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A brand is an empty vessel into which we pour meaning, someone smart once told me.  But products and services often exist before the name is created. So the vessel isn’t quite empty, is it?

Have you ever named a child? Empty vessel. Or is it?  The parent’s backgrounds are often contributors: family names, favorite bands, etc. (A couple of hippies I knew in college named their kids Dylan and Hendrix.) Were those kids empty vessels? You decide. 

Totally empty or partially full, the name of a vessel is an important brand component. In all three of my discovery questions sets, though, never has there been a question about the name. There will be moving forward. A brand name, done well, will say volumes about the product. But it may also can say a lot about the founders.  A startup founder I worked for picked the product name Zude because “Oh, and it rhymes with dude.”

Brand strategy organizes the all activities associated with building a brand. It is the life blood. But that strategy, has to come from organic material, and understanding a name is rich start.



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I’m not a big fan of changing the name of a brand or company.  That said, there are certainly times when a name-change is in order. Shells Only is a local brand that has been around for a while. (A shell being the bones of a house — the two by for frame onto which and into which homes are constructed.) As you will see by the side panel of this truck, Shells Only now offers “complete home improvements.” It does dormers, bathrooms, kitchens, extensions, new home construction and “so much more.”

As memorable as the Shells Only name is, it doesn’t step up to the Is-Does test. The best names provides a clear picture of what the product or service Is and hopefully a view into what it Does. When you keep a legacy name around that only partly defines the business, especially if the name doesn’t account a large part of total revenue, it’s no longer a good name.

Name specificity is not an under-rated quality in consumer marketing.



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Computer Sciences just announced a merger with the call center and enterprise services businesses of HP Enterprise (recently split off from the HP computer business). I’m not sure what they will call the entity but wouldn’t be surprised if it was named Computer Sciences. The new company will be dedicated to services, a la managing other people’s networks and call centers. I’m thinking there will not be a lot of PhDs at this company or a huge R&D budget. Ergo, “science” may not be the most accurate and descriptive word for the name.

I’d go with something new. It will be interesting to see what they come up with. Computer Sciences was a huge brand in its day. But with tooth brushes having computers in them, they may want to jettison the “C” word and find some new naming territory.



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Mondelez International has a new line of snack foods called “Good Thins.” I suspect the name cost close to a million dollars to develop yet it is quite wan. It feels like it’s been around for years. Mondelez is a smart company with some seriously smart marketers, but this name says bup.  

Snacks are a $6B business. Salty snacks a huge chunk. Everyone is trying to replace bad-for-you with good-for-you snacks but it’s hard to find things to replace chips, pop-corm and chocolate infused goodies. Smart Thins are innovative in that they have offerings contain garlic, sweet potatoes, rice, spinach and other healthier ingredients – and the thin profile keeps calories down and snap/crunch up. Perhaps these goodies can help quench some of America’s need for salty snacks, but the name is going to hinder sales growth.

Abbott Laboratories, is launching a new line of snack products called “Curate.” (Labs guys.)  The NYT says these products will contain “flavor combinations like fig and balsamic vinegar, and apricot and Marcona almond.”   This feels like a better way to go, in that it at least has a specific regional ingredient slant as opposed to a haphazard grocery store shelf profile, but the name is goofy.

The snack business needs a big punch in the gut. It feels like there is movement but as is the case with Just Mayo, it needs a new innovative champion brand in the category.  Who will step up? And let us not forget the all-important name.



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I was driving to Rhode Island last week and happened to notice that a number of really rural road names were quite descriptive. Niatic River Road. Stone Heights Turnpike. Waterford Parkway. Sunset Drive.  It got me thinking about naming. Back in the 1600 and 1700 (and before) when there weren’t a lot of maps and people didn’t travel that far, thoroughfares were named based upon features and geographic realities. Heartbreak hill. Point O’Woods. Tip of the mitt.

Names that were easy to remember and descriptive were the strongest names. They added value. Names with no endemic meaning, less so.

The best brand names today follow this old maxim. They are descriptive. They are descriptive of product, value, and uniqueness. The strongest brands in the world are not silly constructs of Madison Avenue, they are like packaging…part of the selling fabric. Coca-Cola used cola beans to build its brand.

Naming is hard work. Just look at all the silly pharmaceutical brand names on TV today. It’s like we ran out of words to use. So the naming companies put the alphabet in the blender and BAM.     

While director of marketing at a web start-up, I wanted to name the drag and drop web creation tool Mash Pan. The Chief Technology Officer who used to say “dude” a lot, opted for Zude.

Opt for communication value. Consumers don’t need to work so hard.




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I was at a meeting yesterday with someone who used to work in marketing at neurosurgical practice in the NY area. She told how this band of brain surgeons decided they needed a new logo and spent $350,000 for it – using a smart boutique in NYC. For years, I’ve been saying that new logos and names cost about $250,000 from the big guys. The Landors. The Interbrands. The Brand Unions. I guess I’ll have to revise my data upward. The storyteller was flabbergasted that a new mark could cost so much.

Naming and design are big business. Especially for companies with deep pockets. A large health system in the midst of a name change recently explained the new name this way “It’s a beacon of our future. It’s unique, simple and approachable and better defines who we are and where we are going.”

New logo design and naming need to have a marketing objective. A measurable objective. If you are going to change your name or your mark, start with a brand brief. Something that gives direction to designers and creative people. Something that gives approvers a reason to approve. Strategy starts with words on paper. I’ll trade you two simples and one approachable for a brand strategy with a measureable objective.



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Chicken of the Sea.

chicken of the sea

Wikipedia explains the brand name Chicken Of The Sea thusly.

In the “old days,” fishermen referred to the white albacore tuna as “chicken of the sea.” It was called this because the white color and very mild flavor reminded them of chicken. The founder of the company thought this would be a unique name for a brand of tuna, and the Chicken of the Sea brand is now widely known in the Americas.

Chicken of the Sea is a venerable brand just about every American knows. There’s that. To jettison a well-known name at this juncture might be considered silly, but not to me. It’s time to find something with a little more positive brand value. Something that isn’t a joke punch line.

Even with Chicken of the Sea being a master brand name for salmon, clam, shrimp and mackerel, I’d lose it. Chicken of the Sea is synonymous with tunafish – which is not tuna anymore, it’s tunafish – a canned variation packed in water or oil.  The brand name has gotten old, silly and can be so much better.

It’s time for a change Thai Union Group (owner). I’m betting with a little smart brand planning, brand design and naming, you will be able to steal some share from Bumble Bee before next summer. Peace.


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The Big Rebrand.

One of the cool things about my work is the propensity for decision-makers to want to rebrand. Unlike with personal names (Cecil, Muriel or Wallace) which can’t be changed — company names are easily altered or sculpted. Someone is always trying to distance the company from something.

That observation aside, there is going to be an even greater demand for new company names. All those companies or brands with words “Net” or “Web” or “Digital” in them are wasting space. To that you may even add the word “Technologies.” These words were descriptive back in the day (10 years ago); today, not so much. Apple dropped the word “Computer” from its name in 2007. An elegant move, no?

I often talk about naming and the importance of a brand’s “Is-Does.” What a brand is and what a brand does. The inflection point we’re at today is such that names no longer need to convey the obvious.  In this agile, competitive world, there is much more information and value to convey.

Let the renaming onslaught begin. Peace.

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Born Again.

T-Mobile and Sprint are in talks to merge. The two mobile carriers, each with 50 million U.S. subscribers, have well-established brands. What should the resulting brand be? Some might say T-Mobile has a little more cache, mostly due to smart, flashy CEO John Legere. Yet Sprint has been around for decades; America’s first all fiber optic network. Some brand and naming experts will suggest combining the two names into some clunky hybrid and go all “one plus one equals 3” on us. I say it time for a new name. A new mark. And a fresh start.

AT&T and Verizon are really strong brands. Each is spending hundreds of millions in advertising. The work is likeable, but shallow and noisy. It’s either campaign-for-campaign-sake or product showcase. People don’t love selling or advertising, they love brands. And AT&T and Verizon are missing this point.

The combined Sprint/T-Mobile brand has a chance to start from the ground up. Break the mold. Find the sweet spot customers care about and move the product and experience in that direction. Mr. Legere gets this with his moves to offer no contract mobile service. Sprint/T-Mobile should do a little brand spanking research – spank the AT&T and Verizon brands around and find some product and emotional weaknesses. Then write a killer brief and start with a new name.

Rebirth opportunities don’t come along that often. Peace.

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