Jun 272011

Your brand name is a good start in creating the verbal expression of your brand. To convey a richer story, you need more than that. Call it a tagline, strapline, or slogan, a short, catchy phrase may help take many brands to the next level.




I’ve had many clients struggle trying to create the ideal tagline. Some struggle to define products that are hard to describe. Others struggle with an extremely diverse array of products. Still others are saddled with boring and hard to remember slogans.

Here are several approaches that can help you break through the frustration to create a tagline that truly works. Taglines can take a number of forms, depending on your communication goals:

Descriptive: If you have an uncommon or confusing product or if you have chosen an unusual brand name, your tagline can add clarity. A downside of descriptive taglines is that they tend to be boring. Yet a number of companies have managed to avoid that pitfall. BMW wins with “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Rice Krispies goes a step further to describe the experience of the product with “Snap, Krackle, Pop.”

Benefit Based: You can help customers visualize the value of your brand by focusing attention on its key benefit. Disney promised to be “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and FedEx delivers “The World On Time.”

Point of Difference: In a highly competitive market place, moving beyond the benefit to what makes your brand better can help you stand out. John Deere claims “Nothing Runs Like a Deere,” 7Up is famously “The Uncola.” Pork is positioned as “The Other White Meat.” Bounty paper towels are “The Quicker Picker Upper.”

Witty Catchphrase: Some brands have achieved places in pop culture with catchphrases that have caught fire. Budweiser had “Wassup.” The California Milk Processor Board created “Got Milk?” Verizon eternally asks “Can you hear me now?”

Personality: Your tagline can establish the personality of your brand. “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” contrasts with Hooter’s “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.”

Visionary: Companies with lots of products sold in many countries often struggle with a tagline that embraces their far flung businesses. In these cases, a tagline that evokes the mission or vision of the company can be very effective. GE is “Imagination at work,” whether talking about train locomotives or microwave ovens. Dupont is about “The Miracles of Science.”

Provocative or Motivating: Telling your customers what to do or why your brand is important is another way to approach finding an effective tagline. AFLAC tells people to “Ask about it at work.” Michelin reminds us “Because so much is riding on your tires.”

When you are developing tagline options, we recommend creating several ideas that fall in each of the above categories. Thinking in new ways can help you get past creative roadblocks. You just might find that one winning phrase!

Mar 142011

“Don’t use the F-Bomb” is a seemingly common sense rule when using social media for corporate purposes.

But, common sense is not as common as you might hope.

A purported social media expert working for a leading social media agency tweeted this for Chrysler: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”

If a pro can make such a big mistake, how can you protect your brand when your employees tweet and post on your brand’s behalf?

While you can’t create common sense through policy, it does make sense to provide guidelines. A social media policy does more than make clear what mistakes to avoid. It helps you use the social media more effectively.

Here are some basic social media advice to cover:

  • Make sure people know they are personally responsible for what they write. Once something has been said, it can’t be unsaid, and there is no telling who will see what is written. Everyone should think twice before hitting the “share” button.
  • Be real. Don’t create a fake persona or a faceless corporate presence. Use your real name and identify your relationship with the brand. Compare how Toyota uses real people vs. Chevy’s faceless corporation approach.
  • Think about your audience. You will be talking to clients, future clients, employees, bosses, suppliers, competitors—everybody. Be careful not to alienate them. Ray Catena Lexus, a New York area car dealer “likes” The Mets on their Facebook page—how do Yankee fans feel?
  • Stay away from religion, politics and sex. Good advice for polite company at a dinner party is also good advice for using social media. Be especially careful when thinking of voicing a negative opinion about anything—and never badmouth the competition.
  • Don’t get defensive. Your company may come under criticism. Resist the urge to fight back. Be polite to detractors and use the opportunity to present additional information and resources. Don’t call people names or denigrate their thinking.
  • Don’t misuse copyrighted material. Be sure to provide attribution for any material you share. Never post confidential material.
  • Be helpful, bring value, be amusing. Don’t just blare out commercial messages and public relations fluff. If you get a reputation for being a walking, talking commercial, you’ll be considered a spammer and will be tuned out—often rudely.

The Social Media Governance Web site has an impressive library of real social media policies from many different types of companies. These can provide a template for your company’s social media policy as well as give you an idea of what issues other companies have faced and how they dealt with them.

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. msnbc.com 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

Dec 222010

The book Doublespeak by William Lutz defines the term as language that:

  • Pretends to communicate but does not
  • Makes bad things seem less bad, negatives appear to be positives, unpleasant things appear to be attractive or at least tolerable
  • Shifts responsibility and hides causes
  • Conceals meaning and prevents thought

Language should serve communication, but doublespeak is about “misleading, distorting, deceiving, inflating, circumventing and obfuscating.” Naming the FCC seizure of vast regulatory power as “net neutrality” is a classic example of doublespeak marketing. There is nothing neutral about it. The free, quickly evolving neutrality of the net is actually coming to an end.

Regardless of your politics, for or against regulation of the Internet, the misleading label the FCC is using should give everyone pause. Governments use doublespeak constantly. Companies should not. The public is smarter than you think–remember AIG’s attempt at renaming itself in order to distance itself from the financial meltdown. The public knows dishonest doublespeak marketing communication goes hand-in-hand with dishonest practices.

Mar 102010

When a corporation uses slippery doublespeak, particularly for brands with trust trouble, they double down on the damage they do to their reputation.

Brand Doublespeak Doesn’t Fool Anyone

Who does Toyota think they are fooling when they try to paint the new recall of the Tundra as a “heads up” to dealers of a “special service campaign?” Toyota is reeling from waves of recalls and the appearance of being reluctant to deal with their problems. People are already wary that Toyota is trying to cover up mistakes. By using brand doublespeak or a regulatory fine point, Toyota confirms suspicions that Toyota is being less than honest. Don’t be tempted to do damage control with this kind of dubious reputation management.

Our recent video interviews with consumers reveal they are willing to give Toyota the benefit of the doubt, but how far can Toyota push this goodwill before it is gone?

Building back lost trust in Toyota will take time, meticulous service, swift and decisive responses to every issue, and the strictest adherence to truth. Trying to avoid the word “recall” by spinning with the term “special service,” shows that Toyota is more interested in spinning than being forthright. The brand is bound to suffer when “damage control” comes off as manipulation or an outright lie.

Mar 012010

Creating a great brand name means finding names that fit with products and that generate true and motivating associations. In politics, the opposite is more often true. Politicians of both parties seems particularly attracted to doublespeak. Take note of the new Democratic strategy of replacing the word “Reconciliation” with “Simple Majority”. What is behind the renaming of this tactic?

Reconciliation Seems a Strategically Fitting Name

On the face of it, calling the processes of passing the healthcare bill with 51 votes “Reconciliation” seems like a good naming choice. For a country hungry purportedly hungry for bi-partisanship, the meanings of that name are a strong strategic fit. Reconciliation means bringing differences into harmony, settling disputes, becoming friends again. But in Congress, Reconciliation is just another way to fight.

Dictionary Definitions Don’t Matter in Naming

But marketers know that the actual definition of a name doesn’t mean a thing. It is the associations that matter. Over the course of the last several months, the parliamentary process called “Reconciliation” has become associated with strong-arm tactics, a my-way-or-the-highway arrogance, shutting out the opposition, even “Rahm-ming It Through” or the “Nuclear Option.” The real world meaning Reconciliation has come to mean the opposite of the dictionary meaning. Hence the strategic need to rename.

Rhetorical Benefits of the New Name “Simple Majority”.

The rhetorical benefits of the new name for passing healthcare through parliamentary maneuver are many. “Simple” means:

  • Easy to understand
  • Not artificial
  • Modest
  • Uncomplicated
  • Free of deceit

These are great associations for a complex, contentious bill topping 2000 pages that few have read and ever fewer understand. Even better, these meanings try to free the strategy from the complexity and cynicism of back room deals and the intricate rules of Congress. Add the basic playground fairness of “majority rules” to the idea of “Simple Majority”, and it looks like you’ve got a winning name.

Genuine Name or Doublespeak

Naming works when it is genuine. Marketers—and politicians are marketers as much as they are anything—do long-term irreparable damage to their reputations and their ability to earn profits (or votes) when they fail to be truthful. When naming descends to doublespeak, the brand suffers. Just ask Richard Nixon, King of Doublespeak, who will be forever known as Tricky Dick and worse.

In his groundbreaking book Doublespeak, author William Lutz defines doublespeak as language that misleads rather than leads, that pretends to communicate, but really doesn’t, that tries to avoid or shift responsibility, and communication that conceals, limits and prevents thought. Not a wise strategy for brand building.

People are cynical, connected, informed and empowered to broadcast their opinions far and wide. Companies are rapidly learning there is no place to hide and that doublespeak hurts. People will find your missteps and “misspeaks” quickly and will spread the news at warp speed. Just ask Toyota suffering from their mishandled approach to recalls, and Apple on new information of underage workers at their manufacturing plants in China.

Brands that lie can lose market share. Politicians can lose elections. Rather than being smart strategy, healthcare strategists might just be underestimating voters and outsmarting themselves.

Apr 082009

A Growing Company Looks to Branding
Kirch had grown from a small family venture into a multinational manufacturing and marketing powerhouse. The company had never really addressed its brand or history. In preparation for a new web site, they wanted to communicate to consumers in a new way. Kirch asked Merriam Associates to write the company history and define the Kirch brand.

Branding of a History of Design Excellence
We positioned the Kirch brand around exceptional design and quality construction. The company has exclusive licenses to manufacture and market a number of well known brands including museum quality reproductions of mid-century design icon George Nelson. The Kirch history emphasizes the role design and manufacturing have played in the inception of the company and its subsequent growth. We also defined the brand around the preeminence of high quality manufacture of world renowned designs.

Copy for the George Nelson Clock Catalog
kirch-brand-storyKirch realized that the way the company presents its products is key to conveying the company heritage of quality design manufacturing. We took up rewriting of one of the most prominent of the Kirch licenses, the manufacture and marketing of the George Nelson line of iconic clock design. Kirch wanted the product descriptions to read like a museum’s catalog of an important art collection. We crafted dozens of individual product descriptions including historical background and design inspiration for each item in the collection.

© 2014 Lisa Merriam