Changing a Brand Name

This bit of prose does not retread the familiar ground in brand naming. A plethora of articles, papers, blogs and books already exist to inform you about the elements of an excellent brand name. A few of them will even share the methodologies that uncover names like Pinterest, iPad, or SoyJoy (too few because most naming consultants consult a thesaurus and then write up an invoice). All of these jottings suggest the name is the linchpin of one’s entire brand strategy.

What is covered here is an aspect of naming not discussed by brand owners and agencies. That is, making the decision to change the name and the emotions and trepidations felt by the decision-makers. When I encountered hesitation or fit-brainstorming-sessionopposition to changing a corporate or product name from clients in my earlier days, I became frustrated. Having witnessed this psychology through the years, I understand the reluctance and now have proper guidance to frame and address these concerns. These I happily share here.

Historically, I have dealt with clients who have made the firm decision to change their brand name. There was no discussion or debate on that accord. Any discussion and debate was held until naming options were presented. Now, clients have recently engaged my services with the intent to rename but with no firm commitment to follow-through. This has been fascinating.

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Logo Contests Disappoint

The latest example in a long line of backlashes against logo contests is making waves, or in this case, shaking leaves. This one comes from the Government of Canada who invited submissions to mark the 150th anniversary celebrations of the country. The winning design is a multi-coloured, pointed maple leaf shape that has produced interesting criticism.

It is not because the leaf is a safe, smart bet given it is an image that Canada “owns” along with Mounties, beavers and canoes rather the disapproval comes from the professional design community. The Graphic Designers of Canada, the national body that certifies graphic and communication designers, released an open letter criticizing the government and specifically Canadian Heritage who championed the contest. Their chief concerns involve exploitation and the government’s inability to recognize the value of good design.

 

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What’s the Story?

Telling Tales: Using Narrative Psychology in Branding

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past. A bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a 140 character tweet, or captured in an oversimplified to-do list. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy. Lastly, it was a dark and stormy night…

With that compelling lead-in, we hope you will read our entire paper on the evolution of storytelling in branding and marketing. Get it here SC_Storytelling.

Story

Ad Agencies Make Their Own Products

I recall the 1999 attention-getting idea by Vancouver agency Rethink. The three leaders of the agency had just left Palmer Jarvis DDB to go out on their own. In order to create buzz for their startup they branded and distributed Rethink Beer. The product helped put Rethink on the map and remained on shelves until 2003.

This is one example in a longstanding series of agency experiments with product development. A new book by Leif Abraham, with an amazingly long title, suggests how Madison Avenue needs to change. His effort is called, Madison Valley: Building Digital Products. Getting the Most out of Talent. And How Madison Avenue Can Be More like Silicon Valley, which is a fine preview of the book’s content. The overriding premise is creative businesses should not restrict themselves to communications but should leverage their talents for real product innovation.

Having worked at, and for, a number of agencies, I know these businesses would love to reap the profits of an iPod or Nike FuelBand as additional revenue or to stave off the long anticipated lower margins resulting from an old business model. Yet, Abraham points out the reality, “Every agency wants to build a lab and make products. Every award show adds product innovation categories. But we haven’t yet seen a successful product coming out of an ad agency. My book gives an analysis on how product innovation is treated in agencies today, what needs to change and why it’s about more than just the product.”

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Marketing’s Golden Rule

There is evidence that people enjoy a series of articles versus an advertisement. In fact, 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, while 60% believe it helps them make better product decisions (Roper Public Affairs). This has given rise to “content marketing”. According to The Content Marketing Institute it is “an approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

What is amazing about content marketing is the impression that it is new. Apparently, content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing their behaviour. That has been the intention of good, old plain marketing since mankind first traded.

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Branding Needs Rebranding

The past fifteen years has been amazing for the practice and profession of branding. Its influence and application is undisputed. Branding is now a primary consideration and investment for any business or organization. It is also part of society’s generally accepted lexicon. For fun, over the next few days I ask you to keep track of how many times you hear the word “brand” in any context and how often you say it. You will be amazed at the number especially given that twenty years ago you would be hard-pressed to hear it at all.

To be fair and accurate, branding did not come out of the blue. Arguably, it has been around in a commercial sense for centuries. In the mid 20th century branding was first documented and formalized through the efforts of Procter & Gamble and other consumer products companies. For theiStock_000016171352XSmall next fifty years that is where branding remained. It was mostly applied to cars, colas and confectionary.

At the turn of this century branding exploded. It was soon employed by every type of business and organization (and in too many contexts and situations). Curiously, there is precious little thinking or writing on why this happened. Let me take a stab at it. Think back to 2000 and 2001 before the Dotcom bust.

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Spam’s Last Marketing Frontier

What do you think of when you hear the word “Spam”? And let me clarify that I am talking about the tinned variety. We will get to intrusive communications in due course. For most of Spam’s 78-year history, the product has been disparaged and dismissed as inedible and “Something Posing As Meat” or “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”. Yet, more than eight billion cans have been sold since Hormel launched the product in 1937.

Americans buy 113 million cans of Spam annually. This means 3.8 cans are consumed every canssecond in the United States. To keep up with demand, the slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota butchers 20,000 pigs a day. So how can we reconcile what is bashed so publicly with what is bought in such mass amounts?

Spam was successful out of the gate having grabbed 18% market share in its first year of sales. By 1940, over 70% of Americans had tried Spam which on any measure is incredible. This was largely attributed to an economy still suffering from the Depression and it began Spam’s longstanding association with low-cost and frugality. Sales still spike when times are tough.

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Top-Drawer Business Books 2014

Welcome to the 7th edition of Top-Drawer Business Books. The listing’s tongue-in-cheek title describes books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. In short, books that are excellent and should be kept within easy reach for repeated reference.

The Top-Drawer list has always been less than traditional (or duplicative). Too many of the other best business book lists are narrow in definition and focus. As Robert Weider said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” That is why this list includes books not categorized as “business”.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading, as John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” This list is built on that premise. We avoid books promising four-hour work weeks because they are fables, how-to books that are vacuous and dangerous, and the content of so-called inspirational works that are trite, ineffectual and soon tossed out when met with the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch and to read books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. This year just 9 made our list appearing in no particular order. Enjoy!

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Building a Sustainable Brand Community

Years ago a study was released proving that children recognized brand logos more so than symbols of century-old religions. The McDonalds’ Golden Arches was called out more readily than the Christian cross. This made for great fodder in the press at the time with many pundits decrying the shameful state of civilization but the dismay was short-lived.

Religion of all stripes and types are horribly outspent from a media perspective by big brands and, in the case of fast food, the fervent will visit a Burger King or KFC much more often than the occasional Sunday service. Churches, 234-ronald-mcdonalds-waisynagogues and mosques have been outnumbered for decades.

Branding has always been about belonging to a club. Brands provide a vessel of perceived shared values and a homogeneity that our tribal natures desire. To put this in context I often joke about the skateboarder and snowboarder tribes asking ‘Why do they all dress the same?’ The sarcastic but accurate answer is, ‘To be different’.

In the past few years I have been exposed to the Ironman phenomena. These grueling contests see participants swim 2.4-miles (3.86 km), bike 112-miles (180.25 km) and run a 26.2-mile marathon (42.2 km). Mont Tremblant, Quebec, where I make my home, has begun hosting Ironman events making a name for itself as a mecca for triathletes (note my deliberate use of “mecca”). The area has now held several Ironmen including the North American Championship in 2014.

My wife and I have volunteered to help out several times serving as security, banquet server, and bike course monitors. We have also been happy to cheer on the sweaty competitors before we retire to our deck for a triathlon of cocktails. In all seriousness, our catbird seat has allowed for some interesting observations about Ironman or what I term an “event and achievement brand”.

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Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

The dependable lemonade stand is not only an enduring summer icon but also a slice piece of trade rich with business lessons. This past summer I made a point of stopping at those I spotted. I learned that the exchange of flavored water for a few coins may appear simple but represents aspects critical to business. If you look closely the humble stand provides a mini-MBA covering funding, strategy, production, marketing, customer service and reinvestment. It all starts with thinking about the lemonade stand “industry” which is:

Fiercely competitive with low barriers to entry

Both seasonal and weather dependent

Reliant on a commodity, easily substituted product

Seemingly undifferentiated overall

Unattractive from a revenue and profit perspective

For each of these conditions, one has to tailor the business to succeed. As daunting an industry as it is this has not stopped thousands of young people from starting them up each and every summer. Here are five lessons for your children and your own enterprises.

Delight with a Superior Product

Of course, we will all part with our loose change to help out a tiny entrepreneur. But if the lemonade is tart, weak, overly sweet or thimble size we will force a smile, wish them luck and complain about the product back in our car or as lemonade-stand_5we cycle away. This reaction is no different from any other disappointing purchase. I have gone back to a stand twice if the lemonade is legitimately pleasing in taste.

A superior product differentiates, communicates care and quality, provides value in the exchange, engenders loyalty and prompts word-of-mouth.

Pick a Smart Spot

Location has always been critical to business. As a child, I ran a stand at my home in Winnipeg, Canada situated on a quiet street and later that day while dumping the warm, unsold liquid treat down the drain vowed to learn from the experience. The next time I loaded up my wagon, trundled half a mile, and set up outside the gates of The Tuxedo Golf Club. With that experience I learned another lesson – have adequate stock. My location was so good that the would-be Tiger Woods cleaned me out fast.

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