He answered, "Cutting all those little holes in the sides."
Naming's like film. The hardest part of making a brand name is the cutting of little holes in the names. In other words, idiosyncratic and subjective reactions -- poking holes -- are what really make the naming process difficult.
Because emotions and subjectivity are an inevitable part of the process, it's helpful to know how to manage them.
In the second half of my interview with Irene Gil of Grasp, I discuss the principles and practices that manage reactive emotions and make the naming process easier. Her verbatim Spanish translation can be found here.
Q: It is incredible the quantity of emotions that are managed during the process and how political the decision can be. How can be anxiety managed? How to avoid that names with a good brand potential are rejected at a first sight?
No matter how hard one tries to make it an objective, strategic exercise, naming is subjective and emotional. Each client in a meeting has their own associations with a word; it is often assumed -- incorrectly -- that others will have the same idiosyncratic associations.
Here's how I manage the emotions and subjectivity that attend brand naming programs:
Each client needs to feel that their opinions and ideas have been heard throughout a naming program. Active listening, that is re-stating what the client said, shows you've listened. So does writing it down. It's vital that your naming creative brief reflects everything important you've heard; a name presentation should repeat the most important points of your creative brief, and name rationale should feature those same points.
If a client asks you to explore a word or an idea or a name style in your creative work, do it, even if you disagree. You are obliged to advise the client of your concerns, but it's really in your best interest to fulfill the client's request. Failure to do so will make the client much less receptive to your names. That same client could "poison the well," and make offhand, pejorative comments that derail other names.
It's often true that good candidate names -- especially differentiated ones -- are rejected by clients. Bruce Tait wrote about this phenomenon that I call the "brander's paradox": Differentiated ideas are essential to effective branding, yet differentiated ideas are initially rejected simply because they are unfamiliar.
I delve into this topic in Instinct as Enemy where I recommend these techniques to sell-in new and unfamiliar names:Q: What do you think should be the role of research in a naming process? Do you recommend the naming test?
Each candidate name should be said several times so it begins to feel familiar.
When a presenting a differentiated name, give your client examples of other successful product or company names that are comparable in style, metaphor or construction. When a client sees that someone else has tried the same naming approach and succeeded, they'll warm up.
Presenting candidate names in a real-world context, like a business card, web page or building sign, helps make the candidate name seem less speculative and more like a real, de facto brand.
Name research must be done mindfully and for the right reasons. In Decisions, Decisions: How to Research Brand Names, I write that research should not be used to "pick a winner." Instead, research should illuminate the names' relative ability to support the brand positioning and attributes. Research can reveal "red-flag" associations and provide creative ideas for messaging and launch of a name. Research can neutralize some of the subjective associations and political dynamics around names.Q: Having conducted the Accenture huge naming process, what do you think of employee's competition?
Name research should not ask customers what names they "like," whether the names "fit with the category" or if they are "memorable". I advise against using focus groups for name evaluation and instead suggest one-on-ones. Focus groups can be useful before naming begins to learn what features or benefits are important to them and what their "pain points" are. This understanding can guide the brand positioning and inform the naming strategy.
As I mentioned, I believe that great names can come from anywhere. Naivete can inspire wonderful names or terrible ones. Accenture notwithstanding, an employee competition will not very likely bring forth a good, trademarkable name. In my experience, employee contests tend to garner names that are descriptive or obvious. An employee contest disrupts day-to-day work and makes the naming process more laborious: The creative brief has to be rewritten without marketing shorthand or jargon; and the employee submissions have to be collected, collated and reviewed.Q: When you work in global names, how do you assure there are no negative connotations in other languages?
Perhaps most problematic, an employee naming contest signals that it's not a difficult, strategic or terribly important matter. Companies do not throw contests asking which competitor should be acquired, whether a line of business should be divested, or how their flagship product should be positioned.
On the plus side, a contest can make front-line employees feel involved and therefore more positive about the final name no matter who created it. In the case of the Accenture, the employee-developed name was a source of great company pride and made a handy talking point at launch. Because it is a consulting company and because their name launch was very high-profile, Accenture benefited with an employee-developed name. Other types of companies or lower-profile ones would not benefit to the same degree.
You need to ask the right people the right questions and evaluate their answers critically. When people are exposed to candidate brand names in a linguistic check, there are personal associations that would not arise after the name is adopted and launched. The challenge is to determine the nature of foreign speakers' associations. You have to make a judgment: Is a negative response to a name just one person's idiosyncratic reaction or will it be widespread? And if a negative reaction is likely to be widespread, does that really matter?
For example, if Nintendo tested the name Wii for negative connotations in the U.S., it would have bombed mightily: It's homonymous with a childish word for penis and peeing. Yet, the name and product have succeeded because (1) the product's appeal eclipsed its giggle-inducing name and (2) the name was brought to life with animation (the two "i"s bow) and nomenclature (Wiimote). Today, you can ask someone to come over and play with your Wii without being slapped.
As the success of names like Wii, Virgin, Motley Fool and Banana Republic demonstrate, negative connotations aren't necessarily bad.
These are some of the questions I ask when conducting native speaker checks:
Q: Do you think brand names have to be liked by the majority of the target audience or is it good to provoke a certain controversy at least in its launching?How will this word be pronounced by a native speaker of your language?Is the word similar in sound or appearance to other words in your language? If so, what are those words, how are they pronounced, and what do they mean?Are there any inappropriate associations that a native speaker of your language might have with this word? If so, what exactly are those associations and why would they be associated?
With time and exposure, people will grow to like a name, no matter how they felt about it at launch. The name Accenture was criticized at launch, but after one year and $150 million in advertising, people stopped noticing that it sounds like "dentures".Q: In my experience, to find a good name is just 50% of the task. The other 50% (or even more) is to convince the company that it is the adequate decision. Do you agree?
A name is liked as much as the product or company it refers to. If the product is great, people will think better of its name than if it's lousy. The name Andersen Consulting was revered when a judge compelled the company to rename. Months later, when Accenture's former parent company, Andersen Worldwide, melted down because of Enron, the Andersen name was rendered toxic. Accenture, even though it was a new name, became even stronger and more favorable in the aftermath.
Controversial names have the benefit of being different and memorable; they trigger strong emotions that forge a bond. These are desirable traits in a name. But a controversial name should be borne from the brand positioning. Irrelevant controversy can undermine or overshadow brand messaging. For example, the name FCUK is controversial but well-suited for rebellious teens. But the recently launched Kraft iSnack 2.0 didn't work, even as a "next generation Vegemite". The name was retired after just a few weeks of public ridicule. A less-controversial name will soon take its place.
For most projects, generating a list of strategic and fresh names is not that hard, especially when you've been doing it for 20 years. Convincing a roomful of clients to adopt the best one is another matter. It's when the rubber hits the road, when clients balk at or mock your names, where experience in naming makes a huge difference. An experienced namer will be able to persuade a client to adopt a powerful, meaning-laden, real-word name or a controversial one. An inexperienced namer might be able to sell-in a name, but it will probably be an "empty vessel" coined name that doesn't arrive with much meaning. Names that don't say anything also don't have much to criticize...or to love.
Thank you, Irene, for translating and sharing my thoughts with your Spanish readers.