Tag Archives: boss

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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Writers get no respect

I’m writing a book. You’re writing a book, too? I’m not surprised. It seems that everyone and their uncle has written, is writing, or wants to write, a book. I say good luck to all of you. Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I understand how hard it really is to do. I’ll hazard a guess that most writer-wannabes will never get farther than, “It was a dark and stormy night,” even though they could, if they could just find the time.

I’ve worked with words my entire adult life. As a marketing person I’ve written all kinds of things; web pages, brochures, white papers and press releases. I’ve compressed countless pages into PowerPoint presentations, and incorporated oodles of questions into FAQs. I’ve edited technical manuals and books. Why, back in the day, I even wrote copy for print ads (remember when software was advertised in magazines?). These activities never seemed to increase my cachet with upper management though. Why? My observation is that business people (in high tech) don’t view the ability to write as a talent. At best, it’s a commodity service. After all, they can write. They could have done that ad, press release, brochure, what-have-you, if they had to. You learn how to write at a young age, there’s really nothing to it.

I contend that artists don’t have this problem. Most of us readily acknowledge our artistic limitations. I would never claim that my ability to draw a stick figure puts me in the same league as Picasso (although some of his stuff is downright childish). If your special talent involves drawing, painting, or designing with Illustrator, you’re probably consistently praised for your work. I always found it particularly galling when I’d present a finished piece, something that incorporated my copy and the designer’s artwork, to the boss, who would look it over and say, “Looks good.” Looks good? Did you read any of the words?

If they did read the piece at some point in the process, it was inevitable that they would spend time re-writing it. These were important people, with lots of important things to do, who still, apparently, had time to spare to do a quick rewrite. On one memorable occasion, I used the word ‘massive’ in a press release. The CEO and I went round and round in an email exchange arguing the relative merits of that word. I finally wrote, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Massive is the word I want to use there.” His response, “Oh, okay.” He just liked to dust it up with the writer – because he could.

Software developers never have this problem. One thing that high tech business honchos know is that they don’t know how to write code. I should have listened to my mother and learned how to program. Then if I said, “I’m writing a software program,” the response would be, “Yeah? How about those Red Sox?”