BRAND names don’t just happen to exist. Someone has to find the perfect name to fit the product and distinguish it from its competitors. In many cases, that person is David Placek, the president and founder of Lexicon Branding.
Along with his team, Placek is called on by corporations and start-ups to help invent the product names that will roll of our tongues every day. Think BlackBerry, the Suburu Outback, the Apple PowerBook, Febreze, Colgate Optic White, Paypass and so many more. If done right, naming a product can elevate it from the pack. When Lexicon came up with the name for the Intel Pentium, it gave the processor chip a status that it never had before.
But these names don’t just fall out of the sky. There is a process involved to create them as Placek explained.
“We start by thinking about what is the product, what is its reason for being and why is this company doing it,” he told News Corp Australia. “You want a name not to make a statement or describe something but it really is the beginning of a story. We’re trying to get people’s interest. We’re trying to lead their imagination in a certain direction and very importantly we want to be distinctive from anything out there in the market. “To get people to change from one product to another you have to say ‘hey we are different’.”
In the case of the Suburu Outback, the carmaker came to Lexicon at a time when sales were declining for their station wagons.
Lexicon told Subaru that launching another American Western-themed car would not give the company a competitive advantage. So they looked to the Australian outback.
“That car really helped Suburu to become the company it is today. That idea came from looking at the adventure and ruggedness of the Australian outback” he said. And hence the name was born.
In an interview with the BBC last year, Placek described the process of naming the BlackBerry. The company behind it, Ontario, was thinking of names such as MegaMail and ProMail, both favourites in their eyes.
But Placek and his team weren’t keen on those, and after “free associating” words (a term Placek and his team use to describe the process of tossing around random words until one sticks), someone said “strawberry” to convey enjoyment and freshness and then someone else suggested “blackberry”. After changing the spelling to incorporate two capital Bs the name was settled on.
What might sound like an easy process can actually take the experts at Lexicon about eight weeks to complete.
And it’s worth the time and effort, because as Placek points out, a product or a company’s name is usually permanent. “When you think of your brand or corporate name nothing will be used more often or for a longer period of time. It’s the one thing that your competitors can’t take away from you. It’s a strategic tool not just a label,” he said.
In essence, the team at Lexicon Branding state that a new brand name must: work across multiple media platforms and across the internet, be easy to search — yet distinctive within the context of blogs, YouTube and Twitter environments, able to be registered in key countries and be able to travel around the world. To help in this naming process Lexicon employs a range of linguists who work with the team on how the name sounds when pronounced. When a company came to Lexicon recently wanting a brand name for their cleaning mop, the team got straight to work.
“Think of cleaning; sweep, swipe, dust, wash. These are sounds that are associated with cleaning,” he said.
“Swiffer [the name they came up with] contains these familiar and effective sounds in an original idea that offers new value and performance.” But since Placek started the company 30 years ago, the digital era has altered the naming process and Lexicon is confronted with new challenges. Today, there are more than 19.5 million active trademarks and 230 million URLs in the world, meaning Lexicon has to keep evolving. “To give you an example there are over 700,000 registered products in the US technology sector and there’s still only 26 letters in the alphabet,” he said, pointing out the company’s need to be creative .
But as long as people keep inventing products, you can bet Placek will keep inventing ways to name them.