Playing 20 Questions

While walking my dog in town yesterday, I strode up Main Street (Boonton, NJ) and, glancing right, saw that a new business was occupying one of the storefront retail spots.

I saw chairs. I saw desks. And a small sign, identifying the occupant as PMD.

That’s it. If I was a potential customer, I didn’t know it – nor was I going to stop and ask.

Now, I make so secret of the fact that I despise meaningless names, especially when they are a jumble of letters. But even if this company was open for just one week, or about to open next week, shouldn’t there be something to tell me what it is about?

PMD could mean Plaster Mask Designers. It could stand for Plutonium Manufacturers and Distributors. Or Paul, Mike, & Darryl. By itself, without any other explanation, it’s just a Potentially Meaningless Description.

Besides coming up with a real name, all it would take would be one eye-level sign: New Jersey’s Only Nutella Bakery (or whatever) – and now I know why you’re there. Without having to ask questions.

You have 3 seconds while I’m walking past your retail store. Or driving past your billboard. Or browsing by your tradeshow booth. Or visiting your website. And I don’t have time for 20 questions.

Give me the one message that matters, at eye-level, in 3 seconds. Your Purpose that Makes a Difference (PMD). Or you’ll just be another acronym in memory’s dustbin.

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Building your Small Business

So, you have (or are starting) a small business. Now the big challenges are: How do I do this right? and, How do I get noticed?

Here’s a collection of posts I’ve put up over time, based on my experience. Since they are scattered over various venues, I decided to pull them together. Maybe they’ll be of some help:

Getting started

- 10 Lessons Learned Starting a Business

- How I Became a Consultant

Determining your focus

- What’s the Point?

- I’m Pursuing Niche Domination

- Who Needs You?

Personal Branding

- You – Projected

- Personal Branding: What’s your Value-Add?

Naming

- Don’t Make a Name for Yourself

- Product: Winner. Name: Loser

Branding/Marketing your business

- Do you Pass the T-shirt Test?

- Laundry List Marketing

- How to be Unremarkable

Using social networking

- Do you Have an Opportunity Network?

- Getting Started with Social Networking

- The Strategic Serendipity of Social Media

- Feed People

Storytelling

- Telling the Company Story

- What’s in a Name?

Core principles

- Ask the Right Questions

The right people

- Picking Bad Apples

- Hiring for Virtue

Customer Service

- Eat Mor Chikin

- A Boy and his Legos

- Greetings…Done Right

The ultimate goal

- A cult following

Wanting to start your own business, but still working toward the goal? This is for you: Time. Talent. And Magic.

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Product: Winner. Name: Loser.

(fade in to Toshiba’s boardroom, where a product management meeting is taking place)

“Looks like we’ve just come up with the best netbook out there! Power, features, great user design – now all we have to do is name it and sell it!”

“I know! – let’s call it the PU-875-0988b!”

“Nah, I’ve always been inclined toward the UmmWillatriBBle 876. It just rolls off the tongue!”

“Wait – let’s call in our engineers! They always come up with the most imaginative names…”

NetbookAnd now, introducing the Toshiba NB205-N310. As reviewed here by the WSJ, a nice entry into the Netbook marketplace. Yet once again, horribly named by the What, me Worry? school of product branding. Sexy. Memorable. Gotta go out and tell all my friends about the NB205-N… NB2o M16… AB365… never mind.

When will these people learn???

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What’s in a Name?

Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail from a company looking to introduce themselves. Since this company at least was positioned somewhere near my sweet spot of interest, I went to the website to find out more.

And found a great way NOT to introduce yourself:

What’s in a name?
When we were thinking of what to call ourselves, we looked at both the approach to what we do and the context in which we do it. Not that earth shattering, but we think we came up with a great name. _______ covers both approach and context.

Lesson #1 – I don’t care what you think of your name, nor is the process by which you arrived at it of any significance. I’m there to learn WIIF Me. Taking these intro sentences and saying, “we…ourselves…we…we…we…we…we…” all with a note of self-congratulation, doesn’t inform me about what you do and why I should be engaged.

When you introduce your company, immediately tell me what the value is – what you can do for me. You have maybe 10 seconds to make your first impression, so give me one powerful sound bite that addresses a real business need. Save the historical explanations for a footnote. Because what’s in your name doesn’t address my pain.

Five in the Morning 010609

Let’s talk creativity and branding today (mostly). One of the benefits of having an overly-full RSS Reader is that there is a constant tidal wave of great stuff to look at, and be inspired by. Such as…

Hijacking other people’s billboards with thought balloons. Reminds me of the birds that put their eggs in other birds nest. This is quite brilliant actually – pointed out to us by those Plaid folks.

A picture is worth 90% of the words. Or all of them. Great “iceberg” example from Brand Curve, and en even more stunning execution from the Ad Goodness blog.

This Montreal logo, brought to our attention by the fine folks at the Brand New blog, raises a constant nagging question in my mind. Really – does anybody but the in-the-bubble creative ad agency types ever really make all these connections about what the logo means?? I say that the vast majority of normal people can in no way discern the “intent” of most of these logos.What do you think? And, you also need to consider (says uber-designer David Airey) the cost of rebranding, with a tangible UK example. (oh – and you might also like this Brand New “Best and Worst of 2008” post about logos).

David Polinchock brings us a link to 50 strangely wonderful buildings, if creative architecture is where you itch. Pretty awesome stuff.

Who doesn’t like creative photography? See how this couple teamed up with a photographer to make some pretty cool engagement photos. From A Cup of Jo blog.

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Five in the Morning 102108

Is new media marketing becoming “mainstreamed”? Check out what Paul Chaney has to say.

Re-branding…fish…with new names. Guess I hadn’t thought of that one. From the NameWire blog.

How can social media help with customer loyalty? Becky Carroll over at Customers Rock! begins a brief series this week, with quickie videos (at this link – a video from Jim Kukral). Anything Becky produces is worth your attention.

Why do we blog? Here’s what Darren Rowse (@problogger) found out when he asked his readers.

Ann Handley has Nine Questions for Guy Kawasaki. Read the Q&A here.

PLUS: Only Ann Handley could pull this off. From her blog A n n a r c h y: A Toast to Cancer.

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There’s a Bumble in the Jumble

The announcement just came out that a new iPhone competitor, the G1 (using Google’s Android software), is about to be unleashed on the world. And this will be a coming-out party of sorts, not only for this branch of Google, but also for a contract phone manufacturer trying to make a name for itself.

Too bad they have such a memorable “name”. HTC. Blecch.

Why do companies do this to themselves? Why use obscure acronyms that simply blend into the background, and that stand out about as much as a single seed in a birdfeeder?

Effective marketing means, in part, providing a hook into the minds, memories, and imaginations of customers. And jumbles of letters and numbers are utterly self-defeating.

Just for fun, I scanned yesterday’s Wall Street Journal to gather some company/brand names that are designed to be forgotten:

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas)

CME Group (trading exchange)

CSC (technology resources)

TMI (executive recruting)

ELS (educational services)

If you’ve managed, through longevity and market penetration, to create a brand around an acronym (IBM, GM, A&P, etc.) that’s one thing. But if you want to stand out and be memorable, what is going to stick more in people’s minds – a well-crafted name, or a jumble? If you were investing, would you more easily remember a name like Fidelity (a word with actual, relevant meaning), or something like “ABX Resources”?

Companies and products should not be named by non-marketers and engineers. If I’m buying a LCD projector, I should not have to knot my tongue over a name like Panasonic PT-DW10000U. It’s a bumble to market a jumble, and a needless barrier to success.

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Dick’s buys Chick’s

You can’t make this stuff up. Headline spotted this week:

Dick’s Sporting Goods Agrees to Acquire Chick’s Sporting Goods

I guess that’s one way to keep it all in the family. I knew I should have launched a Rick’s Sporting Goods!

chicks.jpg

What’s Wrong with these Names?

Shopping for a projector? Take a look at these distinctive model names, straight out of the Alfred E. Neuman “What, me Worry?” guide to branding:

  • Sony VPL-FX40
  • Panasonic PT-DW10000U
  • NEC NP60
  • Sharp XR-30X
  • Toshiba TDP-FF1AU
  • Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080

Full article on the Small Business Branding blog here…

(Alfred E. Neuman copyright Mad Magazine)

Another Logo from the Zzzzzzz…List

I noticed a big advertisement today in the Wall Street Journal for Covidien, the medical device company recently spun off from its former Tyco Healthcare identity.

I think it was good to separate Covidien from Tyco (which had a number of unrelated businesses under its umbrella), and the name Covidien, if not all that inspired and memorable, is at least acceptable. After all, it is a difficult challenge these days coming up with new names.

But the logo and tagline left me frowning with disappointment.

covidien.jpgI believe there is a virtue in simplicity, when it comes to logo design. But this treatment is tired. Yet another uninspired takeoff on the medical Red Cross look. Yawwwwwnnn. A company in the pharmaceutical training space that I know quite well, MedSN, did something similar a while back. At least they used a few colors. The Covidien treatment, with a few variations of blue, looks like it never got beyond a Powerpoint storyboard.

And the tagline, Positive Results for Life, is yet another retread from the pharma/healthcare/biotech bargain bin. Some of the most uninspired and insipid taglines have been adopted by these companies, all vaguely promising health/life/goodness in a way that is utterly non-differentiating. I’m reminded of a phrase from A Christmas Carol, where young Ebenezer Scrooge gives a response that is “terribly safe.” That’s what these taglines are. With an emphasis on both words.

I don’t yet know who came up with this logo. Maybe, after I finish this post, I’ll look it up. But let’s take a flight of fancy here, and imagine we’re in the boardroom, as the agency gives its explanation/rationalization for this look:

“The background field of blue represents the universal desire for long life and health, tapping into the singular global aspirations that a healthcare provider such as Covidien will be a premier provider of positive results toward that end. Since the earth is mostly water, and water represents life, we encased the logo in the uplifting presence of a sea of calming ocean blue. Of course, the medical cross symbol is recognized across the universe as a positive and aspirational symbol of well-being, and now it is softened and yet heightened by being re-stylized in enriching shades of health-inducing blue, leading the thoughts and feelings of the onlooking world to pleasant deliberations of the intersection of medical devices and ongoing health. The merging of life-giving blue, the subtly blatant medical undercurrent, and modern encapsulations of individual aspirations will create the inevitable conclusion that Covidien creates positive results for life.”

And now, rewind a day into the design studio as the logo and tagline are being feverishly finished off for the next day’s presentation:

“Did you whip that thing up in Powerpoint?”

“Yeah…took me about an hour and a half. I billed 45 days of creative time for the team, however.”

“Looks like a couple of colorized Band-Aids to me.”

“Ain’t life grand? I came up with that this morning while fixing a shaving nick.”

“And did you pump something out of that funky ObviousTaglines.com website?”

“Oh, yeah – it was great! I just told it ‘healthcare’, selected a couple standard keywords, and out came Positive Results for Life. It’s a beautiful thing. And, I now have 10 others we can use for our next client.”

All right, I made all that up. I’m sure a bit more effort went into this. But I wonder…how much did this branding cost? And why is it so…undistinguished?

A Great Article on Naming/Branding

From the Conference Board, via Igor International.

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