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Kluster to capitalize on the wisdom of crowds

March 3, 2008 at 10:09 am in Business

There’s an interesting article in today’s New York Times – Putting Innovation in the Hands of a Crowd – about a new startup called Kluster, “the newest in a lineup of companies using the Web to channel the collective wisdom of strangers into meaningful business strategies.” That has been the Wordlab philosophy for a decade now, minus that bit about having a meaningful business strategy.

The mention in the article of ideas “proudly found elsewhere” taps right into the ethos of Wordlab and our free community forum, the Wordboard:

Don Tapscott, the business strategy consultant and co-author of the book “Wikinomics,” said executives were quickly warming to the strategic value of “P.F.E.” ideas, or those “proudly found elsewhere.”

“Throughout the 20th century, we’ve had this view that talent is inside the company,” Mr. Tapscott said. “But with the Web, collaboration costs are dropping outside the boundaries of companies, so the world can become your talent.”

Mr. Tapscott, who credited Procter & Gamble with the P.F.E. concept, said executives can go overboard with the idea of outsourcing innovation if, in seeking such help, they expose too much of a company’s trade secrets. But so far, he knows of no business that has done so.

“They always err on the other side,” he said. “They don’t do enough.”

So, if you are in need of free, crowdsourced and possibly incentive-lubricated naming help for your company, product or goldfish, Wordlab is the place to be, with many registered members waiting to chime in with advice.

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The Evolution of Tech Companies’ Logos and Evocative Names

February 8, 2008 at 9:55 am in Names/Naming

Buzzing around the blogosphere, there’s an interesting post about the evolution of tech companies’ logos that caught our attention with this story about the Nokia logo.

In 1865, Knut Fredrik Idestam established a wood-pulp mill in Tampere, south-western Finland. It took on the name Nokia after moving the mill to the banks of the Nokianvirta river in the town of Nokia. The word “Nokia” in Finnish, by the way, means a dark, furry animal we now call the Pine Marten weasel.

The modern company we know as the Nokia Corporation was actually a merger between Finnish Rubber Works (which also used a Nokia brand), the Nokia Wood Mill, and the Finnish Cable Works in 1967.

Before focusing on telecommunications and cell phones, Nokia produced paper products, bicycle and car tires, shoes, television, electricity generators, and so on.

Source: about-nokia.com

Recently, Nokia evolved its naming and branding strategy, as well, with evocative product names, such as Luna, Arte, and Evolve.

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Meet Mary Christmas

December 22, 2007 at 8:05 am in Language, Names/Naming


That’s Brian Christmas in the background…I think you get the picture.

According to Ancestry.com:

The surname Christmas originated in Wales, sometimes given to people born on Christmas Day.There are 89 people named Mary Christmas in the U.S. [no mention Wales or elsewhere on this one].

Other Christmas-related names on U.S. Public Records include: Jack Frost, Santa Claus, Santa Helper, Carol Christmas, On Christmas and Christmas House.

Other names found in the U.S. Public Records include: Xmas Alley, Past Xmas, Eve Xmas, Kris Kringle, Snow Ball, Snow Flakes, Saint Nicholas, Rudolph Reindeer and Ginger Bread [I think I knew a stripper named Snowball].

There is no Frosty the Snowman, but 1,700 individuals show up with the surname Snowman in the census records [1700 Snowmen and not a Frosty among them? ...wimps].

Christmas is also a popular first name, according to census records. These include Christmas Joy, Christmas Day, Christmas Week, Christmas Coal, Christmas Cane, Merry Christmas Kellogg and Christmas December.

That’s it for Christmas – Happy Seasonal Tides and Greetings!

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Scratch and Sniff Marketing

December 3, 2007 at 8:52 pm in Branding

Have a listen to Weekend America’s piece: Forget Ads, What’s Your Brand?, which chronicles the unconventionally successful marketing approach of Hollister Co., the $1.4B annual sales boost for parent Abercrombie and Fitch.

Almost every Saturday, 15-year-old Emily Erickson is at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Most of its 500 stores don’t interest her, except Hollister, a clothing store for teens. Hollister is odd. It’s dark, with music so loud you can’t hear yourself shop. The air is filled with a deep citrus scent that stays on your clothes for hours. But Emily loves it and keeps coming back. Hollister’s “brand” invites her to become part of a particular tribe, and to show her allegiance by wearing its clothes. It’s part of the way that branding has taken over from traditional advertising. We hear from brand designer Joe Duffy about the concept of “brand” for clothes, kids and even countries.

…So Emily and Hollister have found each other. It’s not just about cute clothes. It’s about being part of group, your tribe, the people who care about the things that you care about, who think about the things you think about. Duffy says this has been part of a massive change in marketing. It’s becoming easier and easier to ignore and even avoid ads, so they have to speak to you in other ways.

A kinder, gentler brainwash? I can’t help thinking of Kramer’s beach scented cologne.
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Managing Your Individual Brand

November 11, 2007 at 11:10 am in Branding

Big Brother is watching you.

You knew that.

But how about all the little brothers and cousins googling you from time to time?

“Everyone is an individual brand — the ‘you’ brand. If managed incorrectly, this can have negative consequences when it comes to getting a job, advancing your career or maintaining a positive reputation…” more….

So, can you remove unwanted search results about yourself from the search engines? It may be possible and there are steps you can take, but according to Leo Notenboom (Ask-Leo.com) it is pretty much a lost cause.

Think carefully then about profile information you attach to yourself online; screen names, interests, etc. If you jokingly listed a serial killer as personal hero in a forum profile several years ago or even if you gave yourself your a seemingly innocuous screen name like Skaterdude at some point, the information remains and can influence how a potential employer, co-worker, customer, mate, etc., might perceive you.

Be careful with your brand kids. It’s the only one you’ve got.

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Centrifugal Deforest

October 25, 2007 at 9:27 am in Business

I started a new blog, Centrifugal Deforest – Stock Market at a Lance. It will update each market day and is focused on the upcoming bear market in the US; whenever it comes; this year, next year or sometime in your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s future – I will be there.

The name doesn’t really refer to the stock market – hell, it doesn’t refer to the stock market in the least. And apparently I am breaking all the finer rules for smart blog-naming. So, perhaps the name is clunky, meaningless and impossible to remember.

Actually, it is not totally meaningless. Centrifugal Deforest was the term that sprang to mind some years back when I heard the pseudo-scientific theory that the Earth’s rotation is beginning to accelerate as the world’s tall trees come down. Exactly the way the ice skater spins faster and faster as the arms are brought inward.

So until I am forced to re-name, like virtually every project in the past, I’m sticking with it.

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Where did Alibaba, the brand name, come from?

October 15, 2007 at 10:30 am in Names/Naming

AlibabaEarlier this year, the International Herald Tribune put the spotlight on Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba.com:

“I’m a normal guy,” he said during a recent interview in Singapore. “I feel ashamed because I feel I’m stealing the contribution of my team. They made it; my job is more, ‘Let’s go do it.’”

Started in 1999, Alibaba International is now the world’s largest online business-to-business marketplace, with more than 500,000 people visiting the site every day and 2.5 million registered users from more than 200 countries. By targeting small and midsize companies, the site, for example, allows a mom-and-pop toy maker in China to sell directly to a shopkeeper in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Alibaba China has become the largest Chinese-language business-to-business marketplace with around 14 million registered users. The privately held company does not reveal its financial data. However, Alibaba’s deals with Yahoo in 2005 — in which Yahoo took a 40 percent stake in Alibaba, while folding its own China business into Alibaba’s — valued the Chinese company at about $3 billion at the time, said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.

Today, it was announced that Alibaba.com Ltd., operator of China’s largest trading Web site for companies, and its parent may raise as much as HK$10.3 billion ($1.3 billion) in a Hong Kong initial public offering that attracted investors including Yahoo! Inc., according to this Bloomberg article.

So, you might be asking, “Is this where the forty thieves come in?” alluding to the tale of The Thousand and One Nights. We’ll leave that for the financial analysts to consider. But what of the brand? Is it not counter-intuitive for a trading company to choose a name that might be associated with thieves? More about that later, but first: where did Alibaba, the brand name, come from? On a company forum on the Internet, we found this discussion quoting an interview with Alibaba.com’s CEO, Jack Ma:

LH – Now Alibaba… Fancy name, catchy too! But it conjures up, at least to me, something to do with thieves, not legitimate business. Why Alibaba?

JM – One day I was in San Francisco in a coffee shop, and I was thinking Alibaba is a good name. And then a waitress came, and I said do you know about Alibaba? And she said yes. I said what do you know about Alibaba, and she said ‘Open Sesame.’ And I said yes, this is the name! Then I went onto the street and found 30 people and asked them, ‘Do you know Alilbaba’? People from India, people from Germany, people from Tokyo and China… They all knew about Alibaba. Alibaba — open sesame. Alibaba — 40 thieves. Alibaba is not a thief. Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village. So…easy to spell, and global know. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies. We also registered the name AliMama, in case someone wants to marry us!

Alibaba is a provocation.

Many of the best names are provocations: Virgin, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Fannie Mae, Gap, Banana Republic, Crossfire. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call “negative messages” for the goods and services the name is to represent.

Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages positively. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth.

Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one of all.

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What is Spotted Dick?

October 12, 2007 at 1:34 pm in Culture / History, Names/Naming

In Harry Potter Goblet of Fire, Ronald Weasley tempts Hermoine with his Spotted Dick. ‘Treacle tart, Hermione!’ said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell toward her. ‘Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!’

Strangely enough, Spotted Dick isn’t yet mentioned in the extensive list of misleading food names, although it has its own entry, on Wikipedia.

Spotted Dick

Here’s an interesting little article on the name, and a recipe in case you’d like to eat Spotted Dick in the privacy of your own home:

Spotted Dick, ever a favorite pudding through the years, has as much a spotted history as complexion. As for the name, it’s a case of the chicken and the egg. Known to have been served in Britain for over 200 years, this sweet cakey, currenty treat was a favorite of Captin Jack Aubrey, hero of the Patrick O’Brien novels. Legends trace it back to England, and even Ireland (where it is called Sweet Cake, Curnie Cake or Railway Cake). As old as Christmas Pudding, itself, one has to wonder, where did the name come from?

Is it, as someone has suggested, a derivation of Spotted Pudding? That theory holds that “Pudding” was shortened to “Puddink”, from there to “Puddick” and then just “Dick.” Other histories call it Spotted Dog, and while this may be editing on behalf of good taste, it makes sense.

Never had it myself, but there’s an authentic English pub in Toronto named The Spotted Dick and we ate there!

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Duct Tape or Duck Tape?

October 9, 2007 at 8:53 pm in Language

We’re big fans of Duct Tape Marketing, and also find the naming and branding of Duck Tape simply brilliant. Which brings us to this linguistic brain teaser: “Is it ‘duck tape’ or ‘duct tape’?”

Cunning linguists will subscribe to HotForWords. Quick question: “Are subscribers getting ‘naughtyfied’?”

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Coining words and the caprice in names

October 2, 2007 at 8:31 am in Names/Naming, Slang

Great little article about word coinage and naming by Steven Pinker in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, How do we come up with words? Here is a morsel, about the viral nature of baby names and the human tendency to want to be different, but not too different:

Many people assume these fads are inspired by celebrities (Marilyn Monroe made Marilyn popular) or social trends (biblical names are popular during religious revivals; androgynous names are a legacy of feminism). But sociologist Stanley Lieberson has pored through naming data and disproved every one of these hypotheses. The cause of baby names is other baby names. Parents have an ear for names that are a bit distinctive (as if to follow Sam Goldwyn’s advice not to name your son William because every Tom, Dick and Harry is named William) without being too distinctive (only celebrities can get away with naming their children Moon Unit or Banjo). The trends arise when everyone tries to be moderately distinctive and ends up being moderately distinctive in the same way.

I love that advice from Sam Goldwyn. And that bit about everyone trying to be distinctive but ending up being “moderately distinctive in the same way” reminds me of the clusters of like names we see in nearly every industry. Take SUV names, for instance, where all the automakers tend to promote a “rugged individualist” theme, then serve up the same kind of names for their vehicles, often named to evoke either the idea of exploration — Blazer, Discovery, Expedition, Navigator, Safari, Scout, Tracker, Trooper — or of a mythic rugged western pioneer landscape — Montana, Rainier, Santa Fe, Sequoia, Sonoma, Tacoma, Tahoe, Yukon. So all of you rugged individualists out there looking express your distinctiveness through your choice of ride, these big beasts of cars are betraying that ideal by blending their names in with each other.

Also fascinating in this article is the idea that naming trends cannot be reliably predicted or engineered, because they are dependent upon the behavior of the masses, and that behavior is chaotic:

Pundits often treat a culture as if it were a superorganism that pursues goals and finds meaning, just like a person. But the fortunes of words, a cultural practice par excellence, don’t fit that model. Names change with the times, yet they don’t fulfill needs, don’t reflect other social trends and aren’t driven by role models or Madison Avenue. A “trend” is shorthand for the aggregate effects of millions of people making decisions while anticipating and reacting to the decisions made by others, and these dynamics can be stubbornly chaotic.

This unpredictability holds a lesson for our understanding of culture more generally. Like the words in a language, the practices in a culture — every fashion, ritual, common belief — must originate with an innovator, must then appeal to the innovator’s acquaintances and then to the acquaintance’s acquaintances, until it becomes endemic to a community. The caprice in names suggests we should be skeptical of most explanations for other mores and customs.

Yes. Beware of “expert” opinion that labors to convince you that “scientific” explanations — linguistics, focus groups, trend analysis — trumps good old fashioned meaning, story, history, mythology, poetry, rhythm, and shared knowledge when considering names for companies, products, or services. Anything else is just putting ketchup on a potato bug.