The art of branding (products, not cows)

There was an article in the New Yorker (October 3, 2011) called Famous Names, by John Colapinto. It’s about how the importance of branding has evolved and how naming fads (my word, not his) have changed over time. On a simple level, branding is the practice of naming a company or a product ─ anything really. You can even have a personal brand, something no one should be without. The brand name is the spearhead for marketing. It can increase perceived value in the marketplace. Colapinto said, “The ideal contemporary name works across languages, on search engines, and on Twitter and Facebook, all while displaying the ingenuity necessary to stand out…”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, I offer you two successful branding examples; Kleenex and Xerox. When someone’s nose is running, they are as likely to say, “Can you hand me a Kleenex?” as they are to ask for a tissue. Similarly, if you need to photocopy something, you’re as likely to say, “I’ve got to Xerox this,” as you are to “copy it.”

The art of branding is rarely part of a company’s core competency, so when it is time to brand a new widget some may choose to pay big bucks to branding consultants. Sometimes they pay many thousands of dollars to hire a firm and then ignore their input. You see, branding, like so many things a marketing person deals with, is highly subjective. Branding is about making up names, a game the whole company can play. And if it’s a game the whole company can play, the boss usually wins. (To fully appreciate where I’m coming from, you may want to reread my post, Writers Get No Respect.)

I’ve named a few products in my time, or tried to anyway. Once, after spending many weeks working with a cross-functional team, we reached consensus on a name for a new product. With great excitement we presented the name to the president of the company. He nodded and smiled and seemed pleased with our recommendation. We left the meeting sure we had our name. The president then visited each member of the team and expressed his displeasure with the name we’d chosen ─ and presented one he preferred. Guess which name won in the end?

Another time, at a different company, management insisted that I hire a branding firm. Their process was not unlike the one I used myself, but they facilitated the brainstorming and charged for the basic trademark research that our in-house counsel could have done. After the list of possible names was whittled down to a few strong contenders, the consulting firm asked us, without irony, if we would consider one more: Blazuli. I am not making this up.

The company had created this name at some point and remained convinced that it would be good for some product, some time, if only they could get a company to take a chance. I rejected Blazuli and ultimately management rejected all the other options that our twenty-five thousand dollar investment unearthed. The boss had a better idea.

I honestly do not remember which product this story supports, but I do remember Blazuli. Maybe we should have used it. It sounds contemporary. It doesn’t appear to mean anything in Spanish, Macedonian, or Azerbaijani. A Google search turns up next to no hits from anything vaguely competitive, and according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office it hasn’t been trademarked. And best of all, it’s easy to remember. I’ll race you to the trademark office.

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3 responses to “The art of branding (products, not cows)

  1. Pingback: Judy Mintz: The art of branding (products, not cows) « NESCBWI Kidlit Reblogger

  2. I wonder if people used to “XyWrite” things?

  3. If only people still put food in their Frigidaire like they used to.

    I wish I had a better name. If I did, I think I’d be a better brand. Who wouldn’t publish someone with a catchy name? That’s how it works, right? It must. That’s why all the weather people are named Storm.

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