Marketing Lessons from a Former Rocker (Part 1)

1.       Branding and Ease of Recognition Will Make or Break You

We made an obvious and fundamental branding error by choosing an obscure, meaningless, difficult-to-pronounce, and difficult-to-spell name. Even after two years of relentless promotion and almost two hundred performances, it was a common occurrence for us to prance onstage as an emcee incorrectly introduced our group. Further compounding the problem, we had no story. We had no creative answer to the question, “What does your name mean?”

Most band names don’t provide an immediate identifying connection to the group’s musical style or lyrical content (examples: The Rolling Stones, U2). But often, names work largely because they elicit a visual image or are associated with common terms or expressions (examples: Skillet, Counting Crows, Eminem, Red Hot Chili Peppers) that aid in both recognition and recollection of the brand, regardless of the genre.

Translated to business, it is much more critical not only to choose an accessible name, but a name that acutely tells the consumer what your product or service does. Strong examples of self-evident names in consumer brands include Craftsman tools, KitchenAid appliances, and Hamburger Helper; the names themselves provide a pretty solid clue as to whom or what the product is designed for.

Another common practice in the musical world is to simply use an individual’s name (examples: The Dave Matthews Band, Elvis Presley, Van Halen, Eric Clapton), which can work well, but unfortunately does not lend itself to lineup/staffing changes or allow for separation of personal and professional identities. I am personally not a proponent of this choice because it tends to be more difficult to differentiate your brand. How many law, CPA, or consulting firms with names like “McClellan, Arthur, and Swaney” have you heard about and immediately forgotten? How many generic country singers with names like “Josh Jones” or “Garrett Gilmore” have come and gone through the years?

An exception to the rule on using the name of a person is the practice of intentionally naming a brand after a fictionalized version of a person. Examples here include Captain Morgan rum and Betty Crocker baking kits, or a caricature/mascot choice such as Red Baron pizza.

Regardless, here are my best-practice recommendations for deciding on a name:

  • Use words that make sense in context and that are easily recognizable
  • Build what you do, make, or who your target customer is into the name
  • Use words that create a visual image or that play on a common phrase or idiom to aid recall
  • Use words so basic that that someone with an elementary command of English will likely spell them correctly in the search bar of a mobile device, at night, while drinking

Don’t over-think it. “Susan’s Sandwiches” may seem pretty vanilla, but it’s a much better choice than “Susan’s Sundry San Jose Snack Shoppe” or whatever clever name your friends claim to like.

Logos get a lot of hype from visual-creative types, and visual imagery is certainly an important aspect of branding; but it takes a solid initial effort and years of exposure before a logo can stand alone as a tangible value-added component of branding. Most logos, pictures, and symbols never achieve that goal. Remember Prince’s disastrous symbol experiment? He probably wishes you didn’t. Unless your imagery is as ubiquitous as McDonalds, Pepsi, or Chevron, it’s probably best to focus more effort on effective words or phrases when choosing a name and message for your product, business, or group.

People enjoy imagery, but they don’t speak in visuals. They speak in words. Choose your words wisely.


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