1.2.21 Branding and Naming

This session is on branding and naming. We’re going to talk both about naming your company, as well as about naming your product or service. I want to start with a story. I’ve been involved recently with a startup. When they came to me, they were called LifePak and they made insulation for what’s called cold chain packaging, meaning packaging that’s used to ship frozen food or refrigerated food to consumers. Their company was called LifePak, but they faced the problem that they didn’t own the domain name, lifepak.com. As a result, when customers would hear the name of their product and go to the website, they couldn’t find them. They would often have to go to the search engine and they feared that they were losing a large number of customers to the frustration with finding them on the web. What LifePak ended up doing was changing their name. And they ended up changing their name to TemperPack. And TemperPack is now the name of the company, and as you can see here, they own the full dot-com, TemperPack.com. Interestingly, they ended up naming their first product Jutebox, because their insulation is made out of the jute fiber and they thought, and it’s also a play on the word jukebox or music-playing box. So their product is called Jutebox and their company name is called TemperPack. This example illustrates some of the key challenges in naming a new venture. You have to decide how important is it to own the dot-com or internet address for your business. And you have to think about whether you should name the company the same as your product, or whether you should use different names for product and for company. I’m going to take the very strong position that in most cases you must have full dot-com availability, that is, with no hyphens, with no special characters, and preferably not a .net or a .org, or any of the other top-level domains but .com. And my argument is that you’re just starting your business. There’s no reason you can’t pick a name that’s fully dot-com available. It’s one of the few actions you can take, right at the beginning, that eliminates one of the main sources of lost customers, which is that they can’t find you on the Internet. So given that you’re an entrepreneur, given that you’re just launching your business, you have the luxury of picking a name that’s fully dot-com available. Now I’m going to argue that this is true even outside the United States. So for instance, Snapdeal is one of the largest dot-coms in India. In fact, Snapdeal was founded by one of my former students, Kunal Bahl. Snapdeal, even though it operates primarily in India,
uses the domain name snapdeal.com, not snapdeal.in. So even if you operate primarily in China, or primarily in India, or primary in another country with a different top-level domain, I argue that at the start of the business, you should take the time to find a fully .com available name. Again, it’s one of the simplest things you can do to ensure you aren’t losing customers because they can’t find you. This is an example of the company SawStop. SawStop makes a device that stops a table saw if it encounters a finger or a body part in the blade. It’s quite a remarkable thing. It can literally stop the blade in a matter of a few millimeters if it detects the presence of human tissue. Now what’s so great about this name is that, in addition to having the full dot-com availability that is sawstop.com, this name describes exactly what this product does. And immediately communicates the benefit preposition to the consumer. As a startup, you have so few resources to spend on marketing that you really want to make every element of your marketing mix work very hard for you. And so, one of things you want to do is pick a name that works very hard for you that once consumer see it, they immediately know what it is your product does and what its benefit preposition is.
Now that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, one of the challenges you face in naming your company after a very specific product and benefit proposition is that it doesn’t give you very much flexibility for what might happen and how you might it need to adapt in the future. So for instance, one of the leading dot-coms in the early 2000s was a company called CDNow. Now, you might imagine that CDNow would not be a very good name today for a business that sells music in that CDs are essentially obsolete. And so, in this case, a name that worked very hard for the company in 2000 doesn’t work very well in 2015.
The second example I want to show you is these two brands for soy milk. The one on the left is called WestSoy, and the one on the right is called Silk. Now, which one would you rather drink?
Names evoke attributes of the product. When you hear and see a name, you make associations with that brand. Silk is actually a brilliant name in my opinion because it combines soy and milk in a clever way, but it also implies that this is going to be a very smooth beverage and it’s going to be something that gives you a great experience. And so when you’re trying to market something like soy milk, having a name that evokes smooth is much better than having a name that doesn’t evoke anything or that is somewhat arbitrary, like WestSoy. The next issue I want to illustrate with examples is how easy it is to pronounce the name. There’s a heating supplies company that was formerly called Wirsbo and was renamed Uponor. And I would argue that while Uponor has some desirable attributes, it’s quite hard to pronounce especially in English. In contrast, the name Blackberry is extremely easy to pronounce in English. All else equal, you prefer a name that’s easy to pronounce in the target market where you’re selling your product, and to that extent BlackBerry is a much better name than Uponor. The next attribute of names that I want to emphasize is spelling ambiguity. This is the website for utube.com, not that YouTube, but rather U-T-U-B-E.com. This is the website for the Universal Tube company. They already owned the domain utube prior to the video sharing site, YouTube, which is spelled Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.com. But because there’s so many people who mistype one version for the other, Universal Tube has actually set up their website to be an advertising portal, not to be a portal into the business of their tube manufacturing operations. This indicates to you just how costly it is to have a domain that has spelling ambiguity and that can lead users to some site other than your own. The strategy here is to pick a name that either is unambiguously spellable, or to own in advance all of the reasonable spelling variants that your users might encounter. Another really desirable attribute in a name is that it’s memorable. This is the website for Big Ass Fans. Now Big Ass Fans is a really memorable name. In fact, that name came about because customers used to call the manufacturer and say, are you the guys who make those big ass fans, unable to remember the actual name of the company. And so eventually the entrepreneur decided, you know what, we should just rename our company Big Ass Fans. So this is an example of a name that’s highly memorable. In fact, my guess is that long after this session you’re still going to remember the name of this company. So that’s a really desirable property in a name, that it’s highly memorable. All else equal, you’d prefer a name that’s shorter rather than longer and that’s because it’s easier for people to remember names that are shorter. And it’s also less likely that they’ll mistype them when they’re looking for you on the web on their mobile phone. But this is a company called webuyanycar.com. And while really long, it’s actually fairly memorable, and I think it actually works fairly well. It communicates the benefit-proposition of the brand. It’s quite memorable. It probably is relatively easy to spell, but its only attribute that’s a negative is that it’s quite long. So I use it to highlight the fact that all else equal, you’d prefer a name that’s shorter to one that’s longer, but that in some cases length can be overcome if the name is itself quite memorable and doesn’t have a lot of spelling ambiguity. I mentioned previously the global challenges, the challenges of having a single brand name throughout the world. Sometimes the same brand based on a Roman alphabet can work globally. For instance, Boeing is a brand that just uses one brand globally, it seems to work just fine. But for some countries, particularly for consumer brands in countries that use different alphabets, you may need a global variant or perhaps a dual brand. So for instance, you can see here what Starbucks has done in China. It’s actually quite a brilliant name. They have continued to use the Starbucks coffee logo that has the English version, but they’ve also added a Chinese version which uses the characters [FOREIGN]. Which means star and then just the phonetic [FOREIGN] to invoke Starbucks. So it’s a combination of the same meaning as star with some of the same sounds of the English Starbucks. So it’s a nice example of adaptation of a global brand to a regional market where different characters or different alphabets are used. So in sum, as you think about naming your company and your product, these are the attributes or criteria that you ought to be thinking about. First of all, can I legally and practically use the name? And this means, do I have the full dot-com availability? I should also note that you have to avoid infringing trademarks of others. And that subject is beyond the scope of this particular session, but as you’re naming your company, you certainly want to do a trademark search to verify that in fact no one else is using the name that you’re envisioning. The second criterion is the name evokes the thing you’re naming and so the example there of SawStop. Working very hard to evoke the thing it names. Third is that the name has positive associations. Think about Silk as supposed to Westsoy. Fourth is that the name is easy to say. You’d prefer BlackBerry to Ponner.
Next is that it has unambiguous spelling. That in fact if you’re going to call it YouTube, that you’ve locked down both of the spelling variations, or the additional spelling variants of YouTube. Next is that it’s memorable, that Big Ass Fans, you’ll probably still remember long after this session. That’s a very memorable name. And lastly, that the name isn’t too long, but I qualify that by saying, sometimes if it’s very memorable or uses a sentence or a phrase. It can be easy to type, it can be unambiguous and still memorable while being longer than you might otherwise expect.
And of course all of these factors need to be considered in the context of targeting global markets, and you need to be mindful of how the name will play outside of your home market. I want to turn now to an actual process for generating and selecting those names, and to do that I’m going to use the example of a bicycle seat that I created, and talk to you about the naming process for this bicycle seat.
So the bicycle seat has this desirable property that it’s quite comfortable, and the reason it’s comfortable is because of the geometry of the seat, but also because the seat pivots. Which allows it to rotate to match the motion, the pedaling motion of the rider’s legs. In terms of naming process, I recommend two steps. The first step is that you generate a list of what I’m going to call chunks, and chunks are just fractions of words. They’re sets of characters that typically represent a fragment of a word. Some of those will be dictionary words. So for instance, soft or flex. Those are all dictionary words. Some will be proper nouns that relate to your product. So for example it might be Alp D’Huez or Armstrong if you’re looking to evoke cycling.
The next one would be to look in, for other roots, possibly from Latin or Greek. So for instance the roots, leger or velo or studio or corso, those are all roots from other languages, Latin or Greek, that evoke some of the same things that you’re trying to evoke with the product. And then, of course, there are affixes. These are either prefixes or suffixes which could be applied to a name, and it might be things like pro or max or star or tech or things like that. So once you have a list of chunks, and typically you’ll generate literally 100 or so chunks, you can then manipulate those chunks in order to create entire words. And some chunks, of course, you could use directly. Some you could use in combination with other chunks. Some chunks you could mutate, adding an additional character or a numeral or a spelling modification. And, of course, you can add affixes, either prefixes or suffixes, to the chunks in order to create a set of complete words. So shown here are a set of results of that exercise. Some of those names are natural names, meaning they are the putting together of dictionary words that actually have meaning. They’re either proper nouns or they’re dictionary words that, put together, have meaning, and some of them are completely synthetic. Meaning, they’re constructed words that are suggestive or evocative of natural names and of words in English or whatever your target language is. But they’re actually synthetic, meaning they don’t exist in the dictionary. Of course in most settings, even though I’ve said the dot-com is really important, you won’t be able to get the dot-com for a dictionary word. Most of those are taken and they’re very expensive to acquire. And so in most cases, in naming your company or in naming your product, you’re going to create a compound word, several chunks put together, or a synthetic name that doesn’t exist in the dictionary.
The next step is to do some analysis on those names. I’ve shown here the actual spreadsheet I used from naming this product. And shown here are a dozen or so of the alternatives that I considered, and I show you here the criteria that I put in the spreadsheet. How long in characters and then just a one to three rating of the length. What associations, are they positive or negative with the word? Does it have spelling ambiguity? Does it have the right tone for the brand, performance oriented bicycle component, does it have the right tone of the brand, and how easy is it to say? And this is just, these are all just subjective judgments. And these judgments were done by the internal team just to asses a large number of alternatives. The result of this analysis was the identification of the top ten or the top six or so names. Now I do want to point out by the way that every one of these was fully dot com available. I take the fairly strong position that I won’t even consider a name for which I don’t have full .com availability that’s the reason that criteria doesn’t appear on the spreadsheet.
Once you’ve created the short list of names, then I recommend that you do some testing. And I’m going to show you an actual survey that I used to test these names. In this case, I used the survey tool Qualtrics, but there are many survey tools available, Survey Monkey and others that are available to you to be able to run a survey with a sample of target consumers. So, what I like to do is first introduce the product, tell people what the product or company is about, and then have them proceed to look at a list of the final naming candidates. In this case, between six and ten candidates, and simply rank them from hate it to love it, five point scale. And then I give the respondent an opportunity to provide a free association, to provide some comments on the name, just in there’s something that we missed, there’s something we didn’t think about maybe a negative association with the name. Now it’s of course important when you design the survey that you randomize the presentation of those names because there will typically be order effects in survey responses. So randomize the order, present the target user, the survey respondent, with six to ten names, have them rank them on a scale of a five
box scale as shown here and then give them the opportunity to comment on the names. Then you do something that I think’s pretty clever and pretty interesting which is you ask, you go to the next screen in the survey and you ask them without going back, to simply type any of the names they remember.
What this does is it gives you two pieces of information. It helps you identify the misspellings because they aren’t now referencing your name, they are simply recalling the name and typing it so you can see how it is that people type and mistype the names, that’s very valuable information. The second thing it measures is recall, which of the names do people actually remember. And so you can use this text input to identify both spelling variants and to identify recall. I would recommend that you use this survey with about 50 respondents, that is, that you try to get about 50 respondents to the survey. That will give you a very good estimate of liking, of how people like the name, of associations people have with the name, of recall and of whether there’s spelling ambiguity. And based on that, you usually identify one or two clear winners that are going to be successful for your product or for your company. In our case, we identify the brand named Nexride.
And the next thing we did, which is I think quite valuable in coming to appreciate a name is to do some graphic design to create a graphic identity for the brand. In this case I used one of the crowd sourcing design platforms, in this case a company called 99designs, in order to generate some alternative graphic treatments of that name. Shown here are the five finalists, the five I liked best of the submissions that I received on 99designs, and based just on internal team consensus we picked the bottom one. Which is actually the name of the product and of the company. One of the things you learn in naming is that although it’s an agonizing process, it’s filled with frustration. You feel like it’s challenging, you’re never going to get something you’re happy with. Once you’ve actually gone through the process, run the survey, selected the name, have full .com availability, and then you do a little graphic design. You look at the resulting output and you say of course that’s the name of our company, that’s the name of the product. It could be anything else and in fact looking back now it’s some of those alternatives that we were considering, I realize we really did to make the right choice.

Jim Rohn Sứ mệnh khởi nghiệp