Oct 142017
 
Golden Knights NHL Hockey Trademark Infringement

When The Las Vegas Sun interviewed us about the new NHL  team that needed a name, I warned them about trademark infringement that would mean certain trouble. Calling the hockey team the Golden Knights was a terrible, terrible choice for many reasons (see expanded Las Vegas hockey team naming mistake post here).  You cannot build a brand on a name you cannot own. How this team’s lawyers gave their blessing to the choice is a mystery.

Golden knights st rose collegeus army parachute team golden knights

The result of this poor name choice has been a year of legal wrangling and cost. In August, the team thought it had beat the trademark infringement issue when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the name. Yet, today, it is being reported that one of the trademark holders. The College of St. Rose in upstate New York, was granted and extension for filing an opposition to the name. The U.S. Army, which holds a Golden Knights trademark as well, has also filed for an extension of the deadline. (Side note: Phoca Press, the company I founded with retired Navy SEAL Tom Hawkins, is publishing a history of air capabilities in Naval Special Warfare, in which the Golden Knights played a key role. Written by retired SEAL Captain Norm Olson, the history covers parachuting and many other SEAL capabilities that represent the air part of the acronym for Sea, Air and Land. The book will launch at a gala two-day event in Florida this coming December.)

The Army and the College of St. Rose have until January 10, 2018 to file their opposition. The owners of the Las Vegas hockey team are now eyeing alternatives such as “Sand Knights,” “Silver Knights,” and “Desert Knights,” though they allowed those trademarks to expire. They still own the domain name SandKnights.com. It’s pretty bad, but not as bad as the New Jersey Swamp Dragons. At least with a name that epically bad, there is little chance they will be fighting off trademark infringements.

Oct 082017
 
hybrid rose brands

Rose hybrid brands demonstrate how branding something turns a commodity into a valuable asset. I took a beautiful fall Friday afternoon off work to visit the New York Botanical Garden, thinking I was playing hooky on my branding business and enjoying the company of some members of my grandmother’s garden club. Yet walking through the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, I found brand after brand after brand among the 650 varieties there.

Rose hybrid brands, it turns out, power a multi-billion dollar industry. From a wildflower growing around the world, hybridizers and growers have created thousands of brands. The U.S. Patent Office lists over 6,000 rose patents, with exponentially more trademarks for rose brand names. Over 60,000 varieties have been created since 1900, with about 3,000 brands currently actively marketed. Brands like Knockout™, Peace™ and Mister Lincoln™ are worth millions of dollars.

hybrid rose brands julia childBranding roses isn’t straightforward. The International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants established 65 years ago tried to establish the principle of one plant, one name. What has happened is that roses get a cultivar name, such as “WEKvossuntono” and then a variety of “marketing names.” WEKvossuntono isn’t much of a brand for a pretty flower. This the buttery yellow rose known as Julia Child™ in the United States is marketed as Absolutely Fabulous™ (after the popular television show) in the United Kingdom and as Soul Mate in Australia™.

Rose hybridizers sometimes seek brand names that connote a product features, such as Thrive!™, Drift™, or Garden Delight™. Roses commemorate events like the Miracle on the Hudson™ and favorite songs like Purple Rain™. Others convey a sense of the hybridizer’s whimsy, such as Gourmet Popcorn™, Happy Butt™, or Crush on You™. Many others are named after people—you can buy a Rosie O’Donnell™ rose and plant it next to a Trump Card™ rose. There are no roses named after Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain or Mitch McConnell—but never say never. The Joseph Stalin Rose has long been off the market. Consumer brands have jumped in. You can buy a rose called Weight Watchers Success™ and another called Benson & Hedges™ (I wonder if it is fragrant). Perhaps the best, truly honest rose hybrid brand is Ch-Ching™.

There is big money in roses. Will Radler, a rose hobbyist, hybridized Knockout™ in the basement of his suburban Milwaukee home. The first year of its introduction, he received a $60,000 royalty check. Since then, the hybrid became a top seller with over 90 million plants sold. Mr. Radler is a millionaire many times over.

Valuable brands attract counterfeiters like roses attract bees. Some of the biggest brands have banded together to fund the Plant Watch® nursery inspection program. Inspectors visit nurseries to stamp out unauthorized propagation and to ensure compliance with patent and branding requirements.

For rose hybridizers, getting one of your rose hybrid brands planted in the New York Botanical Garden is like getting a painting in the Louvre. Yet among the best sellers and flashy varieties in that garden, you can still find antique heirloom blooms and even wild roses. It is a complete rose education in just over an acre. Walking the fragrant paths of a world class rose garden on an Indian summer morning wasn’t skipping out on work; it was brand research.

Sep 052017
 
merriam bbc interview

The BBC called to interview me for a piece entitled: “Why Do Some Companies Ban Certain Words?”

The question was: “Can banning some corporate terms and replacing them with buzzier or more positive-sounding alternatives do any good? The short answer was: “No.”

While branded language is important, using it has to be done with care. Disney’s use of “Imagineer” for engineers works for the brand. When first coined, it was not meant to be cool like so many of today’s attempted job title innovations. It was meant to truly convey the nature of the work that combined imagination with engineering. Branded language works when it adds meaning and clarity.

Care with language too often seeks the opposite result today–veering into doublespeak. The article recounts how GM is urging engineers to avoid terms like ‘defect’ or ‘flawed.’ Apparently, they are too “emotional,” and “non-descriptive.” Well, what do you call a part that doesn’t measure up or is broken if you can’t call it defective? Lack of clarity can come across as dishonest–and both are bad for branding.
The article was featured in the “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week” handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel.

Mar 292017
 

I am pleased to announce that the American Marketing Association New York has launched its new website, www.amanewyork.org along with a new name. The new site has been the primary focus of the Communications Committee of the Board of Directors for the last several months. As chairperson of that committee, I commend the tireless work of other board members Karen McFarlane and Bianca DiSalvo, as well as staff member Molly Purcell. It was truly a group effort.

The new mobile-friendly website and name change were born out of the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) unveiling of a new brand identity that reflects the transformation of the organization and its vision for the future.

new website ama ny

You are invited to explore the new website, www.amanewyork.org, which showcases an improved navigation and functionality throughout and allows members to access detailed information about newer or revamped member benefits such as those listed below:

  • The CMO Leadership Series is a quarterly event for senior marketing executives on how to achieve success in a rapidly changing marketplace. Attendees learn how to reach consumers using a variety of marketing strategies, while leveraging their disparate platforms and customer data.
  • AMA Executive Circle is the American Marketing Association’s national network of senior marketing executives. Engage, network and share with an exclusive group of accomplished marketing professionals in a collegial atmosphere that connects top talent nationwide:
  • The AMA New York Mentoring Program connects junior members with more experienced member professionals for career advice, guidance and support.
  • The AMA New York Volunteer Spotlight Program recognizes outstanding volunteers for the AMA New York on a quarterly and annual basis. One winner per quarter and one annual winner are recognized.
  • The Marketing Hall of Fame® was established to celebrate brilliance in marketing across all fields and industries, recognizing individuals who are making outstanding contributions to the field and inspiring a new generation of marketers. Register for the May 11, 2017 Marketing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony here.

 

 

Dec 232016
 

NBC News interviewed me about the trolling of the Ivanka Trump brand. Seems like “fake reviews” are joining “fake news” as a thing. The consumer is savvy enough to tell the difference.

As I told NBC, the trolling of all Trump brands is likely to continue as a dissatisfied segment of the electorate works out its issues, from marching in front of the Trump buildings here on the Upper West Side of New York to writing snarky reviews on Amazon. These people in the “bucket of disaffecteds” have few other easy avenues for venting their frustrations. Trolling is an easy way to express unhappiness without effort or risk–but also without much impact.

Trolling Ivanka Trump Brand Ineffectual

The effect of Trump trolling on the brand is negligible. People who buy the Trump brand like the Trump image or the product behind it. Trolls don’t impact that. People who despise Trump will continue to shun the Trump brand. Given the massive level of Trump publicity, consumers are already predisposed to like or dislike. They aren’t going to Amazon reviews to form those opinions. Trolling isn’t going to sway a consumer one way or the other. It has zero marketing impact. Trump brand managers can ignore the phenomenon.

For other brands subject to trolling, finding out what is driving trolls and who is doing the trolling is an important first step. Responding with a calm, measured, fact-infused way puts your side of the story out there. Consumers are savvy. They can spot fake reviews as easily as they can spot fake news. Beyond making sure the consumer has access to the facts, let the trolls troll on. They are frustrated people precisely because their trolling has little impact. Don’t feed that beast.

Nov 292016
 

las-vegas-sunSports team naming is a high stakes job. Doing it right makes creates millions of dollars in brand value. Doing it wrong leads to low recognition and low fan engagement, leading to low revenue and value. Naming the NHL expansion team in Las Vegas the “Vegas Golden Knights” is a missed brand opportunity. (Read part of my interview in the Las Vegas Sun).

The “Golden Knights” name is empty of associations with hockey or Las Vegas. It conjures images of medieval Europe, not a vibrant oasis in the dessert known for fun and risk taking. A name like Baltimore’s “Ravens” is an example of naming done right. It resonates with the city’s history with Edgar Alan Poe, is absolutely unique, and engages fans. The “caw-caws” on game day are a testament to that. A strong brand name would help the team earn bigger licensing dollars and sell more fan merchandise. Golden Knights is unlikely to do either.

team name golden knightsThe value of a brand is worth protecting, which brings up the trademark issue. The Golden Knights name is best known as the name for the U.S. Army Parachute Demonstration Team–but they never trademarked it. Brand names can be shared and used by multiple companies, so Vegas Army Golden Knights now share their name with other teams–The College of St. Rose and the University of Central Florida.

The first goal of a name is to signal a unique brand. A name with no resonant associations makes achieving that goal harder to accomplish. No matter how much money the team spends to build the Golden Knights brand, it will always be bland. Better to call the team “The John Does.”
Suggest some better ideas, like:
  • Antelopes–or indigenous name Tatokes
  • Ozuye–Hopi word for warrior
  • Big Horns
  • Red Rocks
  • Gilas
  • Tohos–Hopi word for mountain lion/powerful hunter
  • Arroyos
Aug 092016
 

Renaming Yale: An Orwellian committee in the “Ministry of Truth” model at Yale is hard at work scrubbing historical names from the campus, according to Roger Kimball in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The article The College Formerly Known as Yale, details how Yale University is creating a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming (Wow! So 1984!). The Snowflake Generation is suddenly in a snit over Calhoun College because of namesake John C. Calhoun supported the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, Yale founder Elihu Yale was himself an active slave trader.

Renaming Yale UniversitySlavery will always remain a national disgrace of this country, but to expunge the names of its supporters from history misses the opportunity for a “teaching moment.” These names are an invitation to examine social, moral and economic forces that fueled it. Studying Calhoun, Yale (maybe even Jefferson and Lee), we can better understand the foundation for slavery, to better fight racism and bigotry, to continue to build the ethic of valuing human life, from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter, and to celebrate society’s progress, however partial and imperfect. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Those who seek to replace history for their own edited set of facts are tyrants.

Commercial brands tied to people know the risk of connecting a person to a product–think Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong. People are imperfect. Renaming Yale won’t change that. History is a tale of human imperfection. If institutions may only be named after perfect people, we won’t be able to name anything after a person. For Yale, with the motto of “Light and Truth” to contemplate blotting out uncomfortable facts is very sad. Perhaps the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming at Yale should rename Calhoun College “Room 101.”

More on political aspects of naming:
Brands as Political Symbols
Brand-Jacking
ISIS Tainted Brand
“Net Neutrality” Doublespeak
Redskins Team Name
Renaming Operation Iraqi Freedom

Jul 062016
 

frisbee-brand-nameThe American Marketing Association has a great blog entry on brand names that became more than household words; they practically entered the dictionary.

In my naming consulting practice, I am constantly advising clients to stay away from descriptive names. Such names can never really be owned as brands. The classic example is Amazon’s once mighty competitor Books-a-Million. Would ebay have done as well if it went to market as online-auctions.com?

Descriptive names are not memorable and tend to be very limiting. The better approach is to consider brand names that have the potential to become iconic. Choose something unusual in which you can build meaning over time.

The “Genericide” of Brand Names

Yet in success, comes the danger of an iconic brand becoming so synonymous with a product that it becomes the generic. Frisbee spends millions protecting its name as a brand. The Dempster Brothers’ branded their wheeled trash haulers a portmanteau of “dump” with “Dempster.” Having lost control of the brand, today “dumpster” is a generic word. Aspirin, Zipper, Yo-Yo, Thermos, Vaseline and even Heroin are other examples of brands that suffered “genericide” through trademark erosion.

More naming resources for choosing a brand name:

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

 

Jan 082016
 

“Make your brand memorable!”  Brand experts earnestly offer this vague advice at every turn.  But what is a  memorable brand?  How can you tell if your brand is or will be memorable?

You can’t spot memorability simply by looking at your brand elements.  I’ve worked on many naming and design projects where perfectly good brand name and logo candidates are rejected out of hand because someone didn’t think they were memorable. When asked what criterion was used to detect memorability, people shrug.  They can’t articulate it.

Memorability can only be detected and proven through execution and testing over time.  A name on its own isn’t memorable.  How is the name used as or with a logo?  What graphics support it?  What story is told in communications like advertising, or brochures?  How is it marketed and sold?  Executing a marketing plan and then testing results with real customers over time is the only way to know that your brand is memorable.

Since memorability is so all-important, getting it right in the beginning is critical.  Who has the time and budget to deploy campaigns and then wait to figure out if they are good or not?  Execution, time and research are the only way of Knowing that you have a provably memorable brand. But you can move forward with reasonable assurance that your brand will be memorable if you consider the following six factors:

1. Unusual.

The more out-of-the-ordinary the brand name, logo, communications, and experience, the more likely the brand is to be remembered.  Surprising is always better than ordinary. Every feature should be distinctive. As you make brand choices, know that unusual is uncomfortable. You will need to take risks. Naming a company “Online Auction Center” probably felt safer than something off the wall like “eBay”.  A safe name that tells something about what the business does is not unusual and is less likely to be memorable.  “Oracle” is stronger than “Computer Associates” and even stronger than the new name “CA”. Risky names like Google and Amazon often turn out to be winners.

2. Consequential.

For your brand to be memorable, it needs to have personal significance to your target market. Take the example of two competing airlines. Jet Blue focuses on a superior flying experience.  Jet travel today can be a harrowing experience, so focusing on making flying easier and more pleasant is relevant and consequential.  Delta has positioned itself around “service to more destinations than any global airline”.  That positioning is not consequential to most flyers. How relevant is the fact that Delta flies to Abidjan when all you want to do is get to Atlanta? Stonyfields yogurt stands out by appealing to people who care about organic food and supporting individual farmers–causes that are consequential to their customers. Dannon, on the other hand, just claims it is “the top-selling yogurt worldwide”.  How is that important to a customer? At most, the fact that Dannon sell six million cups of yogurt a day in almost 100 flavors, styles and sizes is just trivia. Find something important and build your brand on that.

3. Emotional.

Brands that connect to the heart and invite people to have a close relationship are more memorable.  Any brand can have emotional appeal.  Consider the case of Sodexo.  The company provides janitorial and catering services to hospitals. Pretty modest and even boring stuff–not the least bit heart-warming.  Sodexo launched a patient experience program that focused on the quality and comfort that their humble services provide to patients and their families.  They elevated mopping the floors to something with emotional power by telling the specific stories of how their employees have touched individuals in times of need.

4. Vivid.

The more vivid you can make your brand, the more apt people will be to remember it.  A vivid name, possibly one that conveys imagery or personality is makes for a memorable brand.  As for logos, please, please, PLEASE, no swooshes, no globes. Take time to develop a visual style that carries across all your communications from business cards to brochures to your Web site.  In our multimedia age, don’t neglect movement and sound.  The more your brand appeals to all the senses, the more vivid and memorable it becomes.

5. Detailed.

Be specific about your brand claim or you will never stand out.  Take the company ISS:  It says it “provides cutting edge solutions development based on the latest advances in open software design and integration.”  Couldn’t that be said of dozens, if not hundreds of companies?  If ISS is staking its brand on being cutting-edge, it is better to show that fact with details that give that claim dimension and make it come alive.  You can’t simply claim it.  Instead of investing in detailing their cutting edge solutions, ISS piles on vague claims about “understanding customers”, “exceeding expectations”, “consistently growing”, and being “diverse and experienced”.  Such claims blur into the blah-blah-blah babble of millions of other companies.  Ten minutes after reading this article, you probably won’t be able to remember a single ISS brand claim.

6. Repeated.

Repetition is the key to memory.  Unless you are Mozart, you won’t remember how to play a tune by hearing it once.  Most people can’t remember names after hearing them just once.  Yet many people can sing commercial jingles they heard as children and recite from memory favorite stories because these were repeated time and time again.  Repetition creates familiarity, understanding and connection. Make sure your brand story is told frequently and consistently.  Your Web site can’t say something different from your brochures, and you can’t change your brand story every year.  Consistently repeat your brand story for a memorable brand.

Memorability is the key to a strong brand.  Paying attention to these six factors will set you on the right path. After executing and testing, it will come as no surprise that, indeed, your brand is memorable.

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 072015
 

Choosing a brand name is an early and difficult step when starting a company or creating a brand. Getting hung up on all the wrong issues can turn a tough task into an impossible one.

“I’ll know it when I see it”

Without defining your standard for a good name at the outset, you can easily find yourself frustrated when your naming team comes up with many ideas that are off the mark. You will be lost when it comes to evaluating name candidates and making a decision.

“Let’s vote on our favorites”

Likeability is poor criteria for a name. Chances are you’ll like names that are wrong for a number of strategic reasons. For one thing, likeability is strongly linked with familiarity. A likable name is not going to stand out.

“I want a name like ____”

When someone says they want a name like Microsoft or Intel, it’s time to cringe. Looking for a name that is similar to one that already exists defeats the purpose of branding, that is creating a distinctive identity. Stay away from name clichés in your category. Telecommunications companies should not have names that have “tele” or “com” in them.

“The name has to define us”

That challenge puts too much weight on a single word. Meaning in a name isn’t an instant proposition. Meaning is built carefully over time. Ebay is now synonymous with online auctions, but that meaning is not inherent in the name. It was built over time. The company had the wisdom to choose the name with the potential to become iconic. Ebay, with its strange pig-Latin sound is exponentially better than the original generic name for the service: “Auction Web”. Purely descriptive names are hard to turn into brands. That is why Amazon.com is a powerhouse and books.com is nothing.

“I heard the name has to be memorable”

Naming consultants blather on about criteria for a good name and spell-able. The problem is, these criteria aren’t easy to evaluate. You simply can’t tell by looking. Memorability and spellability require expensive research time (at least to test memorability). Being very different isn’t necessarily memorable. Asking people to repeat back name candidates after an interval of time means nothing-they’ve been given no other supporting communication. Memorability (see article) is created over time and must be measured over time. Similarly, spell-ability isn’t something you can determine with just a look. A short name isn’t always easier to spell than a long one. How many people spell Tommy Hilfiger as Tommy Hilfinger? Again, you’ll have to test.

More naming resources for choosing a brand name:

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

 

© 2014 Lisa Merriam