Sep 202011

cdtvWe talked about naming challenges, how to name, pitfalls to avoid in this online radio interview on, the online broadcasting network providing stock market news, financial, business, nasdaq, nyse, earnings, and daily dividend reports. Merriam’s Guide to Naming is available from most major booksellers, including Amazon.

Aug 152011

Last year when Motorola split into two companies, both called Motorola, they created brand confusion. Now Google is acquiring Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. for its wireless patents. With the demise of the Motorola Mobility brand, what’s left of Motorola can begin to create a stronger, focused brand..but that is a big if.

Motorola Mobility BrandWhat if Google has acquired rights to the Motorola brand? What if they use it? Motorola Solutions, the remaining part of the original Motorola, faces continuing brand chaos if Google uses the Motorola brand, too and if Google takes it in another direction.

Companies can split and its parts can be sold, but the same cannot be said for brands.

UPDATE: Google says it does plan to use the Motorola brand as will the company called Motorola Solutions. The problem remains of the market asking asking “which Motorola?” when talking about the brand. Of greater risk is that both Motorolas will be at the mercy of the other. The actions of one company will impact the actions of the other. If one Motorola stumbles, it brings the other one down. Google would be wise to build its brand equity in a name that totally owns and controls rather than cede so much to Motorola Solutions (and vice versa).

Mar 312011

The Proxios brand promise was tested under fire last week.

At Merriam Associates, we have been honored to work with some truly great companies large and small. Occasionally, we get to work with a company which does something truly heroic.

proxios-brand-promiseWe renamed and repositioned Proxios, which manages companies’ information technology through cloud computing. It is a nifty company with great people and a service that is compelling. Just how nifty and compelling came to light last week when one of Proxios’ customers, The Bookkeeping Department, got the phone call that all business owners dread. Their building was on fire.

For a business that provides financial reporting, accounts receivable/payable, general accounting, and tax services, this type of emergency could cause severe problems for its clients and put them out of business – especially this close to April 15.

The fire destroyed The Bookkeeping Department’s offices so thoroughly they won’t be able to return for at least six months. But, since all of their IT was in “the cloud” with Proxios, clients didn’t even notice the catastrophe. Phones and emails were immediately re-routed. All bookkeeping and tax documents were miles away from the fire in Proxios’ secure offsite facility. The company kept operating without losing touch with customers and without losing a single byte of data–exactly the Proxios brand promise.

“Despite the severity of the fire, I never had a moment’s doubt about being able to access our data,” explained The Bookkeeping Department’s CEO Harry Garmon. “Since we were able to maintain contact with our clients, they couldn’t really perceive any difference in reaching either us or their data.”

Congratulations to Proxios for delivering on its brand promise of providing complete, uninterrupted access to world-class IT and communications services any time, anywhere, even during a catastrophic fire.

Jan 202011

How much of the Apple brand value is Steve Jobs? Is the brand at risk with Jobs’ new medical leave? When a major brand is closely tied to a single person (think of Yves St. Laurent, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump), brand value can rise and fall on the fortunes and failures of that person.

Steve Jobs is an iconic figure in technology and culture. When he holds up a gadget at any event, everyone oohs and aahs. Yes, the Apple brand is about cool design, but it is also about the guy that invented computing as we know it in a garage in Cuppertino. Jobs’ spectacular successes and instructive failures have given him status and credibility that can’t be matched. Apple without Steve Jobs has the potential to remain a cool company, but it could just as easily fall to the low profitability, declining sales and sinking stock price of the John Sculley era.

apple-brand-value-steve-jobMarketWatch talks of the “Jobs Premium” in the share price of Apple stock. Apple shares fell 50% in 2008 when it was rumored Jobs’ pancreatic cancer had returned. They suffered a similar fall in January 2009 when he took a leave of absence for a liver transplant. On the immediate heels of his latest announcement of another medical leave, share value dropped 6.45% and has been shaky since.

What can Apple do? I certainly hope that Steve Jobs comes back from medical leave fit and healthy. Yet Apple, like any valuable brand, must face the fact that we all face the same unavoidable end some time. Here are three options:

  1. Institutionalize the legacy of the person. Coco Chanel has been dead for decades, but her personal brand has become iconic and her spirit still infuses Chanel. Calving Klein is attempting to make the same transformation in his own company, while he is still alive to enjoy it. Orville Redenbacher has become a character, much like Colonel Sanders.
  2. Find a successor. Frank Purdue found another tough man behind a tender chicken, in the person of his equally winsome son. Perry Ellis was succeeded by superstar Marc Jacobs.
  3. Diversify.  Build on a strong personal legacy by adding additional attributes. Martha Stewart is less and less about Martha and more and more about design. She no longer appears on the cover of every issue and additional designers, like Kevin Sharkey, are sharing some of the spotlight. Condé Nast Publications continued and even thrived after the death of founder and driving force Condé Montrose Nast by focusing on high-end, glossy publications that set the standard for their categories.

More on brands tied to people–Celebrity Endorsers

Jan 162011

Corporate restructuring can make perfect financial sense, yet create a perfect mess creating brand confusion in the marketplace.

marathon brand confusionTake Marathon Oil, which just announced it is spinning off its “downstream” refining and retail operations. Those low margin businesses drag down the finances of the whole company, so a spin off is a shrewd move. Still, calling one company Marathon Petroleum Corp. and the other one Marathon Oil Corp. creates endless confusion and genuine brand risk—people will always wonder which Marathon is which. (Motorola has done something similar).

From Brand Confusion to Brand Risk

Should Marathon decide to eventually sell the retail operation, brand confusion becomes a risk. What an acquiring company does under the Marathon retail brand will  impact the parent company brand. The risk also runs the other way. If Marathon has an oil well disaster like BP did in 2010, it impacts the retail brand. Consumers aren’t going to differentiate Marathon Oil and Marathon Petroleum when they boycott. Marathon is one brand, no matter that it is now two companies.

Retail Rebranding is Expensive

Should Marathon eventually sell its spun-off retail operations, the buyer may not want to change the brand name on each of the 6500 individual gas stations. Joe Bona, retail brand expert and president of the retail practice at design and strategic branding company CBX, notes: “The cost of rebranding sites, terminals, transportation vehicles etc. would be quite substantial and the risk of alienating core constituents would also be a concern. Of course then there would be the marketing cost and time to build any new brand. Without having access to research, I would have to believe Marathon has positive equity in the markets they operate, so anyone planning a new brand would have to weigh the risks of any such move.”

A number of years ago, I worked on the rebranding of a major oil company merger involving some eight different retail brands. When deciding which brands to keep and which brands to discontinue, we discovered that distributors liked having a portfolio of brands so that they could own all four corners of an intersection, each with a different brand name. This may be another reason why keeping the Marathon brand could make sense to a future buyer.

Rebrand the Parent Company

A cheaper solution would be for the parent company to rebrand its exploration and production business. While they lose some legacy, they can make up for it with a clear, differentiated brand—and a future with less risk or brand confusion.

Jan 142011

This blog has railed against the dishonesty behind doublespeak and the long-term damage such “cleverness” can do to the integrity of your brand (i.e. Toyota renaming a “recall” as a “special service campaign”). Using gobbledegook in your brand communications is less sinister, but it still inhibits clear, compelling communication and it definitely can bore your customers to death. has a great slide show of annoying corporate jargon. Does anyone think the phrase “out of the box” is the least bit clever? If the word “solution” appears in your communications, or worse, in your name, stamp it out. Don’t use the “utilize” when “use” works just fine. Talk like your customers talk. Don’t say “managed solutions” when your customer is looking for “someone to help me keep my software current.”

Communications that are clear and vivid are the most memorable–and memorability is the key quality of an effective brand.  A great brand always thinks “outside the box.” (sorry!)

Jan 132011

Burson-Marsteller released a study that claims 76% of blogs were off message. The brand message gap was found in more than 150 messages sent out by companies listed  in the Financial Times Global 100 and discovered a large gap between the official brand messages and how they were reflected on blogs, in tweets, and on other social media posts.

The brand message problems stem from a number of deficiencies by corporate marketing operations including:

1) Having no clear plan or objectives for communications on the social Web. An example here: Ziploc: Boring Doesn’t Work as a Social Media Engagement Strategy

2) Failure to understand that how social media is used is as important as what is said. More detail here:  Social Media Brand Engagement Rules:  Toyota vs Chevrolet

3) Failing to have a social media policy. A great library of social media policy examples from companies large and small that you can freely access, download, and adapt can be found here.

4) Not providing communicators outside of the marketing department with writing guidelines to explain how to write freely, but still stay “on brand.” This example from Diebold explains the brand’s voice. DieboldsBrandedVoice. At Merriam Associates, we also include example messages so that people can see guidelines come to life (and re-use pre-written, pre-approved content.)

5) Lack of adequate control–things get “published” without enough oversight or double-checking. Once something is “out” it can’t be pulled back “in”. This article Viral Marketing Making Your Brand Sick is one example as is this mistake from Target from Halloween.

Jan 122011

Today’s Wall Street Journal Law Blog has an interesting article on naming laws and statutes. This is an area I have covered a time or two from a branding perspective. Naming anything is actually an act of persuasion–your name says something about your company, product or idea for a new law or policy. It’s no wonder that politicians and companies pay special attention to naming their pet initiatives and products to make them as palatable as possible to the public.

Naming as a descriptive exercise has fallen away in favor of naming that seeks to persuade. Yet, in choosing persuasive brand names, politicians sacrifice clarity. The WJS blog quotes an expert at legislation naming Brian Christopher Jones as saying, “For a long time, bill titles and the United States Code fended this [affliction] off, and you could have a reasonable short title that could inform a legislator or a member of the public as to what the bill is in reference to. Nowadays, you could read the title and have absolutely no idea what the bill is about.”

Beyond sacrificing clarity, crafty brand names can also sacrifice integrity. I’ve covered doublespeak in previous posts, both as a political tool and a commercial tool.  A few examples:

Toyota spins “recalls: into “special service campaigns”

When “reconciliation” becomes a new way to fight–political doublespeak

In the hands of government regulators “neutrality” is anything but

In an ideal world, language, even marketing language is honest, clear and persuasive. Sadly, the trend is in the other direction. Still, brands and politicians both should think twice before pulling something clever. Trust is hard to earn and easy to destroy.

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio

Jan 122011

“Brands are how we sort out the cesspool.”

This famous quote from Eric Schmidt, President of Google, gives us insight into the importance of brands  and how Google uses brand names when determining what search results to offer in response to customer queries.

How do you know a word is a brand?  Google codes up the clues into mathematical algorithms.

Google’s advanced and interlacing set of logical statements make it possible for a computer to sense what is and isn’t a brand. And, using logic strings, Google computers can gauge what brands matter most. What is most intriguing is that these algorithms are influenced by marketing tactics and results much like human brains.

The blog “Whiteboard Friday” discussed some of Google’s patent applications and their recent acquisition of a company called Metaweb that sniffs out entities based on context, content and word usage. Google algorithms now can possibly:

  • Study the appearance of certain words and repetition of text content
  • Track frequency of use
  • Assessment of context of use and how text is positioned.
  • Follow what kinds of sites these words appear in, including news sites and retailers
  • See if the word gets talked about in links and in social media posts (and even in email as Google owns Gmail)
  • Note that the word appears in advertising (Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick gives it more power in this area)
  • Check if the word appears in patents, licenses catalogs, product reviews
  • Record how the word is used in search and what people click on as a result

If a word is used often, is mentioned on lots of different contexts like news Web sites, product review service, in blogs, in social media in advertising and in stores, it might just be a brand.

Jan 052011

Wikipanic—it’s the new word for the latest marketing threat. What will happen to your brand if Wikileaks attacks it? As Mastercard, Paypal, Visa, and Bank of America are finding out, marketers need to be ready in advance of disaster, whether a plane crash, an oil well explosion or a wikileak/hacktivist attack. Companies can’t risk a wikipanic. They need to be wikiready.

wikileaks wikipanic

The New York Times is reporting that Bank of America was threatened by Julian Assange with a promise to bring them down and expose “the ecosystem of corruption.” The company is trying to get a jump on the crisis by finding out where they are exposed, how they are exposed, and what will be exposed. Their expensive counterespionage team is conducting a massive document review, investigating every lost, stolen, or missing computer, and crafting a security, operational, and brand reputation response. What should you do to be wikiready for a Wikileaks attack?

Don’t Be Evil and You Don’t Have to Wikipanic

Google’s informal corporate motto may be derided, but it is one everyone should adopt. Even before Wikileaks, our “information wants to be free” world had become too transparent for companies, governments, executives and politicians to have a realistic expectation that their actions can stay hidden. The days when a president like FDR could keep his wheelchair secret or a senator like Chris Dodd could conceal his sweetheart Countryside mortgage deal are long gone. Task one for companies seeking protection from a Wikileaks-type assault is to avoid doing anything that would be embarrassing or damaging when made public (not if). Know that someone is always watching.

Fix The Problem First

If Wikileaks is going to reveal something damaging, fix it before you have a wikipanic. Too many marketing and public relations people go into damage control mode, controlling damage to a brand reputation before fixing what is causing the damage. This kind of response is worse than counter-productive. BP doubled-down on the harm to its brand by trying to protect its reputation while the oil spewed. Focus on fixing the problem, not on minimizing the problem or on issuing defensive message. Honesty and transparency can be painful, but brands that respond this way do bounce back. Admit, apologize, atone–and don’t do it again. People won’t forget, but they will forgive.

The Bigger the Brand the Bigger the Target

Last week, I wrote on the expanding role of brands. No longer are they strictly commercial expressions. Brands are increasingly co-opted for larger economic, social and political debates. If you have a powerful brand, be ready for that power to get turned against you. Big brands are highly vulnerable to security breaches from:

  • Lost laptops or laptops left in places where others could quickly download information to a portable hard drive while you are out getting coffee
  • Data sent to outsiders by disgruntled employees—or customers
  • Data in the hands of outsiders who may not protect it adequately (Bank of America’s data may have escaped from the documents given to the Securities and Exchange Commission, congressional investigators and the New York attorney general’s office, though those organizations naturally deny it)
  • Old fashioned hacking–like the coordinated cyber-attack on 2500 companies in 196 countries that began back in 2008 and continued for years (finally revealed publicly in February 2010)
  • DNS attacks that can bring down a Web site like Mastercard’s
  • Co-opting of a brand to make a political statement (think McMansions or Disneyification)

Be Ready

If you have a valuable brand, digital vandalism, a wikileaks assault, or cyber-attack is a matter of when, not if. Have your communications infrastructure in place and operating to avoid a wikipanic. USAir and Continental didn’t seem to know how to use Facebook or Twitter before or immediately after their plane crashes. BP used one-way corporate-speak on Twitter and Facebook and were more than one step behind on YouTube.

© 2014 Lisa Merriam