What’s in a name? (Memorability? And a scarf?)

Logo for Super Evil Megacorp

Admit it, you want to answer their phones…

The first thing every naming company has to fight is “but that doesn’t sound professional” or “we can’t do that.”

So, when someone was coming up with the name for a gaming company- and landed on “Super Evil Megacorp” it was pure brilliance, but I’m sure their mothers all scowled.

What better way to talk to gamers, who think they are out there battling evil at every turn (Grand Theft Auto excluded).

So when Tim Cook announced the next guest to the stage at the 2014 Apple Keynote and said “And we had to pick a developer with the coolest name you’ve ever seen: Super Evil Megacorp. That alone is the reason to bring them on to stage.” how much more free advertising can you ask for?

Super Evil Mega Scarf

Who wears a scarf in CA in Sept?

Apparently that wasn’t enough for the public relations brain trust at Super Evil- they went one more step and sent out their developer with a scarf hanging around his neck (remember, this is California in September where the temperature never goes under 60). Do a search- and “Scarf steals show” is an actual buzz topic on the intertubes.

Sometimes, taking your company name so seriously ends up making you just another commodity out there. How many “A1, Prime, Best, Quality, AAA, Expert” whatever’s are out there? Looking to the master of language mangling, Yoda- “there is no say, only do.” Don’t say your company is “Numbah 1” just work hard to be number 1.

While the ad agency world used to be dominated by the names of the founders- or their initials as they either died off- or took on too many partners - how we ended up with TBWA/Chiat Day among others, agencies now pride themselves on being cute, funny, odd. This list of 40 top strange agency names goes from some really neat names like “Captains of Industry” and “For Office Use Only” to the really odd “Wexley School for Girls” and “High Heels and Bananas” to “G and M Plumbing” which isn’t a plumber.

Of course, sometimes being cute doesn’t help with a search engine- how many times will “For Office Use Only” show up on a search? (We run into that problem too- people are always talking about “The Next Wave” of… but, when we named ourselves there was no Internet).

Effective brand names work well when people want to say your name- what fun would it be to say “Super Nice Megacorp” when answering the phone?

They also work when they are good conversations starters. “Hi, I’m David calling from Super Evil Megacorp”- how can you not take that call?


The importance of a name and search

iChat and Messages, same program, but one is unsearchable

iChat and Apple Messages are the same program, but the new name is unsearchable.

My last name is Esrati. For all the years of having it misspelled, mispronounced and having to answer questions about it’s origin, it became an amazing asset with the advent of the search engine. If you search for me, you’ll get one of three people, me, or my parents.

Apple had an application called “iChat” for years. With the advent of System 10.8 it went from being iChat to becoming the innocuous sounding “Messages” and that’s when Google suddenly became useless. iChat was a very specific program that ran on the mac, while “Messages” are what every email program sends- as well as every other chat program- and, how many times have you searched for  “Error message….XYZ” All of a sudden, access to useful, pertinent information about a very specific program became impossible to find via search.

The branding geniuses at Apple apparently don’t use Google.

This isn’t the first time that Apple has made things difficult by not thinking about naming conventions. The Apple Macintosh has had an issue since the 2nd version came out. The original mac only had 128mb of RAM, version 2 has 512mb of RAM, but there wasn’t any indication that this Mac was different unless you got into the tiny print on a label on the back of the machine- and knew Apples product code or some such. The market had to distinguish between these two products- and version 2 became known as The Apple Fat Mac 512″ Hardly the marketers dream name.

Version three got the name MacPlus with a whopping 1 mb of RAM - and was “expandable to up to 4mb of RAM” if you were willing to risk electrocution and had a very long torx screwdriver.  Then came a whole long line of confusing names like the SE30, the FX, the 2CX, the Quadra which had numbers.  There are entire websites devoted to sorting out the differences of the different models and configurations.

Car makers generally try to avoid this problem by identifying products by model year and trim levels. Computer makers seem to be horrified by attaching a date to a computer, and at some point, Apple started naming models with nomenclature like “mid-2010” as if that’s more helpful than simply calling it by a model number- version 2.1 which Apple finally began doing, but only if you could boot the mac and check in “About this Mac.”

Branding and choice of names, be it in the company name (Apple had a long running lawsuit with Apple Corps, the Beatles label, over the name costing Apple hundreds of millions of dollars.).

When looking for a name of a product or your company, there is a lot more to it than making it easy to remember or spell or search. Make sure you think before you name, since it can become a very expensive and difficult proposition to fix later, or as in the iChat/Messages example- make your valued product worth considerably less to it’s users as frustration trumps productivity.


Model names do make a difference

No, I’m not talking Naomi Cambell or Heidi Klum. We’re talking about the nomenclature of your products.

When Acura first came out they had two models- the Legend and the Integra. People started talking about their car model name instead of the brand name and Acura soon switched to numbers and letters ala Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguar et al.

Giving your brand top billing is great, but- make sure customers can actually identify your product clearly. With cars- it’s pretty simple because they have brand name, model number and model year. When it comes to computers and peripherals, cameras, hi-fi equipment and other stuff- most companies fail.

Computers should be easy- because you can turn them on and there should be a screen that has all the info. Apple has it under the “About my Mac” where you can copy the entire spec sheet. But- what if you CAN’T TURN IT ON- and are trying to identify it? Frustration sets in. This is critical for customer support- this is critical for the resale market (and never ignore the resale marker- because the value of your used goods is the best indicator of the value of your new products). Serial number look ups are great- if they are readily available online- but, then again- please don’t make it microscopic (Apple- are you listening?).

Recently trying to sell some old Pantone swatch books on Ebay I was having a hard time identifying what year each book was printed. For a company that likes to claim that you should buy new swatch books or chip fans- annually- shouldn’t the product date be on EVERY page you print?

When you look at the myriad of offerings from companies like Dell- compared to the simple product matrix from Apple- how do customers really choose between the 7 different 24″ monitors with different price points- and know what model does what? Did you make your product matrix and nomenclature too complex?

Customer frustration isn’t a good branding strategy. Think back to the early days of Sears & Roebuck: Good, Better, Best- and make sure the numbers and letters work in some kind of logical order (Hello Canon- 1D, 5D, 7D which is best? Most expensive? ARGH!).

Hyper local marketing- advertising for a small business.

There aren’t ad agencies bending over backwards to solve the problems of the micro-enterprise unless they want to win awards, because the value equation just isn’t there. Big clients equal big media budgets, small clients equal no media budget, and even though the media budget shouldn’t have any connection to the compensation of an agency, every one would rather have Burger King instead of Benjamins Burger Meister on their account list.

So, if you own a small business, and may want to be big one day- this post is for you. But, right now, you just want customers and have a small marketing budget and need real answers so here we go.

Branding is the most critical decision you can make. They say “what’s in a name” and the simple answer is everything. Yet, I don’t know how often little thought is given to the corporate moniker and the associated mark. This will be what you have to live with for the life of your business. The name needs to be unique, catchy, have meaning, be memorable- and preferablly spellable with out having to go to phonetics.

Here’s the short don’t list:

  • Don’t name it after yourself, in case you ever want to sell the business. Yes- I know it worked for Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler and Toyota, but, there was no Mr. Scion, Mr. Lexus or Mr. Infiniti.
  • Don’t name it after the location- in case you ever have to move the business ie. Dorothy Lane market has three locations- none on Dorothy Lane.
  • Don’t make it cute using numbers for words or abbreviations- ie. Marketing4Performance or Gold4yaMouth.
  • Don’t limit your business by a technology or what you do- ie. “Muffler Brothers” does complete car care and “Dayton Electrolysis Center” now uses lasers to remove hair.

After naming comes the brand mark. Nike originally paid $35 for the “Swoosh” and thought it would never be as good as the Adidas 3 stripes which actually helped reinforce the shoe. Next Computer paid Paul Rand $100,000 for their logo- only to have the company last a few years.

Rule of thumb- it’s not a good logo if only you would ever want to wear it. Invest in a good design.

15 years ago, the URL wouldn’t make a difference- now it does. It’s preferable to get a dot com address- even though search engines have made this really irrelevant (a good site will be found no matter what). Find something people can spell- like www.smileodontics.com as opposed to www.phonyx.com

The importance of a website that can be searched and indexed is absolutely critical- and it’s why we teach our Websitetology seminar at least once a month in our market. Small business can’t afford to either have a static website that isn’t updated frequently, or an over the top Flash site that looks uber cool but can’t be updated or found. If nothing else, make sure your business is listed in Google local.

While we could spend quite a bit of time on building a better site your website must have the following:

  • a search tool
  • a way for customers to comment
  • an RSS feet
  • a unique URL for each key concept or product
  • webstats
  • content should be separate from presentation.
  • Blind friendly W3C section 508 compliant

All of these can be accomplished with an Open Source Content Management System. If you don’t know what some of the above mean- spend some time on our websitetology site.

While having a great brand and site are a good start- the real problem is how to tell people where you are and what you do- FOR THEM. It’s not about you- it’s about how you solve your customers problems.

If you are a restaurant- what will be different, what is your value proposition, what kind of experience you will provide. This was dubbed “The Unique Selling Proposition” or USP- and today it is even more relevant. In a web 2.0 world where ideally, the consumer is all knowing of all options available, how will you convince them to buy from you? While paid media was the method of choice for the last century, recent studies are suggesting that 57%+ of internet shoppers are more likely to trust “someone like them” than a professional reviewer. Remember where we said customers need to be able to comment on your site- well, either they’ll comment on yours- or someone elses (this restaraunt lasted a little over a year).

Building links to the community isn’t any faster than building an ad campaign. No one shot silver bullet solutions- it’s a long term commitment to forging ties that connect you to your marketplace. Sure, sponsoring t-ball leagues doesn’t seem like a sophisticated marketing strategy, but for an orthodontist, it’s one way to reach kids that will probably need braces.

Mass media is failing small business miserably. While local broadcast TV used to be a viable solution- with the addition of first cable, then sattelite, then competing IPTV over phone lines- it’s becoming less of a BROADcast and more of a hit-or-miss cast. Local radio is now splintered by multiple formats, owned by a very few companies, providing very little localization. People are tuning into internet radio, podcasts and their own personal music servers (iPods). Newspapers are losing readers in droves in print- and picking up readers online- yet, the ads they serve are just as untargeted as before. Until these media build a marketing profile of their customers to gain permission to provide focused marketing in exchange for their content it’s still a hit-or-miss marketing strategy.

This one-to-one marketing relationship is the holy grail of our current media landscape. The best example of providing meaningful targeted advertising is now coming from “sponsored search” where marketing messages are keyed to the topic you are searching. Google has become a mega brand and a powerful force in media by only showing text ads that relate to the searches you are making. No pretty pictures- just words based on your words. Even though 70% of searchers ignore the sponsored ads, these may actually be the best option for small business available. Even with the spectre of click-fraud, and high cost per click, at least the ad is being served to someone looking for your specific product or service.

Ideally, you are on the first page in organic search. It can be done for any business, if you make the effort. Instead of spending time cold calling or shotgun marketing- work hard at building your site to be the “expert’s answers” to your customers problems. We provide the most complete listing of our competition for ad agencies in Dayton on our site as one way to make sure we are considered in a customers search for an ad agency. You can do the same for your local business, or join in a trade association that keeps a list.

While we’ve spent quite a bit of this post on internet strategy, old fashioned Public Relations (PR) and event marketing should also be part of your plan. Even though readership is decreasing in newspapers- there is nothing like an article on your business to build awareness. Look to become friends with local business writers and bloggers- and be available as a source. Any time there is a new development in your field, make sure to write about it on your site- to share your expertise on the subject.

Knowing your customer: We can’t stress enough the importance of getting at least a name and e-mail address from every single customer. Comment cards in restaurants can be a great tool- but only if you reward your servers for getting completed cards from every table. A simple bowl to enter to win a meal, or movie tickets can be your best source of leads for your next promotion.

If you are still reading at this point- you must really care about marketing your business and want to differentiate your business from the competition. Here is the magic that makes small business work- you have passion for what you do, and love being the best at what you do.

Often times this means not taking yourself so seriously. Seriously. Have fun, make your business the place that people like to talk about, make your ads that you do run- fun, friendly and funky. We once names an electrician “Singing Joes Electric”- only to have it nixed by Singing Joes Wife. After years of struggling as the boring “Electrical Quality Services” he bought an established brand “Jahn Electric” and took over their brand. We’ve run into too many people who want to stand out- yet say they want an ad just like the competitions- don’t make that mistake.

When we do posters for the Second Street Public Market events- people steal them, frame them, decorate their room in the same color palette. When was the last time you wanted to take one of your ads home with you? What happens when customers want to wear your shirt, hang your poster up, or stick a bumper sticker on their car? Business.

We have no problem laughing at beer ads during the Super Bowl- but, when it comes to wiring a kids mouth with braces- why not make fun of it? Marketing is about building relationships- and there is nothing better than humor and fun to break the ice.

So when looking for an agency to work with your small business, look for the one that has ads that you would want to take home with you, the ads that speak on multiple levels, that interest, intrigue, inform or just instigate some sort of emotional connection between you and the brand.

You aren’t hiring an agency to spend your money on media- but to give you a message that people would want to make a part of their life. And remember, the agency can only make an introduction- it’s the execution and delivery of your product or service that will cement the relationship and be the platform for your business to grow.