Sep 26 2017
You may remember in May and June we wrote about the 6 Steps To An Effective Brand and Simple Tips For Brand Messaging. In those posts we covered the topics that most people identify as “branding” or brand identity and messaging. That leaves us with one more topic: brand name.
A couple of common questions arise when naming a brand:
How does a new company choose a name that will resonate with buyers and give them a leg up over their competition?
How does a company solve the problem of a company name that hinders their success?
Let’s start with the obvious: Naming isn’t easy, nor should it be taken lightly.
Your company’s name is the first impression your brand makes on a buyer. Failure to select the right name can alienate your clients and limit your company’s opportunities. Even worse, the wrong name could result in legal headaches. As such, the naming process should be a serious endeavor that involves discovery and a significant amount of research.
Here are some critical things to consider when naming (or renaming) your company or product.
The Why, What, How, Who and When?
As with everything in the branding of your company, start with the 5 most important questions:
Why do you do what you do?
How do you do it?
What do you do?
For Whom do you do it?
When do you do it?
The purpose of this questioning is to identify keywords or phrases that define the values and unique benefits your company or product offers to the client. Think of the obvious and less obvious words that characterize your company. We recommend using a Thesaurus for this exercise.
Make a list of all the keywords that are associated with your business and select those that appeal to you most. These keywords are the initial “seeds” to begin the naming process.
Know Your Audience
In the above line of questioning, the “who” is incredibly important.
Your company must speak the buyer’s language. Similarly, your company’s name should immediately resonate with potential clients and begin the process of differentiation even before you’ve made the first sales pitch.
Filter your list of names by determining what works and won’t work in the industry or market your company exists. Afterwards, look at the competitive landscape and continue to narrow your list of choices.
For B2B companies, names seem to mean less on the surface. Ordinarily, the values of price, service, and past performance help to establish a company within any industry. However, in an “apples to apples” comparison between two companies with the same strengths, the one with the stronger name and fully developed brand is in a better position to win. [nbsp_tc]Likewise, the company with the weaker brand is destined to fail. Psychologically, the brand makes a meaningful impact on the buyer. It further legitimizes your company and supports your value proposition.
For B2C companies, naming is a critical part of the marketing process that allows a product or service to distinguish itself. An obvious example is Coke versus a generic cola. In some parts of the U.S., the word “coke” is so familiar it has replaced the words “soda” or “pop” as an all-encompassing term for any kind of carbonated soft drink. Clearly, the name matters.
Trademarking Your Name
A trademark is a unique word, symbol, name, or logo used to differentiate a seller or business from another. You can conduct a search on the US Patent And Trademark Office database to determine if the names you’re considering will infringe on the rights of another company. Finding a name that can be trademarked is an essential component to creating a business that is truly unique.
This can be a fairly difficult part of the process, especially if your new name appears to be trademarked by other companies who are in the same business as you. If your name is too similar to a competitor’s and could cause confusion in the minds of a consumer, choose another name. There’s no point is using a name that cannot be trademarked or potentially infringes on the rights of another company.
Once you’ve made a final selection for your name, you should return to this part of the process and follow through with registering your company name.
Is A .Com Really Necessary?
Perhaps one of the more contentious parts of the naming process is determining which website extension to secure. There are a couple schools of thought on this matter. In full transparency, we even debate the issue ourselves here at Divining Point.
One argument suggests that a “.com” URL extension is absolutely critical. It is the most familiar website extension that the vast majority of people naturally enter into their browser. .com is the obvious choice for most people when they attempt to directly visit your site. In this line of thinking, using anything other than “.com” will be confusing to the public and could result in lost opportunities. Even though “squatters” have taken most of the good URLs, it’s a small price to pay a couple thousand dollars in order to get these people to release the “.com”.
On the other side of this argument is the belief that your brand name is far more important than the URL extension you use. Your brand also lives in the “real world” offline, therefore, the brand has to exist independent of what happens with your website. Additionally, more people are familiar with the other available URL extensions. Sites with “.net”, “.us”, “.org”, etc, are far more prevalent today. Since most traffic occurs either through an organic search of your company or via a direct or referral method, you can develop a strategy to bypass the “.com”.
Google rewards companies that build strong authoritative brands. Typically, this involves a site with a .com extension. However, the Google algorithm is constantly changing to meet the demands of the fast-paced cyber world. There are startups and brands who’ve experienced great success using different domains like “.io” and “.co”.
Test The Names
Once you’ve narrowed the field of potential names you’ll want to run some simple experiments. Test the name against a handful of other names. Present them to your colleagues. Survey a random group of potential buyers. Show the names to some trusted advisors or family members. Gauge the visceral responses the names generate with people. Narrow the list of names and stick with one that conjures up positive feelings with as many people as possible.
Whether you take a scientific or casual approach to this “focus group” process, testing the names generates valuable feedback by bringing an extra set of eyes (and perspectives) to the process. You may even learn how NOT to name your company based on the feelings and opinions of the people you interview.
Finally, here are some quick and dirty tips to use for naming:
1. Be careful with made up words or unusual spellings. We don’t discourage this practice altogether, but the name must make sense and be easy to pronounce. If there’s any confusion, avoid it.
2. Don’t choose a name that could limit your company’s success. Unless you have a narrow vision for your company, find a name that gives your company the ability to grow. Apple Computer Company became Apple for a reason.
3. Use a name that has meaning. A common way to do that is to select a name that demonstrates the company’s unique value proposition. It’s possible to find synonyms or words from other languages that can be drawn upon to convey the brand’s value.
4. Play with fonts and logos to see how the name looks printed and online. This visual experimentation helps explore how the name works in a design context, and it can conjure up new ways to develop the identity.
5. Work with an expert. Business owners are so close to the company it’s near impossible for them to reflect objectively on their brand. Their bias affects the process with unintended consequences. It’s best to lean on the talents of a team to guide you through the process.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Jun 19 2017
In our last blog we explored the 6 steps to establishing an effective brand. The subject of branding is far too large to capture in one blog, so we reserved our last submission primarily for the process of designing a brand identity and developing a style guide.
This time we dig deeper into the topic of brand development – specifically brand messaging. It’s our goal to further unpack the concept of brand messaging so you can formulate your own positioning statements and tagline.
As stated in our previous blog, brand messaging starts with a deep understanding of your Why, How, What and Who.
Why does your company do what it does?
How does it do it?
What specifically is it you do, and What products or services do you provide?
Who buys your product and services?
If you patiently research the market and objectively analyze your company, your messaging framework should naturally emerge. There are three perspectives to explore as you attempt to answer those questions:
1. The Customer Perspective
2. Your Company’s Perspective
3.The Marketplace Perspective
To understand the Customer Perspective you should spend an extended amount of time getting to know your buyers. Research as much data about your customers as you can find. If data isn’t available, survey them yourself.
Your goal is to learn as much as you can about their pain points, their defining characteristics as a group, and how your product or service solves their problems. Once you have information about your ideal customer, develop persona guides that allow you to quickly make marketing decisions in the future.
The Company’s Perspective is often overlooked. If you’ve started with the Why, How, What, and Who, you’ve already developed the foundation for a Company Perspective. Go even further in this step. Ask your employees, your sales team, and your operations team how they view the company and what resonates with the customers they encounter. This is vital information. Your client-facing employees frequently have the greatest amount of real world intelligence about your company’s place in the market.
Lastly, what does the competitive landscape look like? In our last blog we described the process of surveying the terrain before embarking too far on a branding journey. In this case, what is your company’s unique value proposition compared to the other businesses with whom you will be competing? This Marketplace Perspective gives you the insight to make your company fit in OR stand out in the overall business ecosystem.
Create Your Messaging Building Blocks
By now you should have discovered the important features, benefits, values, and strengths that define your business. These are the foundations of your messaging upon which you build your strategy.
With this foundation in mind, how would you describe your company using 5 or 6 words (or short phrases)? If you are working with a team, everyone should write these key terms onto sticky notes. Compare all the descriptions and see what patterns emerge. Place them into columns or groups and then distill them into focused messages. These are your building blocks.
For example: a company might describe themselves as…
From these specific key terms you could surmise their values. They are reliable, researchers, advisors, and performers. They are problem solvers.
Constructing a Messaging Strategy
In November we wrote about the lessons you could learn from political campaigns. Given that politics is a giant exercise in brand strategy and messaging, campaigns and political parties are the wizards of spin. They know their buyers (voters and contributors), they speak their language, and they touch a small handful of critical pain points for each type of voter.
Campaigns (brands) create messaging statements for advertising, printed collateral, promotional products, and talking points in interviews. Once they’ve discovered a winning formula, they repeat, repeat, and repeat the messaging until it’s time to start over.
Let’s look at this from your perspective and apply it to the messaging you need.
You know your buyers. You’ve explored your competitors. You have a great understanding of your vision, mission, and the company culture you hope to create. You have the building blocks, or key terms, that define your company. From this knowledge you should develop the following:
Tagline – The commitment or challenge you make to your customers, maybe even yourself. It’s an old rule in billboard advertising that your message must be no longer than 10 words or less. The same goes for your tagline.
“Think Different” (Apple)
“Problems Solved” (Divining Point)
Positioning Statement – In a crowded or competitive marketplace, a positioning statement defines how your company is unique compared to other companies. It may look like a tagline, but consider it more of a statement about the niche or space in the market served by your company.
“The Document Company” (Xerox)
“The Uncola” (7-Up)
Tone – Tone is a conscious decision about how your company communicates with the world. If your company had a personality, this would be the biggest way it’s conveyed. Is your company confident, bold, provocative, and innovative? Or is it defined by a humble service, calm, and sincere? Does your company use humor or passion?
“We drink all we can. The rest we sell.” (Utica Club)
“Eat Mor Chikin” (Chick-fil-A)
There are other messaging materials you can create, like an Elevator Pitch, Company Pillars, and the explanation of your company’s values and history – known online as your About page.
Once you’ve undertaken the hard work of messaging, all of your copywriting, ad copy, and written collateral should naturally flow. The tools above will allow you to infuse all written content and messaging with the key words and qualities that properly represent your company and speak to your customers. Given that content is still king in today’s crowded media landscape, you will have a leg up on your competition by having quality content that exudes your core values. Every ad, commercial, social media post, white paper, or blog will continue to positively drive your brand.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
May 24 2017
Think of the most successful brands you know. Coca-Cola. Disney. FedEx. Shell.
They make an impact on you. They survive cultural shifts and changes in the market. They consistently tell a story that resonates with customers. The time and work that went into developing these long-lasting brands cannot be underestimated.
It’s well understood that customers embrace brands that connect with them on a deeper level. They also turn away from brands that appear flat, stagnant, or disorganized. In a competitive market, you can’t risk being overlooked by a customer who chooses your competitor’s brand instead of yours.
Bottom line considerations and quick turnarounds are top of mind concerns for every client. We strongly advise you reconsider the urge to rush the branding process or (even worse) use any service that claims to give you “high quality logos” for a fraction of the cost. Even if your company engages in quick transactions of low price widgets, your company’s brand is not a commodity. So don’t cheapen it. The long-term risk of getting it wrong will always exceed the upfront investment of doing it right.
The best process for branding involves a series of steps that fully defines your company. It is a discovery for a strategy to build brand equity. In subsequent blog posts we’ll dig deeper into the topics of messaging, positioning, and strategy. But with some exception, the process for designing a powerful brand follows these six steps.
1. Why, How, What & Who
In 2009 Simon Sinek challenged the business community to rethink the way they inspire their customers and companies to take action. His book Start With Why flipped the conventional approach to defining a company’s purpose. Instead of leading with the obvious exercise of what a company does, Sinek proposed that it’s more important to tell people why you do what you do.
People don’t buy what you do or even how you do it. In a crowded marketplace where competitors quickly adopt all of your company’s unique features and benefits, your Why inspires greater loyalty from everyone that comes in contact with your brand. The process of building an effective brand begins with a discovery process that starts with Why.
The team you enlist to help define your brand will continue to dig into questions about process (How), products and services (What), and the clients your serve (Who). Research into these critical components will give you a solid foundation to develop your positioning, messaging, brand identity, and business strategies.
To use a straightforward analogy, your company won’t successfully attract others until it has a strong understanding of self.
2. Survey the Terrain
Every client is unique. Every brand is distinct. But the market in which you do business is a cohesive tapestry of competing brands, messages, and standards that cumulatively define your industry. Customers have expectations, and so do your vendors and suppliers. In this case, even your own employees have a voice in what passes as “acceptable”. [nbsp_tc]
Whether or not your brand seeks to stand out as an incomparable innovator, it’s still important to understand the space in which it will perform. Your brand strategy team must get to know your company and how it relates to the rest of the market. They should take time to decipher where your company fits into the overall business ecosystem.
On a more granular level, this part of the process questions the finer details. For example:
How does our color palette and shapes affect our customers?
If everyone is using blue, why are we using red?
How does our mission statement inspire the employees of the company to deliver the service our customers deserve?
If the branding process is analogous to a journey, this step is the Exploration Phase.
3. Where Will The Brand Be On Display?
As we dive further into the process of developing a brand, questions arise about how to consolidate the company vision across the various channels. Specifically, where will consumers witness the brand in action? As a logo on a shoe? On a can? On a piece of heavy machinery? Furthermore, how does it translate to your promotional products? Can it be easily embroidered?
Your advertising and marketing collateral are also important considerations at this juncture. Since each industry – and even each business – operates differently across traditional and digital mediums, it is strategically important to have an understanding of these display opportunities. If your product requires packaging, will the brand perform as well on plastic wrappers as it does in online imagery?
The design team takes into account not only static representation of the brand but also how the brand performs in motion. Whether it’s an animated trade show display or graphics in commercials, the team will consider the strategies for branding the company as they dig into the hard work of imagining your new mark and messaging.
4. Take Time For Concepting
In the show Mad Men the world witnessed a glamorized view of the creative process. We watched the protagonist, Don Draper, seek inspiration in the arms of women and countless bottles of booze while juggling the stresses of a dispiriting suburban existence. Was it an accurate representation of the design process? Not exactly. But it effectively conveyed the truth that “Creativity is an art form, not a science”.
One memorable and heavily discussed quote from Draper states:
“Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.”
Clients have deadlines and demands. Companies are eager to make sales. Even the operations team wants to turn the wheels of production and push forward to meet demand. Everyone is excited to use the new brand to get back to work. Unfortunately, creativity doesn’t work like that. Big ideas are not simply created by mixing together all of the elements of the creative brief.[nbsp_tc] All too often it requires time to explore… and yes, sometimes that exploration doesn’t look like work.
This is the point when everyone involved needs to calibrate their expectations. The time and effort that goes into developing a powerful brand cannot be underestimated.
5. Present & Iterate
Everyone loves it when they hit a homerun on the first bat, but games are won in innings. Your design team may prefer to skip the revision process and give you a final product (what we call “The One”). Other teams are more collaborative and prefer to iterate towards a final conclusion. Whatever the model, the presentation process is a serious affair.
Everyone is busy, and synching up the schedules of multiple decision makers is difficult. However, we urge you to make time to meet (in person or via video) to review each presentation from your branding team. They are the storytellers that narrate the tale of your brand. Without the opportunity to share their perception of your brand, you may come away feeling disconnected and unsatisfied. Additionally, you will lose the opportunity to provide real time feedback.
But wait; shouldn’t the mark be able to stand on its own? Absolutely. And it will. Your customers experience the brand differently than you do. No one is quite as critical and no one will overthink the final product quite like the people that oversee the company on a daily basis. You as the business owner are too close to the brand to witness it objectively. It’s best to work closely with your branding team at every step so that a concordant vision can be achieved.
We’ve added this component purely as a reminder of the things you should expect from this process. If you’ve invested in “just a logo”, then perhaps that’s all you’ll get. Brands are bigger than the icons that represent them. Mission statements, taglines, typeface, and colors are just a few of the other deliverables in which you should invest.
A style guide is a worthwhile endeavor (and precious deliverable) to which you should devote money and time. It is a document that defines all the standards for communicating and displaying your brand. This file is easily transferred to anyone who seeks to use, share, or transmit your brand in any possible way. It also keeps everyone within your company in alignment. Anytime a question arises about how to properly market the brand, the style guide steps in to keep everyone focused.
Shortcuts Are Not Always Easier
The stages described above are only a snapshot of a potentially larger process. Some companies simply need a logo and a tagline. Others require a complete overhaul of their company’s direction, messaging, and identity. The more you define your brand the greater the likelihood it will be welcomed by your customers.
Think big. There are very few rewards for cutting corners and taking shortcuts. To use backpacking parlance, bushwhacking across switchbacks in search of a shortcut is a guaranteed way to get scratched up, step on snakes, and fall backwards into the canyon. Don’t do it.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.