Pattern Energy: The story behind the name

When you're caught in a fast-moving stream of thought, just relax and follow the current. That’s what I was doing one May evening, riding a current of ideas creating names for a renewable energy company. Then I typed a word that suddenly stopped the current.
Pattern

I read it and re-read it. Two thoughts came to me:
I've never seen that name before!
It's perfect.
True, I can't be 100% sure I've never seen the name before. I've worked a thousand assignments, but Pattern was -- miraculously -- new to me.
It's rare that I'll think a name is "perfect". As I wrote in my post about brand name research, names aren't born perfect, but become ever-better as identity, messaging, and the entire brand is positively experienced.
But even as an abstract word on the page, Pattern was perfect for this company.
To understand why, I'll first share some background on my client.
Babcock & Brown, a diversified investment firm, was closing down its business, another casualty of the great recession. But their wind and solar power generation and transmission division was prospering despite the red-ink economy.
Green was good for business.
Babcock & Brown was selling off their renewable energy division and the folks in charge of that division asked me to name it.
Their Creative Director, Erin Fortes, invited me to the "fishbowl", a glass-walled conference room, where she, the CEO and others briefed me about what their business does, how it does it, and what makes it different.
Two oppositional themes emerged as differentiators:

The company has amazingly smart people who analyze financial, meteorological and financial data to figure out where to situate and how to finance an energy project.


They are salt-of-the-earth realists who take a pragmatic and hands-on approach to building and operating energy projects. This grounding in real-world construction makes their projects effective at generating a healthy return, not just clean energy.
Brains and brawn. Interesting.

The contrasting concepts made for a challenging naming exercise. On one hand, I wanted a smart name to support their intelligent, analytic approach. On the other hand, if the name was an unfamiliar or highfalutin word it would conflict with their no-nonsense, roll-up-their-sleeves side.
"We don't want a Greek or a new age name," CEO Mike Garland said
No coined names. Nothing tricky.
“We want a solid name for a solid company that’s going to be around in 20 years.”
After the naming brief was approved, I sunk my teeth into the creative.
Entropy fosters my creativity, so as I named this particular May evening, dozens of windows cluttered my laptop screen. Each open window held the tantalizing promise of revealing THE name.
Better yet, each window might reveal a name truly new, one I’ve never seen even after decades of reviewing literally hundreds of thousands of name candidates.
I started my creative focused on the company’s analytic side; words related to thought, problem solving, logic, math, science.
I bounced between inspirational naming resources: Visuwords, OneLook, MRC Psycholinguistic Database, Wikipedia and Word Menu. On this occasion, it was WordNet, a relational verbal database, that captivated me longest.
WordNet is not exactly a thesaurus; among other things, it lets you explore the hierarchical relationships between ideas and words.
This is useful because good brand naming requires looking at key words from every conceivable direction. For example, if a key word is ‘color’, I want endless examples of colors (like ‘crimson’), qualities of colors (like ‘hue’), things that are colorful (like ‘canary’), and other things related, even remotely, to ‘color’ (like ‘deep’ or ‘shrill’ or 'rainbow wig').
I typed ‘analyze’ -- a key word for my client’s new brand -- into WordNet and it responded with 20 different flavors of analyzing (diagnose, explore, audit, et al.).
I followed that into a geometry, architecture, math vein, typing words furiously. And that’s when I saw the name.
Vector…
Contour…
Array…
Column…
Pattern
A-ha!
My client finds patterns in data; they’re better at it than anyone.
They build patterns on land; pretty white windmills, all in a row.
Repeat business and profits, those are patterns too.
As a company name, Pattern is a springboard that’s grounded in strategy. The name would help their marketing:
It’s distinctive
It’s memorable
Its vivid associations can inspire all of their marketing communications
Pattern sounds solid. It has built-in phonetic bookends, what linguists call ‘stops’. The sounds that begin and end the word -- ‘p’ and ‘n’ -- serve to fortify and delineate it. No wishy-washy fricatives here. The word even looks well-defined: With no descenders to break the baseline, Pattern stands solid and even-keeled, even in ASCII.
All of these qualities, along with the inherent staying power of a real word and its timeless meaning, would contribute to the perception of Pattern as a solid brand that will be around for 20 years.
I didn’t stop naming after coming up with Pattern. In fact, I had just gotten started. To ensure divergent thinking, I hired two reliable freelancers, Alexandra Watkins and Marc Hershon, to contribute names.
From the master list of all names, I selected a subset of 188 for preliminary legal screening. Pattern was among the dozens of names that cleared the first trademark hurdle.
I presented about 20 names and the top six, including Pattern, were selected for full legal clearance. Pattern cleared that hurdle, too.
I was overjoyed when Pattern was ultimately anointed by the client as the final name. Though I pat myself on the back for creating it, the client deserves a lot of credit. Without their direction, courage and vision, this name might have been rejected.
The name chosen, Erin hired two designers for the logo, Graham Atkinson and Rebecca Titcomb. I used to work with them at Landor and was thrilled they’d bring the name to life visually.
Erin and I briefed the designers. I wrote for them this story behind the name:
Pattern is a renewable energy company that finds patterns and creates them.
In the chaos of complex economic, geologic and meteorologic data, this company finds patterns where others only see noise. These hidden patterns reveal to their trained eyes, the optimal places, scope, design and conditions for renewable energy projects.
This ability, coupled with their real-world, on-the-ground experience, makes them more effective than competitors at bringing projects to market and providing a healthy return.
When healthy returns repeat, they create patterns in spreadsheets and line charts, and in wave after wave of returning customers.
Patterns are created by what Pattern builds.
In their wind farms, against a landscape backdrop, columns and rows of lean, white turbines line in parallel on furrowed fields.
Patterns are created in the grooves of the brown soil, the green dots of growing vegetables, the connecting arcs of rolling hills and in gently turning windmills that generate clean energy.
Patterns are created by their transmission lines that carry electricity on long, thin strings under a big, blue sky.
Everything worth doing is worth repeating.
Everything that repeats creates a pattern.
Like the circle of life.
Plans well-executed.
Healthy returns.
And renewable energy.
Pattern is a renewable energy company that finds patterns and creates them.
Here’s the logo that the design team created under Erin Fortes’ direction:

That is the story behind the name Pattern. I thought it worth repeating.

Addendum

Following the adoption of the Pattern name, I was invited to create a tagline for the company. The result?
Energy For Generations
I'll point out the two distinct interpretations of the tagline. First: Pattern generates energy. Second: Pattern is here to stay for the long run. They are both messages that resonate with the landowners, financial investors and communities that Pattern serves.

Long may they run. 

10 comments:

  1. Anth - nice case study!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your secrets, Anthony! Nice to have some new places to look online for ideas.

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  3. Very good name, very good logo. Who want`s more?
    Best greetings from Germany.

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  4. Thank you, Wordacious, for posting this quote at walkinthewords.blogspot.com:

    "The marvelous thing is that even in studying linguistics, we find that the universe as a whole is patterned, ordered and, to some degree intelligible to us"

    - Kenneth L. Pike

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  5. I'm surprised the science brains went for a slightly abstract name. I love it. I am going through that now with engineers. They don't like anything that is not linear in their heads. Luckily, I am working with a fantastic CEO that gets it. Your tips are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    Karen Barranco
    specialmoderndesign.com

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  6. Thanks, KK.

    I'll give you another tip: analogies.

    Show your client a simple list of successful brands that are abstract names. Mix your top names in there and they'll blend right in. Demonstrate how other companies have also used arbitrary names just like yours and your client will warm right up.

    Names like Shell and Blackberry are taken seriously, just not when they are name candidates.

    Make the connection between your names and existing brands to build client confidence and work past their discomfort.

    Good luck!

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  7. Good work on the naming, Anthony. I always have a keen interest in good solid names, and "Pattern Energy" is a very very good one.

    Not so sure about the logo, but it'll do....

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  8. Sounds good! God willing, they will make
    our wind mill a reality.
    From Ripley,NY

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  9. well worked out, anth. good name.

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  10. Too bad their wind farms are going to further push sage grouse and pygmy rabbits towards extinction. Why can't these big companies use their own land for raping and pillaging instead of our public lands?

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