The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Twenty-eight years ago, in a book entitled Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, I wrote: "The single most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product."
By now, the world seems to agree.
A booklet from Johnson & Johnson says: "Our company’s name and trademarks are by far our most valuable assets."
The former chairman of Quaker Oats says: "If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill, and you could have all the bricks and mortar–and I would fare better than you."
A former commissioner of the Patent and Trademark Office said that a trademark is "frequently a more valuable asset of a business than all other assets combined."
A survey of 400 companies by our naming partner Steve Rivkin shows that, compared to three years ago, marketers are introducing more names, trying more ways to nail down a name and finding it more difficult to get the job done.
The availability of names is today’s No. 1 problem. Communications overload is strangling the world of names too.
There are about 2.5 million registered trademarks in the United States–and at least 3 million more in the rest of the world. Last year, more than 500,000 new names were registered around the world. A standard dictionary has about 100,000 entries. We’re running out of words to use for names. So, how hard is it to come up with a good name for a product? Here’s how hard. A number of years ago, the industrial products sector of Kimberly-Clark actually trademarked the name "Brand X."
How hard is it to name your company?
A Nasdaq company CEO ran an employee contest to rename the corporation. It dumped 3,400 suggestions into his lap. Not a winner among them.
That’s not unusual. Nine of every 10 names you search won’t be available.
Let’s say you’re trying to name a simple product, like a new household glue. You size up the adhesive technology from research and development, you size up the competition, you gather some creative types and brainstorm a list of possibilities:
Benchmark, Bulldog, First Choice, Grand Slam, Intac, Laser Bond, Laser Loc, Powerhouse, Python, Rock Solid, Samson, Strong Arm, Terminator, Top Grip, Xtra.
Pretty good, huh? Just one small problem. Every one of those names is already taken, already registered as a trademark by someone else.
So what’s happening? Brand names are becoming more and more like real estate.
Companies are beginning to collect brand names for sale. I ran across just such a company that actually owns the trademarks of 100 or so brand or product names. They even have them categorized by segment such as hair care (eight brands), convenience foods (18 brands), household products (four brands). They even have some well-known corporate names for sale.
And these are not silly, made-up names. They are brand names from the likes of Clairol, Warner Lambert, Revlon, Nabisco, Lever, Kellogg’s and others. They are just not in use anymore.
Can you bring back an old name and make some money? Yes, you can–just as Lavoris, Ovaltine and Porcelana fade cream made a comeback. But you’re limited.
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In brands, it’s awareness, awareness, awareness. Does your target market remember the name and still have a warm spot in their hearts for it? You’ll never get back to glory, but you might generate some business. Still, it won’t be as profitable as the current lead brands. Will Eversharp razors do as well up against Gillette? Will Braniff ever get off the ground as an airline up against Southwest? Not likely.
As the president of J.B. Williams (owner of somewhat ancient Brylcream, Aqua Velva and Lectric Shave brands) once said, "There’s a franchise there that even neglect couldn’t destroy."
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