Four simple rules to make sure your trademark is limber enough to play in the big leagues.
Clients looking for a new brand name often warn that it must be easy to spell (among a host of other concerns) when, in reality, that's a consideration that can have little bearing on a brand's ability to be embraced. Many brands these days are primarily encountered visually -- be it on the web or through advertising -- and when all a potential customer has to do is click a link to find out more, they don't need to know how something is spelled. They just need to know how to get to the brand... wherever it may exist.
That said, not just any word will do. There's no substitute for thinking through the creation of your trademark, the strategy behind its launch and maintenance, and the many places where it might (and should) appear.
Getting In The Game
There are four simple rules to follow that can help assure that your trademark can at least get in the game. (Caveat: Just because the rules are simple to understand doesn't make them easy to execute.)
Rule #1: The brand name must be distinctive.
Clearly, in today's crowded marketplace, a new trademark has to have the power to be noticed. The only way to be effective is to gain the attention of consumers who are being avalanched in a glut of information. Whether it's a real word seen in a new context, an invented brand name with no inherent meaning, or a word that's been misspelled on purpose, distinctiveness in your category is key.
Rule #2: The brand name must be easy to search.
Once again, how important is spelling? Even when we're saying that a trademark has to be easily searchable, you've got some latitude. Internet search engines such as as Google and Bing will return searches on misspelled words even while asking if you didn't mean to look for the correct spelled version. Take out a letter here (such as in flickr) or substitute one letter for another (as with birst), and the world can still beat a path to your brand's door.
Rule #3: The brand name must work across multiple media and web platforms.
Today you need to be reasonably certain that the name you're creating will have to fit just as comfortably on the edge of a new handheld device as it would rolling up the side of the Goodyear blimp. One place today's brands are likely to appear is on an app on an iPhone, Droid or other smartphone device. Keep in mind that the average "acreage" of an app button, for instance, measures 57×57 pixels.
That's about the size of your pinky fingernail. What message can you get across on a billboard that size?
Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in the world but the app that carries its name has little to do with the beverage. Instead, it's the electronic equivalent of the old Magic 8 Ball -- answering questions with a randomized selection of smug answers. One wonders why the company didn't use their much shorter yet equally well-recognized brand name: Coke.
By comparison, Vree is an app specifically designed for diabetes management by Merck pharmaceuticals. Created by Lexicon Branding, the Vree name is short and quick, while supporting the idea of being free from worry and free in general (the app doesn't cost anything). The size of the name alone allows Merck to place it in advertising and other merchandising very easily, where it can begin to tell its own story.
Rule #4: The brand name must work well across many languages.
This may be the trickiest rule in the bunch. If you're marketing on the Internet -- even if your product or service is locally-based -- you are now reaching an international marketplace. And if the name for your offering means something offensive or even off-putting in another language, you could end up not only icing yourself out of that market, but others as well if the offensive translation becomes widely known.
Names that share familiar common roots, such as Latin, Greek or Sanskrit, tend to work well in many parts of the world. Even if the word isn't clearly understood, there can be enough of the meaning coming through that the audience "gets" what your brand is about.
Where semantics (the meanings of words) falls down, other factors such as sound symbolism (a principle discussed previously in this blog) can help invented solutions such as Pentium, Febreze or Venza gain acceptance and take on the unique meaning that is your product or service no matter what country or web page in which it is encountered.
Can following the four simple rules guaranteed success for your brand name? Of course not. There are many factors involved in bringing a successful new trademark to market, starting with whether the product or service you're offering is something that people want to buy. But without a name that's been built to be strong and flexible enough to deliver your message by means of whatever avenues are available, you'll never get off the ground.
Marc Hershon is the co-author of the business book I Hate People (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Jonathan Littman. Marc is a branding expert who, as an Associate with Lexicon Branding, has helped to create such memorable names as BlackBerry, Swiffer, nüvi, and Crackle.com