Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Brand Names – Defense

Yesterday, I wrote about playing offense by making brand names memorable, meaningful, and likable. That’s all well and good but how do you defend a good brand name once you’ve created it? As with offense, Kevin Lane Keller and others advise you to consider three variables:

  • Transferability — can you use the name for brand or line extensions? Can you transfer it to new categories, including more luxe category or more economical categories? JuicyJuice is a good name for a line of juice drinks but probably doesn’t extend to colas or beers. Some names don’t have much meaning in and of themselves but become so closely associated with specific categories that they can’t be extended. Starbucks, for instance, originally could apply to almost anything but now has become closely associated with coffee. Would you buy wine from Starbucks? Similarly,we perceive Volkswagen to be a reliable, economical car. When VW introduced a luxury car, they called it the Volkswagen Phaeton. By all accounts it rivaled cars that cost twice as much. But it didn’t sell well. Great car; wrong brand. By contrast, when Toyota wanted to move up market, they didn’t transfer their own name. Rather they created a new name: Lexus. Similarly, when they moved to the youth market, they created another new name: Scion.
  • Adaptability — can you update or freshen the name? Will it grow stale? In the early days of the office automation industry, I remember a company named Cassette Powered Typewriters. They literally added memory cassettes to typewriters to make crude word processors. As their technology improved and as typewriters fell out of fashion, the company had to change its name to CPT. Naming after a time period can also create problems. What do we do with Twentieth Century Fox?
  • Protectability — can you legally protect the name? Can anyone else copy the name? Perhaps in a different category? Perhaps in a  different country?

Here’s where we start to see conflict between offense and defense. An entirely original, invented name is easier to protect. But an invented name usually has no inherent meaning, no emotional associations, and low likability. You have to teach the market what the name means, always an expensive proposition. It may score high on protectability but it’s probably low on memorability, meaningfulness, and likability.

It’s virtually impossible to create a name that scores well on all six criteria. So don’t feel badly if you don’t create a “killer” name after a few brainstorming sessions. If you need to build brand equity, you should probably focus on offense. If you need to maintain brand equity, you should probably focus on defense. Figure out your brand positions and then figure out which variables to focus on. Above all, help your customers imbue the name with emotion. It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what they think.

(This article is based largely on Kevin Lane Keller’s book, Strategic Brand Management).

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