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January 12, 2016

The ‘Name Game’ Challenge: Creating That Ideal Brand Name and Archetype

Branding is more than finding a new name or image. It is about developing a compelling promise and making the right impression, one that will resonate and stand out. It is strategic, with the long-term goal of cultivating a relationship of trust and loyalty. But a clever, meaningful brand name will indeed generate that positive first impression which is so essential for attracting your target customers.

Our fascination with fashionable, sometimes outrageous brand names extends from companies to products to even novel names for types of consumers: Baby Boomers, and then Generation X, Y and now Z. Millennials (i.e. Generation Y, born 1980-1995) are the rage now, as they represent the largest purchasing power generation, spending $200 billion per year. They also tend to be social activists and very entrepreneurial. The 2014 Deloitte survey found six out of 10 Millennials citing their company’s sense of purpose as part of the reason they chose their job, while only 12 percent identified “own personal gain” as a priority. Also, a 2014 Bentley University study revealed that 66 percent of Millennials want to start their own business.

This market segment is very diverse and dynamic, however. Among Millennials, there are some interesting sub-groups, each with catchy brand archetype names, defined primarily by their values and purchasing behavior. For example:

• Yuppies — Young urban professionals, with a high-paying job and affluent lifestyle, a predecessor of true Millennials. Not a new archetype (Newsweek’s cover story in 1986, the ‘Year of the Yuppie’), but still used to describe the more successful types, those with piles of new money acquired before the 2008 recession.

• Muppies — Today’s version of the yuppie (i.e. the Millennial-Yuppie Hybrid), the post-financial crisis Millennial, they are also driven by ideals for success, status and their search to be important — actually ‘cool.’ But the path to that ‘desirable life’ is not the same. The Lehman collapse made it clear that Muppies would not reap the same monetary and societal rewards of earlier yuppies. She may be working at a prestigious law firm or bank, but she will leave shortly for a start-up or a company run by someone under 40. While yuppies found ways to manipulate markets for a healthy payout, Muppies are finding ways to get their business to change the world.

• Hipsters — They probably live in hot neighborhoods in Brooklyn (e.g. Williamsburg) or San Francisco, are counter-culture, value independent thinking, appreciate art and indie-rock, and are associated with edgy vintage fashions and more progressive preferences compared to culturally-sheltered mainstream consumers. They may even be trust fund graphic designers who enjoy warehouse parties.

• Yuccies — The newest archetype, a cultural offspring of yuppies and hipsters — the ‘young urban creatives.’ Yuccies believe hipsters are now mainstream, a generic. They describe themselves as being more creative, having more valuable ideas, and believe they deserve to pursue their dreams, and even profit from them.
Yuccies define themselves by their purchases, driven by both price and taste, as long as the material bought validates their intellect. Warby Parker glasses, which are named after writers, appeal to them more because these cheap frames make the feel literary.

The challenge to create catchy names extends to companies and products. A recent article in the Economist on “Nine billion company names — businesses are coming up with ever-sillier ways to identify themselves,” revealed just how difficult it is today to find that ideal name, one that will convey the essence of the brand persona.

The name development business has never been more hectic due to the unprecedented rate of new start-ups today and the ease and desire to go global, hence seeking acceptance across many languages. There are some basic guidelines for creating memorable names – e.g. short and simple (two to three syllables at most), must reflect the brand personality, evoke emotions, sound good, and of course be distinctive and protectable. The tech boom has led to unique names like Google, which was derived from the mathematical term for 10 to the power of 100 (a “googol”), and also has the advantage of being used as a verb. On the other hand, some name experts have described Yahoo as “tediously wacky” and PayPal as overly familiar. Similarly they consider ‘Mondelez,’ the new name for the snack foods division at Kraft/Nabisco, to be bland and “lacking soul,” with no human face on the company brand.

The pharmaceutical industry faces other challenges. It is highly regulated, and most prescription drugs have names that appeal primarily to doctors who are infatuated with names that sound more scientific or medical. For these Rx products, many drug companies are using a new discipline: Phonologics. This involves linking the raw sounds of vowels and consonants to the desired emotional impressions for new brand names.

Research by linguists and neuroscientists has demonstrated how certain speech sounds affect the emotional, subconscious relationship with a brand, even across foreign languages. For example, the use of ‘x,’ ‘z,’ and ‘c’ all imply power and innovation, hence so many pharmaceutical names with these letters — e.g. Nexium, Clarinex, Xanax, Zyban, etc. Similarly the letter ‘x’ is leveraged frequently in the hi-tech world, seeking a connotation of action — e.g. “Matrix”, X-Files”, etc.

While many companies are obsessed with developing names that will stand out, even reaching absurdity in some cases, the brand persona and promise should always be the primary compass for developing that ideal brand name. At the end of the day common sense should prevail.


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Jay Gronlund is an experienced business development professional with a successful track record introducing new products and services, expanding into foreign markets, re-positioning and rejuvenating established brands, and conducting ideation sessions. His first company was Richardson-Vicks (now part of Procter & Gamble), where he held senior management positions in New York and London. He continued his New Product responsibilities for Arm & Hammer products at Church & Dwight , then marketing vice-president of the wine/champagne division of Seagram, and finally vice-president and director of marketing at Newsweek. After this corporate career, Jay started The Pathfinder Group in New York in 1990, an international business development consulting firm.

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