Metaphors are powerful.
As James Geary explained in his Ted Talk, “Metaphorically Speaking,” we get a more vivid understanding of something because of all the analogies triggered by its metaphor.
In branding, metaphors create expectations by linking the brand to something we already understand and evoking those qualities.
Apple — Simple. Approachable. A Garden of Eden original.
Irish Spring — Fresh. Clean. Pure.
Amazon — Huge. Abundant. Flowing.
Of course, metaphorical names only work for brands when they evoke the appropriate ideas.
To see how evocative names can go horribly wrong, check out this experiment in artificial intelligence, in which a neural network was programmed to create names for paint colors. Although able to pair adjectives with nouns and connect certain words with specific colors, the AI lacks the human brain’s ability to discern between attractive and repulsive names based on the ideas conjured by metaphors.
And thus the AI suggests names such as Navel Tan, Bank Butt, Stoner Blue and Turdly.
Which just goes to show that even the most sophisticated algorithms can’t compare to the power of human comprehension. But they’re still good for a laugh.
No parent is perfect, but sometimes you can do better. Other times you can’t, and that’s why there’s Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Honesty is powerful.
Instead of delivering yet another tired promise of convenience and time-savings, some brand manager at Kraft allowed this video to tell the truth about their product: It’s not a carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meal—it’s macaroni and cheese out of a box.
Moms know this, and they don’t care. Sometimes the day calls for quick, convenient and edible.
And sometimes, when your food product isn’t exactly gourmet, you don’t spend screen time on closeup beauty shots of steaming cheesy packaged-good pasta pretending to be something it isn’t. You wrap your brand’s arms around Mom’s shoulders and say, “We get it. Being a mom is hard. We make it a little easier.”
Does your brand have shortcomings that could be turned into a fresh, honest and thoroughly human message?
“Orgasm.” “Asphyxia.” “Underage Red.” “Dick Weed.”
Beauty products are experiencing the “Miley Cyrus effect”—the need to get edgier every year in order to be noticed. Some of these names clearly cross the line, earning the ire of bloggers, tweeters and petition-signers. With others, cosmetic makers learned the hard way that racial insults can be found in even seemingly innocuous names. Yikes.
With shrinking opportunities to find names that are both titillating and socially acceptable, the trend pendulum will eventually need to swing back to safer territory. It’ll be interesting to see what areas will be mined for novel names. Humor? Science? History? Is it too soon for a red shade called Guillotine?
See Bravo TV’s coverage on this topic here: A History Of Shocking and Controversial Beauty Product Names
If you’re among the 44% of the American public who get their news from Facebook, you’ve seen fake news. Often hyper-partisan, the headlines are deliberately crafted to enrage:
- “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide”
- “Pope Francis Shocks the World, Endorses Donald Trump for President”
- “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide”
Amplifying the problem are legitimate news sites that are duped into repeating the stories. The Columbia Journalism Review published this cautionary tale:
IT WOULD’VE BEEN one hell of a story. Early this month, “news” surfaced that Michael Jordan–yes, the Michael Jordan–had threatened to move his NBA team, the Charlotte Hornets, from North Carolina unless the state repealed a law barring transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. Air Jordan hadn’t seemed so heroic since he saved Bugs Bunny in the 1996 movie Space Jam.
Except the news was as fictional as the film.
A few sites posing as legitimate news organizations, including one that crudely imitates ABC News’ logo and web address, first published the bunk Jordan story. From there it spread to other media outlets, like Metro US, Elite Daily, and the Dallas Voice. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even weaponized the false claim in an editorial against North Carolina’s law. For what felt like the millionth time, fake news sites–the kind that say they’re satirical but are nothing like The Onion–had duped journalists into buying a bogus story.
Key to these journalists’ confusion was the domain name of the originating site: abcnews.com.co. The site is deliberately formatted to resemble the real ABC News site at abcnews.com.
And there are more: NBC.com.co, ABCNewsGo.co, usatoday.com.co, washingtonpost.com.co, and a host of others. (Although, they could disappear at any time after legitimate trademark holders register their complaints.)
Lifewire provides this advice for its readers:
Sometimes it’s real easy to spot a fake news site just by looking at its domain name, or its URL. For example, ABCNews.com.co is a pretty well-known fake news site that aims to trick readers into thinking it’s the real ABCNews.go.com. The secret lies in looking for extra sketchy looking words that may accompany brand names and whether the site ends in something most reputable sites don’t use. In this example, the .co at the end of the URL. (emphasis added)
In a post about trademark complaints due to doppelganger websites, FindLaw piles on with:
Is It .co for Colombia, or for Con? … Since .co is so easily confused with .com, it’s often the choice of cybersquatters and fraudsters…
And so goes the hapless .co domain extension
Originally created as the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) assigned to Columbia, restrictions were removed in 2010, so anyone could use it in their domain name. It was a short, useful, available and cheap alternative to .com. Because “co” is a common abbreviation for “company,” many entrepreneurs were able to snatch up a domain name that was maybe kinda almost-as-good as a domain name with a .com extension. As of the date of this post, there are 2.2 million domains ending in .co. It’s the 27th most common domain extension—only slightly behind .us but more popular than .biz.
But has fake news now tainted the .co domain extension? Will it be forever associated with “something most reputable sites don’t use” and “the choice of fraudsters?”
The question has certainly given us pause at Pollywog. We believe it’s still preferable to have a .com or .net domain name, even if you can’t secure the pure “brandname.com” version of it. But there have been instances in which a shorter, purer domain name works better for the business, and we didn’t shy away from recommending .co options.
But maybe we should now. It’ll be interesting to see where the fake news phenomenon goes from here. And whether it takes the .co domain extension down into the muck with it.
If you’ve searched for information on how to name a business, you’ve noticed there’s no shortage of advice. Most self-proclaimed naming experts will cover the basics. And they’ll tell you a good business name should be:
- Easy to spell
- Easy to pronounce
- Available to trademark
- Different from your competitors
But a business name can — and should — be much more than this. Not only should it capture the essence of your brand promise or differentiator, it should also make a compelling connection to ideas that are bigger than your actual offering. In other words, the name — which is usually someone’s first impression of a business — should leverage ideas, values and perceptions that people already have. And it should do so in a way that makes people want to learn more.
As you’re considering how to name a business, remember:
Your brand name is the beginning of a story that people want to hear.
Don’t say everything
This may surprise you, but when someone hears the name of your business for the first time, they should not get the feeling that they know enough about it.
So your company’s name shouldn’t say what you do or how you do it. Rather, it should connect to either of these ideas in an intriguing way. It should lead into the story you want to tell — and customers want to hear.
Before I get into how to name a business, let’s look at some examples of how not to. Below is a list of recent startup companies, each with a weak name. From the name alone, you can guess what these companies do. From an outsider’s point of view, there’s little more that needs to be said. The name is the end of the story.
Codementor — Mentorships for people learning to code
WorldRemit — Worldwide money transfers
Dog Parker — A safe place on the sidewalk to leave your dog while you shop
BrainCheck — Brain health tracker.
WhoIsHiring — Job postings
Apartment List — List of apartments for rent
Begin a story
Now take a look at these names:
Each of these names alludes to a promise, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story. It simply begins the story. It creates interest and curiosity.
Most importantly, it opens the door for these companies to tell you the rest when you’re receptive to hearing it. Because the name made you curious, you want to learn more.
From a brief description of these companies’ offerings, here’s how I imagine their stories might go:
Stash — “Our mobile app makes it easy for people to invest money. A little here, a little there. Anyone can put some money away, even if they have no experience with investing.”
Handshake — “We help companies recruit promising candidates while giving students the tools they need to build meaningful careers. It’s a win-win.”
Little Bird — “A ‘little bird’ is a source of information. Our technology helps companies find influencers and experts on any subject on Twitter — anonymously — so they can leverage them to help meet their business goals.”
Spoiler Alert — “Our company helps farms and food manufacturers put excess inventory to good use instead of tossing it out.”
Ritual — “We’re a field hockey company that’s fanatically focused on design.”
Zipline — “We deliver medical supplies by drone to remote locations that aren’t accessible by land. It’s fast, direct, and saves lives.”
Don’t say nothing
The flipside of saying too much in a name is saying nothing by giving your company a meaningless name. Instead of using real words to create interest and intrigue, these startups settled for invented words that have no meaning at all:
Meaningless names fail to start a story because they make few or no connections to ideas already in someone’s mind. As a result, they’re incapable of eliciting emotion, such as the excitement and allusion to speed as in “Zipline.” Or the warm partnership of a “Handshake.” Or the mysterious intensity of a “Ritual.” Instead, they are likely to get no response at all. So when you think about how to name a business, always remember that there’s no significance or story in names that have no meaning.
Why it matters
The human brain is wired to make connections. So when a name has built-in connections to other ideas, it’s easier to store and recall. Not convinced? Look away from this page long enough to write down all the brand names you remember from this blog post. No cheating. Now look at your list. How many names came from the list of flat, descriptive names in the first list? How many were from the story-rich names in the second? Lastly, how many were from the list of meaningless names?
Also, a story-rich name offers creative opportunities in your marketing communications that descriptive or meaningless names don’t. For example, “Ritual” connects not only to the idea of design being this company’s religion, but also to the very human trait in athletes to develop rituals or superstitions to improve their game. The company successfully used this idea to tie in with a campaign of endorsements from professional field hockey players:
(More on Ritual here.)
Give your business more than a name. Give it a story.
To sum up, when you name your new business, look for ideas beyond what you’re offering. Create a name that makes people want to know more. Make sure it connects with compelling ideas that people already understand.
Because that’s the beginning of your story. That’s how to name a business.
How many ads is the average person exposed to every day? Nobody really knows for sure, but estimates range from 3,000 to 20,000. Even at the low end of the estimate, that’s a lot of competition for a customer’s attention.
So when you’re creating a name, it’s essential to remember that the human brain is hardwired to ignore most stimuli. Without the ability to select what we pay attention to, we would be overwhelmed with information. As a defense, our brain dismisses boring things.
Neuropsychologist Joyce Schenkein, PhD, puts it this way,
“We must use our limited resources wisely and to attend to those features which are most important.”
This gives us a crucial clue to what a brand name needs to do in order to be noticed and remembered:
Be important. Be meaningful. And don’t be boring.
More on how to do that in my next post.