What’s in a (Brand) Name? The Power of Connotation
Would a brand by any other name continue to be that brand? Would it capture its identity? Resonate with its audience? Highlight capabilities? Be recognizable?
The art of creating (or recreating) a brand name is as scientific as it is creative. Understanding what words and sounds–and the concepts associated with them–requires study. Likewise, knowing which phrases and letter combinations have resulted in past misconceptions and failures requires experience and insight. The process is a tightrope – with creativity and futuristic thinking on the left and awareness and insight on the right. So where does one even start?
Let’s begin by taking a look at a few historical missteps to understand the quicksand that took them under.
Weight Watchers lost its purpose
In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded itself as WW in an effort to focus on overall wellness instead of just weight loss. However, customers and investors criticized the move, responding that they felt the new name lacked brand recognition and clarity. (Let’s also recognize the association with a world war).
IHOP flipped its P
This was later reported as a marketing campaign, but the idea is the same. In 2018, IHOP announced it was changing its name to IHOb. The move was widely mocked on social media, which is when the company revealed it was just a joke, you guys. They apparently did it to promote a new line of burgers.
TRONC did not portray modern content
In 2016, Tribune Publishing faced an outdated business model, diminishing public image, and hurdles adapting to an evolving media landscape. In comes a broad rebranding effort and name change. Tronc, short for Tribune online content, was supposed to highlight its evolving content model. However, the moniker did not fly off the shelves and resulted in multiple failed acquisitions. The firm ultimately changed its name back to Tribune Publishing.
Joost didn’t have the juice
In 2006, tech entrepreneurs Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström launched an online video platform called Joost. The name didn’t resonate with its audience, who were unsure of what the brand represented, and the platform ultimately failed to gain widespread adoption.
Zune rhymed with tune, but didn’t hold meaning
Also in 2006, Microsoft introduced the Zune – a direct competitor to the iPod. While there are a variety of factors that led to its short life (timing, market share, and marketing) we’re only going to talk about marketing here. Standing up against all that is Apple, the Zune needed to differentiate itself as something more than not the iPod. Insufficient funds, attention, and messaging never gave the name the strength it needed to put up a fight.
These acronyms, abbreviations, and nonsensical words show that consumer buy-in is imperative to success. Without it, you are left with a “product” without power – or a future. But this article isn’t all doom and gloom. There are more successes than failures – especially in the nonsensical word category. It seems silly to both mention and not mention Google, because it’s so obvious, but well – it works. (And that’s the power of the brand, right?) The phrase Häagen-Dazs holds absolutely no true meaning but is synonymous with high-quality, premium ice cream. Xerox, originally named The Haloid Photographic Company, is now the generic term for all copy services. We’re not even going to Google a competitor (THERE IT IS AGAIN). Kodak and Etsy also fit the suit for fabricated words that now hold serious consumer associations for quality.
So what made these guys win, and the aforementioned lose? While it’s not all chalked up to the name, much of it is. It’s in the way it’s said, how the vowels make you feel, and what the consonants represent. It’s in the associations from similar words, memories of past events, and trends to use one form of language over another. Each phoneme holds its own power of persuasion and can solicit sensations of softness, strength, speed, and plenty more. For example:
/s/: The “s” sound is often associated with smoothness and softness. It is commonly used to create words with soothing or calming connotations, such as “serene” and “soothe.”
/m/: The “m” sound is often associated with warmth and comfort. It is commonly used to create words with soft, soothing connotations, such as “mother” and “mellow.”
/l/: The “l” sound is often associated with lightness and softness. It is commonly used to create words with a gentle, flowing connotation, such as “lullaby” and “lilting.”
/z/: The “z” sound is often associated with speed and urgency. It is commonly used to create words with a quick, snappy connotation, such as “zoom” and “zip.”
/k/: The “k” sound is often associated with speed and force. It is commonly used to create words with a strong, punchy connotation, such as “kick” and “quick.”
/h/: The “h” sound is often associated with a sudden rush of air or movement. It is commonly used to create words with a fast, breathy connotation, such as “hurry” and “hustle.”
/t/: The “t” sound is often associated with decisiveness and impact. It is commonly used to create words with a strong, clear connotation, such as “truth” and “fact.”
/g/: The “g” sound is often associated with weight and force. It is commonly used to create words with a powerful, resonant connotation, such as “gigantic” and “big.”
/b/: The “b” sound is often associated with firmness and stability. It is commonly used to create words with a strong, dependable connotation, such as “solid” and “stable.”
/r/: The “r” sound is often associated with stability and support. It is commonly used to create words with a dependable, trustworthy connotation, such as “reliable” and “resourceful.”
While these connotations aren’t complete truths, they embody associations and, therefore, are able to shift within their context. Interesting, right?
So what does your brand say about you? What does it represent – or stand for? How does it feel when you say it out loud? Is it powerful? Comforting? Does it carry a sense of movement? If so, does the name include any of these combinations?
Did you come up with words as you read through those? Whirl, swirl, flow, crash, slide, twirl. See what we did there? We bet you thought the same. That, friends, is the power of connotation.