Want To Create A Powerful Brand Name? Beware The Literalist.

 

 

This is the most overlooked, counterintuitive truth in naming – the difference between the way an internal naming committee will evaluate a potential brand name and the way a target audience will receive it. 

All the best names are provocations: Slack, Virgin, lululemon, Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google,  Oracle. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call “negative messages” for the goods and services the name is to represent.

Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages positively. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth. A viral name must contain negative qualities.

Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one of all.

Potential names must be judged on how well they map to positioning, memorability, stopping power, emotional impact, connections to the collective consciousness, distinction from competitors – the sum of which answers the most important naming question, “Is this name interesting?“.

Instead, on a naming committee, the literalist will negatively critique names based on dictionary definitions or a singular association, reliably in the form of an objection. Their claim will be that a word’s negative meaning or association(correlation) means that the value of the word as a name will also be negative(causation). The evidence they cite in their efforts to kill a name is irrefutable fact, yet irrelevant and counterproductive.  In fact, a powerful, viral name must contain negative qualities.

Here are the types of objections a literalist will use to kill great name, attacking the very essence of what makes these names powerful – the tension created by positive and negative forces

Slack

-In business, Slack means “characterized by a lack of work or activity; quiet.

-A Slacker is someone who works as little as possible. A terrible message for our target audience

– Slack means slow, sluggish, or indolent, not active or busy; dull; not brisk. Moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or water.

 

lululemon

-We are an upscale brand for women, lululemon sounds like a character from a 3-year olds’ picture book: “lululemon and her best friends annabanana and sallystrawberry were climbing Gumdrop Hill, when suddenly from behind a rainbow the queen of the unicorns appeared…”

 

Virgin Air

-Says “we’re new at this!”.

-Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional.

-Investors won’t take us seriously-Religious people will be offended.

 

Hotwire

-It has one meaning, “to steal a car!”

-Crime is the last thing we need to be associated with.

 

Yahoo!

-Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew!

-Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!

-Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a bunch of “Yahoos”.

 

Oracle 

-Unscientific.

-Unreliable.

-Only foretold death and destruction.

-Only fools put their faith in an Oracle.

-Sounds like “orifice” – people will make fun of us.

 

Caterpillar

-Tiny, creepy-crawly bug

-Not macho enough – easy to squash

-Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?

-Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine

 

Banana Republic

-Derogatory cultural slur

-You’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries

 

Target

-Target of an investigation

-To have a Target on your back

-A Target gets shot; killed; slaughtered.

-The Target of a manhunt

This is a family show, so you’ll have to create your own misguided, literalist list of reasons that In-N-Out, Dick’s, BJ’s and LoveSac should fail as brand names.

No sane person cares about any of these literal negatives, because people process these ‘negative’ connotations either positively or not at all. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just make it more memorable and engaging.

These literal, negative objections are not reasons to abandon a name, rather they have demonstrably positive effects on a target audience. They’re what make a name engaging, differentiating & unforgettable.  Consumers don’t process names literally, they process them emotionally. Getting your committee to acknowledge this difference and to interact as the public does with names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential.

If you encounter a literalist, keep your distance, maintain eye contact, and take the threat seriously. Do not run in any direction. Don’t bend over, crouch down or go fetal. Wave your arms in an alpha manner. Throw any toxic item you can find – Keurig pods, inspirational posters, focus group data, etc. If attacked, fight back. If this doesn’t work, your last chance for survival is to enlighten the literalist:

 

Slack

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, naming the problem we solve!

-Qualities:  Interesting! Confident, different, focused on solving the target’s problem.

 

Hotwire

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, a travel hack, exciting, fun.

– Hotwiring a car is a hack, Hotwire.com is a travel hack. That’s why this name works.

-Qualities: Interesting! Exciting, different, memorable, viral.

 

Virgin

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, exciting, alive, human, provocative, fun. The innovative name forces people to create a separate box in their head to put it in.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.

 

Oracle

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, superhuman, evocative, powerful, forward thinking.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.

 

The ‘common wisdom’ that naming in large groups will discourage a literalist attack is nothing more than urban legend. In fact, the larger the committee, the more likely an attack will be.

 

Further reading:

Performing a Competitive Name Analysis is Essential 

The Igor Brand Naming Guide

Outwitting Squirrels

 

 

How To Create Names Like Facebook, Instagram & Snapchat

 

Instagram and Snapchat are identical constructions. Each simply substitutes new words from an accepted utility name: Instant Message. Insta & Snap are synonyms for Instant, and Gram & Chat are substitutes for Message.

Since Instant Message is already a universally adopted name, you know that Instagram and Snapchat will be accepted as well. If what you’re naming doesn’t map to a two-word generic, break it down into one first.

You can do this by re-purposing an unrelated, well-known compound word, as in Apple’s Wi-Fi base station being called “Airport” – a port accessed through the air. It’s easy to remember and readily embraced because everyone knows the word Airport already.

Proposing a name like Airport to a committee will be met with immediate pushback such as, “Everyone hates the experience of an airport” or, “Last time I was there they cancelled my flight, I had to sleep on the floor and I missed my child’s birthday” or “The first thing I think of is stress, long lines and bad service”- as if any of this will make the name less successful, which of course it doesn’t.

As soon as the name Airport is applied to a Wi-Fi device the primary definition disappears, your audience puts the clever double meaning together in their heads in an “aha!” moment, and they smile at the warmth & humanity you’ve brought to the game. Airport contains all of the ingredients of an unforgettable, best of breed name.

Because this simple concept is inherently difficult for bureaucracies, names like Airport are rare indeed – but they do happen.