Transcript of Creating a Brand Name That Sticks
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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Jeremy Miller. He is a brand strategist speaker, founder of Sticky Branding and the author of Brand New Name: A Proven, Step-by-Step Process to Create an Unforgettable Brand Name. So Jeremy, welcome to the show.
Jeremy Miller: Thanks John. It’s a pleasure to be here.
John Jantsch: So I have to tell you, I’m going to have a confession. You know my brand name is Duct Tape Marketing.
Jeremy Miller: Yes.
John Jantsch: But my original company name was Jantsch Communications.
Jeremy Miller: I love that you changed your name then. It’s one of my favorite marketing names that has been unforgettable, and following you for eight years, it’s in that range that it just sticks.
John Jantsch: Well, Jantsch Communications was terrible as a name, because it was-
Jeremy Miller: Well, it’s your name. You can’t knock your family name, your parents worked hard on it.
John Jantsch: It was my name, but people thought I sold long distance or something, I don’t know. I’m dating myself, right? What’s long distance? But anyway, yeah, we’re going to talk about that. Let me ask you the first question. What’s the job of a brand name? What does a brand name need to do to be successful?
Jeremy Miller: Well, I think of a brand name as a label in a file folder in your customer’s mind. It’s that thing that people refer to when they have a need. When you go to a grocery store, when you are talking to someone, we think in words, we think in names. It’s the way we identify something. There’s this classic scene in the Simpsons, I don’t remember if you recall, but Mr. Burns loses his power plant and he becomes a normal person, he has to do his own grocery shopping. He’s sitting in the grocery aisle and he’s looking at catsup and ketchup, and just back and forth, “Ketchup, catsup,” and everyone down the aisle are looking at him, “What’s this crazy person doing?” He doesn’t have the words to know how to buy something. And that’s the purpose of a name. It’s that thing that gives you meaning.
John Jantsch: Well, and full disclosure, I lucked on to Duct Tape Marketing. I mean, I just thought that that sounded like a good name, but I didn’t do all kinds of extensive research. But what everybody kept telling me every time I would say it is like, “I get it. It tells a story.” And so without really knowing, I think I kind of lucked onto really one of the key attributes of a great brand name, isn’t it?
Jeremy Miller: I think so. And I think a great name absolutely does tell a story, and that’s what makes it memorable, that we understand it. Now, not all names have to tell a story. A name could be an empty vessel. When you look at Kodak, George Eastman’s vision was to create a name that meant nothing, that he could breathe life into so that it became a story of the Kodak moment. So you took a descriptive metaphor and were able to apply it to marketing. We understand what duct tape is, we understand what marketing is, but by putting them together, it creates this aha moment. But it all depends on the entrepreneur’s strategy. What do you want your business to be? And then you choose the name that fits it.
John Jantsch: Let’s go to that Kodak example, because yes, in hindsight, huge brand name, everybody knows what it meant or what it stood for at one point, but when you come up with a name like that, does it require then that you’re going to invest so much energy in having to explain to people and describe it and maybe even spend years getting it to become a household name?
Jeremy Miller: Yes, absolutely. So when you choose an empty vessel such as a Kodak or a Verizon or Hulu or any of those types of names, then you have to breathe life into it and make it your own, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s your opportunity that when people interact with your business and your products and your service and your people, that’s how you’re inserting meaning and value into that name, but you’re going to have to work harder to promote yourself. So you have that balancing act, but that’s actually part of the strategy too. The biggest reason why we are going towards empty vessels is that there’s a trademark issue.
Jeremy Miller: There’s actually a naming drought. In the United States alone, we are registering 564,000 new small businesses every single month. That’s 2% of the United States population starting a company at any given time, and that’s just a mind boggling number for me. Now, not all these businesses are going to survive, but they all need names and they all need websites and then a chunk of them are going to do trademarks. And so we’re, today, experiencing an issue where all the available .coms, if you’re going to go buy a website, chances are you’re going to have to buy it from someone else. It’s like real estate. But if you throw the trademark element to the mix, now we’ve got really complicated things.
Jeremy Miller: So being able to register something like Duct Tape anything today, it’s going to be really hard. You got in at a moment in time that allowed you to create this powerful brand story.
John Jantsch: Well, and I love the Hulus and the names that you threw out there when they really evoke emotion for me. Even if I don’t know what it means, I like the sound of it or something, or even then when it’s explained to me what it means, sometimes. But can we also get too clever? I mean, I see a lot of people doing stuff where I’m kind of like, I can’t even say that, let alone spell that.
Jeremy Miller: Well, I think there’s absolutely that. So my advice if you’re inventing a word is focus on something that is a phonetic spelling versus a Latin or Greek spelling. It’s a lot easier to say Hulu than Verizon, and it’s a lot easier to remember that, same thing with Uber and other things, even though they’re short. Acura is an example of a phonetically spelled word that was invented or Swiffer is another one. We speak and think in sounds, whereas something that has more of, say, a pharmaceutical type of nature is a lot harder to remember. So there’s that element of our programming as people.
Jeremy Miller: But I would also just say this, that name is strategic. What you choose to name something should represent your brand, your positioning, what you’re trying to create. So if you called, say, a chain of retirement living centers, purple taco, you probably have got the wrong strategy, even if it sounds kind of cool. So the name has got to fit what you want to create. So your strategy is where everything starts.
John Jantsch: The name thing is hard because you can come up with and test some names … I’ve found over the years, you’ll get feedback, people, “Oh, that’s terrible. That’s awful.” But then you go with it and 10 years and it’s like Frisbee. Probably a stupid sounding name the first time somebody heard it, but then became … And again, not everybody’s looking for naming a whole category of a device, but isn’t that a good example of sometimes you got to throw stuff out there at first maybe doesn’t just sound right?
Jeremy Miller: I’m going to come back to the Frisbee story in a second, but yes, a quirk, something that is odd or doesn’t quite fit, like Slack. How could a product focused on team collaboration have all these negative connotations? But the name is just great. Same thing with Banana Republic. If you look at the history of what banana republics are, calling a clothing brand that, is a pretty risky, bold move. But those quirks are what make something so memorable. You mentioned Frisbee, that’s actually a story I tell in the book. Fred Morrison, who was the inventor of the Frisbee, hated that name. He thought it was the dumbest thing. The original name was called Pluto platters.
Jeremy Miller: So Frisbee was bought by Wham-O. They were the guys who created Hula Hoop and Silly String. And so [Fred Knerr 00:00:22:52], who was one of the founders, went out and he visited Fred Morrison in Connecticut near Yale, and he saw all the kids were calling this thing Frisbee. And it turns out Frisbie was a pie company in Connecticut, and what the kids did before Netflix and internet and iPhones, they would take empty pie tins and throw them around the quad. So they took the name of the pie tins and applied it to these flying saucers. And Fred Knerr was just a brilliant marketer and he saw what the customers were already calling it and took that.
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John Jantsch: So tell me this. Does everything need a name? In other words, should we be naming our processes and our products and our divisions and our job titles? Brand it?
Jeremy Miller: Yes, 100%. I think you can go probably a little too crazy on it, but I would say for something to exist, it needs a name especially in the professional services world, if we’re selling thought leadership. You look at just how you name your systems, how you name your services, not only does it give it gravitas from a customer marketing perspective, it gives it gravitas from an internal perspective. So that if you are talking about your efficiency and the way you deliver customer service, simply by giving that thing a name creates value. And so naming is probably the most important construct of language, because once something has a name, it gains meaning. And if you are deliberate on this, you are making choices of how you are going to grow your business.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And I think sometimes, you said gives it meaning, but it also makes it tangible. It’s almost like, “Oh, here’s proof that we have a 37 step process to make sure that your product or your service gets done right.” Where everybody else is just saying trust us.
Jeremy Miller: Exactly. And in the world of differentiation, especially if we’re looking at small businesses, often we are selling something that somebody else is already selling. So how you describe your services, how you describe what makes you unique and why you do what you do, those simple things of giving them names are what affects meaning and give you credibility when you describe your 37 step process for delighting your customer, then people go, “Oh, that’s why you do that.”
John Jantsch: And I know the answer to this is yes, is there a process for coming up with a name?
Jeremy Miller: 100%.
John Jantsch: You want to share that with us?
Jeremy Miller: Sure. Let me tell you a bit of where it came from. I’m a serial entrepreneur and you are too, and we work with lots entrepreneurs, and naming is one of those vexing things that consumes so much time and every time you find a great name you find someone else has taken it. And so the reason why I wrote this book was I tried to answer the question of, what do I wish I had when I went through that naming process? And so Brand New Name draws on the ideas of the GV sprint and agile project management. And the idea is over the course of two to four weeks, it gives you three stages to build your strategy, generate lots of ideas and test and select the right name for your brand.
Jeremy Miller: And so in stage one we need to build a strategy, what does it mean to have a great name? And how are you going to know it when you see it? And step two, I believe in employee co-creation, which is how do we get everybody on our team to participate and generate as many ideas as we can over the course of five days? And then the hardest part of naming isn’t coming up with ideas, it’s that vetting process. How do we find one that resonates, fits the brand and most importantly, we can own it? And so that’s what the book does. In the span of that book, everything you need to name something, whether it’s a company, a product or service is all there in those pages.
John Jantsch: Go back to number one for me, because I think that’s actually the hardest part for a lot of companies because they don’t have a strategy anyway. And so a naming strategy is like a subdivision of strategy. What are the actual steps in that?
Jeremy Miller: So what we start off with is defining, what is it you’re naming. And so it’s the simple question of, what are you naming? Is it a company? Is it a product? Is it a service? And then describing it. My first book, Sticky Branding, I talked about this idea called simple clarity, which is the ability to describe who you are, what you do and who you serve in 10 words or less, and so we build on this a little bit. Part of what we look at in developing your strategy is to be able to answer those basic questions. What are we naming? What are the criteria? Who are our customers? How do they buy? Who are our competitors? What are the naming trends in that space? And what is it going to take to stand out?
Jeremy Miller: And so we go through those questions so that you could set some naming principles. But what you said was very interesting, it’s a subset of strategy. Oftentimes though, when we are doing a naming strategy or when I introduce this to somebody, this is the first time they’ve actually ever considered some of these questions as brand, because we’re not necessarily thinking about brand all the time. So naming is the first step for many people to actually ask the deliberate questions of, who are we? Where do we play? How do we win? How do we want to be known? And by simply getting that down on paper, starts to set the guidelines for what it’s going to take to find a brilliant name.
John Jantsch: I’ve worked with a lot of small business owners and we go through the whole strategy thing, and just like Jantsch Communications, I talked about, was a lousy name, I have to deliver the really bad news that we need to change the name of your business. Is that something that … I mean, you’ve probably faced it before, and if the name’s wrong, I mean, I suppose we can live, but we’re not going to get the message across, we’re not going to get the differentiation across. How do you address or approach that idea of maybe the name now is going to be sort of the leading edge of our strategy, because it’s going to be something that we’re going to have to change everything about? I mean, how do you address that?
Jeremy Miller: Face forward and deal with it head-on. So we deal with name changes all the time in our practice. And so for example, a large part of my work is with multi-generational family businesses, and we did a naming project a couple of years ago where it was called A-1 Shipping Supplies. It was made for the yellow pages basically, but 35 years later, there is no yellow pages and A-1 looks cheesy as hell. Oh, by the way, they’re doing food packaging, primarily not shipping supplies. And you deal with it. When your name is causing dissonance or hurting your credibility or preventing growth, you change it. Now, in their case, they changed their name to Rocket line, and they created a quirky, whimsical name that didn’t have a lot of meaning, but it allowed them to shape what they want to be.
Jeremy Miller: But the key in changing a name is that all that meaning and all those experiences people have had with you are associated with the one name, you have to deliberately pour those contents into the other vessel. And so you have to have a marketing strategy and a communication strategy of how you’re going to convey what your new name is and why you’re changing it to customers, prospects, and whoever it is. The nice thing is as a small business, you could probably call up all of your customers and tell them face to face or over the phone why you did it, whereas if you’re talking about a large global or multinational company, it’s a lot more complicated. But generally speaking, it’s not that hard, and so if your name hurts you, change it.
John Jantsch: Is there a place for a transition? In other words, go through two name changes or something? You’ve seen people do that, where they blend the logos or something like that. Does that make sense or does that just make it harder?
Jeremy Miller: I guess you would have to tell me what the strategy is. I think within mergers, that sometimes makes sense, but those are probably larger entities with a larger communication strategy. What I would suggest is go with the name for the brand you want to be. So whatever you look at three, five, 10 years, don’t worry about what’s happening in the next 18 months, think about where you’re going and choose the name for that. What you need, though, in your communication strategy is … Where most people underestimate is how long they should be communicating the change. So they do say a 90 day or a six month campaign to communicate the change, but-
John Jantsch: “We did a press release.”
Jeremy Miller: Yeah. It’s 18 months minimum. 18 months.
John Jantsch: Yeah. You already mentioned this idea of domain names. I mean, have you ever come up with a name, and then first thing you did was look for the domain and just said, “No, it’s a nonstarter, because we can’t get a good name.” I mean, are we at a point where that is dictating branding?
Jeremy Miller: If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have said yes, 100%. Today, no. I think domain names are losing a little bit of relevance. So now, we add a descriptor. So for example, say you wanted to call your company Grant, and you want a grant.com, well I know that’s available right now, but it’s $10,000 a month on lease. I don’t know about you, but I got better ways to spend that kind of money on an annual basis. So what you look at is … So Tesla was Tesla Motors until very recently, or Buffer ran as Buffer app until their second round of funding and they could afford to buy the .com. Focus on creating a great name, and then put a descriptor on it or get creative.
Jeremy Miller: One of my favorites is Zoom, they have zoom.us or Zoom us, so they made their name a verb. The only place people are seeing domain names primarily today is in your marketing collateral and your business cards. When you go to a browser, you type in the word not in the URL, and when you see it on a website or somewhere else, you click the link, or more likely you’re going to be talking to Siri or Alexa and not even saying the URL.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Well, and there’s, as you just mentioned, .us and .ios and all those I think have become pretty … People are very accepting of those. And I think you’re right. I’m sure there’s a zoom.com, I haven’t Googled it, but I’m sure there’s a zoom.com, and so then if somebody has the exact name and a .com, that probably could lead to some confusion.
Jeremy Miller: It could, but it’s like trademarks, are they in the same space and the same category? Like you have Pandora, which is jewelry and Pandora, which is a streaming music service. So you can have multiple companies using the same names, but because they operate in different places, they can get away with it, and especially small businesses. Chances are we are local, and so the fact that there’s someone else named what you’re named in another state, it may not be all that relevant.
John Jantsch: You’re right, the behavior has changed. It used to be .com or nothing else, and I think that now, as you said, it’s not so important that people are typing it, as long as you do the fundamental SEO stuff with it.
Jeremy Miller: Here’s my most fundamental comment to branding, and this is a bit of a flippant, but build a great business. The classic example is you see a restaurant, comes out with brilliant marketing, brilliant ad campaign, beautiful restaurant, great everything, and then you get food poisoning. So the brand is, “Don’t go back to that place, I got food poisoning.” None of the marketing mattered. And I think you could actually start a small business with a terrible name, but do such great work that people love you and they come back and they refer you, and that’s your brand actually. It’s two parts. A brand is based on what you’ve done, so the results that you have delivered to your clients, and branding is what you’re going to do.
Jeremy Miller: Now, if the name starts to hurt you or you grow beyond it, now you need marketing that needs reach and that crappy name doesn’t work for you anymore, absolutely change it, but never lose sight that the quality of your business is the number one predictor of the quality of your brand.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I’ve often said, and listeners of my show will recognize this, that every business has a brand, I think it’s just whether or not they are directing it intentionally, so that goes so much to that. Jeremy, where can people find out more about you and your work and of course, pick up a copy of Brand New Name.
Jeremy Miller: Well, Brand New Name will be sold wherever books are sold. It comes out on October 8th, so Amazon for sure. And the best way to find me is just to Google Sticky Branding. Stickybranding.com is my website, and I’m on all the social networks @stickybranding, and I’d love to connect with everyone.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks for taking the time, Jeremy, and hopefully we’ll see you out there on the road soon.
Jeremy Miller: Awesome. Thanks John.