Tag Archives: branding

The best and worst names for your business… are sometimes the same

I just love business names. And I seem to come across new ones every day at work. Almost all the start-ups I meet want to have the perfect one to describe their business activity. But this is often impossible due to the UKIPO’s rules, and even when allowed can be a mistake.

For instance Carphone Warehouse chose a name that accurately described their business when it started in 1989. They were on the cutting edge of the new mobile-phone technology, and sold those marvels of miniaturisation known as car phones, through their first store located in – you guessed it – a warehouse.

First_Store_Marylebone_mediumfirst car phone

The first Carphone Warehouse and an example of an early mobile phone

It wasn’t long before the company expanded into the high-street, and their products shrank to the pocket-sized phones of today. So their wonderfully accurate name became doubly redundant. But by then they were a household name and were stuck with it. They did however learn from this mistake and use the brand PhoneHouse in the rest of Europe.

So that was an example of a good name which went bad thanks to the market moving. But some brands who started out with really bad names still managed to have great success. I covered Smeg in my blog post How to name your brand and get it trademarked. So I won’t dwell on the uncomfortable associations for that word again. But they certainly haven’t held their business back.

Or how about Soylent, the company that claims to have created the future of food?

Soylent products

It certainly look futuristic enough, although maybe not a appealing as my favourite Amelia Rope chocolate. But what I don’t understand is why the founder Rob Rhinehart chose to name the food after the 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green. It starred Charlton Heston and was set in a dystopian future, where the only food left on our dying planet is a green wafer known as Soylent Green. The movie ends with the shocking discovery that this staple is manufactured from humans. Or, as the final scene whispers; “Soylent Green is People!”

Here again, what on paper would appear to be a truly awful name, has not stopped the company from becoming very successful.

Sweaty-BettyCloser to home we have the very popular fashion brands Fat-Face and Sweaty Betty. More proof that a horrible name is no barrier to success.

Possibly the worst idea of all is to be nameless, but search Google for Nameless and you will find plenty of brands. Such as a ‘tech’ fashion brand in Moscow, and a digital marketing company in Bristol.

Returning to the world of science fiction we have SkyNet. An express courier network founded in 1972 that has grown to be the world’s largest. They can deliver “from a postcard to grand piano, to or from almost every country on the planet”.

Skynet logoBut type ‘skynet’ into Google image search you willterminator robot see this logo closely followed by the infamous terminator robot:

 

 

Let’s get back to some great names. On my cycle to work I have recently spotted vans sporting the memorable Magicman registered trade mark. Who wouldn’t want to employ the services of a “technician  trained to deliver incredible repairs to wood, stone, marble,uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass. We rectify chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and so much more on site, nationwide”?

Magicman LOGO
Robert-Andrews-Magicman-landscape-webuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we should end with a couple of brands that follow the Ronseal approach to naming. In other words, they do what they say on the tin.

sticks like shFirst we have Sticks Like Sh*t. For those in the building trade the name effectively, if rather bluntly, explains what the product does.

Although I was intrigued to discover that on the manufacturers website the name has been bowlerised to Sticks Like Adhesive.

Perhaps they don’t want to upset the more sensitive home DIY brigade? The owners Bostik have registered the name with the UK IPO, so don’t think about copying it!

 

 

DoomFinally we have my favourite brand name of all time. Strong, simple and memorable, with a cleardoom south africa indication of its purpose. I first came across Doom on safari in Kenya in 1982. I still remember clearly the moment a can was produced and liberally sprayed onto a very large and scary insect which happened to be walking across the entrance hall of our lodge. It didn’t take long for the creature to cease to be a threat.

Sadly the brand is now more closely associated with the computer game of the same name. Although I was glad to find a less dramatically packaged version still for sale in South Africa.

How to name your brand and get it trademarked

the-name-of-the-beastI’ve just finished reading a great book with an even greater title. The Name of the Beast by professional ‘namer’ Neil Taylor, is a guide to the ‘Perilous process of naming, brands, products and companies’.

You can tell Neil is slightly scarred from his years as a senior naming consultant at Interbrand where he discovered (much like for graphic designers), everyone is an expert. And some are very cynical about the role of professional namers such as Neil.

According to Andrew Mueller in Guardian newspaper;
“There are people, enviable yet contemptible, who make good livings inventing names for companies.

In fact, if you’re a CEO about to shovel a five-figure fee at some twit called Nathan to come up with a name like Twerq or Zamp Plus or X-Zite!, get in touch – for half the money, I’ll do you something at least as good, and certainly no more foolish.”

And people often have strong emotional bonds to brands they have grown up with, and are now being ‘messed about with’. Neil give a classic example of name failure, when Royal Mail changed to Consignia in 2000. He prints three pages of hostile comments from the time, which culminated in an embarrassing ‘volt-face’ just 15 months later.

For me, the most useful part of the book is chapter 3 where he covers the different approaches to naming.

Descriptive names
Ronseal tinBy using the Ronseal approach, ‘they do exactly what they say on the tin’,  see the history of the famous phrase. Obvious examples would be pretty much anything that starts with British (think Airways, Gas, Petroleum, Telecom etc). Sadly these names are often too good to be true, and cause problems when you go international, or change what you do over time.

Neil uses one of my favourite examples, The Carphone Warehouse. This name accurately described the brick sized phones sold in warehouse outlets when they were starting out. But today they sell sleek smartphones is smart high-street shops. I wonder if the chairman Charles Dunstone called a meeting one day to come up with a new name. But someone pointed out they had left it too late, and anyway the business was doing just fine with the original name. The positive brand values had been absorbed into the name, and risked being thrown away with a new name.

MeerkatSo although descriptive names save you having to explain what the company does, they have almost all already been taken, and even if not, can risk being too descriptive to allow you to register a trademark. For instance, Compare the Market and We Buy Any Car have been refused a trademark, but Compare the Meerkat and Webuyanycar.com were allowed.

Image-based names
Moving on from literally descriptive names, image-based names work by association using metaphors. Neil gives the examples of Visa (the shopping equivalent of a passport) and Viagra (think life and Niagra). If successful this approach can give a brand a personality which can appeal to customers.

Abstract names
Some of the most powerful brands on the planet use abstract and in some cases, made up words. Apple is currently the most profitable business in history. George Eastman used Kodak because he thought k’s were cool, so why not have one at the beginning and end of his brand name? Citroen did something similar until relatively recently when they ‘owned’ the letter X. Starting out with CX, BX and XM and then moving onto more creative names such as Xsara and Xantia.

The best thing about a made up name is that it can’t already be registered as a trademark to someone else, although you do still have to be careful it isn’t similar to a word that is in use.

Names of provenance
These are abstract names, but derive from a place or person. In fact, nearly half of the world’s top 100 brands use family names. Examples would be McDonald’s, Ford, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Dyson.

Names that break the rules
Smeg fridgeAfter spending many pages explaining the options for naming and going into detail about how to brain-storm for names, Neil give some examples of names that break the rules.

For example, I can’t believe it’s not butter, is about as far away from a short and simple brand name as you can get, even though it does sort of explain what the product is. He uses the example of U2 who have a ‘rubbish’ name but global success, whereas Half Man – Half Biscuit have brilliant one, but are long forgotten except by a few faithful fans. Or how about Smeg fridges? Surely no one would by a brand whose name is associated with “a substance that collects inside male genitalia”.  But thanks to their bright colours and trendy retro design they have become very popular indeed.

I am glad to see that Neil spends a bit of time talking about trade marks, even if it is in a rather short chapter titled The long arm of the law. He points out how trade marks trump company or domain names, which means they need to be checked first. The famous cases of Apple Corps vs Apple Computer is covered, and Budweiser US vs Budweiser Czech lager beers.

He explains how a name can exist in different classes of business activity using Polo as an example – a VW car, a mint with a hole, and expensive clothing. As long as the consumer is not confused about what and who they are buying from, there is no problem.

Neil is definitely not a fan of trade mark lawyers, but does admit they can help you work out the risk of choosing a particular name. It all comes down to predicting how the owners of similar names with react. How likely are they to send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter from their lawyers?

cillit-bangSo you don’t have to like a name, or understand what it means for it to be successful. As long as it is legal, available and memorable you should be ok. If Cillit Bang can become a household name, surely anything goes.

Appeal for empty niche brand water bottles

As part of my presentation, during our Practical Market Research workshop, I have a slide showing three very different types of bottled water.

The images nearly always trigger an insightful discussion about branding and niches within markets, and how entrepreneurs need to think very carefully and strategically about their product and service. Are they going to target the top of the market populated with ‘high net worth individuals’, the growing green consumers, or perhaps the ethical demographic?

As you can see from my screen shot, I cover all of the above sectors with my examples.

The first is called bling h20 and costs $40 for the limited edition Paris Pink bottle. They justify its price tag by putting Swarovski crystals on the bottle and making Paris Hilton its patron saint.

The second brand is Tasmanian Rain and claims: This uniquely pure rainwater is captured on the pristine island of Tasmania, Australia where the air is scientifically proven to be the purest in the world. The air currents travel over Antarctica and 10,000 miles of open ocean eventually reaching the western most part of Tasmania, “the edge of the world”. Here, TASMANIAN RAIN is collected before ever touching the ground, therefore never absorbing impurities, and resulting in a water that is ten times more pure than other premium and artesian waters.

Finally, Belu is an ethical brand and claim to produce the UK’s most eco-friendly bottled water.
It is 100% carbon neutral with the UK’s first plastic bottle made from corn not oil. We deliver one month of clean water per bottle we sell and donate all our profits to clean water projects.

All of this is a rather long winded way of getting  to my appeal for empty bottles of these (or any other niche filling bottled water brands) as example for me to hand round in my workshop.

If you happen to be passing by The British Library and could drop them off at the front desk for me, I would be very grateful.