. If you haven't named your company and the new site is going to represent your enterprise then go find a book on naming or talk to a nomenclature consultant. Many of the rules that apply to the naming of companies can also apply to websites - and if the website is the company then almost all of the rules apply.
Please don't use this stream-of-consciousness, knee-jerk, pretty-much incomprehensible post as the only resource for naming your site - or even as the only reason not to invest in SEO. My point with today's ramble is that there are probably better ways to increase your fame (and traffic) than paying someone to help people find you.

Maybe you should be focusing on whether or not you and your brand are worth finding...

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 7, 2006
Freelander 2 Rebranded as a Range Rover? Land Rover is considering rebranding its recently launched Freelander 2 (AKA LR2) SUV as a Range Rover to improve its perception as a luxury vehicle. Land Rovers are considered to be utilitarian vehicles in all countries, but more so in some than others. In parts of Europe, for example, a buyer may look down upon the Land Rover branded Freelander when comparing it to premium marques such as BMW. The other reason behind the name change would be to allow the Freelander to punch above its weight in terms of prestige despite being priced below many comparable vehicles.

'Orbital Outfitters' to Provide Space Suits for Next Generation. "Have Spacesuit -- Will Travel," from the famous Robert Heinlein novel, is also the tagline of a new company that intends to do just that -- make sure a new generation of commercial civilian Space travelers, adventurers and explorers fly in style and safety in Space suits like none designed before.

Wrestling101.com reports the UK's "The Wrestling Channel" is to be renamed to TWC Fight!
December 2, 2006 | Tate Linden
Thanks to Anantha - a promising new naming blogger out of India - I came across a wonderful paper written by Randal S. Rozin of Dow Corning.

It is rare that people display so much of their process to the public. When people do display this much it often doesn't stay available for long.

My advice? Click the link and print the file before it disappears. Whether you're a naming veteran or a first timer this is an excellent peek into a process used by a very sophisticated naming department.

I don't agree with every tidbit offered in the paper, but I was truly engrossed by gaining access to something usually off-limits to outsiders and other industry members.

Enjoy the find while it lasts!

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 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.

Thetruth.com 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 13, 2006


Remington is challenging the 'inner beauty' wave of advertising pioneered by beauty brands with a campaign using the strapline 'It's what's on the outside that counts'.

Gingerbread House Festival. All proceeds from the festival will go toward the Boy Scouts of America, Learning for Life ethics program and the Utah PTA Art Education Fund. Festival planning committee member John Pilmer pointed out that the goal of the festival is said best in the tagline, "Build a house, build a child."

Festival planning committee member John Pilmer pointed out that the goal of the festival is said best in the , "Build a house, build a child." “Lunatic fringe,” “head case” and “one-eyed pinhead” might sound like insults from the schoolyard, but they are actually names that scientists have given to genes. The names are causing problems for doctors who have to counsel patients about genetic defects with names like “sonic hedgehog” and “mothers against decapentaplegia.”

New York Mets organization comes to terms with CitiGroup Inc. in renaming the new stadium.

Saturn in the 90's had the tagline "A Different Kind of Car Company," and that definitely seemed in line with the community Saturn was building. Now, not independent of GM, Saturn customers have seen nothing new and the company has become lax in maintaining connection with its initially very passionate customer base. Saturn's tagline is now "Like always. Like never before," and it will be interesting to see if car buyers... well, buy it!

November 13, 2006 | Tate Linden
I've occasionally wondered what it would be like to name thousands of products all under the same brand. Stokefire has yet to provide me with this challenge (a few dozen names under a brand umbrella is the most I've done thus far), so it is only in daydreams that I see myself as David Webster, the naming guru at Microsoft.

Let me type that again.

Naming guru at Microsoft.

That is a job that could give most people nightmares. First, the fact that they've taken the step to bring on a Naming Czar indicates that there's some difficulty involved. Most megacorporations just let the VP of marketing for each division figure out what to call stuff (so if they want to call a company like Stokefire to handle it or just name it internally - the choice is theirs.) A few others don't care at all and let the product teams or consumers provide names.

Microsoft has begun taking naming seriously. Regular readers may remember that I'd given them a hard time with some of their previous names and branding techniques, including Microsoft Live and .Net, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm pleased that Microsoft is trying to put some effort into creating solid naming practices.

(Webster made a single comment on Robert Scoble's blog that seems to have made him famous in an instant. A search on Google brings up hundreds of hits - and all of them point to the same post. )

Back in May, Webster stated his views on:
  • Code naming
  • Finding usable and protectable names
  • The trouble with naming for Microsoft
I think that Webster is on track with almost all of his stated opinions, though I differ on code names a bit.

Here's an approximation of what he says (with my comments indented):
Produce product names earlier in the cycle so that the need for code names is reduced
  • I'm not certain this will help anything, as it still takes time to get names through legal, and people need to call the product something.
Equity and buzz provided by code names is generally wasted since the name almost always changes. The backlash of "why didn't they just stick with the code name - that was better" tends to hurt more than it helps.
  • This really doesn't go against code names as a whole, just the cool ones. I actually think that he's on track with this, but wouldn't necessarily propose the solution that he has put forward. Instead I'd suggest not using cool code names. (This is a pretty common practice - made standard by Apple's naming gaffe regarding Carl Sagan, and before that by the Germans in World War I.) Sure, there's an ego boost and buzz boost from having that cool name attached to a product, but there's not guaranteed transitive property when trying to change the name. The coolness could end up staying behind... So - why not use a non-cool name for the working title until you find the right product name? An alphabetical list of vegetables, animals, minerals... or just about anything would work. You could even make it internally meaningful (even though code names shouldn't be meaningful) by having each branch or brand in your company use a different category.
Microsoft has a harder time finding good names than most other companies.
  • Amen. Few companies will be looked at as critically as Microsoft. Not only do they have to come up with a good name for the product, they must do far more due dilligence than most. Where most companies that have moderately closely matched names (e.g., "StarBank" vs. "Starbucks") may let the potential confusion slide, any time Microsoft develops a name they're guaranteed to be sued by anyone that has more than a few letters in common. I'm not going to delve into this much other than to say Microsoft is cursed with a horrible public image that seems inextricably linked to evil, greed, poor quality, and... lots and lots of money. When Microsoft takes a misstep you can be sure that whomever they wrong is going to try to make them pay.
Generally I find the prospect of naming earlier in the cycle to be admirable, but this could lead to some other complexities. After more than a decade of exposure to technical product management I can conclusively say that the initial product specifications and the actual product rarely are exactly the same - and often can be almost completely unrelated. If you've named a product early in the cycle because you're anticipating a certain market appeal but the functions that are supposed to appeal to that market are left out... you're going to end up with a badly named product.

It would be counterintuitive for me to suggest that starting the naming process early in product development is bad. Naming as an afterthought invariably leads to mistakes that can often cost money. Microsoft can't just do a trademark search on USPTO.gov. They need to search every territory in which they sell their products. They probably do directory searches and web searches to ensure that no one in their industry is using a (tm) or (sm) signifier with the name they want. If they leave any of this out it has the potential to cost them legal fees and settlements.

...on the other hand, we do get frequent calls from companies that have tripped over trademark issues (often with C&D letters in hand) so starting the naming process late does have its benefits. For naming companies.

I think stepping away from code names that are meant to appeal to the target audience is a good step - and one that every large company should consider.

Last: David Weber seems to be saying the right things over at Microsoft. I look forward to seeing the slew of products named with the new tactics. (And I wonder if he was behind the removal of the .Net brand. If so this might be an indication that things are on the right track.)

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

November 9, 2006

Borders has appointed Blacks Leisure Group marketer David Kohn as its new commercial director. Kohn takes responsibility for brand positioning, marketing and sales and range. His new campaign used the strapline “Stay a while” is intended to encourage browsing at the chain.

Preorder Tubular (Fomerly InnerTube), the Mac app for YouTube
Tubular, the sleek Mac app for YouTube is a lot closer to release, and is now taking preorders. It was initially named InnerTube, but the developer had to rebrand it when CBS threatened to sue.

WorldChanging a book on worldchanging solutions to the planet's most pressing problems. is out at the end of November. It is beautifully designed, packed with authoritative, pithy articles on everything from nanotechnology to urbanism to lightbulbs, it really is the definitive "User's Guide to the 21st Century" as the strapline.

DulcoEase strapline tells you the secret strapline to her beauty.

Let’s ban “cool” codenames that don’t pass search tests; David Webster, who runs naming for Microsoft, enumerates the ways that cool codename suck. Why? He's got a list of reasons why product naming is hard. It’s David’s job to deal with the complications of brand naming and come up with something good, not just safe. Results, not excuses.

After 239 years of being called Dover Township, New Jersey's seventh-largest municipality will be re-named Toms River Township on Nov. 14.

November 7, 2006
Prince is setting up home in Las Vegas after signing up to headline Club Rio nights every Friday and Saturday for the foreseeable future. The club will be renamed 3121 after Prince’s most recent album for the late-night concerts, which will begin later this month.

Do our names define us? The tale of one Jewish-American family's search for identity. How an extra "n" in a name can make a huge difference.

Carlton Screen Advertising is to launch a marketing campaign to promote the benefts of the captive nature of cinema advertising on audience with a strapline, "All of the attraction, none of the distraction".
Children's food campaigners argue that Burger King's ad's strapline "are you man enough?", questions the masculinity of boys who do not consume food excessively high in saturated fat.
Promotional transparent umbrella with clever tagline "Hair you want to show off" is finally a great product selection with a tagline that makes sense.
Samantha Thavasa to open U.S. store on New York City's Madison Avenue. Thavasa is a brand name named after "no one in particular." Nicky Hilton, the Hilton name that is not as recognized as her sister Paris, designs bags for the company that caters to the uber celebrity.

Imelda Marcos has given her name to a new line of jewelry designed by her kids called “The Imelda Collection”.
November 7, 2006 | Tate Linden
Over on Lee Hopkins' Better Communications Results blog there's an interesting post about the use of images on vehicles. I really enjoy Lee's blog and find the information that he provides to be though provoking and informative - especially if you are interested in learning about PR.

I too think that the pictures he has posted are quite cool. But there's a difference between a cool picture and a workable concept. A few problems appear with the advertisements:
  1. Every single picture on the page looks surprisingly similar. The trucks are all in the same position with the same background. These aren't photos of actual campaigns, they're mockups. (As evidenced by the final photo that shows the truck "speeding" in the parking lane or about to run off the road - depending on whether you're in a left-driving or right-driving country.) This doesn't mean it can't work - but it does imply that it isn't actually being used.
  2. An advantage of using mock-ups - the colors are vivid and clear - versus two-dimensional and covered with dust. The pics would likely be less convincing when scratched, tagged, and covered in dirt. It makes me wonder how the campaign would age and how expensive it would be to maintain.
  3. One advantage of using the same photo is that every shot is from the same angle - from behind, below, and to the left of the truck. Most of the images "pasted" on the wall of the truck don't work from any other position outside the truck than the position taken by the camera. So - if you're directly behind the truck you would see a picture that makes no geometric sense - the inside of the truck as seen from the left. It doesn't make visual sense.
On the plus side - if the trucks actually were rolling along the road they'd probably have other drivers competing for the exact right space for the perfect view. This could lead to blog mentions and press coverage. But even this has a negative. It could also lead to accidents as drivers jockey for their shots with their eyes on the camera instead of the road.

Even worse... the "sweet spot" for viewing in this instance is only a short distance behind the truck, meaning that people will sit in the danger zone appreciating the advertisement and making it hard for the truck to safely change lanes. The problem with this is that trucks typically can't tell when their rear bumper is clear of traffic. I don't know many truck drivers that would be interested in having people hanging out in the danger zone.

Okay, so I don't know many truck drivers at all. Any, really. But if I did and I asked 'em if they like people hanging out back there I bet they would say "no." (I do hang out in Truck Stops when I drive long distances - but I've yet to pick up any friends.)

I'm probably over-reacting here, but
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 UTube.com, has a brand naming issue with the Google owned company and has asked that YouTube to stop using the youtube.com 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 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
Okay, so I have no clue if I will actually make this a recurring event, but Fridays tend to be pretty slow for names in the news.

Onomastics is the study of naming. Etymology is the study of the history of words. So I'm sincerely hoping that Onomastic Etymology is the study of the history of names. (It does sort of stand to reason, but reason isn't always right...)

Today's bit of history is provided by I. E. Lambert's book: The Public Accepts. Published in 1941, it does a great job covering the stories behind many (at the time) well known trademarks, names, and slogans.

The book is a wonderful time-capsule. In the second story of the book we are told "Many a manufacturer has a slogan for his product, but none is more consistently used than this one." I would wager that anyone born after the baby boom would have no clue what the slogan is given that hint - or would know what product is being referred to by the slogan after they hear it.

The slogan? "Ask the Man Who Owns One."

The 800+ hits on Google provide the answer.

On to today's history lesson!
November 3, 2006
Naming pickle. A company naming dispute between two New York City pickle peddlers is headed to federal court.

Australian pop star Kylie Minogue returns to the stage on November 11 in Sydney to resume the tour she was forced to abandon last year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her record label said on Wednesday. The tour has been re-named the "Showgirl Homecoming Tour".

Do people realize what t-shirts with taglines actually say?. Universtity of Dayton student is concerned about students donning Abercrombie & Fitch shirts that reads: Who need brains when you have these? Or an American Eagle shirt that blairs: Awkward mornings beat boring nights.

The National Irish Lottery has a new strapline 'Think Bigger' for their new ad campaign. What is less heavily advertised is that the pick of numbers is now six from 1 - 45. The odds of winning are now 1 in 8145060.

Comet’s latest strapline: “We Live Electricals”. What? What does that even mean? It’s not even a sentence, as far as I can make out. Surely adding industry-speak to a public ad campaign can only serve to alienate your potential market.
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 2, 2006 | Tate Linden
Even though we spend most of or time working with mid- to large-sized companies, we also work with many startups and small businesses. We've been asked a few times about whether or not the big-boys have to go through the same issues as the startups. Our answer: Yes. They go through all the hoops the startups do, and then they add more to address the existing brand identity, changes in the marketplace, changes in corporate policiy, and more.

This leads to two additional lines of questioning. First, why would a company ever need to go through branding after the first time? And second, does this mean that my company is going to have to do this whole thing again?

First part - Companies are rebranding every day, and most of 'em do it unintentionally. The ones that rebrand with intent are responding to changes in the market (like how KFC has over the last decades gone from a company that focused on Fried as a key part of their brand to one that never really mentions that their chicken is boiled in oil - until recently when they mentioned that it is boiled in oil, but that the oil is healthy.) So a change in the marketplace - like the public awareness of the unhealthiness of partially hydrogenated oils - can result in two rebrands, not just one. (The first was the name change, the second is the recent change in oils.) One wonders if a third rebrand will occur if they find a way to make fried food healthier than baked.

Companies intentionally rebrand to keep their brands current. This doesn't mean they reinvent themselves completely - they usually just steer their brand to ensure that they still own the position in the market that was intended. An edgy brand must continually redefine what "edgy" is if they wish to be seen as on that edge. If they don't then they'll soon be seen as boring, staid, or dated. (On second thought, this might not be a great example - since staying on the edge may be a part of the original brand. Better, perhaps, would be a reevaluation of the effectiveness of staying on the edge.)

Unintentional rebranding is usually not good, but happens more often than intentional rebranding. Small companies often do this after they go through their initial branding process. They establish themselves as one thing when they launch, but don't stay on message. Rather than being the best at what they do they lose control of their brand and become whatever will help them make the sale in the near term. This results in companies that start as vintage clothing stores specializing in 1960s apparel becoming generic used clothing stores, and then adding in a section of brand new mass-market imitation vintage clothes, and then a section with just regular new clothes. Even though it wasn't a formal process the end result is a new brand... but one that doesn't serve any real purpose. For an example, look at what Amazon.com has gone through in the last decade. They went from being the undisputed answer to the question "Where do I buy books online?" to being one of thousands of places that expect you to search for anything you could ever need. Along the way they went through selling just books, to books and music, to books, music, and retail items, to books, music, retail items, and used stuff, to books, music, retail items, used stuff, and services, to... well... everything. I certainly hope this wasn't an intentional rebranding - because if it was it wasn't very well thought out. Even Wal*Mart doesn't sell everything (you can't get industrial computer consultants from the big W.) How can you create a brand that encompasses every other brand on the planet? I suppose Amazon.com will let us know when they get there.

Enough companies rebrand every year to support a competition on the matter. Check out Rebrand - an organization that rewards the top 100 rebranding efforts of the year. You will note that Amazon isn't on their lists.

As for the second line of questioning: Is your company going to have to rebrand? If you wish to survive you must adapt. If you want to excel rather than just survive you need to anticipate adaptation. You need to be ready for it. So we suggest that you always keep your brand in mind and measure the effectiveness of your core identity. Every three to six months you should revisit your core to ensure that not only are you still living by the standard, you're also following a standard that is still relevant.

When should you consider a rebrand? When your existing brand no longer has the impact or relevancy that it did when it was successful. That could be six months after you launch your company (if you didn't correctly identify market trends) or fifty years later. The key is to be aware of the effectiveness of your brand and to be prepared to revisit it before your brand has lost its goodwill in the marketplace.

We'll talk another time about how rebranding can be done without destroying the values and purpose of the company founders - and when it might be desirable to take the extreme step to just do a rip-and-replace and start over again.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
November 1, 2006

On-line dating sites, such as Match.com, let you choose a long screen name and long personal taglines. Just what do you have to say for yourself?

Premium dog food launches and is named after fictional vet called Wainwright. The brand is particularly aimed at dogs with food intolerances and is tagged as "dog's best friend".

Google purchases JotSpot. There’s also no confirmation as to what the new name will be, but suggestions are afloat.
Beverage makers try to find refreshing drinks that do not (like those of yesteryears) have to be re-named to cover up the use of illegal drugs.

Glenfiddich, the family-owned Scotch whiskey brand looks to increases holiday sales. New marketing campaigns, include the strapline "inspiring great conversation since Christmas Day 1887".

Premium Bonds celebrates it's 50th in London. Cake celebration due to parade through Trafalgar Square announcing "saving with a thrill". What's exactly going to come out of that cake?

October 31, 2006 | Tate Linden

Lane Bryant (a plus-sized women's clothing catalogue) is changing its name. New Name: Woman Within.

On the surface this is a fine name. We like the empowerment aspect that the label brings - wear our clothes and honor your feminine side. For a group of people that sometimes don't feel feminine at all (because of public perception) the name serves as an affirmation. It is also an existing brand name that the target clients are comfortable with.

The Woman Within brand has been around for fifteen years.

The name certainly has risks, however. If you take a cynical view the name can even be insulting. It took a leap of faith (or perhaps an act of putting on blinders) to adopt the name in the nineties. This is the sort of name that ends up on the lips of offensive comedians and talk-show hosts. It isn't a difficult leap to turn this empowering name into one that could tear the target customer down.

How might this be? For someone sensitive about their weight the suggestion that they are hiding a woman underneath their girth probably wouldn't be taken kindly.

I find it intriguing that the name went forward anyhow, and that the public hasn't pushed the negative aspect. We'll see if the added visibility of the Lane Bryant marketing machine puts this on the radar of the cynics (other than me.)

If there's a lesson in this it is that you can succeed even if you have a potentially risky name. Companies often agonize over names that might be taken the wrong way - to the point that they create meaningless Latinate names that avoid both offense and connotation. We've had a client that avoided a name containing the word "touch" because they thought it sounded pedophillic...

If you look hard enough at any meaningful but innocuous word you can find a negative. We have had people write our own name as "Strokefire" a few times - which connotes an entirely different sort of butsiness to us. But it isn't enough of an issue to abandon our name. We've also heard that some folks use the word "stoke" to mean "have sex with" but we're still not going to change. At some point you must accept that the target client isn't going to interpret the name badly and just move forward. The key is to be aware of the risks and associations and be able to respond and adapt to them.

Simply put... Avoiding risk leads to avoiding success. And that's not why we're in business.

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

October 30, 2006 | Tate Linden
Aaron and Eileen over at Ambassador Boo sent me a company name that I just cannot ignore:

"Neutocrete."

It seems that this miracle product is used to prevent mold from growing in damp crawlspaces. I am not going to comment on the appropriateness of the name today. That's not the point.

What's the point, then? Disappointment.

If you're Aaron and Eileen you would been disappointed in this because you would have assumed that a company thusly named would offer castration services. Specifically the services would be administered via the targeted, vigorous, and repeated application of large concrete blocks. [Ed. I'm thinking that this would be used on criminals, not as an alternative to tube snipping, but I didn't actually ask them. I also went a little further than they did with the description. Artistic license and whatnot.]

Either way, how can you have a name as suggestive as Neutocrete and not use the following tagline:

"Concrete for sterile environments"

A search on Google today found no hits for "Neutocrete" and "Sterile."

Tragic.

We await your call, Neutocrete.

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

October 27, 2006

Hell.com domain up for sale. It is estimated that the name will sell for over $8 million. It is assumed that people will just about pay anything to tell their customers to "Just go to hell.com."

Magners cider advertising campaign with its 'Time Dedicated to You' tagline hopes to continue the trend across the UK of drinking cider over ice. The hope it is believed is to abolish the image of cider as the lowest common denominator in the world of booze.

Hot Dogma, Pittsburg, PA, legally forced to relinquish its name due to copyright infringement with Miami, FL, Dogma Grill. They will not be shutting their doors forever but instead will rename to Franktuary.

Lightborne Design & Animates creates new campaign for Hasbro, with ad agency Wondergroup to make robotic "pets," I-CAT, I-DOG, and I-FISH come to life. The commercials will show the toys' unique abilities to move and groove to music. The spots conclude with nifty taglines such as: "Cat scratchin' the beat," "Beggin' for the beat," and "Swimmin' in waves of music.".

"It may be Carlsberg that uses the advertising strap line 'It's so good that the Danes hate to see it leave,' but it seems Heineken is pretty keen to know where its beer is going too." IBM tests "Beer Living Lab" will NOT be a study of college age drinkers, but will trial a wireless tracking system of cargo shipments of Heineken beer from Europe to the United States using satellite and cellular technology.

Sam's Club, hopes that it's new 'affordable luxuries' sales effort brings in new business. The Wal-Mart warehouse unit now will add to their product assortment, extravagant diamond jewelry and a 2.6 million dollar jet. Refreshing their logo and eliminating the tagline "We're in business for small business," analysts question if the move is headed in the right direction.

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 26, 2006
Ottawa, Canada. Michael Ignatieff has indicated his willingness to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada. Is a new name needed?.

DispenseSource® changes name to Nexiant. New name reflects strategic mission of company and growth from a small, five-person operation to a fast-moving, multi-million dollar business.

Local Iowan Millstream Brewing Company looks for new beer name for their best-selling beer.

Mbabane, Swaziland. Chicken Licken outlets close, to re-open, however, under a new trading and company name altogether. The closure came into effect after Chicken Licken-South Africa failed to supply them with some products such as the popular 'Hot Wings'. Owner of four franchises feels bad that there will no longer have Chicken Licken in the country.

Intercontinental Hotels Group Plc. is setting up a joint venture with Japan's All Nippon Airways Co. to manage hotel business in Japan. The venture, to be called IHG ANA Hotels Group Japan. TelePlus Enterpises, Inc. re-brands to TelePlus World, Corp. Change reflects companies focus on their operational objectives, which are to deliver wireless and telecom services to market niches in select markets in the United States, Canada and abroad.
October 25, 2006
Washington, DC Communities Get New Name "The Yards". Many question whether the new name would be confused with Baltimore's Camden Yards. Mayor Williams says: "You know you have the birthplace of the United States Navy right on this site. So, if anyone is entitled to use a nautical expression, I think they are."

Alienware celebrates 10th anniversary. Still, "truly believing that the stars really are the limit. After all, they didn’t name the company ‘Alienware’ just because it sounded cool.”

Glendale Arena renamed Jobing.com Arena, a company which hosts career fairs and allows people to post resumes and search for jobs.

New Delhi, India. Reebok's tagline 'I Am What I Am', and sub-brands Fish Fry and Scarlett Johansson's, 'Scarlett "Hearts" Rbk', help make Reebok out sell competitors.

Drug Free America Foundation launches national "'True Compassion' campaign. With vigorous taglines such as 'It's Not Just Alcohol Anymore;' 'Still Think Drug Abuse is Somebody Else's Problem;' and 'Now That the Smoke Has Cleared'.

National Recycling Awards, adverts feature London’s famous landmarks buried in rubbish with the strap line ‘Just when will you start recycling?'.
October 25, 2006 | Tate Linden

According to a group of doctors in London,

"The term schizophrenia should be abolished as it has become incorrectly assigned to a range of disorders and has stigmatising connotations within society."

Schizophrenia appears to be headed the way of countless afflictions that have somehow become more deeply meaningful (and offensive) than initially intended. While the article sites the factual incorrectness of the term schizophrenia, this doesn't address why the name should be changed. If people are misdiagnosing the problem isn't in the name, is it?

Consider: You are sick and you go to the doctor. Doctor says "You have a cold" but in fact you have the flu. Do we change the name of "cold" to something less confusing so that doctors don't mess up?

Okay... maybe that isn't the best example. Perhaps colors would be better. If I call something that is obviously red another color (say, "blue") you wouldn't consider renaming red to something else so that I stop calling blue "red."

That seems to fit a little better. It points out that the incorrect assignment noted in the quote above isn't the issue.

The real issue here with the name is that

October 24, 2006
Travelistic.com: The site’s tagline, "Video for Travelers", tries to eliminate any confusion between it and a travel agency site.

Wanna be the next Web Star? Win $50,000? Enter Yahoo's talent show named: "Save the Web from bad videos."

PepsiCo stays on course with current sales plan despite decline in soft drink sales in North America. New packaging graphics– not a drop in price points, will rotate every few weeks in addition to a new ad campaign with the tagline are "Feel the Pepsi".

"IF a rose would smell as sweet by any other name, will trial lawyers smell better with a new one?" Association of Trial Lawyers of America becomes after election day the American Association for Justice.

Globalization think tank re-thinks it's name to honor the former Nixon administration commerce secretary.

“Maybe she’s born with it…” this classic Maybelline tagline offers more truth than we realize.
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 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
Hot dogs. Armour hot dogs. What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs? Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks; tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chickenpox" was an American institution. So why is it that Armour sausage isn't sticking with their own name (which was instituted in 1867). What kind of people let this type of brand recognition go? We'll let Ahnold apply the appropriate verbal smack-down.

Broadwing's new name rings a... Cincinnati Bell. Evidently naming a US company after an Antiguan hawk that strikes small rodents and often strays to hunt young chickens didn't fit with their image...

Marion Manor adopts 'Golden Living Center' as its new name. Current Google hits for Golden Living Center: 13,300,000. Perhaps someone has tried this approach before?

Ecom PPO.com, Inc.SM, the managed care leader announces it’s now doing business as Ecom PPO Advisors, Inc. to reflect the company focus on consulting. We're left wondering which word is ignored more by consumers - ".com" or "advisors." Probably a toss-up. (Actually this is a pretty good move since .com went out of style in 2000...)
October 17, 2006
Dementia centre gets new name - New Tyne. (Yes it is a bit offensive, but one has to wonder if clients notice.)

Horizon Technology renames five divisions to clarify their holdings. Interestingly, Clarity used to be their name...

"With the development of Bilfinger Berger into a Multi Service Group, the name Rheinhold & Mahla AG was changed in October, 2006 to Bilfinger Berger Industrial Services AG." Okay... not only did we not understand this, we're strangely amused by the word "Bilfinger." How do you get through your pre-teen years with a name like that?

Guardian Newspaper, which comprises The Guardian, Observer and Guardian Unlimited is to be re-named Guardian News and Media. We wonder if this is the beginning of a trend... Can you picture the WSJ as WSJaM? Is it really necessary to say that you have a website in your name? We vote "No."

Following on our pithy Acronymic naming, a company tells us we're misguided. Or maybe it is just the company owners that are misguided. We like the core message, but take offense that we can't name our own damn company. Company owners should not read this article.

Florida Grand Opera has scored hits with ads boasting catchy taglines such as: "Super Human" - referencing the athleticism required to stand on toes for... like... hours.

Looking to help customers better differentiate among its various versions of Linux, Novell said today that it will now call its free, open-source version 'openSUSE'. We say the name Susie will become much less popular with chaste women.

Cocaine. Because everyone wants that energy boost, and associated weight loss from not eating and having their teeth fall out. Hey... are you thirsty?

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein are not representative of anyone working for or against Stokefire. We're really just trying to make names and taglines cool, and that's pretty darn difficult on some days.
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 16, 2006


The Media Vault breaks out to be the first Hewlett-Packard product to steal the company's new tagline"- "Computing is Personal Again.

Naming your business after your kids, or your dogs, may be cute, but probably only to you.

Wyndham Worldwide announces rebranding of timeshare resorts to run with the 'Wynd'.

Is India game? Xbox 360 global tagline is, 'Jump In' may need a 'jump start'.

CarMax enters the used car race with new tagline: "It's amazing no one's thought of this before."

Miller High Life Beer ad with 14 kt tagline hopes to reposition the beer as a man's man beer. As for the seasonal chocolate beer? We wonder if men will have the craving.

How using acronymns to identify your business does not lend itself in creating initial success.

Binge drinking takes a deep beating with new strapline.

Malibu, CA residents try to dodge De Butts.
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 | Tate Linden
Apparently so.

Business naming firm Dynamo [site down at time of post] stands to earn this much for the sale of the domain name Wiki.com - a registrar of wiki sites.

We at Stokefire are amazed at the value placed on the domain by John Gotts. We think there's a bit of a disconnect here. When people are trying to build websites they don't go to websites.com. When people want to buy pizza they don't go to pizza.com. And when was the last time you went to
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 11, 2006 | Tate Linden

Industry research is a wonderful thing, isn't it? Someone likely paid a tidy sum to Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell to learn the following:

"Less affluent travelers want the basics," said Gary Sain, YPB&R's chief marketing officer. "The more affluent the traveler, the more important individualized and personalized service is."

Okay. Not particularly ground-breaking there... In case anyone didn't know that people with money tend to be the ones that populate first-class, we now have a statement in writing saying so.

Perhaps more interesting is their finding that people with money pay more attention to branding than people without money. This seems somewhat self-evident to us as well. People with money can afford to pay attention to branding. Those without money have to settle for whatever low-priced crud is available.

This links in with something I lecture about. During my speeches I often talk about price and branding - and the fact that having a strategy of having the lowest pricing is one of the least defensible brand positions. It also makes your brand look like every other price cutter on the market. Lowering your prices is not branding. Lowering your prices is a sale - and you can't have a brand that is all about continually making your prices lower. At some point you cease to make money.

As for the power of brands... according to the survey, affluent travelers enjoy the Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt and Ritz Carlton for their stays while the budget crowd showed affinity for Marriott and Holiday Inn. I have to wonder if YPB&R actually thinks that this means that the budget crowd would still stay in the cheap places if they had money. I'm thinking that the budget crowd probably doesn't want the basics, but they can't justify anything more. I don't know anyone who would forgo a first-class seat (assuming the rest of their party went with them) if offered for the same price as coach. Brand matters to just about everyone - but some people can't afford to use the brands they want.

Don't think brand matters to you? What if I give you the choice of wearing a shirt made by a local artisan versus one that is made by a sweat-shop in a third-world country. And the latter one also funds terrorism. And they kill cats. And... they want to raise your taxes. And... more bad stuff. At some point you must realize that a brand is affected by everything the company does. It doesn't matter whether you're poor or not - just some people can't afford not to do business with companies that have lousy brands.

Let's look at this a little differently. If I'm trying to create a brand that appeals to people that are looking for the lowest cost then I'm throwing away business from people looking to create a lasting relationship with me. Does anyone actually think that people who shop on price alone are likely stop shopping on price once they find your business? When a business no longer has the lowest price the business is no longer favored and the penny pinchers go elsewhere. You don't see dollar stores converting to two-dollar stores, do you?

So... knock it off with the whole "my brand is about having the lowest price" approach. Even if it is only partially related to the survey, both Stokefire and YBP&R can show you (in very different ways) that it just doesn't have much hope of being profitable.

Wow... that's a whole lot of rambling for what was supposed to be a one-liner response to an apparently pointless survey.

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

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 5, 2006 | Tate Linden

Today's links to stories on names, taglines, and branding.

It's a good thing that everyone agrees on what a name should be - especially since evocative, easy to say, descriptive, creative, web-available names are so easy to come by.

Think to yourself about counterfeit branding. Okay, how many of you thought about cows? Forget about fake Coach purses - how about fake Bessie?

Thinking about naming your firm after yourself? Great, but what happens when you leave?

Recruiting firm brands itself after the color of the lumps most people get from employers.

Can rebranding be as easy as putting an umbrella in your drink? Conservatives seem to think so.

mad.co.uk hates branding, but we're too cheap to find out why.

If we're ever traveling in South Africa we're going to have a really hard time figuring out where to have our tires changed. National chain rebrands and gets a new tagline. We wonder... what exactly is a "Fitment Professional"?

Japan says Light and Mild Cigarettes may be illegal because the terms are descriptive... Excuse me... Not descriptive... Deceptive. Unfortunately "Cancer Sticks" is already taken.

Canada and Australia discuss branding on an international level. If you read it backwards it says "We're not American."

October 4, 2006 | Tate Linden

Durham gets a new tagline - "Where great things happen." Citizens everywhere check their history books to figure out what the heck actually happened in Durham. Kevin Costner gets an unexpected PR boost.

NVIDIA Renames the 570 SLI and 590 SLI Intel Editions (because adding about 100 to a name just makes it seem that much better?)

Ask gets Asked about Jeeves and why they did it without the butler.

New South Wales Prime Minister Brands Government as "Most Incompetent." While we like the ambitiousness of "most", we're not so sure that this will help him in the polls.

Brit Says "No" to Brands, Gets Really Bad Breath.

School District rebranding held back for a year.

Toshiba to lead innovation except for when it comes to taglines

Travel expert Simon Calder learns the importance of naming when he mixes up Luftwaffe and Lufthansa. One of those two organizations may not be amused.

Palm splits in two and renames self. Now must legally say "Give me two-and-a-half" when giving kudos.

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 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
Weyerhaeuser Employees' Credit Union will officially change its name to Red Canoe Credit Union on Jan. 1.

We at Stokefire HQ had to do a bit of research before we understood the context (prodded by a quote in the press release.)
"We knew the name had to be something uniquely Northwest, representative of our existing membership base and appealing to future members and our community," WECU President/CEO Bob Kane said in a news release.
Okay, so we Googled "Red Canoe" and "Northwest" and found This Book, which referenced a red canoe. It also mentioned the Yukon River located in the Pacific Northwest (we know this because we found it in Wiki.) It's mostly in Canada and Alaska, but we suppose those are technically Northwest...

We think this name is actually quite catchy and approachable - mostly for the local flavor, imagery, and potential backstory. But it has a few issues that we would traditionally try to avoid.

Primary among these is
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 29, 2006 | Tate Linden
[Ed: After an hour of typing the original post was eaten by the Internet Explorer gods. This is but a pale and uninspired imitation of the original creation.]

Here's the gist of what I wrote about: Virgin Airlines created Premium Economy - but called it Mid Class in 1992. Enter unremarkable results. Then... in 1994 they renamed it Premium Economy. Success! (If I was patient I'd put back the half-dozen links I had to the history of the change here... I am currently not feeling patient.)

The model has been copied by countless airlines. Singapore, ANA, bmi, SAS Airlines, Air New Zealand, and United all use the name, but the American companies haven't been adding to the equity of the concept.

The US airlines - especially United - have taken the term and bastardized it so that
September 28, 2006 | Tate Linden

An interesting little bit of naming history here. Think that Ziff Davis and ZDNet are the same company? Well... you'd have been right a few years back. Not anymore, though.

Ed Bott tracked down this little exchange containing a quote by Stephen Howard-Sarin:

Ziff Davis started an online division called ZDNet. Ziff Davis started a cable TV operation called ZDTV.

Ziff Davis split up. The magazine group kept the name. ZDNet was sold to CNET. ZDTV was rebranded TechTV (and later sold to G4).

Ed points to Bill Ziff's legacy as a prime reason for

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 Amazon.com - 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
703-778-9925

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 19, 2006 | Tate Linden
Yesterday Adobe announced the pending release of Acrobat Connect - a rebranded version of Acrobat's Breeze service.

We see this as a pretty good move. Given the ease with which most of the competition in this $1 billion market is able to set up conferences, calling attention only to the ease of use (as the name Breeze seemed to indicate) is a bit weak. It doesn't tell you what is a breeze, and it doesn't really hint at any meaningful benefit of the service. (People don't conference because it is easy - they conference because they need to communicate...)

"Connect" (as a concept) doesn't exactly stand out in the field of web conferencing tools, especially since the word is used by almost every competitor in their description of services (e.g., "We connect you seamlessly to your peers...") But
September 15, 2006 | Tate Linden

Inpatient Medical Services announced a slew of changes this week - including a new name and new leadership. While we can't comment on the new leader, the name is worthy of comment.

"Our new name is more reflective of our services and the timing of this re-branding initiative coincides perfectly with the addition of Ted as our new CEO," noted company founder, Dr. Philip Sanger.

The new name? Intercede Health.

While the word "intercede" doesn't scream "immediate branding success" to us,

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 UsingRFID.com (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
Amazon.com 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.

Wow.

Anyone care to venture a guess as to what this company actually does well?
August 24, 2006 | Tate Linden

I heard a jingle on the radio during the drive home today. It was an advert for Brother's latest labeler - called P-Touch.

The lyrics say something about how fun it is to P-Touch, and that everyone needs to P-Touch, and don't you wish you could P-Touch, etc...

We're pretty sure that whomever wrote the jingle knows that they wrote a song that would make those of us with 12-year-old funnybones laugh

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 17, 2006 | Tate Linden

In a bold move, the Republic of Nauru's (an island nation in the Micronesian South Pacific) air carrier "Nauru" will be renaming itself on September 4th to "Our Airline."

Though we at Stokefire are admittedly not very familiar with the Republic of Nauru, and likely never would have posted about them unless they'd chosen this particular name, we've caught ourselves smiling a bit about this story nonetheless. This is not to say that we like the name. We're mostly in a state of not liking it, actually. But,

August 11, 2006 | Tate Linden
Car names are fascinating. Every major company seems to have their own philosophy - using numbers, animals, shortened words, words beginning with "E", etc. Well, naming consultants, it appears that there's a new opportunity on the horizon.
"The new version of the Smart cars, which will be given new brand names, will be assembled at the former Panasonic factory at Port Talbot."
The new venture is being headed by Project Kimber - itself named for Cecil Kimber, the founder of MG. Apparently the idea is to make the old Smart the new Midget of a revamped GM speedster line.

Once upon a time
August 8, 2006 | Dr. Florence Webb
[Ed.: Welcome to Dr. Florence Webb - our newest Stoked Brands blogger!]

Last week I had occasion to spend most of two days on America’s freeways, driving down and then back up the East Coast. Having plenty of opportunity to read the fronts, backs, and sides of commercial trucks traveling the same byways, I was struck by the diversity of messages and styles I saw.

Truck advertising seems to come in four styles:
July 7, 2006 | Tate Linden
This just in:

We now have access to a five-bedroom sea-side vacation home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Not bad, eh?

Stokefire will primarily be using the home as a corporate retreat, entertainment facility, and even as a location where we can help our clients get away from their busy lives a bit to focus on their naming, tagline, and branding issues. The fact that it is four lots away from one of the best beaches (and golf courses) in the East is an added bonus. (Few things clear one's mind better than a dip in the Atlantic.)

Who ever said that naming your company had to be done under florescent lighting? Or while wearing a tie?

It sure as heck wasn't us.
July 6, 2006 | Tate Linden

You must admire the power of a brand that gets invoked in the midst of a political debate.

Here's an exchange excerpted from the Sacramento Bee's coverage on yesterday's border debate on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican representing Carlsbad in northern San Diego County, asked what Griffen and the Border Patrol were doing to protect his local Home Depot store from dozens of illegal immigrants harassing shoppers for work.

"Chief, in my neighborhood, the Home Depot is an 'illegal hub,' " said Bilbray, whose victory in a race for a House seat last month was fueled by voter anger over illegal immigration. "Is it too much to ask to have a few agents go to a place known to be frequented by illegal aliens?"

Bilbray was interrupted by Sherman.

"Our subcommittee focuses on terrorism," the Democratic congressman told him. "I don't think there are many terrorists at Home Depot."

July 5, 2006 | Tate Linden
What if you could write a tagline that would only appeal to those that were actually qualified to use your service?

Perhaps you'd say that the tagline should be accessible to everyone and shouldn't make anyone say "so what?"

Based on what I've seen from JDate.com I'd suggest that you'd be wrong.

JDate has developed a tagline that really only makes sense to potential users of their product. Their tagline is
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 21, 2006 | Tate Linden
In what appears to be a first for us, we're commenting on a new company name before the folks we usually read have done so.

tabblo_nav.gif

Tabblo - a new online photo manipulation company - has come up with an interesting niche. They allow you to upload your digital photos and then munge (our word, not theirs) them into a tableaux for a poster-sized printout that they deliver direct to your door. There are all sorts of other cool things you can do - and I love the idea behind the company - but think that they may be taking on some hurdles with their choice of name.

Here's why:
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 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.

June 5, 2006 | Tate Linden

I went to the International Franchise Expo in Washington DC this weekend. I walked the floor for about three hours, talking with CEOs, presidents, marketing VPs and sales reps. Every moment was informative, whether it was because some of the companies weren't really ready for prime time, or because I was able to see how a well branded franchise concept can draw attention.

Certainly the first thing in evidence is that once a single franchise has gone out and made a name for itself (see Coldstone Creamery and PODS) a raft of copy-cats will rush in and attempt to get part of the cut. There appeared to be two or three mix-in style ice cream shops, and a few modular storage facilities as well. Other trends include coffee shops, wings shops, and barbeque chains. I'll be going through some of the actual companies and the strategies they used to attract franchisees over the next few weeks. (With so many shops and so much reading material it'll take me a while to figure out who is well branded and who isn't...)

One thing really stood out.

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 24, 2006 | Tate Linden
We at Stokefire have been in the market for a nice economical vehicle that not only can get us to where we need to go, but can do so with a bit of panache. While the SUV is great for driving clients and consultants to meetings, it isn't so great for driving solo to work, nor for finding parking spaces in DC after 8:30 AM.

VW Garageinator

I've been looking at a couple VW models and at the Mini - and was leaning towards the Mini until I saw the picture of the VW garage (courtesy of weBranding and The Cool Hunter.) Can you imagine how powerful an experience getting your car from the "Garaginator" (my term, not theirs) would be?
May 5, 2006 | Tate Linden

I've been through a couple hundred branding projects at this point (in various capacities), and I've found that there is one thing that contributes more to the success of a new brand than anything else. That one thing? Executive passion for their company or product.

I visited a company this morning with my friend Jacqui Olkin and met with the head honcho. We went through traditional intros and things were very laid back... until we started to discuss the new direction for the firm and how he wants to grow the company.

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...

April 28, 2006 | Tate Linden
This release came across my desk today:

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB via HRMarketer) April 27, 2006 -- Diversity.com, 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 26, 2006 | Tate Linden

Why is it that Branding is the new "it" topic for insults in the media? In the last couple months I've seen it dissed by three shows I enjoy:

Big Love - an HBO series
Boston Legal - an ABC series
and "Thank You for Smoking" a movie in wide release

In each case I think that the power of branding was conveyed very well. The protagonist in Big Love realizes that he needs branding if he wants to grow his business (though whether or not it will work isn't yet known.) Denny Crane (played by Cap'n Kirk) uses branding in Boston Legal to establish one of his clients as a "common" housewife rather than someone more malicious. And "Thank You For Smoking" is an exceptionally funny movie that spends the entire time showing how effective branding efforts can be when run by the right people.

Great, right?

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 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 18, 2006 | Tate Linden
Carl Smith over at nGen Works has a great short post about a guy that has slapped an honest-to-goodness real-life tattoo of the John Deere logo on his bicep. Why'd he do it? Apparently because "They's the best." Wow... I remember when people would put the big red Superman "S" on their arms to indicate their power. Now we've got guys essentially saying that they're so well made that a tractor company would proudly claim them... (In looking at the picture on Carl's site I'm guessing the tattoo-ee is probably more of a steam roller than a garden tractor, but still he's obviously not falling apart at the seams. I certainly wouldn't want to question his solidity...) This is truly a powerful message. Imagine a world where cows get to choose their brand. (“I’m a Lazy K cow!”) Apparently quite a few people are doing this. Are our bovine friends next? Will this become a world of Star-Bellied Sneetches? As for how this literal branding relates to the more common corporate branding, I have this to say. I would love to see someone wearing a Stokefire logo on their arm. To have someone that passionate about a brand that I worked to create would be a deeply satisfying validation of the impact of my hard work. If you work hard enough to establish a reputation that connects with your target audience, not only will they buy your products for life, they’ll also proudly take on the very qualities you have infused your products with and claim them as their own. The John Deere statement that “nothing runs like a Deere” connects with the target buyers. They think something like, “Yeah, nothing does run like a Deere – except me.” It sends the message that there’s something special, and since Deere’s are in fact well made, the message not only connects, but rings true after experiencing the product. There’s a scale of commitment with brands – people are more willing to wear a cap or t-shirt with a brand message on it than they are to put one on the bumper of their car. They’re even more likely to associate themselves with a brand by being seen inside a store as a shopper (just being seen in a store is an impermanent legitimization of a brand - just look at how restaurants fill the front window seats first...) On the more permanent side you have bumper stickers and airbrushed car art. So – where is your brand on the scale of client commitment? Does your market advertise for you at all? Do they wear shirts, hats, or pins? Do they have a bumper sticker that sends business your way? Have they claimed you as their manufacturer by slapping your logo on their body?

Aside: Just giving away stickers and tees doesn't mean your brand is connecting. Check the parking lot (or their torso) the next time you see your client. Are they using what you gave them? If not then you've still got work to do.)

If you can’t bump the needle off of zero, then it’s time to figure out why. Does your brand fit with your real-life performance? Does your brand inspire loyalty? Are you even trying to connect on an emotional level with your client base? Politicians do it all the time, but never seem to get past the bumper-sticker or yard-sign commitment level. Their jobs depend on that emotional connection more than most of us. They literally go out of business if they don’t connect better than the competition. (I think I’ll look into this aspect another time, as I could write for pages on why there’s such an impermanent connection with politicians.) Back to the topic. Can you imagine the impact of seeing one of your clients walking into your shop and rolling up their sleeve to show you… your own logo? If that doesn’t give you goose-bumps then you’re unable to see the potential and power of branding. Here's to hoping you can see and feel the power, and want to give it a shot.

(Disclaimer: Crap with good branding is still crap. If you don’t like your own brand then no matter what you do you won’t be able to make other people like it either. Fix your product, then fix your brand - anything else will be a waste of time and money.) Tate Linden Principal Consultant 703-778-9925
April 17, 2006 | Tate Linden

How do you make money from Blogging? I know lots of folks out there are doing it through advertisements, but Mike Sigers over at Blogging Simplified has what is (to me) a new angle.

He sees blogging as a gateway to getting more marketing dollars from small businesses. It certainly is an interesting business tool, and I've certainly leveraged blogging for my own business, but I'm a bit hesitant to hand the wheel over to someone that isn't intimately familiar with my brand.

I see the appeal, but I think that when you've got an unfiltered channel to the market you've got to make sure you're putting the right things in it. Blogging is usually stream of consciousness writing for most people, and usually goes up to the 'Net with no proofing other than a spell check. How do you keep the spontaneous feel of the blog while scrubbing it for a client's corporate messaging and the like? How do you prevent clients from finding out the cool blogger on your site lives 15 miles away and knows almost nothing about the business of doctors/cleaners/dog walkers/etc...? What would be the damage if people found out it was 'faked.'

I still have a lot of questions, and wouldn't personally let anyone do it for me (though branding is my bailiwick, so I'll be more attached to my identity than some prospects). But... yeah... I can see that for some of my clients it might have appeal - especially since I've helped them build their brand and they'll have faith that I can represent it well online. Only problem - I write like me, punctuate like me, and think like me, and not anyone else. People will quickly find out that I am not John Smith, Kitcheteria Owner.

So - My challenge to Mike - How do we make this model viable by enabling the unabashed disclosure of the service to the client base in a way that strengthens the client bond? Are we acting as impartial reporters, hired guns, ourselves, or nameless employees of the client company? I'm all for making a change in the local community, but I don't want to be disingenuous. Branding is about being yourself (I know - you said marketing, but I'm twisting this for my own purposes) and it'd be pretty hard for you to find someone that always had your views.

...or have I misunderstood?