site map

 

Recently in Rants

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Ed. "BUY STOKEFIRE?"]
September 25, 2007 | Tate Linden
We've named a whopping two whole companies in the "sustainable" or "green" or "eco-friendly" or "tree-hugging" or "Gaia" or "Mother Earth" or whatever other catchword you want to use.

Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(* - Note that we aren't afraid to use name listers ourselves on occasion. It's a critical part of the naming process - especially when a project gets a bit stuck - it's just not the whole thing.)
September 17, 2007 | Tate Linden
I'm not sure how I missed this site amongst the clutter of naming sites on the internet. An intriguing concept - using a marketplace of sorts to sell names that someone has thought of and wants to sell. If you're a great namer then this just might work...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want a few more reasons?

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

Nope.

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

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

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

Aww heck... I couldn't resist!
August 28, 2007 | Dr. Florence Webb
Okay, I’ve had it. We’ve all grown tired of names without vowels in the cell phone industry: Razr, Slvr, Krzr, etc. [Ed.: And don't forget the Interweb!] So today I’m trolling through luggage on the Target website and what do I find? A rolling carry-on bag called the BAUER ORGNZR. I’d just like to say for the record that I don’t want my clothing orgnzd when I travel. If all the vowels were missing from my clothes, how would I bttn my shrt? Would my scks and shs still fit my ft? And I shudder to think what would happen to my laptop. I’d end up writing like an advertising geek, lose all my friends, and spend my waning years alone in a thrd-flr wlkp. Too sad.