Merriam’s Guide to Naming Second Edition

9780982082935_CoverImageI am pleased to announce the second edition of my book Merriam’s Guide to Naming is now available. In the half dozen years since the first edition, I’ve led over a hundred company and product naming projects for Fortune 500 multinationals, mid-size companies and start-ups. As part of this work, I’ve helped executives wrestle with questions and deal with challenges that were not adequately covered in the first edition. And, in reviewing dozens of magazine articles I’ve written and media interviews I’ve given, I realized I had a large body of new knowledge on the subject of naming. Merriam’s Guide to Naming was quite overdue for a redo. Click here to order.

Congratulations to Urban News Service

urban-news-serviceI am very honored to announce the launch of my client Urban News Service in Detroit last week. Urban News Service is a non-profit producing the kind of journalism readers want and publishing businesses need. By providing quality content to urban papers, Urban News Service transforms the economics of news gathering and serves the needs of urban communities.

African American-owned media serve a unique, loyal and engaged readership, yet quality content is costlier to produce than ever before. Urban News Service was founded to help these publishers better compete in a digital world with declining in print advertising revenue. The dynamics of today’s publishing economy have hit many publishers especially hard, impacting their ability to hire writers, cover the stories that matter and support their communities.

The privately supported initiative, in partnership with the American Media Institute, we provide quality content to African American publishers:

  • Stories by respected professional reporters with decades of experience working for major news outlets who are highly regarded experts in their fields.
  • Stories that are exhaustively researched, fully documented and fact-checked, and conform to AP style.
  • Stories that have high impact to driver readership, reputation and revenue.
  • Stories that uniquely serve and support urban communities and individuals.

Be sure to visit their site:

Keds Iconic Brand with Iconic Brand Shape

keds-iconic-brand-shape-formYou know a pair of Keds just by looking at them. Keds has an iconic brand shape that is turning 100 in 2016.

Keds brand has just appointed Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners to bring the brand into its second century. The brand spends just $5 million in advertising a year, propelled instead through the decades with a strongly focused brand image that was relevant when the sneaker category was invented through 1950s sock hops to 1990s cheerleader squads.

Iconic Brand Shape: You Know It When You See It

Some products have such iconic brand shapes you just know them when you see them.
Some products have such iconic brand shapes you just know them when you see them.

Keds is one of the few brands to have established a branded shape. You know it when you see it, no need for colors, graphics or logos.

Naming Note: The founders of Keds didn’t get the name they really wanted. Their first choice was “Peds,” which was already trademarked. Fate did them a favor, by not getting a descriptive name, they ended up with s name that is stood out in the marketplace and still stands out today.

Brand Loyalty–How It Impacts Markets: Lessons for Hillary and the GOP

Brand loyalty to Hillary Clinton is stumping some commentators. Stephen L. Carter, is a Yale law professor, but he is also a branding savant.  His recent Bloomberg View column is a primer on how brands impact loyalty.

He explains the theory of trademarks in economic terms: What you are willing to pay for a product is the sum of it price in money plus search costs–what it takes to find and evaluate alternatives–plus risk, the cost of making a bad choice. Brands are known and familiar–reducing the search cost and increasing the price people will pay. This brand premium is the whole goal of branding. Consider his example:

“Suppose the consumer has become unhappy with her preferred toothpaste for some reason, or can’t find it on the shelf. Now she has to invest more resources in deciding which one to buy instead. This necessity will have the effect of reducing the price she is willing to pay in money. She not only has to expend resources but also has to be compensated for the risk that she won’t like the new toothpaste as much as the old one.”

Are the search costs of considering GOP contenders just too high? Is the risk of making a mistake worth it? Hillary is a known quantity. The theory of trademarks could drive brand loyalty. If voters are like toothpaste buyers, perhaps voters will “buy” her story.

Marketing Sherpa Case Study: 308% Increase in Web Traffic

marketing-sherpa-knockout-pest-controlHow to increase Web traffic is the subject of MarketingSherpa’s latest case study of Knockout Pest Control‘s local search and digital marketing work. Marketing Sherpa is a research company that tracks and shares “what works in all aspects of marketing.” They selected our client Knockout Pest Control to profile on how to build business–and better serve customers–through optimizing local search and coordinating digital marketing outreach.

It has been my privilege to work with Knockout Pest Control’s Arthur Katz to redo his digital marketing efforts in partnership with Liquid Marketing Group. Mr. Katz initiated the change as part of the company’s commitment to the best of customer service. Better, relevant content that is easy to access benefits Knockout customers. At the same time, the change benefited his business with a dramatic increase in number of visitors, engagement and action.

The Marketing Sherpa article provides detail on how to drive Web traffic, but here are a few tips:

1) Get rid of your old html site. You can’t do adequate SEO with an html site. You can’t keep every page fresh and changing and you can’t easily optimize all the elements that impact the Google search algorithm without content management. WordPress, Jumla and Drupal are the way to go. Look at any page on your site and check out the URL. If it ends in.html, you’re missing out.

2) On page SEO that is absolutely current is a must. Know your keywords and how to use them. Old fashioned key-word stuffing techniques will hurt you. Make sure you are up to date on all Google releases. If your SEO provider doesn’t know what you are talking about when you talk about when you mention Panda, Penguin, Pigeon or Hummingbird, your provider is no SEO expert. Google is constantly changing its algorithm and doing “major” updates with code names such as those above. A technique that used to work might now really hurt you.

3) Have rich, varied content that readers really want to read. Knockout Pest Control went from one page on bed bugs to over a dozen, taking on this topic in depth. Don’t upload a pdf and hope for the best. Put all that great content on a page that Google can find–and that readers can easily access without downloading a file. If your copy writer doesn’t understand how to write with keywords and how to format content for SEO, get a new writer.

4) Keep it fresh. Your site needs new content all the time, not an annual or ever-five-years update. Topical, focused, newsy content is a requirement to compete online today.

5) Link! Incoming and outgoing links are the gift that keeps on giving. They bring in relevant, motivated visitors and the Google algorithm sees them as votes of confidence, boosting your search engine results rank.

“Many thanks to Steve Scott of the Tampa SEO Training Academy –if you want to be an SEO expert in a week, call Steve.”

Merriam Associates specializes in combining the brand voice with a deep understanding of SEO for content that engages and motivates customers

Brian Williams–The End of His Brand as We Know It

Brian williams liar brand

Brian Williams’ brand as a trusted news anchor is damaged beyond recovery.

I’ve long been fascinated by “person brands,” and the power of an individual to create and project a reputation that persuades. While such brands are powerful, they are also uniquely human. When the human fails, the brand can fail, too. In the case of Brian Williams, willful and large lies told over a long period make him utterly untrustworthy and unfit for the news anchor desk. The fact that his lies were gratuitous and self-serving adds insult to injury.

Not every human failing hurts the person brand equally. Martha Stewart’s incarceration was barely a blip. Her brand was built on her design sensibility, not her financial acumen. An insider trading rap was a blip in the health of her brand. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong had brands based on honesty. When their integrity fell apart, so did their brands.

Brian Williams can certainly redeem himself–but not his anchorman brand. He must take a long look at other rewarding opportunities that life offers. Redeeming himself and redeeming his brand are two different things. He won’t get a Michael Vick-style chance to redeem his brand. Vick was able to return to football, but that was because dog fighting (heinous though it is) did not impair his quarterback skills. Lying, Brian Williams torpedoes a journalist, as well it should.

“Brian’s problem isn’t just journalistic. It’s that he’s undermined his persona as a celebrity journalist. It isn’t just that he misrepresented facts on the ground or told lies about what he’s done; he’s undermined his image. He’s undermined his brand.”–Television news analyst Andrew Tyndall

Deflategate–The Newest in a Long Line of -gate Scandal Name Brands

nfl-deflategate-cheatingDeflategate–the shameful scandal involving under-inflated footballs that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the entire Patriots organization unbelievably have no knowledge of and no responsibility for–is the latest in a long line of scandals branded with the __-gate construct.

As noted in this post from the past, Watergate opened the floodgates for gate names–Deflategate will surely not be the last.

Effective brand names are those that generate the right instant associations. People have to “get it” and understand the core of what you are trying to communicate in a femto-second. The popularity of __-gate names is that you instantly understand that what you are talking about is sordid and scandalous.

The NFL seems a fine breeding ground for scandals–who can forget the wardrobe malfunction that became Nipplegate?

Unlike the wardrobe malfunction, Deflategate has the potential to seriously damage the NFL brand. Nipplegate was about a celebrity during the half-time show. Deflategate’s unsportsmanlike cheating goes to the heart of the sport of football.

Go Seahawks!

merriam's guide to naming

Contributing to Moms Mean Business

moms mean business merriamI was honored to work with the authors, contributing insight into a key entrepreneurial trait: How to do what you don’t know how to do and making money doing it. Read how to have the confidence, courage and grit to make a go of it.

My quote from the book: ” ‘Fake it till you make it’ is a tired business cliché, but one I have lived profitably since I started my business in 2006. When I left the safety of a New York branding agency, I needed to offer something different to compete. I came up with the idea of…” Buy the book to get the rest.


ISIS–When Your Brand Turns Evil

isis-brand-rebrading-islamic-terrorIsis or ISIS used to be a perfectly nice brand name–until it became synonymous with Islamic terror and beheadings.  ISIS trademark owners large and small are now rebranding to distance themselves from a now-tainted word.

Isis Mobil Wallet, a mobile ecommerce app backed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile rebranded as Softcard in September.

Isis, the U.S. mobile wallet platform backed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is rebranding. “In a few weeks, Isis Wallet will become Softcard. It’s a different name for the same great way to pay,” the company notes on its homepage.

The Isis brand of women’s sportswear is in the middle of a relaunch.

Isis Equity Partners has renamed itself Living Bridge (head scratcher of a new name, by the way).

ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Service) is now YTH (proving acronyms are always a horrible choice for brand names).

Others, such as Isis Pharmaceuticals, Isis Electronics and ISIS Performance auto parts are standing firm, have no plans to make a change.

Rebranding is expensive. Before contemplating such an investment, marketers need to think carefully about the cost/benefit trade-off of a change. The two critical questions for marketers is how much will terror dominate the word and for how long. Already, some media outlets have started using ISIL to refer to the Islamic murderers. And perhaps they will be crushed sooner rather than later, making terror a small footnote to the word’s history. Isis is a name rich in history and meaning that possibly should not be so quickly abandoned.





Branding Scandals: Gruber-Gate and Scandal Naming Since Watergate

scandals with gate in the nameWatergate tops most top ten US scandal lists, which may explain the ubiquity of the ___-gate naming meme for scandals.  Gruber-gate is only the latest in a long list of scandals with “gate” in the name.

The naming -gate scandal construct got it’s start shortly after Watergate and Nixon’s impeachment with BillyGate, where President Carter’s beer swilling brother accepted payment from Libya to become their foreign agent. Since then, -gate naming has been in full swing beyond politics into fields as diverse as science with ClimateGate (shout out to Buffalo with historic snowfall levels today), media with news reporting truth problems in RatherGate, sports with the shenanigans of a certain golf player in TigerGate, and entertainment with the wardrobe malfunction known as NippleGate.

The field of politics remains at the top of the flood of gate names, with Bill Clinton, being the top inspiration from TrooperGate to TravelGate to MonicaGate and more. The British are first through the gate, however, with the  scandal involving a Member of Parliament insulting a policeman who stopped him from using the wrong gate at 10 Downing Street. While rating rather low on the disgrace meter, GateGate wins by having the best -gate scandal name.