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October 29, 2007 | Tate Linden
I've been sent perhaps a dozen free books on branding and marketing in the year and change I've been blogging. I've never written about them - mostly because there's rarely anything about naming or verbal branding in them.

This book doesn't have that disconnect...

The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly is an impressive book. And it is almost entirely related to what I do for a living. I'd suggest that it's one of the more advanced books on the concept of corporate identity, and it is backed by a slew of research (and the Wharton School.) While I didn't read it cover to cover yet, I did read the chapters that discuss the role of identity in situations that matter to naming - such as mergers, acquisitions, the beginning of new brands, and such. All of 'em were spot on - or a least headed in the right direction.

As an example - the book identifies the ingredients of Successful identity Change as:
  1. Vision
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Consistency
  4. Leadership Continuity
  5. Luck and Positive Signals
While Stokefire's number one ingredient is missing (leadership involvement!) the list is one that is worth spending time to understand. It is clear that without any one of the five items a project will likely fail. They've at least provided a good starting point to work with.

Other interesting tidbits:
  • An analysis of evolutionary vs. revolutionary change
  • The difference between organizational and brand identity
  • The downside(s) of branding (narcissism, id conflict, drift, & fragmentation)
  • How to handle mergers, spin-offs, joint ventures, and more.
  • Four leaders who've managed identity well, and four who haven't.
  • Transitioning from a single brand to a portfolio...
If these topics don't get you motivated to read the book then chances are excellent you're not in the naming field. Or, as a former SecDef might say, "you don't know what you don't know."

Perhaps most refreshing was the near total lack of talking-heads from major branding firms that typically populate books like these. We get to see things through the eyes of employees, stakeholders, and customers - not the guys that developed (and are defending) the brand. Who cares what we, the creators of the identity, think. If the people who live the brand don't say it then it ain't real.

Bravo!

Many thanks to Wharton School Publishing for the comp. I've dog-eared so many pages that it's beginning to look like there's been trouble at the printer (since most of the upper-outside corners appear to be missing.)
October 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
Boy... I didn't know how peeved I could make people until I threw down the gauntlet.

Interestingly I got notes from a handful of folks that provide name lists telling me where I could stick my gauntlet, but none actually picked it up. There were never any topical responses on the blog. Ever since that post was written participation on the blog by other namers has dropped off dramatically. I think maybe even completely.

I'd hoped that the post would spark a debate amongst those in our industry who provide different levels of service. I'd hoped that someone would challenge my assertions. It didn't happen. Life went on...

But as I thought more about this over the past couple weeks I realized that ultimately I am not really a namer either. I think that most in the naming business aren't namers at all. We're Listers, Coaches, Fact Checkers, CYA-ers, Linguists, and such. In all but the rarest of instances it is the CLIENT that is the namer, not us.

The difference between someone who stops after the creative process and one who provides detailed analysis and guidance to help a client select the right name is not one that should affect ones right to wear the title of Namer. Because, as I see it now, we really don't want that title at all. The moment we pass from an advisory or creative role into a decision-making one we become namers - and we become unemployable.

Whether we provide a short list and stop there or a massive list with five hundred pages of supporting data we still don't actually name anything. Our clients would revolt if we stepped over the line. Imagine just giving a single name (with or without justification) ... do you think that anyone would actually be happy with that? The amount of convincing we do is irrelevant - just a matter of degree. Some people are self-serve and others are full - there's a place for both. But in both cases the choice of what goes into the tank is left up to the person putting down the money.

So... to all of the folks in the industry formerly known as naming... I've picked up the gauntlet myself. The title of namer is not meant for us. We are the advisors. We are the coaches. We are the counselors. And yes, we are even the name listers.

We are the people that ENABLE great names to exist, and we may be the people that conceive of them. But we are not, and will likely never be, the people that actually name anything but our own children and pets. (And if you're a daddy you know that even there we're only really in an advisory role...)

Note: It's a scary thing when I actually have coffee in the morning. I can think myself out of a job.

NoteNote: Major props to my main man Immanuel Kant for his influence on this post.
October 12, 2007 | Tate Linden
The Washington Business Journal has (had? It was a while ago...) a new column called "Problem? Solution" that helps business owners solve their troubles by hooking them up with area experts. Sadly, no one seems to be asking for naming help there, but I did get the chance to show my ignorance (and apparently my propensity for sentences awkwardly phrased) when it comes to designing affordable but cool office space.

You can check out the article here (from the Friday, May 11, 2007 edition.)
Problem: Tate Linden's Stokefire Consulting Group has been working out of the Business Incubation Center of the Community Business Partnership in Springfield. He is ready to leave the nest but wants some help designing and setting up a "professional, creative and stylish office environment" on the cheap. "In my business," Linden says of his branding company, "I can't afford to have all the 'coolness' limited to my marketing materials -- it has to convey via our environment too."

...
Sadly it didn't include a link to our little corner of the world. But what's worse is that in the words that I wrote I can almost see the "finger quotes" around "coolness." (...and I always forget that the way I talk and the way I write are different... Who says "convey via our environment" anyway? Not me.)

Many thanks to Lucy Webb and Barbara Wrigley for setting this up. Thanks as well to Dave Denny at Hickok Cole for his advice.

"Plastics!"

Amen, brother.
October 11, 2007 | Tate Linden
Oh the stuff that Thingnamers get to do...

I had the opportunity yesterday to help judge the Brass Ring Awards for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions with numerous other leaders in the Association Marketing space. My judging team selected the Best Integrated Marketing Campaign, Best Seasonal or Special Event Marketing, Best Print Advertisement, and Best Outdoor Advertisement.

While I'm not at liberty to say who won in the various categories, I was surprised to discover many trends in verbal and visual branding that become apparent only when you're confronted with 120 campaigns all selling what is essentially the same thing - a day of entertainment for the family.
  1. The smallest organizations fall into two categories - either they mention every single attraction the park offers (in the hopes, we assumed, that at least one would be interesting to the audience) - or they were completely off the wall and creative. The smaller parks typically have no guidance from a corporate office somewhere so if the marketing department knows what they're doing they get the chance to be amazingly strange (and effective.) They also don't get the coaching that the mid- to large-sized parks get and aren't prevented from putting out adverts that look an awful lot like catalogs, penny-savers, or junk-mail. Lesson learned: If you're a small park you shouldn't see marketing campaigns as places to save money or try shotgun marketing - see them as places to take a stand. The ones that just said "this is who we are and why we're cool" really impressed us.
  2. Animal parks, zoos, animal events, and animal experience sites were far and away the most creative. I'd assumed I'd be leafing through pages of "come see the baby panda" and "Hey kids - come for your birthday - our elephants won't forget to give you a present" sort of stuff. I was wrong. In an age where kids and adults are more likely to watch a video or simulation of animals the zoos have really risen to the challenge and come up with some great ways to show not only what they have to offer, but why it is important that we (as people, families, society) really need to experience it. While quite obviously the visuals were stunning, the words they used were also spot on. When the awards are announced I'll spend more time on this.
  3. We'd been drooling over the prospect of judging the batch of major theme parks - the biggest in the world. Sadly, this group really let us down. What we discovered was a batch of very clean advertising with a singular message (textbook, really) that had absolutely nothing unique about it. They were often beautiful to watch, but gave the viewer nothing to connect with. They really contrasted with the low-production-value small parks with interesting messages. Many were the sort of thing you'd expect to see on an intercontinental flight between movies. They felt canned. Sponsored. Fake. Empty. In a few instances we had trouble finding a runner up (or even a winner) because every single park took the exact same approach to an event. Corporate thinking... isn't.
  4. Most entertaining (though not always award winning)? The rare literal break-out piece. A billboard being broken into pieces. A sign flipped sideways to give better perspective on an attraction. Using the edges of an advertising space to help convey the size of something at the park. The most effective pieces were so great that I wanted to hang them on my wall... They really show how closely linked art and marketing can be. The best ads tended to be visually striking - and made all the judges in the room immediately say "I want to do *that*."
And a side note to potential entrants of contests... if you're going to submit multiple entries you may want to consider submitting low multiples. It's really hard to see how unique a particular park is when they submit (say) five similar campaigns in every single category. Sure, odds seem to point to a better chance of winning... but it also means that every single one of your campaigns seems less special.

Awards judging is similar to the original point of marketing. You want to stand out. You can't do that if you create a crowd as soon as your entries hit the table. Pick your best... leave the rest.(tm)?

Hey... that slogan works for the ad campaigns too.

Many thanks to my fellow judges for a fun day and to Eamon Connor for selecting a Thingnamer such as myself for such a cool project.
September 24, 2007 | Tate Linden
No. We did not name a company "Sustainable Technical Development", though you have to admit that the acronym would be catchy... catching...

Bada-bing.

We did help our good friends living in the wilds of New Hampshire figure out how to name their business concept - a friendly, common-sense approach to technical stuff (like web programming) that just so happens to be run from an office powered by solar.

And though the sustainable development angle was philosophically important to them, it also was practical. Living in the very literal wilds of New Hampshire there are often power outages lasting days. Last year the power was out for a cumulative two weeks.

So, what do you name a company running off-grid with two friendly, approachable, calm, and capable leaders at the helm? Well, if you're us... you name it:

webmeadow.gif

(Know what else they do at webmeadow? They raise ducks! How's that for a perk?)

Welcome to the world webmeadow! Looking forward to reading your blog and hearing your success stories as they happen.

Want proof that the brand has the power to attract green-sensitive businesses? Look no further than Stokefire. We were so impressed with what they're doing that we're having the webmeadow team develop our new Web presence - due out late next month.

We're sure there's some witty thing we can put here that would losely tie in with those old Remington advertisements, but it's the end of the day and it's time to go home and play with TJ to recharge the batteries for tomorrow. Perhaps a bit more wit will be available in the AM.

Kudos A&E!
September 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
What would happen if Saddam's "Mother of All Wars" fell in love with Putin's "Father of All Bombs?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for truth in advertising....
August 31, 2007 | Tate Linden
rightsticker.jpgThe DSCC had a contest... and it feels like we, the people, lost.

So rather than continually complain (as I've done for the last couple days) I figured I'd fix the problem.

We're not waiting for a vote. We're goin' out there and developing a solution. To the left you'll see Stokefire's attempt at a bumper-sticker we'd actually like to see. So... we made it and are ordering them ourselves, damnit. You can order stuff by going here.

Feel free to order 'em and plaster your stuff (or maybe the neighbor's Hummer?) with 'em. We were full enough of ourselves to think that y'all might want bags, shirts, mugs, and stuff, too, so we're making those available.

Want to order mass quantities of something? Send us an email and we'll work with you to cut a deal. Licensing is available...

Tell the family, friends, and politicos... the Left may just have a workable slogan.

And if this actually earns money we will donate a significant portion of the profits to a platform-related charity or non-profit. If it comes to pass we'll let you know the percentages, amounts, and recipients.

165490142v2_240×240_front.jpg[Update: We're still fiddling with the wording... moving stuff around... playing with the degree of the left turn... look for tweaks over the next couple weeks. But buying now gets you an Original!]

[Update 2: We've added a different option for the text based on feedback. Now we're a little less cryptic.]
August 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
...and another Stokefire name hits the market.

How do you develop a name for a green media firm without using the words "green," "eco," or any of the other current buzz-words used in the space? By focusing on how you're different and what you're trying to achieve rather than slapping a "me too" name on that blends in with the crowd.

emPivot opened for business this week and is already gaining attention as the place to go to find and share new perspectives on green issues.

Why emPivot? Because the founders (Chace Warmington and Thom Wallace) felt strongly that their purpose was not to spread the gospel of green to the choir, but instead to offer a place where real people can discuss every aspect of green - whether they're passionate supporters, detractors, or on the fence. This is about empowering a change in perspectve - a change in opinions - or a change in lifestyle. The concept of being green doesn't move all that much, but our understanding and perspective can change rapidly.

While "green" was off-limits for the name, it was still in play for the tagline - something we proposed using to contextualize a name that didn't immidiately shout its purpose. (You'll note that Google, Yahoo, Kodak, Exxon, Sears... and just about every other great brand in the world... doesn't disclose their market in their name. They use advertising, taglines, and other tools to get the context across. We think we're in good company here.)

Stokefire developed both the name and the tagline for the new company (a brand owned by Ecofusion.) The result:
emPivot: View Green From Every Angle
We also developed alternate taglines for future use - and we'll trumpet those as emPivot grows their brand over the coming years.

We'll post a full case study and press release later this month - and will have even more information available once our redesigned corporate website sees the light of day in September.

Great job thus far Thom and Chace... looking forward to more great things from your team!
August 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
I admit it, I'm a member of the Colbert Nation. Can't say I see every show, but I'd bet I see most of 'em.

Interestingly, he covers a huge number of concepts that pertain to thingnaming. He and his staff coin words on a weekly basis, playing around with words and slogans that at the very least make us chuckle, and often get stuck in our heads for days.

While I'd intended to write a column on some of the new concepts he's developed I am instead sidetracked by something he mentioned in mid-April. Something I have thought of almost every day since then. I'll use the excuse that it pertains to names and taglines, but really, I think I just need to share it.

The naming part: There's a part of the evaluation process Stokefire uses that we call "Whoa!" We measure a name or tagline's ability to make us stop our existing thought process and focus on the word itself. It's one of the more than forty qualities we measure. Why do we measure it? Because "Whoa!" has immense power.
  • By interrupting the prospect's thought process you're getting uninterrupted attention rather than just a shared portion of the input.
  • Something that surprises the prospect will be more likely to be remembered
Sadly, many companies think that using surprise is enough to make a name great. Surprise without an element of tie-in to the core of the brand is a wasted effort. Who cares if everyone remembers a funeral parlor called "A Bazillion Monkeys" (certainly a name that would make us stop and think) if the name didn't in some way tie into what the company was about. If A Bazillion Monkeys just offered the same services that everyone else did then the name becomes a turn-off. (Though if a funeral parlor could make a living off of having tons of furry beasts around to play with during the viewing then perhaps this is the name to go with...)

Names with a high "Whoa!" factor should go with business that have a similarly high "Whoa!" factor themselves. If you've got a commodity product and are using a standard business model and are often heard using terms like TQM, Six Sigma, "The Customer is Always Right," and such, then a surprising name ain't going to do much for you.

What's the use in getting someone to remember your name if you're just going to bore them to death after they interact with your brand?

Which brings us to the title of this post: Location, Location, BEES! This was voiced by "The Big Red Button" on Colbert's show - and had us in fits. This is the perfect type of surprise... everyone knows what that third word is supposed to be. When it isn't "location" we're shocked into trying to figure out what the heck it means. (And in this case it means "Do not buy a house filled with bees.") The switch fit perfectly with the show's brand - that of pompous advice-giving and opinion-shouting. Both typically given with lots of passion and little logic. If "Location, Location, BEES!" isn't true to that brand then... well... thankfully it is true.

Stokefire is now a place where if someone begins to talk on a track that is overly predictable - like when I start intoning on the importance of being true to the brand - someone will shout "BEES!"

Why?

Because unless there's a reason for me to be reinforcing something that everyone knows or I've got a new thing to say... there isn't much reason for me to say the same thing all over again. Everyone who works for me knows what I'm saying. BEES! is now their new way of saying "We get it - now unless you're going somewhere new just let us do our damn jobs."

BEES!
August 3, 2007 | Tate Linden
I had twardscovers.gifhe pleasure of speaking with Lillie Guyer - a writer for Ward's Dealer Business (The management magazine for auto dealer professionals) and WardsAuto.com She had dozens of great questions regarding what made an automobile tagline effective. Kudos to her for making the process challenging and fun.

On August 1st the resulting articles were published - they can be found here:

Dealers Want Good Taglines

Marketing Expert Describes What Elements Make Up a Powerful Tagline

If you've found our site through the Ward's Article - Welcome! Feel free to join in the conversation here or subscribe via the links in the upper left-hand corner. If you'd like to see more of our thoughts and you may want to peruse the "Greatest Hits" links on the right. Or just send us a note and tell us what you think...

I found the article topics fascinating - as I believe that the effect of names and taglines on the people who actually sell and/or service product is often ignored. Being the "Low Price Leader" can have a devastating effect on employee morale - and having a tagline that is out of synch with the abilities or attitude of the staff can result in lost customers and alienated employees. The same holds true for the company name. When branding, the staff must come into play both for the effect the brand will have on them and the staff's ability to live up to the standard the brand establishes. Add in the fact that the brand also is supposed to help sell the product and create a connection with the buyer and you end up with a whole lot of pressure placed upon a precious few words.

But back to the articles... Anyone want to challenge my list of the great (and not so great) automotive taglines (at the bottom of linked article)?
July 20, 2007 | Tate Linden
We don't have the answer yet, but we're checkin' it out.

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

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

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

Results of our back-of-the-napkin research to come next week.
July 18, 2007 | Tate Linden
Here's my desk on the last day of a naming project. Clicking the picture will take you to a high-rez shot that will take ages to access, but maybe you can make out some book titles or some of my sources and methods. And yes, that's the mother of all computer monitors on my desk. (I have about 9 windows open at a time when I'm doing research. This way I can see 'em all.

Anyone who can name without makin' at least a little bit of a tornado is (IMHO) going to have trouble thinking in a non-linear way.

stokefireatwork.jpg

It doesn't get much messier than this for me... and it'll be clean again by the end of the week. (Thankfully the rest of my team have not a speck of dust on their desks, so the pressure for me to clean up after a project is pretty severe.)

Back to the creative process!

(And no, we're not a paperless office. Though we aspire to be...)
July 17, 2007 | Tate Linden
Here we go again.

The Chief Thingnamer of Stokefire is headed West to the city by the bay from September 4th through the 7th. Yeah, I know I'm invading the territory of just about every other namer in the United States, but I come mostly in peace (I only had one client in the Bay Area and it was a little vineyard about a year ago.) Heck, I'd actually like to visit some of you in your places of work and write about it here.

So all of you Landorians, Igorians, Lexiconians, assorted Luddites (I say that with the deepest affection) and technophiles - anyone want to give me the grand tour of your naming/branding empire? I promise I'll be on my best behavior.teddybath.JPG

In the interest of full disclosure I've gotta admit that I'm bringing Thingnamer Jr. along, though if you don't want to see him (as thus far his best behavior can't be promised, and isn't particularly good anyhow) he can stay with The Boss.

Edit: Both the photo and text above are clicky (and take you to different places) and enable those that are interested to get their "Teddy fix."

Last time I came out West I somehow ended up in the middle of a party overflowing with fellow namers. As absolutely awe inspiring as that was, (thanks Alexandra and Steve!) I'm hoping that this time I can spend some time talking to people without spilling free spinach puffs and beer down my shirt.

Stuff on my mind that I'd love to talk about:
  1. The Yet To Be Named Association of Namers and what it could do for you
  2. Is everyone as messy as I am when they're being creative? (And can I take a picture as evidence?)
  3. What pictures and totems do you keep near you when you work?
  4. Are you a Powerpoint or a Flipchart kinda person?
  5. The name you're most proud of
Anyone interested in playing host(ess)?
July 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
This Post is PG-13. Youngsters please go about your business elsewhere.

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

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

Lo, she's a corporate namer.

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

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

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

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

The name?

"Spunkwave."

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

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

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

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

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

Clients need guidance.

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

More on name lists versus brand development and on the creative process... to come.
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 28, 2007
May 26th, 2007 at 8.30 pm Theodore Joseph Linden was born. Weighing in at 6 lbs 10 oz. Congratulations Sarah & Tate!

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