Brexit: The Most Viral Brand Name of the Last 12 Months

Global Fame Came from the Name

With the right messaging, it’s amazing how much attention you can capture in a short period of time.

Think back to a year ago.  In mid February 2016, the date of the upcoming U.K. referendum had not yet been set.  Outside of Great Britain only political keeners had more than a vague awareness of the vote.

In just a few months that had all changed.  The referendum on whether the U.K. should remain in or leave the European Union was known to all.  And not just in Britain and Europe where the outcome would have an impact on everyday life.

Worldwide, the vote became a hot topic for millions of distant bystanders, even though for them it was devoid of any practical consequence.

Why Such Intense Interest?

Why did the referendum generate such intense interest?  Certainly the question of Britain’s membership in the EU is an important political, social and economic issue.  And it was given massive amounts of news coverage both leading up to and following the June 23rd vote.  But there are many significant issues that get immense media play and quickly fade from memory.

What made the U.K. referendum so mind-riveting and the topic of millions of conversations?

The Name Made All the Difference

The name did it.  Actually, to be more precise, the nickname did it.

The official title of the vote was “The European Union Referendum.”  It was a formal, predictable, and rather benign sounding description.  And it was extremely long, comprised of 4 words, 11 syllables, 26 letters.

The Qualities of an Exceptionally Viral Name

Brexit on the other hand is powerful, edgy and provocative.  It has all the qualities of an exceptionally viral name.

By combining the BR of Britain with EXIT, it gets right to the essence of issue.  Would Britain be in or out?  Should it stay or should it go?

Brexit is easy to remember, easy to say and instantly repeatable.  It drives curiosity and has a biting visceral quality.  Brexit feels familiar, but at the same time is a bit unexpected, which is a powerful combination to claim a place in the mind.

Perhaps most importantly, in our 140 character Twitter world, where every keystroke counts, Brexit is short.  A single word, just 2 syllables and 6 letters.

Easier to Write, Talk & Think About

As soon as Brexit took hold as the de facto title for The European Union Referendum, it instantly became easier to write about, talk about and think about.  Brexit went viral.  It made a complex international political issue highly contagious.

A Simple Bite-sized Identity

Brexit was boom for the media.  It was a one-word, two-syllable, six-letter gift for every journalist who had to write about the referendum, every newscaster who had to talk about it and every editor who had to craft a punchy headline.

Brexit gave the referendum what every complex idea and high tech product desperately needs to become known and talked about: a simple bite-sized identity.

Long Names Have Low Impact

Long uninspiring names like The European Union Referendum are barriers to engagement.  They get ignored.  Passed over.  The ideas or products they represent never get known or talked about.  They only attract a small audience and make a small impact.

Consider this deep space example.  In the early 1960s, a handful of elite astronomers began discussing a rather abstract but fascinating phenomenon, Totally Compressed Gravitational Objects.  Only that handful of astronomers knew or cared.  But as soon as the Totally Compressed Gravitational Object name changed to Black Hole, the entire world cared.

A decade later two Washington Post reporters investigated a series of break-ins and political dirty tricks.  It was only after these seemingly unrelated incidents were pulled together under the single name of Watergate that their revelations gathered enough attention and power to oust a president from office.

Brexit, Black Hole and Watergate quickly attained global recognition and became permanent parts of language.

How Do Your Company & Product Names Stack Up?

Think about your company and product names.  Do they have more in common with The European Union Referendum, Totally Compressed Gravitational Objects and a series of break-ins and political dirty tricks, or Brexit, Black Hole and Watergate?

Even the most ground-breaking products can fail in the market if they come across as too complex, technical or difficult to understand.  If you develop a revolutionary product but send it to market with a long uninspiring name, you’ll continually struggle to gain attention and generate any buzz.  You’ll undermine or ever sabotage your success.

Exceptionally viral names like Brexit are easy to recognize but extremely difficult to create.

Need Guidance? Call for Help.

If you need professional guidance for naming a new product, contact me to schedule a coffee or phone conversation.  It will be a solid first step to giving your product the viral appeal of Brexit.

Would You Fly on an Airplane Named Boom?

Supersonic Whiplash

I’m recovering from a serious case of supersonic name whiplash.

A Very Cool Airplane

It started when I saw the photo illustration of an amazing new passenger jet being developed by a Denver start up.  The firm is pursuing a daring mission – to reintroduce supersonic flight to commercial aviation.

For the company’s team of skunk works engineers this must be the absolute dream job – to create an iconic new aircraft and conquer the speed of sound!

The super sleek aircraft has a projected cruising velocity of Mach 2.2.  It will fly at more than two and a half times the speed of any current day airliner and will be 10 percent faster than the old supersonic Concorde, which had its last flight in 2003.

What’s the name of this visionary aerospace company?  Boom.  Boom Technology.

Perfect at First Glance

At first glance, Boom seems to be the perfect name for the world’s fastest ever passenger plane. Boom is bold, evocative and exceedingly cool. Boom is gutsy, memorable and instantly repeatable. Best of all, it says supersonic in a single syllable.

The engineers undoubtedly love Boom. I bet there was giddy excitement when they chose the name. And what could be better than going to work wearing a Boom T-shirt?

Boom is a great piece of naming.  It immediately filled me with wild blue yonder excitement.  It reignited my old grade school dream of one day becoming an aeronautical engineer.

Supersonic U Turn

But as I moved my thoughts beyond the confines of the test lab and took on a wider perspective, some significant Boom shortcomings came into view.  My opinion did a supersonic U turn.  Name whiplash hit me hard.  Suddenly my perfect name conclusion seemed hasty and seriously amiss.  Here’s why.

The engineers building the plane are the first audience for the name, but certainly not the only audience. And they’re not the audience that will bring money in the door.

Different Audience - Different Message

For the much larger outside audience Boom conveys a very different message, and stirs a very different set of emotions.

To the engineers Boom means speed. To the outside audience Boom means danger. For engineers Boom elicits emotional excitement. For the outside audience Boom feeds fear.

The last thing any air traveler wants to hear is a boom. A mid air boom is never the start of anything good.

No brand can afford to fall on the wrong side of fear.

Will Airlines Be Comfortable with Boom?

The first customers for Boom jets are the airlines.  They operate in a safety-focused and highly regulated environment.

Will airline CEOs agree to shell out mega millions and stake their company’s reputation on a jet named Boom? Is the Boom name a fit with the airline culture?

What Will Air Travelers Think of Boom?

For the 10-30 percent of the population already afraid of flying, the Boom name could well strike panic. It’s unlikely that your nervous Aunt Nola from North Dakota would ever take a Boom flight. Or for that matter famous white-knuckled flyers like Wayne Gretzky, John Madden or Mr. T.

The company is probably not targeting aerophobics, so making the already fearful a little more anxious isn’t a big concern.  But is it possible that the name is edgy enough to cause others to hesitate?  Could the name sabotage ticket sales?

Consider the example of my frequent flyer friend Todd. Todd has no fear of the flying part of flying. In fact he’s the type of guy who would be eager to take a supersonic flight.  When he was a boy his dad worked for the airlines and received family travel passes, so Todd pretty much grew up on airplanes.

9/11 Terrorist Concerns

But when I asked Todd if he would fly on a plane named Boom, his response was rather tentative. My question had hit a nerve.  Then he explained. “Prior to 9/11 I would have had no problem getting on a plane named Boom. But since then I’ve been feeling a lot more cautious.”

The Name Would Keep Him off the Plane

He isn’t as wary now as in the fall of 2001, but the Boom name is still intense enough to activate his terrorist alarm system and overrule his desire for a super fast flight. The name would keep him off the plane.

Is any name cool enough to use if it scares away your potential customer base?

Regulators & Anti-Noise Activists

How will the name be received by influential non-passenger audiences?

Imagine you worked at the FAA and were in charge of issuing airworthiness certificates. Would you be more stringent in reviewing a plane from Boom than one from Boeing?

What about the anti-noise activists who live close to big airports? How will the company ever convince them that a plane called Boom is actually quiet?

Inviting Headline Ridicule

Boom leaves the company vulnerable to ridicule. If there ever is a mishap, the name will be inviting fodder for the media. The tabloid headline is already written – KA-BOOM!

If that nickname gets riveted to the plane, it will be impossible to shake.

Boom is great for boldness.  But is it just too risky?

What’s the Boom Lesson?

The mini Boom case study shows that names are powerful and make powerful impressions.  But depending on the audience, the same name can stir markedly different, and potentially undesirable impressions.

When you’re naming your company or product it’s all too easy to focus on what a particular name means to you without giving enough attention to other ways it can be interpreted. You need to consider what thoughts and feelings the name evokes in the marketplace.

To arrive at a name that will be a solid foundation for your brand, you need to balance creative enthusiasm with sober second thought and customer research.

What Should the Company Do?

The Boom name has some great strengths but also enormous weaknesses waiting in the wings.  Should the company stick with it for the long term?

For now the company is isolated from the downside of the Boom name.  The drawbacks are still only theoretical.  The main audience for the name is the engineering group designing the aircraft.

That will all change beginning late next year when the supersonic jet has its first test flight.  Once the plane takes to the skies, the name will attract a lot of attention and much of it will be negative.

If the company’s CEO called to ask my advice, I would suggest replacing Boom with a new name – a name that conveys a sense of supersonic engineering but not at the expense of safety and credibility.

To spare the engineers from feeling cheated out of a name they love, Boom could live on internally as the name for the jet propulsion division.  This would allow the engineers to keep the Boom T-shirts in their work wardrobe.

The Sooner the Better

The sooner Boom is replaced the better.  The flurry of publicity that the test flights will unleash should be harnessed to establish a strong new name rather than publicize a problematic one.

The company’s amazing new aircraft needs a name that will give it a lift, a tailwind, some sort of an advantage.  The Boom name puts too many unnecessary obstacles in the flight path to success.

Would you fly on an airplane named Boom?

Name or Number? – A Product Naming Lesson from Stardate 45854.2

Branding insight can come from many sources: case studies, real world experience, and even fiction.  Here's a lesson you can apply to naming your products from Star Trek - The Next Generation.

Stardate 45854.2 the Federation Starship Enterprise is headed for the Argolis Cluster.  Its mission: to chart six star systems being considered for colonization.

A Nemesis Encounter

This seemingly innocent exploration soon leads Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew into an unwanted encounter with their hated nemesis, The Borg.

Based on the humanitarian insistence of Dr. Beverly Crusher, Picard reluctantly agrees to take an injured Borg drone on board the Enterprise for treatment.  It’s a risky step.  The drone has been emitting a tracking signal.  A deadly Borg cube could arrive at any moment to rescue the drone and assimilate the crew of the Enterprise.

Threat of Assimilation

As tension over a potential Borg attack mounts, the script writers weave in the moral of the story: An individual’s right to choose cannot be violated.  This principle is actually stronger than totalitarian force.

Noteworthy Naming Lesson

For the astute observer there is also a noteworthy naming lesson – a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about sending a product to market with a numeric designation or a convoluted acronym rather a real name.

A Surreptitious Assignment

The naming issue surfaces as the ship’s Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge reluctantly converses with the drone.  The interaction is necessary for Geordi to carry out his surreptitious assignment.

He is studying how the microchip in the drone’s brain processes information.  Once he understands how the chip works, he plans to implant an invasive programming sequence – a total systems failure virus that will infect the entire Borg Collective when the drone is reconnected to the hive.

From Caution to Kindness

Initially Geordi’s dealings with the Borg are cautious, distant, cold and guarded.  He ignores the Borg’s canned mantra: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”  Then he points out the absurdity of the drone’s statement “We are Borg” even though he is only one.

Geordi then asks the drone what his name is.  He doesn’t understand the term.  Geordi rephrases the question “a means of identification?”  He responds not with a name but with a number, “3rd of 5.”  He was number three of five Borg on the small space vehicle that crashed.

As Geordi continues his study of the Borg, his demeanor and the relationship both start to warm.  Eventually the Borg asks Geordi for his “designation” i.e. name.  Once he learns it, Geordi figures 3rd of 5 would like a name of his own.  So he christens him Hugh.


Creating Emotional Attachment

From the moment that his identity changes from just a number, 3rd of 5, to an actual name, Hugh, the Borg becomes an individual.  Geordi no longer sees him as a device to be programmed, but as a person.  Cold hearted logic retreats.  Hugh becomes an object of emotional attachment.

Gradually the emotional warmth spreads, even to Captain Picard.  Touched by Hugh’s innocence and growing sense of individuality Picard abandons the virus implant strategy.  He gives Hugh the right to choose between a future on the Enterprise or returning to the Borg.

Hugh’s personhood, created by his name, proves to be a far more powerful infectious agent than the planned invasive programming sequence.

The name turned a hated enemy into a valued individual.  Changing identity from a number to a name unleashed new unimagined possibilities.

How About the Real World?

So Star Trek’s writers spun an interesting tale contrasting a name with a number.  So what?  How does this fictional account from a far off galaxy apply to marketing in the real world?  It provides insight into three categories where product names need to excel: emotional engagement, approachability and memorability.

Buy on Emotion Justify with Logic

Remember the old sales adage, people buy on emotion and justify with logic?  It’s been around for a long time.  Why?  Because it’s true.  Whether you’re selling designer clothes to fashionistas or mega million dollar software systems to big corporations, the impetus for the buying decision is emotional.  After the fact rationalization is logical.

If you want to sell more new fangled gizmos or services, you need to engage the buyer’s emotions.  Logic alone won’t cut it.

For emotional engagement, numbers are at a distinct disadvantage to actual names.  Numbers are cold and scientific.  All logic. No emotion.

If you present your product to the market as a numbered entity your chances of winning customer affection are minimal.  You’ll likely finish 3rd of 5.

An Expensive Compensation Tactic

While it is possible to surround a number or an alpha-numeric combination with emotion, it takes time and a considerable investment.  Flashy videos with provocative music and a professional voice over can infuse numbers with some feeling.  But it’s an expensive endeavor, and the feeling only takes hold in people who have seen the production numerous times.

Names are far more engaging than numbers.  In just four syllables Testarossa ignites the pulse rate.  S 600 elicits a yawn, although both designations represent exotic automobiles.

Emotional attachment will prompt prospects to buy faster and pay a higher price.  An appealing name will create a deeper and stronger emotional connection than any number.

On the Enterprise Hugh became hard to resist.  3rd of 5 was easily rebuffed.


Approachability is a key factor to starting sales conversations, especially for complex technical products that require an involved education process to lead a prospect to a buying decision.  This is another category where names are better than numbers or alpha-numeric combinations.

Numbers can give products a technically advanced persona.  At first glance it may seem appropriate to surround a technical product with technical sophistication.  It can help attract technically minded prospects.  But what if you want the product to appeal to the mass market?  What if the product purchase needs to be approved by a non technical executive?

A Real Turn Off

In these cases number designations for products can be a real turn off.  They make the product appear overly complicated.  Confused or overwhelmed prospects run for cover.  They do not buy.

Busy executives guard their schedules.  They have neither the time nor the inclination to dive into long technical dialogues.  If the first impression your product makes is highly technical you’ll be relegated to technical levels in the sales process with little opportunity to pitch the business case to the true decision maker.

Hugh proved to be a far more approachable title than 3rd of 5.

Easier to Remember

Names are also more memorable than numbers.  Easier to remember is easier to buy.  If the customer knows the name of your product she can find it right away whether she’s shopping in person or online.  If the name escapes her, she might end up not buying at all, or worse yet, buying a competing product instead.

Now it is not impossible to remember numbers.  In fact your mind is likely filled with a lot of numbers already.  Numbers like 911, 328, 409, 90210, 802.11.  It is possible to get people to remember numbers, but it is easier to get them to remember names.

π to 22,500 Decimals

As proof consider David Thomas, an International Grandmaster of Memory.  He’s listed in the Guinness Book of Records for memorizing Pi to 22,500 decimal places.  Remember π, 3.14159…, from geometry class?

I thought David must be some kind of number memory savant until I attended a conference session where he shared his secret.  His 22,500 decimal place performance didn’t come from memorizing numbers.  He actually memorized names.  He transposed the numbers to create names.

The Number Memorizing Secret

For example he would convert the number combination 2-3 into B-C, the second and third letters of the alphabet.  He would then assign a different B-C name to each 2-3 combination – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Betty Crocker, Bing Crosby.  Then he memorized the names.  When it came time to recite Pi for the record books, he reverse engineered Bill Clinton to B-C to 2-3.

If numbers were easier to remember than names, David Thomas would have memorized numbers directly.

With enough repetition it is possible to remember numbers.  But which do you find easier to remember if you only hear or see it once, the Star Trek episode name “I, Borg” or the stardate 45854.2?

Names Trump Numbers

Sending a product to market with a number sabotages sales efforts.  Numbered products have all the personality of a serial number.  Prospects don’t get excited over serial numbers.

It takes a lot of energy and fancy advertising footwork to stir interest in a product when its number title screams complicated geek device with no apparent benefit.

If you’re bringing a new product to market give it a real name that engages the emotions, opens conversations and enters the memory.  If you would like to learn more on how to select the best name for your product, call or email me.  I’ll be happy to share further insights with you.

Don’t sentence your new product to a future as an unlovable Borg drone.

What Are You Really Selling?

The air was filled with entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

I was sharing a coffee conversation with my friend Audrey, who had just realized a lifelong dream of opening her own candle boutique.  It was the kind of shop that Martha Stewart would rave about.

Entrepreneurial Excitement

Audrey bubbled with excitement as she described in alluring detail the enticing array of candles and accessories that graced her shiny new shelves.  Then her commentary took an astonishing twist when she stated casually, in a matter of fact tone “our merchandise is candles and candleholders, but that’s not what I’m really selling.”

Surprised by her remark I sought an explanation.  “Let’s get this straight.  Your customers come up to the till and give you money for candles and candleholders.  But you’re not really selling candles or candle holders?”

“Right,” she replied, apparently oblivious to the flagrant violation of elementary logic.

“What I’m really selling,” she continued, “is warmth.”

In that simple phrase Audrey demonstrated that she wasn’t just opening a store to hawk fancy candleware.  She was actually laying the foundation for a great brand.

Escaping the Commodity Zone

By deciding to sell warmth rather than simply candles and candleholders, Audrey immediately escaped the commodity zone.  If selling candles and candleholders, she would be competing with Wal-Mart, the Dollar Store and a host of other retailers.  But by focusing on warmth, Audrey elevated herself into a league all her own.  She gave her customers a compelling reason to choose her store rather than any of their other options.

A Mission of Warmth

The warmth idea also provided a clear mission to her boutique.  Everything about the shop had to convey warmth.  The products had to bestow the customers’ homes with great warmth.  The store colors and merchandising had to evoke warmth.  The employees had to make the customers feel warmth.  The entire boutique experience had to radiate warmth.

A Fundamental Principle

In her rookie entrepreneurial days Audrey had caught on to the fundamental principle that great brands always sell more than just their products or services.  Great brands surround their products or services with emotion.  Tantalizing, positive emotion.

A product on its own is a commodity.  A product surrounded by appealing emotion becomes a brand.

Nike, Harley & Michelin

Nike doesn’t really sell running shoes.  Harley Davidson doesn’t really sell motorcycles.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.  Do these statements feel like another flagrant violation of elementary logic?  Think about the babies.  The adorable, innocent-faced babies in the Michelin commercials.  And then ponder the tagline – because so much is riding on your tires.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.

Are You Selling Yourself Short?

What are you really selling?  If you’re only selling your product or your service, you’re selling yourself short.

Every business has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  Yes I mean every business.  Every manufacturer, every retailer, every business-to-business enterprise, every real estate agent, even every accountant has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  If a company wants to escape constantly having to compete on price, then it has to determine what it should be really selling.

How About Your Company?

At first glance it may not be obvious what kind of emotion can be wrapped around your product or service, especially if your company operates in a technical arena.  Many businesses that I’ve worked with originally thought that all they would ever sell was strictly their product or service.  But after interviewing their customers I convinced them that they had far greater potential.  It was just a matter of articulating what was their unique equivalent of the candle shop’s warmth.

Equipped with this new breakthrough insight they soon realized that by focusing on what they were really selling, they would increase customer loyalty and stand out from their competitors.  They caught the vision that they could become a commanding brand in their market segment.  And they have.

This same potential beckons your company.  Dare to be a brand

1% Better 74% Richer - Tiger Woods at Augusta

The eyes of the golf world are fixated on Augusta Georgia this week for the first major championship of the year.  With Tiger Woods back on top of the PGA rankings, the big question on everyone’s mind is – Will Tiger win?  Will he claim his fifth iconic green jacket?

While the 77th Masters Tournament is the backdrop for this issue of Brandscapes, the lesson from this column reaches far beyond the world of professional golf.  It demonstrates that small improvements lead to big profits.

What gains can you realize from making small improvements?

Can You Improve by One Percent?

Have you ever wondered how much you would gain by being just a little bit better?

What would happen if you were just one percent better in solving your customers’ problems?  What if you honed your sales pitch to make it two percent better?  What if you made your brand three percent more attractive to your clients?

Would these small improvements in performance lead to any improvement in results?  Would you simply realize a one, two or three percent uptick?  Or are greater gains possible?

For some small improvement inspiration, consider the world of professional golf.  Golf is a game of numbers so it is easy to measure both levels of improvement and financial results.  Let’s take a trip to Augusta, the home of the Masters Tournament.

Lessons from Augusta 2012

All the speculation and headlines are focused on Tiger Woods’ prospects in this week’s Masters.  But for our small improvement insight, we’ll examine last year’s results.

In 2012 Woods’ score for the 72 hole tournament was five over par 293.  For the average golfer that would be a phenomenal success – if I’m five over par after just five holes I’m playing at the top of my game.  For Woods though it was a disappointing result, leaving him tied for 40th place.

What Does a One Percent Improvement Mean?

But what if Woods was a bit more on his game last year?  What would have happened if he was just one percent better and shaved three strokes off his score?  He would have catapulted from 40th place into a tie for 27th.  His prize money would have increased from $32,000 to $55,600.  A one percent improvement would have earned a 74 percent financial advantage.

What would have happened if Woods had improved by two percent?  A six stroke improvement would have moved Woods into a tie for 17th and boosted his earnings to $120,000.  A two percent improvement would have resulted in a monetary gain of 275 percent.

And how about a three percent improvement?  If Woods was three percent better last year, he would have tied for 8th place and taken home $224,000.  A three percent improvement would have made Woods 600 percent richer.

Compelling Profit Equations

One percent better = 74 percent richer.  Two percent better = 275 percent richer.  Three percent better = 600 percent richer.  These are pretty compelling equations.  Wouldn’t you like to tap into these returns?

Incremental Improvements Lead to Great Gains

Your industry may not be as intense a competitive environment as professional golf.  It’s unlikely that you face as many elite opponents shoehorned into such a narrow band. So the Augusta prize money equation might need to be adjusted a bit.  Perhaps you need to do more than just one percent better to achieve a 74 percent boost in rewards.

Although the numbers might look a little different in your market the overall principle still applies: incremental improvements lead to great gains.  Can your company improve by five, ten or 15 percent?

Where Do You Need to Improve?

So where should you focus your improvement efforts?  One of the highest return areas is working on your Brand Story.  Why?  Because customer perceptions of your business drive or derail your profitability.

Do You Have a Customer Perception Problem?

Many of the companies I meet with have a customer perception problem.  Customers don’t understand the true value they provide.  Their products, services and technologies offer significant advantages over their competitors.  But all too often those advantages remain undiscovered and underappreciated because of a faulty Brand Story.

Their websites present long-winded technical explanations rather than tight engaging phrases written from the customer’s point of view.  Sales presentations are filled with molecular level details.  They elucidate what and how messages, but fail to address the why topics that attract attention and prompt customers to buy.

Does your Brand Story suffer from any of these common issues?

Big Improvements Are Possible

Fortunately big improvements are possible.  When I guide clients through a Brand Story engagement, their focus changes.  They’re able to see a bigger picture.  They climb out of the trenches of what and how so they can explore the why.  Often they’ll gain a new understanding of the true value they provide.  New benefit-focused phrasing emerges to present online and in person.  Technical complexity is replaced with customer clarity.

Why Your Should Improve Your Brand Story

The clearer your Brand Story, the better you will be at building loyal long term client relationships.  The more loyal customers you have, the more referrals you’ll receive.

The clearer your Brand Story, the less effort it will take to guide prospects to a buying decision.  You’ll speed up the sales cycle.

The clearer your Brand Story the greater your market share.  Plus you’ll be able to command a higher price point.

Improving your Brand Story leads to great gains in the marketplace.

Farewell to Alberta’s Brand Ambassador

This issue of Brandscapes is dedicated to former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed.  In it I share my personal recollections of the province’s quintessential brand ambassador.

Gratitude & Appreciation

All across Alberta there is a tremendous outpouring of gratitude and appreciation for the man who served as premier from 1971-1986.  Peter Lougheed passed away last week at the age of 84.

Although it has been more than 25 years since he left the political stage, he is still greatly respected and admired.  Peter Lougheed made an indelible impact on the province and its people.  So much of what Alberta has become is the result of his vision and policies.

The Personification of Alberta’s Future

When he swept into office in 1971, he was the personification of all that Alberta had the potential and desire to become.  He was young, smart, confident and energetic.  A Harvard-educated lawyer, Lougheed was articulate, urbane and ambitious.

Personal Impressions

In the 40+ years since he took office, Alberta has become an economic powerhouse and demonstrates many of the attributes that were modeled by the energetic young premier.  But to me there is so much more to Peter Lougheed than his grand public image.  My impressions of him are more personal.

Throughout my first career as a broadcast journalist, I had numerous encounters with Lougheed.  I watched him stir crowd enthusiasm to feverish heights on the election trail.  I saw him readily diffuse the toughest questions from hard-nosed journalists.  And I looked on as he circulated with charm and ease at an old time farm country barbecue.

A Big Political Battle

My first personal contact with Lougheed came in the fall of 1980 when I was a 21 year old rookie reporter.  Lougheed was embroiled in a biggest battle of his career – a bitter fight with the federal Liberal government over the National Energy Program.  The NEP was such an affront to the constitutional principle of provincial resource ownership that it sparked an instant surge in western separatism.

During his comments to the assembled media Lougheed’s words were strong, firm and principled.  He demonstrated courage and an unwavering commitment to uphold Alberta’s rights.  The man was a skilled and competent leader.

He Didn’t Take the Bait

A couple of years later I had a one-on-one interview with him at a political picnic.  I tried to draw him into commenting on the extreme positions being championed by the separatist camp.  But he didn’t take the bait.  Instead he offered a fatherly reply.  “Roger just because people say things over and over again, doesn’t make them true.”

Lougheed as Prime Minister?

Another memorable interview took place in Ottawa in June 1983.  The setting was the federal Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, where the winner would in all likelihood become the next Prime Minister of Canada.  Many supporters lobbied him to enter the race, but for reasons too involved to explore in this memoire, Lougheed declined.  The possibility of leading the country must have been enticing for a man of his vision and ability.  During our conversation there was no inkling of doubt or second thoughts on his part.

High Profile Interviews

Lougheed was just one of the high profile figures I had the opportunity of interviewing during my media days.  There were many other politicians, including Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and John Turner.  And there was a fairly lengthy list of world renowned athletes, including World Series champions, NHL stars, a bull riding king and the Olympic skiing legend Jean Claude Killy.

Out of all of these big names, the individual who made the biggest personal impact was Peter Lougheed.

A Personal & Inspiring Influence

Brian Mulroney was very slick and charismatic.  It was weird, but you could actually “feel” when Mulroney was in the room.  Jean Claude Killy was the epitome of enchanting sophistication.  Peter Lougheed’s influence was personal and inspiring.

There was something unique about the way he interacted with people, even the hard-to-impress media types.  Like any politician, he would answer questions or sometimes stickhandle around them.

But in every encounter with Peter Lougheed there was something more.  Something deeper and more personal.  It showed up in the way he carried himself.  The way he would look you in the eye.  It showed up in his attitude and tone of voice.

Reach Higher

There was a strong subliminal prompting to reach higher, to grow and achieve.  There was tacit encouragement to be more and do more.  I felt it.  Others did too.  One of my mentors from years ago told me it was a very difficult thing for him to say no when Lougheed approached him to run for office.

In a private conversation with Lougheed when he was Premier, he demonstrated an interest in Roger the person, not just Roger the reporter.  The interest was genuine.  It wasn’t something that he switched on when he was campaigning for votes.  Instead I think it was something that he couldn’t turn off.  It was a core part of his personality.

A Chance Conversation

Not surprisingly his encouraging personal interest was part of my last conversation with him.  It took place about four years ago during a chance elevator encounter in a downtown office tower.

As I entered the elevator we made eye contact and he said hello.  There was that look on his face suggesting “don’t I know you from somewhere?”

In the 45 storey conversation that ensued I recounted our previous acquaintance.  Graciously and I believe genuinely, he seemed to remember.  Once the past connection was established, he was immediately interested in my current activities as a branding and naming consultant.  When the elevator doors opened we said goodbye and he wished me well.  I again felt the same stirring inside to be more and do more.

An Appreciative Farewell

Peter Lougheed had an inspiring quality that made a difference for a province and its people, including me.  For Alberta he was the quintessential brand ambassador.  For the people who knew him, he was a source of inspiration

Team Naming: Winnipeg’s NHL Debate – Jets, Moose or Falcons?

This issue of Brandscapes takes me back to the early days of my career and my first job with a business card – sports reporter for CJOC radio in Lethbridge, Alberta.  One of my most memorable assignments was reporting on the first ever game of the Calgary Flames who had just moved to Calgary from Atlanta.  When the franchise left Georgia for Alberta it kept its name, just as baseball’s Milwaukee Braves did when they relocated to Atlanta in the 60s.  Unlike the Flames move to Calgary, the latest relocation of an Atlanta hockey team will likely result in a new name for the franchise.

A Public Naming Debate

There is a very public naming debate raging in Winnipeg.  With the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moving to Manitoba, the big question is: what will the team be called?

Intense discussions are taking place in the media, online and at the corner of Portage and Main.  Thousands of people are offering emotionally charged opinions on the team title.

The Frontrunners

Should the team become a new version of the Jets?  It’s the name known to all hockey fans, but it is tainted with memories of abandonment – the original Jets migrated to Phoenix 15 years ago.

Should the Manitoba Moose name be called up to the big league?  True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the NHL franchise, has spent the last 15 years building the Moose brand as a team name in the International and American hockey leagues.

Should the team resurrect a title from the city’s hockey history?  The Winnipeg Falcons won the first ever Olympic hockey gold medal in 1920.

Or should the newly relocated franchise take on an entirely new name?

How To Decide?

How should the new franchise owners decide?  Blindly adopt the most popular name from the online polls?  Not if they want the best long term result.

As demonstrated by the fans’ passionate fervour in the debate, naming is an emotionally charged endeavour.  Emotion is a powerful force and an inevitable part of any naming project.  But to base name selection solely on emotion is a recipe for disaster.

Love Is Blind

When ill-informed love takes the leading role and logic is brushed aside, substandard results usually follow.  Companies select names that feel good inside, but don’t measure up to the time tested criteria that determine the name’s marketplace effectiveness.  Products end up permanently burdened with names that impair economic performance:

  • Names that position products as commodities
  • Names that are readily confused with those of competing products
  • Names that are awkward to pronounce
  • Names that customers avoid
  • Names that blend in rather than stand out.

Strategy Must Come First

To avoid the perils of blind love, Winnipeg’s NHL naming debate, like all naming projects needs a strategic framework.

A comprehensive strategy will help True North assess the three front runner names and any other candidates under consideration.  On client naming projects I typically build criteria in more than a dozen categories, which is far more than I can address in this article.  But to give you a feel for the type of analysis needed I’ll discuss three criteria: imagery, phonetics and visual brandability.


The name is for a professional sports team competing in the world’s most elite league.  The name needs to evoke big league imagery and fit the context of “the world’s fastest game.”  The name needs to convey a sense of excitement and inspire the players who will wear the uniform.

Among the top three contenders, the Jets name is the best for imagery.  Jets are fast and powerful.  Jets are sleek, impressive and high tech.  Jets soar to great heights.

Falcons also take to the skies.  They are agile flyers, but are nowhere near as fast as a jet.  A falcon is a cunning bird of prey, but only capable of killing rodents and other small animals.  A falcon might be able to take down a duck or a penguin, but wouldn’t stand a chance against a bruin, panther, coyote or shark.

Moose are plodding, ground-based creatures that spend a lot of time knee deep in the marsh munching on bulrushes.  Moose are backwoods herbivores.  The Manitoba Moose was a great name for a minor league hockey team, but probably lacks the urban cachet NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking for.

In the hockey world a Falcon would be a speedy right winger – dynamite on a breakaway but ineffective and hesitant in the corners.  Moose would be an appropriate nickname for a super-sized, flat footed defenseman.  Calling a player a Jet would be a supreme compliment, as it was for Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet and former Winnipeg Jet.

The Jets name is best for imagery.


Phonetics can make or break a name.  Letter combinations need to create sound qualities that fit the product.  Ideal ice rink phonetics should be confident, crisp and authoritative, like the Canucks.  (It’s too bad for Vancouver fans that their team’s performance in game seven of the Stanley Cup final didn’t measure up to these phonetic qualities)

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both acceptable.  The opening sounds of both words – the J in Jets and the F in Falcons – are a bit soft, but both words end well.  The Jets name has a crisp, definite ending.  The –con finish in Falcon is strong and commanding.

The Moose name on the other hand is bulky and a bit clumsy.  It lacks definition, like a baggy pair of sweatpants.

Given the phonetic qualities of the names, a chant of “Go Jets Go” or “Go Falcons Go” has a far more decisive cadence than “Go Moose Go.”

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both good.

Visual Brandability

The name that the team selects will be seen without exaggeration billions of times in the years to come.  The name will be printed in newspaper stories, tickets, programs and signage.  The name will be viewed on TV screens, webpages, Twitter feeds and blog posts.  And perhaps most importantly from a team revenue point of view, the name will be embroidered or silk screened onto jerseys, T-shirts, ball caps, duffle bags, coffee cups and trinkets of every kind.

The team needs a name that will be a star performer in each of these visual applications.

Shorter Is Stronger

While any of the front runner names can be made to work, the Jets name is the strongest because it is shortest.

The Jets name is tight and concise, just four letters in length.  The Moose name has only five letters, but because the letters are all wide and bulky, it looks much longer.  The Falcons name is seven letters long.

In logo form the Jets name can be used in a small square space.  The Moose and Falcon names need more horizontal space.  In the same horizontal span, Jets can appear twice the height of Falcons and 80% larger than Moose.  The bigger font makes a stronger impression.

The Jets name is the best option for visual brandability.

The Best Name: Jets

There are many strategic factors to be considered in selecting a name for a company, product or NHL team.  This is not an exhaustive analysis.  But based on the factors of imagery, phonetics and visual brandability, the Jets name is by far the best of the three frontrunners.

What Do You Think the Team Should Be Called?

How About Your Company?

Do you have a product that needs a name?  Make sure you establish a comprehensive strategy to guide the naming process.  If you have a question around what factors need to be considered, give me a call to discuss your project.

Brand Strategy: Does Your Brand Have An Enemy? It Needs One.

The inspiration for this article comes from faithful Brandscapes reader Kent Davidson of Advanta Design.

In designing products for companies like Bombardier, Samsung and Cisco, Kent makes it a habit of pushing the envelope to create new possibilities.  So he was quite struck by the irony of the Mediocrity car company.

The Appeal of Mediocrity

Mediocrity is a fictional automaker invented by Subaru.  It is featured in a hilarious ad campaign that you’ll enjoy watching.  In order to position itself as a leader in innovation, Subaru concocted Mediocrity as an antithetical enemy that lives up to its name.


The ad campaign, as well as being very funny, is a smart piece of strategy.  It gives Subaru what every brand needs, an enemy.

What Do Brands Need to Succeed?

If you were assigned the task to build a new brand, what steps would you take to create it?  What would the brand need to become established and successful?

A unique, engaging name?  A simple iconic logo?  A clearly articulated persona?  A compelling value proposition?  A sense of mystery?  A sense of community?  How about the ability to immerse customers in an enthralling experience?

All of these elements are important and valid.  But there’s an important item missing from the list.  How about an enemy?  That’s right an enemy.  Every brand needs an enemy.

Pepsi, Coke & 7Up

Coke needs Pepsi.  Pepsi needs Coke.  7Up needs both Pepsi and Coke.  Dr. Pepper needs Pepsi, Coke, 7Up and every other soft drink.

The Red Sox need the Yankees.  The Oilers need the Flames.  The Longhorns need the Aggies.

Bush & Obama

In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama needed the record of George W. Bush.  In the 2010 mid-term election, the Republicans needed the record of Barack Obama.

Teen-focused products need out of touch parents.

In sports, politics and branding, having the right enemy makes a big difference.

Do You Like the Enemy Idea?

How do you feel about this enemy concept?  Are you on board with the idea?  Or does the notion strike you as old school, unenlightened and barbaric?

Don’t we live in a more genteel, intelligent, sophisticated age that has advanced beyond binary paradigms of conflict?  Isn’t it a small world after all?

If your brand is committed to making people feel good, this enemy talk might seem out of character.  But don’t shrink away from the idea too quickly.  If you brand story doesn’t have an enemy, you’ll likely struggle to engage customers in your message.

The Disney Example

Consider the example of Disney, one of the world’s highest profile feel good brands.  If you distill Disney down to its essence, the company’s core competency is storytelling.  The company earns billions every year by tapping into our innate fascination with stories.

Brand Storytelling

Disney excels at storytelling because in many cases, the story is the product the company is selling.  But even if you’re not selling a story, you’ll do the best job of selling if you use great storytelling.  And that’s why every brand needs an enemy – to build a great story.

Think about the classic Disney films.  Each one features a foreboding enemy.

Sweet Snow White was opposed by the wicked witch.  Peter Pan was taunted by Captain Hook.  Cinderella had to overcome the domination of her evil stepmother.  The 101 Dalmatians were hounded by Cruella De Vil.  In the Jungle Book, Mowgli faced the constant threat of being Shere Khan’s next meal.

Why All the Enemies?

Why would a feel good company like Disney devote so much attention to enemies?  Great storytelling demands it.

Without an enemy, there is no story.  Life is comfortable, but dull.  The audience doesn’t care.  Theatre goers don’t pay to be bored.

Enemies make stories interesting.  They raise the stakes.  They introduce risk and intrigue. Once an enemy appears, we’re no longer sure how things will turn out.

Triggering Emotions

Enemies trigger emotions.  When viewers are first introduced to Snow White, they may like her.  But when she is threatened by the wicked witch, like turns to love.  Viewers become emotionally engaged.  They feel fearful for Snow White and angry at the wicked witch.

This is an important lesson for brands.  Great brands connect with customers at the emotional level.  If your company doesn’t create an emotional connection, you don’t have a brand, you’re positioned as a commodity.  Enemies can help create the emotional attachment that every brand needs.

Discovery & Character Development

Enemies enable discovery.  The contrast between the hero and the enemy helps audiences grasp the hero’s true nature.  Only against the backdrop of darkness do we come to appreciate the qualities of light.

Enemies play an essential role in character development.  Only Bambi’s struggle with the hunters, the hunting dogs, and the forest fire allowed him to take his place as the new Prince of the Forest.

Unexpected Allegiances

Enemies also create unexpected allegiances.  In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann seemed the most unlikely of cohorts until the attack of Captain Barbossa and the cursed crew of the Black Pearl.  Then the trio became steadfast allies.

Customers will have a strong attachment to your brand if your enemy is their enemy.

What Enemy Should You Choose?

So if every brand needs an enemy, who should your enemy be?  Does it need to be your direct competitor?  It depends on your market position.

If you’re the underdog in a David and Goliath struggle and you offer some unique benefits, maybe Goliath should be your enemy.  You might be able to get customers to reconsider their Goliath allegiance and steal some market share.

If you’re locked in a two-way, head-to-head battle with another supplier, where customers have to choose one or the other, it seems to be a natural choice to make that competitor the enemy.  This approach works well in sports rivalries and political battles.

It was also the rationale behind the Pepsi Taste Test.  The side-by-side comparison got cola drinkers to stop and think about which soda actually tasted better.  The drawback to the campaign however, was every commercial gave Coke a piece of the spotlight.  It also made Pepsi quite Coke-focused.

If you make your direct competitor “The Enemy” you might end up putting more energy into battling the opposition than telling customers what you can do for them.

Should Your Enemy Be a Competitor?

Your marketing message certainly needs to differentiate you vis-à-vis alternatives, but the competitor doesn’t have to be “The Enemy.”  You have other options.

The enemy could be what your competitor stands for.  In “1984,” the iconic Super Bowl commercial launching the Macintosh, Apple didn’t take on the IBM PC directly, but a far more menacing foe, the totalitarian group think it represented.

The enemy could be a concept.  Rather than go head to head against another actual car company, Subaru invented Mediocrity.  With Mediocrity as its enemy, Subaru positions itself as the champion of innovation, without drawing attention to an actual competitor.

What Plagues Your Customers?

Perhaps the best choice of enemy is what plagues your customers.

Maybe your enemy should be the poor sales results, paltry profits or lagging morale your customers may be suffering from.  Advanta Design’s enemies include the high manufacturing costs, low demand and slim profit margins clients will face if they take a product to market with generic, off the shelf parts instead of opting for a custom design.

If you can weave a convincing tale that positions your company as the hero that triumphs over the enemy that is attacking your customers, you’ll capture their attention and likely win the business.

What dragons are your customers battling?  If you have dragon-slaying capabilities, you may have found the enemy you’re looking for