ARE YOU A SKEPTIC?
Do you doubt the Slow Burn Marketing Mantra--the one that says your brand is the one way you core customer should feel about your business?
Because certainly, there are the doubters out there.
There are those who argue that it's really all about having a better product, and making an intellectual argument for it.
Well then, just to prove a point (and have some fun at the expense of others), we are now going to look at a market where emotion rules.
This is a market where intellect flies out the window. The products are often ascribed evocative qualities they do not possess in any way. This is a market where the product name is all about imaginary sizzle and there is zero about product superiority in the initial effort to reach the customer.
WE ARE NOW SELLING YOU A FIBERGLASS BOX
A big, fiberglass box.
And it has wheels.
What's it for?
You tell me.
What on earth would you do with a gigantic fiberglass box called, "Raptor"?
Hmm. Raptor. A bird of prey. It has a talons designed for grabbing and clutching, and a beak designed for ripping and tearing. It has extraordinary eyesight and hunt with dead-accurate precision to survive.
THE RAPTOR IS A FEARSOME CREATURE
Members of its group are admired by Native American tribes who have made it a significant feature in their mythology. Various raptor names are used to honor their people.
The word comes from the French, "rapere," to seize or take by force.
Nothing says "Raptor" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
But then, there's another fiberglass box called, "Bighorn."
Another nod to the animal kingdom, the bighorn is a sheep.
This wild animal is revered among game hunters, and is another creature that figures prominently in the mythology of certain Native American tribes.
The animal is strong, and fearsome like the raptor, though for different reasons.
And nothing says, "Here's your fiberglass box with wheels" like a bighorn.
IN A DEPARTURE FROM FEARSOME CREATURES, MEET "PINNACLE"
We all know the pinnacle.
Fundamentally, a pinnacle is an architectural feature. It is long and pointy, like a small spire.
In nature, the rock pinnacle is a small spire of stone, often difficult to reach.
Metaphorically, the pinnacle has become something to which one aspires. The ultimate pinnacle is the success and greatness for which one was destined.
It's about aspirations and accomplishments.
One who has reached the pinnacle has arrived.
Nothing says "Pinnacle" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
Except, maybe, this next one.
PINNACLE, MEET "VENGEANCE"
It's root word is "Revenge," a form of justice usually taken outside the law. It is a form of payback, often made into a mission.
One wreaks vengeance upon one's enemies with great lust and zeal.
There is often tremendous blood spatter amidst a swinging of great blades.
Vengeance is raw and savage.
Vengeance feels good.
Or so we might imagine, for who among us has ever actually sought vengeance? But we can imagine!
Nothing says, "Vengeance" like a fiberglass box on wheels!
DO YOU WANT A FIBERGLASS BOX ON WHEELS NOW?
If so, which one?
And really, what are they?
A little backstory.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I are on the road in the Mobile Branding Response Unit. (It is built on a precision German chassis and is small and fast.)
We've just driven from Utah on I-80, where we are finally preparing to leave this historic Interstate Highway to peel off into New Jersey.
But during the last several days, driving along flat, seemingly limitless expanses of great American farmland, we've seen a lot of these fiberglass boxes.
Watching their approach on the Westbound side of the highway, and looking at their names emblazoned on their gelcoat skins, it's a marvel how much they are a testimony to the irrational side of decision making.
BIGHORN AND BROOKSTONE, MEET MONTANA AND EXCEL
Names that all evoke a particular kind of machismo, but each one different and ranging from grandiose to absurd.
We are speaking, of course, of the fifth-wheel travel trailer.
The fifth-wheel trailer is usually quite large. People can live in them comfortably for months at a time.
They are typically towed using a full-size pickup truck with a fifth-wheel coupling in the bed, hence the name. The coupling is similar in design to the coupling you see on a tractor trailer.
They can cost from the mid-five figures into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And the trailer names are all a product of an effort to evoke an emotional response in the prospect.
HOW ELSE DO YOU EXPLAIN NAMES RANGING FROM RAPTOR TO EXCEL?
Fundamentally, these boxes are all the same.
They are fiberglass boxes on wheels.
They contain furniture, kitchens and bathrooms.
And nothing that differentiates them from one another, from the range of conveniences to the quality of the appliances, speaks to anything like bighorn sheep or getting revenge upon an enemy.
How would one even enact revenge using a travel trailer? "Look at me! Living well is the best revenge! Ha! I smite thee!"
Especially if you want a deeply passionate outdoorsman to look at your trailer, you're probably going with Bighorn.
If you're attracting a motorsports enthusiast who takes the trailer to racing events, you might go with Vengeance.
If you're not really thinking about your customer's mindset too much and just want to pretend you're better than everyone else, maybe you go with Excel.
I WAS NOT IN THE ROOM WHEN THEY HAD THESE MEETINGS
One can only imagine the conversations.
"Our customer is more of a raptor in his characteristics."
It's like they have a special Chinese calendar of customer types. But nobody has named their trailer the Rat or the Pig.
How much fun would that be?
Anyway, the point being, if you've ever doubted the emotional component to branding, here is a great, big, shining example of emotional appeal run amok. There is zero effort to appeal to the prospect's rational side.
The products might as well be breakfast cereal. They are big boxes with wildly different names, but all are essentially the same inside.
If you want success in branding, marketing, sales and advertising, all but abandon the rational.
Yes, you need the rational parts to help justify the emotional satisfaction that comes from a silly name like Vengeance.
But in the end, if you don't get emotional and look for the evocative, you're going to be pulling your trailer uphill.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Beware The Frumious Vaynerchuk...
SO, GARY VAYNERCHUK IS A NUT
That's pretty evident.
He's also enviable as a businessman. At 40 years old, he's a small-business entrepreneur with a net worth of $10 million.
You might know Gary Vee as the guy behind Wine Library.
His irreverent and badly-produced videos about wine made him one of the first YouTube stars--and he completely didn't fit the idea of a wine snob. He was accessible.
He spoke in plain, unvarnished language about wine, and always maintained that one of his goals is to someday own the New York Jets.
(Wine tasting with a New York Jets spit bucket was obviously more than just an affectation. More like an effort at good ju-ju.)
GARY VAYNERCHUK IS A SELF-PROMOTING WUNDERKIND
And it's not just social media smoke and mirrors.
In the early 1990s, he built a website called Wine Library. He was doing internet retail sales of wine before most people knew what the internet even was.
In 1998, after graduating from college, he took over his father's store, Shopper's Discount Liquors.
In seven years, Mr. Vaynerchuk grew the annual sales from $3 million to $50 million.
This man knows how to self-promote and how to sell stuff.
Gary Vee has long been a magnetic and engaging huckster, and he has the revenue to prove it.
SO, I'M READING HIS MOST RECENT BOOK
(Did we mention Mr. Vaynerchuk inked a 10-book, $1-million deal with HarperStudio?)
The latest book (his fourth), called #AskGaryVee, is named for The #AskGaryVee Show, a YouTube series that he launched in 2014. Fans ask him questions in social media, and he replies to them on YouTube.
It's basically a variation on the let's-turn-our-blog-into-a-book model.
Which is a fine model, especially for someone who knows what they're doing.
But, barely 15 pages in, it's clear he and I are in trouble.
He's telling me to stop worrying about naming my company. The name doesn't matter. If I want to stand out and disrupt my category, I should just stand out and disrupt the category.
As proof that the name doesn't matter, he says:
"Are you going to tell me that 'Apple' or 'Vine' is an earth-shatteringly clever name? Or 'Snapchat' or 'Reddit'? Do you have any idea how many people wish they had a different last name so they could use it for their company? They're talking to a guy named Vaynerchuk! 'Oh, that's unique and cool and...' No, it's really not. My name is good because I made something out of it."
Well, first of all, the latter point is very true. He has made something out of "Vaynerchuk."
That said, Vaynerchuk is a cool name. It's unusual. It makes you look twice. And it lends itself to brand truncation. Like Federal Express became FedEx, Gary Vaynerchuk became Gary Vee.
What about Apple Computer? That is, after all, the original name. And it was named in a time when personal computing was in its infancy and regular people found the idea of computers intimidating.
AND STEVE JOBS, WHO WAS KIND OF A NUT, WAS ON ONE OF HIS FRUITARIAN DIETS
He had also just returned from an apple farm.
Jobs thought the name Apple Computer was "fun, spirited and not intimidating."
So, really, there was some brand thinking involved.
How did he want people to feel about his business?
That it was fun, spirited and not intimidating. Perfect for a guy who wanted to sell huge numbers of computers to the masses.
And I will tell you that, as someone who up to that point had found computers to be nothing like fun, the product actually lived up to the brand promise. The Apple Computer was very cool and accessible.
SO THE APPLE NAME MAKES THE PROSPECT FEEL SOMETHING
What about Snapchat?
Well, it seems pretty obvious.
It's about sending short snaps that disappear.
But did you know that wasn't the first name?
According to the website Rewind & Capture, Snapchat was originally called Picaboo. It wasn't catching on until they started marketing it as a sexting tool. Apparently, a draft of a press release says, "Picaboo lets you and your boyfriend send photos for peeks and not keeps!"
When the cease-and-desist letter arrived from the photo-book company Picaboo, they changed the name to Snapchat.
Seems that name has some resonance with the target demographic of 18-25 year olds who are "famously known for selfies and sexting."
Seems that the name Snapchat means something specific and makes them feel the right thing. See also: 10 billion videos sent daily.
THE TWO NAMES MR. VAYNERCHUK DISMISSES AS NOT EARTH-SHATTERINGLY CLEVER?
They are derived from some insightful brand thinking.
And here's something else they do.
They can aid people who aren't the same kind of relentless self-promoters as Gary Vaynerchuk.
If someone who's a marginal self-promoter saddles himself with a stupid name, how is that going to help him?
Granted, Mr. Vee does say that if your product sucks, it doesn't matter how good the name is.
On that point, we agree entirely.
But to dismiss the value of properly naming one's company indicates an utter lack of understanding about branding and why branding works.
LOOK AT YAHOO!
Yeah, I know.
They're everyone's favorite multi-billion-dollar whipping boy right now.
And there may be hope for them.
But the company name is an indicator of an entire series of brand mistakes.
Yahoo! began life as "Jerry And David's Guide To The World Wide Web." They were just two guys at Stanford who were cataloguing websites.
When it was evident the guide was a viable product, they realized they'd need another name.
A shorter one.
"I dub thee, Yahoo!"
THE ACCEPTED STORY: YAHOO! STANDS FOR "YET ANOTHER HIERARCHICAL OFFICIOUS ORACLE"
It's supposedly a reference to the hierarchical nature of its database, the office people who would be using it, and the fact that it would be a source of truth and wisdom.
I once heard an NPR interview with a Yahoo! founder who claimed that the name really meant nothing, but one meaning they had reverse-engineered was "You always have other options." (And as The Fabulous Honey Parker says, "Yes, and people took them.")
And there's another version of the story that says the founders like the name because of its reference to an unsophisticated, rural southerner, who is "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth."
YES, BRAND POINTLESSNESS ON PARADE
And according to the accounts in the business press, pointless branding bolstered by years of lack of vision.
There's never been an actual focus for Yahoo! and its mission.
That's why a brand once worth over $100 billion just sold to Verizon for less than 5% of that figure.
The infamous Peanut Butter Manifesto written 10 years ago by Yahoo! SVP Brad Garlinghouse confirms that.
Mr. Garlinghouse says, "We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything -- to everyone.
"We've known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it."
LACK OF FOCUS WAS EVIDENT EVEN IN NAMING THE COMPANY
And that was well before Yahoo! was ever worth $100 billion. It was a good product. It burgeoned in the dot com boom. But it never knew where it was going and lost its way.
Conversely, Gary Vee has always been focused.
He's always been about promoting Gary Vee.
And he's a relentless self-promoter.
Of course he thinks naming a business doesn't matter. And his product doesn't suck.
And his is a tiny business worth a fraction of Apple, Snapchat or Yahoo!.
THE BRAND NAME MATTERS
Don't discount it.
And don't saddle yourself with something that makes no sense or is a backronym or is somehow contemptuous of some group.
It'll come back to bite you in the butt.
Name smart. Have a reason. Have purpose. Be aspirational. Be appealing. Make people like you.
It'll all work out much better in the long run.
Especially if your name isn't Vaynerchuk.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.