Good branding can separate your cow from the other cattle.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 12/8/2003; Mass High Tech; American City Business Journals
The excellent book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” by Al Ries and Laura Ries, states that “A branding program should be designed to differentiate your cow from all of the other cattle on the range. Even if all the cattle on the range look pretty much alike.” From 1997 to 2001, I had the pleasure of working for Verio, the world’s largest web hosting company. Verio became the world’s largest web hosting company by acquiring approximately 50 companies, rolling them into one company, taking the new company public, and then selling it to Japan’s NTT for $5.5 billion in 2000. Along the way, there were lots of branding issues that Verio understood and effectively managed. One could argue that Verio’s success was due, at least in part, to successful branding.
Branding Your Product
Good branding can separate your cow from the other cattle, but many companies fail to follow Ries and Ries’s immutable laws. Consider the following laws and examples given by Ries and Ries in their book.
The law of expansion (law number 1). The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope. For example, in 1988, American Express had 27% of the market. It then introduced many new cards (e.g. Optima, Corporate Executive). In 1998, American Express had 18% of the market.
The law of quality (law number 7). Quality is important, but brands are not built by quality alone. For example, read “Consumer Reports” and then check the sales rankings of the brands tested to the magazine’s quality rankings. You will find little correlation.
The law of extensions (law number 10). The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything. One reason that 90% of all new brands are brand extensions is that management measures the success of the extension, never the erosion of the core brand. The Bud Light drinker is likely to come from Budweiser, not from the competition.
If you choose a good brand by following the guidance given by Ries and Ries, you will also end up with a good trademark for your brand.
Trademarking Your Brand
You should avoid choosing a brand name that is generic or descriptive. Don’t name your bookstore “Bob’s Bookstore,” or “Affordable Books.” Instead, choose a name that is suggestive of the qualities your product stands for. If you are selling data backup services, perhaps include “elephant” in the name, since elephants supposedly have good memories. If you are starting a bus company, consider the fact that “greyhounds” are very fast dogs.
An even better strategy is to choose a distinctive brand name that is unrelated to your product or service. “Apple” is a good name for a computer company because computers have nothing inherently to do with apples.
The best strategy is to choose a distinctive company name that is a brand new word. Like Verio. This is, of course, the most fun and the most challenging. Made-up words can sound cool or they can sound like names that didn’t make the final cut for the Seven Dwarfs. There are naming companies that specialize in helping companies choose names (search Yahoo for “naming”) (http://search.yahoo.com/search/dir?p=naming).
There are also websites that may help you choose a distinctive company name. Web sites such as the Random Name Generator (http://www.kleimo.com/random/name.cfm) are designed to produce lists of pseudo words based on vowel/consonant rules. You may also want to try password generators (http://www.multicians.org/thvv/gpw.html), baby name generators (http://www.baby-name-generator.com/), or (my personal favorite) random band name generators (search Yahoo for “band naming random”) (http://search.yahoo.com/search/dir?p=band+naming+random).
Verio is headquartered in Colorado, which is home to one of American’s greatest brands. “The American Salesman” reported that “There are twenty-five mountains in Colorado higher than Pike’s Peak. Can you name one?” Such is the power of a brand. Brand (and trademark) wisely.