NAME GRADE: Bluebird from American Express

Widening the flock of prepaid credit cards, American Express has teamed up with Walmart to launch Bluebird. The card boasts a number of convenient ways to add funds, most notably at freestanding kiosks found in nearly all Walmart stores, and without many of the fees that competitors charge. The pitch: this is a simple, convenient, and freeing way to make purchases. And the name, Bluebird, says so beautifully.

CONSUMER IMPACT: 5/5 (Category Leader)

Bluebird excels at capturing beneficial financial features into a name that’s as far from “financial” as it gets: transcending bankspeak, and emphasizing the benefits in purely emotional ways.

Financial brands continue to wake up to the opportunity that naming represents. After innovating convenient, time-saving, life-simplifying features, they’re getting better at once-squandered opportunities to select language and imagery that actually captures the lifestyle benefits that their features enable.  We’ve written at length about the commonly missed opportunity for banks to do so, both on our Financial Naming page, and in a recent ABA Bank Marketing Magazine article about the benefits of putting a friendly face on friendly financial products. Brands like SmartyPig and Popmoney are appearing more and more: embodying the carefree sentiment that goes along with simplifying features. Framing banking products around customers’ lives, rather than forcing customers to acclimate to a cold and foreign financial vocabulary.

Bluebird is a hopeful name, evoking flight, worry-free shopping, sing-song ease of use. At face value, it has nothing to do with money. Liquid, the name of Chase’s competitive entry, has similarly convenient, fluid meaning. But it’s still rooted in familiar financial terminology. Yes, somewhere in our unconscious, we want to know that our assets are “liquid” when shopping for holiday presents, but Bluebird is more enticing – and more freeing – in saying the same thing without grounding us in the mire of financial considerations.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 5/5 (Category Leader)

As mentioned, Bluebird pushes the financial naming convention into new territory. It is not so descriptive as Liquid, or Visa’s Buxx or UPside (let alone Mastercard “Prepaid”) – all of which have at least subtle tiebacks to financial concepts or themes. Even when most financial institutions try their hardest to escape the ubiquitously dry, descriptive industry vocabulary, they seem unable to avoid some degree of attachment to the well-worn concepts that get affixed to our money, and the ideas we’ve all come to expect from bank marketing.

Bluebird’s strength is in its purely suggestive nature. There is no need to say “easy money” literally within the name, as the metaphor and visual mnemonic of a flitting bird is enough to tell the story. It is competitively distinctive both in the originality of the bird theme – and in the very convention of a suggestive name.

 

BRAND EXPRESSION: 4/5 (Creates Advantage)

Another brilliant feature of Bluebird’s most brilliant feature is the way it harkens back to American Express, resonating the “blue” equity that they’ve built through years of support for their successful personal card brand.

Blue has become synonymous with American Express: their Blue, Blue Sky and Blue Cash rewards cards, even their JetBlue relationship, have cemented ownership of the color.

Some might fear that Bluebird as a standalone name would be too vague to drive understanding that this is a prepaid card, lacking those descriptive cues that other names like Buxx and Liquid (let alone Walmart’s “Moneycard”) offer. Many financial institutions would shy away from such a suggestive name on the grounds that it “requires too much explanation.” While we explain here why this is a common misconception, Bluebird does benefit greatly from the immediate recognition of the American Express brand that sits beneath it on the card. The quick recognition that Amex=credit card enables them to build upon a strong foundation with evocative imagery. “Blue” further drives the tie-in, helping an already great name deliver even greater clarity.

Not to mention, Walmart, another blue brand, only strengthens the color coordination.

In short, Bluebird delivers on the growing trend of financial institutions realizing that their brands needn’t be articulated with well-worn bankspeak. In the same way that customers respond to features that make their life easier, they embrace names that tell a similarly happy story.

NAME GRADE:  14/ 15 (A)

How are our Name Grades calculated? Read about our rating philosophy and process here.

NAME GRADE: Alto by Aol

Aol announced a reinvigorated approach to the world of email today, launching the new ALTO email service. Rather than competing with email providers, something which historically has proven difficult to accomplish, the service works more as an aggregator, a filter, and an organizer for email, making the experience more visual and user-friendly.

The name Alto works nicely. Here’s an excerpt from Fast Company’s account of the launch, with AOL’s statement about its origin:

We wanted something abstract and easy to spell that can expand beyond mail,” says AOL’s David Temkin. “It suggests a high-level view of email and has a good history in the tech industry.” (The Xerox Alto, developed in the ’70s, was one of the first personal computers.)

Alto is indeed flexible for growth and doesn’t limit to a particular feature or function (though the URL, altomail.com, arguably does.) The question of the day, though, is whether Alto is anything more than a neutral, somewhat generic word – and whether it has the power to change behavior in a space where most users are pretty set in their ways.

CONSUMER IMPACT: 3/5 (Neutral Impact)

Alto has two likely connotations: (1) its common meaning as a vocal range in music (“high” in Italian), see: Mariah Carey; (2) a more generalized sense of height, from the same latin root, or familiarly in English: altitude. Something seen in a number of names from Altria to Alta Vista to Alteon. It’s a positive concept that doesn’t require a particular definition but that it’s advantageous, lofty, and inspires confidence. Alto accomplishes this, and pairs nicely with the sentiment that it offers a high-level, big-picture view of your email world. But Temkin’s assessment that the name can expand beyond mail, while true, can sometimes represent a double-edged sword. A “neutral” name risks a lack of energy or human interest in its pursuit of flexibility. Unlike other open-ended names like Google and Yahoo! and Apple, Alto offers less associative meaning to hold onto – less to excite or engage or inspire affinity. And in that sense, the name likely lacks the energy needed to disrupt the average person’s email routine. Even in its lofty connotations, Alto lacks the vibrancy that a “game-changing” service should impart.

BRAND EXPRESSION: 3/5 (Neutral Impact)

Aol’s large suite of content brands are somewhat all over the map. Given the large number of acquisitions of high-profile names like engadget and mapquest and HuffPo, they’ve taken a house of brands model – while at the same time offering a number of endorsed, descriptively-named services like Aol Jobs. And Aol Autos. In between is a third set of home-grown brands that offer some semblance of a convention…short, suggestive names that Alto arguably complements: Skye, the name of their weather service; On, their media trending channel; and of course, aim, a name that made the leap from acronym to evocative-word through familiarization. Aol had a tricky challenge of distinguishing Alto from its mail provider service, Aol Mail, while simultaneously reaping the master-brand benefits of a new flagship mail client.  The inclusion of A, O, and L in the name may help draw the connection back to Aol, but overall, Alto feels more like a standalone brand than part of any family of content brands. The Italian flair sounds more like a Starbucks product than the casual, familiar, even cheeky voice that Aol has used throughout the brand. “Alot” may have been a better fit, if they were committed to those 4 letters. Aol has a long way to go before their corporate brand imparts a sense of cohesiveness among their disparate content sources. So while Alto clearly suggests a continued appreciation for suggestive brand names over descriptive naming when launching important new initiatives, it’s not helping to rally around any specific master vision.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 4/5 (Creates Advantage)

The name Alto does distinguish from other leading email provider names, which generally build from the name of the company that birthed them: Google’s Gmail, Yahoo’s Yahoo Mail, Aol’s Aol Mail. Conspicuously absent from the mail options within the Alto framework is the brand whose name is most thematically similar, and the name that does a better job of capturing a positive promise: Outlook. Microsoft has recently doubled down on the Outlook brand for their mail service, leaving Hotmail and MSN behind. Like Alto, Outlook imparts a high-level vision of one’s communications, schedule, and future – in an equally flexible manner. But because the word is more user-friendly, it resonates more than Alto. Still, Alto has a unique tone and personality among email services, and nicely distinguishes the brand from “mail”-centric email names.

NAME GRADE: 10/15 (B-)

In short, Alto is a strong, convenient, flexible word that’s memorable and easy to use. But it doesn’t do much to rally or reinvigorate Aol’s email brand and therefore misses its opportunity to be more disruptive and to more powerfully redefine what “email” can mean.

How are our Name Grades calculated? Read about our rating philosophy and process here.

NAME GRADE: Lenovo Yoga

I loved finding this article this morning in Mashable – discussing Lenovo’s new Yoga name for their laptop/tablet (laplet?). It’s always great for the naming industry when mainstream media ask intelligent questions about product names. And this article raises one big question: where will Lenovo will take the momentum of this excellent name?

For the first time, we’re giving a grade of Incomplete. Lenovo’s statements indicate that they have more homework to do before an adequate assessment of the name can be holistically made.

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CONSUMER IMPACT: 5/5 (Category Leader)

Here’s where the name shines the most. Yoga is a perfect fit for the product, describing a key piece of functionality, but in a suggestive way that’s dynamic, engaging, and memorable. We’ve long praised the strength of Adobe’s Acrobat brand – a name that suggests the nimbleness, skill, and mobility that Acrobat documents afford the user. Like Acrobat, Yoga is a concept we know – and like – from outside of the technology category. Applying it to a computer humanizes it, makes it more friendly and approachable, and creates a memorable mnemonic by which to remember the functionality. Moreover, Yoga has very specific connotations of health, serenity, and wisdom – ideas that give a computer an extra boost of confidence in a stress-free user experience.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 5/5 (Category Leader)

This is not the first electronic to tout its physical characteristics. Brands like Flip and Twist and Pivot come to mind as product names that literally emphasized a device’s ability to contort. But these names, while strong and direct, lacked the humanity of Yoga. Looking further at competitive names like Surface and iPad and Playbook and Kindle – many of which are quite suggestive and engaging – Yoga distinguishes immensely on the basis of that experiential promise.

BRAND EXPRESSION: ? TBD

Here’s the catch: what does Yoga do for the Lenovo brand? At the moment, it’s a potentially game-changing product for Lenovo, but frankly does little to support a bigger brand story. The encouraging words in the Mashable review, however, suggest that they’re on the case.

The company’s marketing chief [David Romo] says the laptop/tablet hybrid’s name was a serendipitous moment, and Lenovo will be re-examining how it names its products in the near future.

“Serendipity” is a frightening concept to pair with a product naming decision. While it can lead to an incredibly strong product name like Yoga, it can also yield a muddied and confusing namescape for customers to decipher.

Romo clearly gets it: “’We are looking at our naming overall,’ he says. ‘We don’t feel that our naming is up to snuff. It can be confusing. Taken product by product it makes sense, but put them together it doesn’t.’”

To maximize Yoga’s potential, Lenovo does need to look at how they name every product. And, though they didn’t create a vision for naming before Yoga was announced, it’s not to late too develop one now that brings focus and clarity to future efforts. A Name Grade – and the ultimate strength of the Lenovo brand – hangs in the balance.

NAME GRADE: ? / 15 (Incomplete)

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How are our Name Grades calculated? Read about our rating philosophy and process here.

Dubbing the Dew, Doing Lays a Flavor…How To Correctly Crowdsource Naming

This summer, Lays launched Do Us A Flavor: a crowdsourced flavor ideation contest that has – at least in my Facebook circle – recently gained some traction. The promotion invites open-ended flavor (and accompanying name) suggestions, with virtually any imaginable option on the table: “mac&cheese” to “ipad flavor”  to “Bluth’s Frozen Bananas” to “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS”– anything goes.

For us namers, crowdsourcing is a tricky topic. At first glance, it’s putting important decisions in the hands of passive participants in the brand. And in that sense it’s frightening. Especially when it invites the kinds of negative interaction that plagued the ill-fated Dub the Dew crowdsourcing initiative earlier this year, where hacktivists submitted and click-bombed entries like “diabeetus” (which was one of the tamer ones) for the new Mountain Dew soda flavor.

That interference is an extreme slice of a much broader phenomenon: it’s dangerous to assume that participants are genuinely trying to improve your business. Generally speaking, participants in this type of game care more about their entertainment than your brand ambitions.

Marketers routinely criticize crowdsourcing on the grounds that the average Joe doesn’t have the experience or the creativity to come up with a groundbreaking or original idea – and that crowdsourced content is inherently expected or derivative.

But this is not the issue; nor could it be further from the truth. The world is getting better and better at being creative. Some of the world’s most creative content is proliferated via photoshop memes by people who aren’t employed to be creative. And looking at sites like NamingForce, where companies can get crowdsourced names on the cheap, it’s a similar story. Creativity is common. People are really good at coming up with witty ideas.

What distinguishes professionals – and defines the potential shortcomings of crowdsourcing – is the time pros spend planning a strategic approach, and vetting creativity through the filters that distinguish fun, ephemeral ideas from those with many facets, long term potential, and which serve multiple, intertwined brand objectives. Crowdsourced names are not developed to solve business problems, they’re developed for a laugh, or self-satisfaction over a clever idea.

As participants in games, we care more about the fun we’re having developing names. And we care about seeing our entries get votes. If anything, once our names aren’t chosen, we’re probably left with less appreciation for the one that was: it’s the one that beat us out for the winning spot. The fun of the campaign is in the process, not the result.

And therein lies the opportunity. The key to crowdsourcing correctly is emphasizing the process over the result. In other words, crowdsourcing a product name isn’t an outright threat to good branding. It just has to be viewed through the right lens: defining not the brand’s products, but rather, what the company represents to its customers as a result of the opportunity to participate.

Dub the Dew is the name that matters.

And it’s great.  Here’s the name that impacts every participant in the game. It’s a call to action, prompting the desired takeaway. It’s direct and descriptive, requiring no explanation, but the quirky brand voice totally supports the Mountain Dew persona: a bit of edgy sarcasm, a bit of lofty grandiosity. Dub the Dew is a great name.

It also follows beautifully on the tails of Dewmocracy, another of Mountain Dew’s (more successful) crowdsourced naming initiatives. It supports a convention of Dew-derived names that playfully fuel participation. While The Naming Group’s namescape philosophy might cause us to cringe at the disorderly outcome of names that get selected by the whims of a mass audience, this is mitigated by putting greater emphasis on the program names like Dewmocracy and Dub the Dew to wrap the experience with a brand-centered point-of-view. Rather than becoming the soda with the random name people chose, it’s Mountain Dew: a soda by the people and for the people (which they named XXX).

It’s in that capacity that Pepsi retains some control of their destiny (or should have, had they installed safeguards that easily could’ve avoided the hacking that took this one down) while sharing that destiny with the people that choose to be part of it.

Sam Adams’ LongShot American Homebrew Contest is another great one. It captures the brand’s rich heritage – the spirit of the American Dream – and the passion and painstaking effort that has to go into the beer that finally makes it to the bottle. And, smartly, the brand built awareness of its challenge by emphasizing not the names of the ephemeral, winning flavors, but the campaign brand itself. LongShot has become a perennial favorite that helps distinguish and advance the ideas Sam Adams stands for. Inviting crowd participation without losing sight of the ultimate brand mission that they’ve strategically defined.

Do Us A Flavor, too, captures a brand voice that’s friendly and fun, while also emphasizing “flavor” – something that Lays may need to emphasize to counter associations as the “basic potato chip” brand. A name that engages participation WHILE telling the intended brand story is win-win. Regardless of whether “Hawaiian Lays” is raking in the votes.

Less inspired are the more descriptive names, like Dunkin Donuts’ 2010 Create Dunkin’s Next Donut initiative, which was fun, but did little to enhance the brand meaning. And the Cottonelle Care Routine promotion invites facebook fans to name the two-step personal care process…an attempt to emphasize that their products work synergistically – and that we should buy and use both. But it falls flat without a catchier name to invite the participation, even with the loads of ad support it’s received.

The names or products that get created during these efforts may see the market, or appear on the website, but they are rarely envisioned as long-term heritage brands. The campaigns themselves – the way the brands frame the invitation to participate in their future – this is where the naming truly matters.

NAME GRADE: Pepsi Next

A new mid-calorie sibling has joined the Pepsi family. Pepsi Next was created for current full-calorie Pepsi drinkers who are looking to reduce their calorie intake without sacrificing taste. As for the name of this new bundle of reduced-calorie joy? Next, please.

 

BRAND EXPRESSION: 2/5 (Poses Hurdle)

One of the ways we evaluate a name’s brand expression is judging whether the name supports the corporate namescape. Well, yes this name does. But in this case that’s not such a good thing. The Pepsi namescape is rather hard to navigate. There’s Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Throwback (sweetened with “real sugar”), Pepsi Max, and Pepsi One.  And along comes Pepsi Next.  The major differences between all of them are the sweetners used.  What’s the difference between Max and Next? What does Max mean? More calories?  So for a namescape that was already lacking a clear, cohesive brand message, Pepsi Next does just fine.

On the other hand, I have to say this name does speak to the Pepsi brand spirit – which has always stood for youth, for now, for innovation – next to the classic heritage-driven brand spirit of Coca Cola. So while I don’t think it serves the brand as the name of a beverage, I think Pepsi Next sounds like a perfect name for a Pepsi-sponsored youth innovation summit or an ad campaign. Oh wait. It already was. Way to scrape up misplaced equity from a retired ad campaign:

 

CONSUMER IMPACT: 1/5 (Disastrous)

A beverage is something people put IN their bodies, so generally people want to know what’s IN it – or something concrete about it, even if it’s suggested metaphorically. For instance, we didn’t counsel Juicy Juice to name their new juice product: 35% Less Sugar Juice, we named it Fruitifuls – so immediately people know it’s about fruit but the unexpected combination with the familiar –iful suffix suggests a number of positive associations – fruitful, beautiful, full – encouraging Moms to probe deeper as to what’s in the package. So, the name takes about 2 seconds, requires a few more axons to fire than 35% Less Sugar Juice – but that 2 seconds is a good thing, it’s what makes that name “sticky” from a mnemonic/psycholinguistic perspective.

But let’s think about the consumer experience when they see Pepsi Next. The only information they have is: Pepsi and future. They have nothing about taste, contents, calories, etc. A closer look at the packaging will explain that it’s 60 calories per can, but still there’s no connection between that product benefit and the words in the name (Pepsi and Next). The only story the consumer is left with is that this is next in Pepsi’s lineup – a new form of Pepsi. It’s one of those names that probably sounded great in the boardroom (“We’re showing consumers that this is the next greatest Pepsi! It’s screams innovation!”) but flops in the shopping aisle. There’s no cleverness, no reward when those axons fire to try to figure out the name.

So, I’m not saying Pepsi needed to get completely literal with product benefit or attributes, but a suggestion of something pertaining to what’s in the can, and not just vaguely about the brand, would have been nice.

And what will this name look like when another Pepsi sibling is born? What’s next after Pepsi Next? This is a reason why we hardly ever speak directly to the concept of “innovation” or “future” in a brand-name – doing so (ironically) eliminates the name’s very ability to be future-proof.

Particularly in the soft drink aisle, where versions proliferate faster than US obesity rates, names have to work pretty hard to grab consumers’ attention. Thus, when a name is too amorphous, it doesn’t entice people. There’s a fine line between having to take a couple seconds to figure out an unexpected, suggestive brand name (something like Fruitifuls) and having to pick up the product to look at the ingredients and/or Google it to understand how it’s different from it’s siblings and competitors. And thus, the problem with Pepsi Next.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 2/5 (Poses Hurdle)

And this is all in stark contrast to its #1 competitor Coke with their clear, simple trilogy of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero. A trilogy so clear that it’s often used as an explanatory basis for Pepsi products. I, along with countless others, am definitely guilty of describing Pepsi Max as “the Pepsi version of Coke Zero.”

Pepsi Next strives to be different than the rest by not simply relying on a number (like Coke Zero or Dr. Pepper Ten) but their attempt is in vain because the cost of the dearth of consumer connection here outweighs the benefit of competitive differentiation.

NAME GRADE: 5/15 (D)

How are our Name Grades calculated? Read about our rating philosophy and process here.

Name Grade: Hopper

In early 2012, DISH introduced an evocative brand name, Hopper, for their satellite TV receiver. It’s a great example of suggestive, metaphorical naming elevating a product for greater memorability, while still communicating customer benefit.

CONSUMER IMPACT: 5/5 (Category Leader)

Hopper is a perfect example of suggestive naming. In no literal way does it say “Whole-Home HD DVR”, the descriptor phrase attached to the name in marketing language. But what it does do is make a connection with customers in an engaging and memorable way – and one in which benefit is still captured beautifully. Key benefits of the product include whole-home TV-watching: start watching a movie in the kitchen and finish in the living room. This is the likely inspiration for the name, as the system allows you to “hop” around your house. More subtly, “hop” introduces a number of strongly, positive attributes: ease of use, an important hurdle to overcome in the minds of many who are skeptical of satellite complications. It says speed, another benefit associated with browsing speeds, channel-changing speeds, etc. And it says connections, hopping from point A to point B, an excellent association for a service that emphasizes digital and interactive content. I will say, as a big fan of HBO’s The Wire, the name Hopper also has a less-positive connotation, but the likelihood of that association is minimal, especially in the context of the way DISH brings the name to life. Herein lies the kicker (pun intended); the name facilitates use of a kangaroo mnemonic that builds even more personality and stickiness within the name, all while deepening the positive “hopping” associations that are motivating to customers.

BRAND EXPRESSION: 4/5 (Creates Advantage)

There is little connection between a more descriptive parent name like DISH, and the very evocative Hopper. But Hopper does serve strong brand benefit. As mentioned above, DISH not only captures functional benefits of the particular device, but benefits brandwide from the loftier associations of ease and speed – halo effects of investing in a product brand that reflects on the company as a whole. Hopper also paves the way for other names within the namescape. Most notably is the – albeit controversial – feature Auto Hop, which enables customers to “Hop” over commercials. They also continued the theme with the Joey – DISH’s name for the diminutive set-top receiver that complements the central Hopper. Again, the brand is leveraging the positive connotations of a product name to deepen the story for customers – and in a playful way that only evocative namescapes can allow. The names reinforce one another and the brand personality as a whole.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 5/5 (Category Leader)

The best part about unexpected and evocative names is often the competitive advantage they provide. By investing in a name that does more than merely describe a product with many competitors, from cable providers to FIOS to DirecTV, a more dynamic name like Hopper really puts their product on the memorability map. The campaign they’re building around it enhances this differentiation. Early advertising really drives the name home – especially in the spot where customers are yelling the name with thick Bostonian accents throughout their home (capturing the key whole-home feature, while showcasing the name’s fun-to-say tone). Any commercial that can be built entirely upon the catchiness of the product name is evidence alone of the name’s powerful – and ownable – impact. And again, the visual kangaroo mnemonic builds a brand asset into the DISH portfolio that creates additional recall and brand distinction among the competition – all driven by a bold naming decision.

Brilliant: 

NAME GRADE: 14/15 (A)

How are NAME GRADES calculated? Read about our 3 axes of evaluation here.

Vision with a Capital V One

Financial institutions just might be the worst offending culprits of undifferentiation. When it comes to naming, even the most distinctive brands seem to fall within a comfortable realm of conservative sameness.

In fairness – and as we’ve written before – there are a lot of difficult hurdles when articulating a financial product: features that are complicated to the average consumer, and limited vocabulary to describe them (there aren’t many ways to say “mortgage” but…”mortgage.”) But rather than invest in expanding and deepening consumer understanding – an effort that could help a bank create its own market differentiated vocabulary – most fear the investment required to truly differentiate and are all too comfortable to go with the flow.

Think about credit cards. Names like Gold and Platinum are ubiquitous, despite the ironic fact that the names are metaphors intended to denote rarity and value. When used throughout the industry, their cachet is weakened dramatically. Leaders in the field have clearly realized this, “distinguishing” themselves with other colors and rare gems and minerals – Black, Blue, Clear, Plum, Sapphire, Zync, Slate, Diamond. But the result is a broader array of names that essentially tout the same benefit of “rare value” or “colorfully distinct.” Again, the meaning begins to blend when the convention dilutes itself.

Similarly, another category of “superlative prestige” proliferates the market (Executive, Select, Elite, Preferred, Advantage, Premium, Signature, Honor, Reward) …all words that tell a similar, and now quite hollow, story. As consumers, we’re tasked with sleuthing the differences between names that are all saying the same thing in different, nuanced ways – often within the same company’s suite of products. And, in the end, we conclude that the difference is…very little.

With this as the backdrop of the financial branding landscape, Capital One has emerged as a bank on a mission to do things differently. They offer industry leading rewards, and do so with a spirit of ease and enthusiasm rooted in a “no hassle” heritage, promising customers that their money can take them places. The takeaway: this is a bank that doesn’t just inspire confidence, but also boldness and adventure.

The Naming Group has been tapped as Capital One’s leading naming agency, charged with shaping their namescape through continued strategic naming engagements – and thereby emboldening the brand to break the trend of “comfortable” naming – and to make their names do more to advance a brand-distinguishing voice.. Our partnership is consistently focused on channeling their dynamic brand attitude into a strategic approach to naming – and subsequently, into the names that support it. Consistent with our namescape philosophy, it’s about weaving a meaningful brand story as much as defining any one product.

It all began with a credit card that we named Venture. The name reflected a major shift in direction for the brand, away from the timeworn silver-gold-platinum language and toward a more strategic, and brand resonant approach to naming. Recognizing the strategic opportunity to differentiate, we quickly saw Venture as a perfect name to lead the brand in an empowered new direction.  Venture is an amazing word, because it embodies a number of powerful meanings. Most readily, it says “adventure”, speaking to the travel rewards it offers in abundance. It speaks to exploration. It speaks to commerce, with cues of a “business venture” or “venture capital.” But it also says “daring” – literally promising an uncertain destiny that distinguishes the name from other credit cards in how you – the cardholder – have agency. The power to chose your own course. Find a flight that suits you. Go in a bold new direction. Above all, Venture is an action verb that associates the card not with a cold, static metal or gem, but with motion. That a human makes. It becomes personal and inspirational. Spirited and energetic. With a Venture card in your wallet, you are going somewhere.

This spirit became a convention with Capital One’s card designed for students: Journey.  Journey, too, is all about action. Adventure. Ambition. Again, the card isn’t defined by a static indicator of prestige, but a motivating promise. A challenge to choose your own path.

And when we were charged with naming a card for business, offering similarly robust rewards, the strategic road was paved for us. A set of criteria had emerged that defined not only what makes a good credit card name, but a good Capital One credit card name: active, dynamic, and the promise that the card is not the end, but the beginning of the story the customer is free to define. For a more serious business audience, we translated this story as Spark. The Spark that inspires smarter business decisions, great ideas, and explosive rewards. And again, it’s very “Capital One” in its unique dynamism.

In a nutshell, this is the approach that more financial institutions should be taking: naming products not in a way that “sounds like a banking product,” but, rather, taking a step back and asking, “what are we really offering our customers?” and “what is the way that our brand should tell them in our own unique, consistent voice through naming?”  The Naming Group continues to guide Capital One’s commitment to a strengthened namescape strategy, and it’s building a culture of naming that sees names as bigger than product-defining trademarks. Venture, Journey, Spark, and more brand names to come are working as team players in pursuit of a bigger brand vision.

NAME GRADE: Facebook Camera

Facebook announced the release of Facebook Camera today, as part of what’s expected to be a continuing process of app proliferation: trying to deepen connections with mobile users and solidify a presence in the world they’ve thus far struggled to captivate.

The name Facebook Camera is of note, as it may give a glimpse into the way the company views naming as part of this plan. Facebook’s naming is largely descriptive: Messenger, Pages, etc. Timeline caused significant delays, purportedly due to trademark conflicts with another owner of the very straightforward product name. Camera follows suit, and, in doing so, it does little else to create advantage for the brand.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 1/5

“Facebook  Camera” is too many characters for an iPhone app name – meaning that the app icon reads “Camera” – the same as Apple’s default, factory-installed “Camera” app. And, aside from the color difference, the icon is barely distinguishable as well. If the goal is confusing users into selecting their app, then they may find success.  But if the goal is to create a new entry in the extremely crowded camera app space (even against their own Instagram product) they do little to distinguish the product. Mashable reported the release with the headline Facebook Releases Instagram Clone. The name does little to combat the “clone” connotation.

CONSUMER IMPACT: 2/5

Well, who cares if the name distinguishes from the competition? you might ask. Pop up a link on 900 Million users’ streams (as they did with the Messenger app last month), and they’re bound to get an influx. Resting on the laurels of Facebook’s ubiquity and massive brand awareness, the name really only needs to say “Facebook Camera” and people will be motivated to try it.  There are two issues here: (1) as mentioned, the name can’t say that on our icon dock, meaning every time we go to select an app to take a picture, nothing about the name is compelling us to select this one. And (2) the name does very little to add value to the photo feature built into the Facebook app – leaving all of the work to marketing to build enthusiasm around a product with little intrinsic interest. As an app-geek, I downloaded it out of pure curiosity, and it IS pretty slick. Easy to use, a definite step up from their previous product. And sure there are a lot like me whose curiosity will lead them to this as well, but we’re all likely to already be Instagram – or Path – or Hipstamatic – or you name it – users. If the goal is to motivate the more casual of Facebook’s bazillion users to jump into the camera app space, the name could do a lot more to provide a reason to do so…and inspire that curiosity.

BRAND EXPRESSION: 3/5

Facebook is in a place where the brand needs to start expanding what it can mean to its loyal users. With 1/7 the world using your product, and investors anxiously awaiting incredible profit growth, it’s time to shift towards growing the contexts in which Facebook occupies our mental real estate. That’s the point of this app in the first place, right? Product innovation is great, but without a complementarily innovative vision for the articulation of these advances, it will likely fall flat. Companies like Apple are companies like Apple because they made leaps in product development AND the way they expressed it. Facebook’s naming strategy is, to date, a missed opportunity to add that interest and deepen engagement. But for now, with all that in mind, the name does follow Facebook’s neutral naming strategy. So the impact is really minimal on how we think of the brand. It won’t confuse anybody, and it wont change our understanding of what “Facebook” represents. But given the timing of the release – and how important photos are to the Facebook experience – this is probably not be the time to aim for neutral…

NAME GRADE: 6/15 (D+)

How are NAME GRADES calculated? Read about our 3 axes of evaluation here.

Pinners, Minters, and Wikipedians…

We noticed Mint.com addressing their users/Twitter followers as Minters today, prompting a post on this often overlooked component of a brand’s namescape. Pinterest often calls its users Pinners. Wikipedia editors are formally known as Wikipedians, and posters at TheNest.com identify as Nesties. Whether you’re a Tweeter or just a resident of the Twitterverse, you’re a member of the brand’s distinctive culture. Tumblr can define the site OR its users. Are there Yelpers? Google Plussers?

We’ve previously written about TJ Maxx’s use of Maxxinista to define its customer base, showing that it isn’t just online communities, but also retailers and beyond who can follow the trend.

The very existence of these familiar names implies a sense of community – a sense of belonging. Much more than typical, generic “customer” and “user” terminology. Sure, some aren’t all that imaginative, but it raises the question: how can brands use naming to go beyond defining their products and to start fostering more of a brand community?

Companies that encourage familiar names for their loyal customers can develop deeper  personalities – familiarize their brand name – and further distinguish a user experience from competitors’. Of course, there is a dark side to labeling your customers, including the companies, exposed by the NY Times back in March, who use condescending terms for their clients behind closed doors. But, that exception aside, brand-supportive terms of endearment generally seem like a pretty good way to deepen a brand experience.

What are some other good examples?

NAME GRADE: Fifth & Pacific

Fifth & Pacific was formally announced today as a replacement for the well-known Liz Claiborne moniker, naming the company that owns fashion brands including Lucky, Kate Spade, and Juicy Couture.

More than the name itself, we’re impressed by the way in which it was introduced to employees and shareholders: via a video revealing the name with well-articulated strategic rationale, and mood-setting footage to bring the story to life with confidence and enthusiasm. It’s this type of treatment that gives names more depth. Of course, to accomplish that in the first place, you need a name with depth.

BRAND ARTICULATION: 5/5 (Leader)

We start where this name excels. This part of the review is practically written for us by the company’s release, the accompanying video, and subsequent interviews with the CEO, Bill McComb.

As they put it, the name suggests an intersection of styles that reflects the diversity of brands and customer segments their holdings represent. The geographic breadth and  tone of style and worldliness create an expansive backdrop for their company to expand and grow – while staying relevant to the current brands that define them. In short, the name is flexible and dynamic, while at the same time evocative and true to their core personality. McComb confirmed that the name was not focus grouped prior to the announcement: indicative of the confidence and internal alignment around a name – which tends to come from names that feel more true to the corporate vision. (Unless they were just…Lucky.)

AUDIENCE IMPACT: 4/5 (Creates Advantage)

Naming a holding company presents a unique set of circumstances, as the core audience is not the end consumer but the investors and employees that fuel the growth and evolution of the business. So while consumer motivation is not the core focus, motivation of a different kind is still vital. Fifth & Pacific clearly imparts size and strength – as well as the defining tone as a lifestyle brand: motivating themes for investors seeking growth in the fashion retail space. The evocative image of an intersection – a visual of waves and palm trees colliding with bustling Manhattan sidewalks – positions the brand in dynamic fashion. And the URL and ticker symbol clarity only strengthens that ease of association.

Linguistically, the name is a bit of a mouthful – something that Daffy Duck might have a fun time saying – but is unlikely to pose any significant negative, given the ubiquity of the words themselves. Overall, it’s the tone of this name that gives it its motivating impact. As McComb put it, “There needed to be some chic-ness to it, and not in a contrived way. We didn’t want it to sound like a hedge fund, a Silicon Valley high-tech company or a law firm. Fifth & Pacific is not a consumer brand, but it’s a brand to investors and we wanted it to feel consistent with our consumer brands without stepping on them or overpowering them.” The name accomplishes this goal in…Spades.

COMPETITIVE DISTINCTION: 3/5 (Neutral Impact)

While reflective of the bi-coastal heritage of its collection of brands, Fifth & Pacific does use rather broad, undifferentiating language. Both words appear in other well known retail/fashion brand names from Saks Fifth Avenue to OP to PacSun. And Brandchannel was quick to point out the name’s structural similarities to Forth & Towne, Park & Bond, and Treasure & Bond. Throw in names like H&M and Abercrombie & Fitch…the ampersand is a staple of “style.” Again, it’s important to remember that competition is in the eyes of investors more than customers, yet the name may have benefitted from something a bit less expected. Something a bit more…Juicy?

NAMEGRADE: B+

How are NAME GRADES calculated? Read about our 3 axes of evaluation here.

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