The Most Important Marketing Decision You Can Make

What's In a Name? Pretty Much Everything

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What brand name should you use?

Most marketing mistakes can be corrected. Not brand names.

Once you're committed to a brand name, that's usually it.

Eveready made that mistake. The long-time leader in appliance batteries, Eveready introduced a new alkaline battery in 1959.

So what did the Eveready company call its new alkaline battery?

The leading appliance-battery company introduces an alkaline battery brand? I'm sure nobody at Eveready gave the name problem a second thought. Eveready alkaline battery.

Six years later, the PR Mallory company entered the alkaline-battery market. What did P.R. Mallory call its alkaline-battery brand? P.R. Mallory alkaline battery?

No, it didn't.

When you launch a new brand, you should do what P.R. Mallory actually did. Decide first what your new brand should stand for and then incorporate that idea into the new brand name.

"Long lasting" is the obvious idea an alkaline battery should stand for. So P.R. Mallory called its alkaline brand Duracell. And Duracell went on to become the long-time leader in alkaline batteries.

But what about the Eveready alkaline battery? Wasn't Eveready first in alkaline batteries? It didn't matter.

Eveready wasn't an alkaline battery. In consumers' minds, Eveready was a zinc-carbon battery.

But surely, nobody would make the Eveready mistake today.

How come Nokia called its new smartphone a Nokia smartphone?

How come BlackBerry called its new smartphone a BlackBerry smartphone?

How come Sony called its new smartphone a Sony smartphone?

In consumers' minds, Nokia is a cellphone, not a smartphone. And BlackBerry has a keyboard, not a touchscreen. And Sony is a TV set, not a smartphone.

Even P.R. Mallory couldn't resist the urge to put its corporate name on its new alkaline battery. For the first 16 years, Duracell batteries also bore the Mallory name.

Tide and Mr. Clean
Relatively recently, Procter & Gamble introduced two new brands: Tide Dry Cleaners and Mr. Clean Car Wash.

By a wide margin, Tide is the leading detergent, so why isn't Tide a good name for a dry-cleaning service?

Would you like your tuxedo washed in Tide detergent?

No, no, no, you might be thinking, Tide is also a dry-cleaner. It says so on the signs in front of the stores.

But not in the minds of consumers. So with a name like Tide Dry Cleaners, the brand has two communication problems: (1) Convincing consumers that Tide is also a dry cleaner, and (2) Why consumers should use Tide rather than some other dry-cleaning service.

Mr. Clean Car Wash has the same two problems.

Why not reverse the process. (1) Start with the idea the brand should stand for, and (2) Pick a name that reflects the idea.

What's a good name for a car wash?

In most states, there are Environmental Protection Agency regulations in place that require car washes to recycle or "reclaim" their water and treat it to remove all the dirt, oil, grime, sludge, salt and anything else. But in many cases, not all the water is recycled.

But most consumers don't know that.

So Procter & Gamble could have engineered a car wash that recycled all of its water. Recycle100 Car Wash might be a brand name that could be trademarked.

Procter & Gamble is the world's most-magnificent marketing machine. I'm surprised the company couldn't come up with better names than Tide Dry Cleaners and Mr. Clean Car Wash.

The dubious benefit of specialists
Marketing is following in the footsteps of medicine. The medical industry is ruled by specialists. For an eye problem my wife is having, she has been shuttled between five different specialists. No one solves the problem, they just refer her to another specialist.

In marketing today, the traditional advertising agency is just another specialist, along with media specialists, direct-mail specialists, PR specialists, social-media specialists and brand-name specialists.

A brand-name specialist would most likely never suggest a simple name like Recycle100. It's too simple. And perhaps difficult to trademark.

Much better is a word that can easily be trademarked like Fairlife for Coca-Cola's new milk product.

"Fair" and "Life" have nothing to do with either the milk or the key advantage of the product which has 50 percent more protein than regular milk. That's why it simplifies trademark issues.

We would have called the new product ProMilk to connect the brand name with its major advantage. Could you trademark a name like ProMilk? Perhaps not because "protein milk" could be considered a generic name for a new category. But it would be worthwhile trying.

A name that hammers the inherent advantage of your new brand is always your best choice. Take I Can't Believe It's Not Butter which has become the second largest-selling margarine brand, second only to Country Crock, a brand that sells for half the price of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

The power of a visual
Many categories don't lend themselves to focusing on a key attribute. So another effective way to become a big brand is to select a visual that has some relationship to the product you are branding. Then pick a name that reflects that visual.

There are plenty of names available. At last count there were 1,025,109 words in the English language. With more than a million words to choose from, there should be a few words available for a new brand.

Some powerful brand names were created by first looking for a visual and then picking a word to define the visual. Red Hat Linux, Gorilla glue, Roach Motel roach killer, Burning Man arts festival, Monster energy drink, Yellow Tail wine, Redbox video rentals.

Another effective technique is called "portmanteau," combining two words together like durable and cell to form Duracell. (We usually call this technique "telescoping.")

Telescoping has created brand names like Casamigo tequila, Silk soy milk, Teavana tea, Miralax laxative, Swatch Swiss watch, AirTran airline, Groupon coupons, Sakrete ready-mix concrete.

Brand names are important. The right brand name can pay dividends for decades to come.

Duracell is now more than five decades old. And still the market leader.