Is your name putting customers on the wrong track?
I’m excited. Tonight I get to meet the brilliant Nora Young from CBC Radio’s Spark at the Third Tuesday Ottawa meetup! Wait… “Third Tuesday” you ask? Isn’t today the Fourth Wednesday in June?!? Um, yeah, about that name… I Beg to Differ.
My Third Tuesday story
For the non-Ottawans (or those tragically not hip-enough-to-know) Third Tuesdays are evening events at a downtown Ottawa bar organized by the inimitable Joseph Thornley of Thornley Fallis, the ProPR blog, and recently working with my online friend (and secret biz-crush) Gini “Spin Sucks” Dietrich. For Third Tuesdays, Joe flies in smart speakers on social media topics, and their talks are held in the intimate, beer-fueled atmosphere of a real social gathering. It’s social, but actually social.
And as of noon, you can still get a ticket.
Perfect right? Almost.
You see, in March, after having missed several great Third Tuesday sessions in a row (I have these three kids you see), I saw that the presenter was William Mougayar on becoming a social media entrepreneur. So I eagerly signed up online, paid my fee to attend, and booked the evening “off” child care with my wife (did I mention three kids?).
But, silly me, I booked that evening and set my Outlook appointment for – get this – the Third Tuesday of the month. Can you believe how foolish I was? Ha ha ha. Of course I should have remembered that the Third Tuesday group almost never meets on an actual Tuesday, much less the third one, and checked carefully to see what date it was actually scheduled for… my bad!
Now to Joe’s credit, when I grumbled online about this, he promptly refunded my money, apologized, and said he hoped there were no bad feelings. And there weren’t – aren’t. But he also said this to me about the genesis of the name:
“We didn’t want to give the group a name that would tie it to terms that would rapidly become dated. So, we gave it a whimsical name that means nothing. (emphasis mine) That has allowed us to keep the content ever fresh and to follow the leading edge of thinking.”
Hmm. Can a name that seems so obviously descriptive (to my pea brain at least) really be just a “whimsical name”?
I beg to differ
And I tell my naming clients the same thing. Choosing a name that has clear descriptive overtones has a number of advantages for branders: less time explaining your product, or helping customers remember an aspect of your service – like the date for example. It’s like a pair of memory rails guiding your customer in a certain direction and reducing the friction if they go that way.
But the flip side is that a descriptive name also sets expectations that the product will continue to line up with the “rails” – so, like rails, you lose flexibility with a descriptive name as well. As I always say to clients:
You expect ’Canada Shipping Lines’ to ship stuff, but would you ever buy toothpaste from them? (Me)
Which brings me to the The Railroad Commission of Texas and 8 other examples of descriptive names that have gone off the rails – but happily pretend that they can blithely keep chugging as they churn deeper into the swamp:
10 Misleading brand names:
- Third Tuesdays. (See diatribe above)
- The Railroad Commission of Texas. If you visit the Web site, you might expect to see pictures of trains. Silly. That’s because you don’t live in Texas. If you did, according to my good friend Julie Pippert from Austin, you wouldn’t need a Wikipedia explanation of this uber-powerful state agency: “(it) regulates the oil and gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry, and surface coal and uranium mining. Despite its name, it no longer regulates railroads.”
So branders, a tip. If Wikipedia needs to include a disclaimer like that? Time to change the name!
Ottawa Bluesfest. Funny story. Ottawa Bluesfest used to be a festival about the blues, for blues fans. But since around 2005, it turns out that you can draw a bigger(and more lucrative) crowd with Kiss, Soundgarden, the Black Eyed Peas – or this year’s headliners Snoop Dog and Iron Maiden – than you can with Stone Blind Louisiana Willy – or whoever the current top Blues star is. Crookedmouth.net says”Bluesfest is a big, fat misnomer”, and I agree. It has become a rock festival – maybe even hard rock. Time to change the name!
- Apple iTunes. Once upon a time, in the days of iPods, this app was actually about tunes. Now if I want to download a movie, buy apps, update my software, or synch my iPhone calendar with my PC, I have to use this tool – which is now a comprehensive dashboard for smart devices. Time for a change Apple.
- History Channel. I must have missed the section in high school history where we learned about Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men and Pawn Stars. And I’m not the only one who feels that way: Why not change the name?
- MTV / Music Television. In February 2010, the venerable Cable brand MTV made news by finally “bowing to the inevitable” and removing the term “Music Television” from its corporate identity. So okay. But the M in MTV still stands for “Music” and will for as long as they keep it around. And as I’ve said many times: an abbreviation is not a brand!
Disney Baby Einstein. Pretty simple really. You buy a DVD; your child becomes Einstein, right? Not even close. In 2009, watchdog groups called for the name to be changed. But, as you can see, while Disney toned down the “educational” language and have shifted to saying they “create products that engage babies and make discovery fun for them and their parents” the clear implication is there. Change the name!
- Podcasters Across Borders (PAB). Two weeks ago, I attended the last iteration of this venerable – and mind-blowingly awesome – conference, which, it will not surprise you, was originally for Podcasters. But as time passed, and “Podcasting” became less the hip, insider cool-kid thing it once was, Mark Blevis and co started saying that the name was now “PAB”. But you also won’t be surprised that this caused confusion, consternation, apologies, and lots of onstage corrections.
- 140 Character Conference. Last year, I was pitching some ideas around for speaking engagements, and saw that Jeff Pulver would be bringing his 140 Character Conference to Toronto. So I pitched him an idea, and I guess I must have used the word “Twitter” one too many times, because he sent me an abrupt – and oddly peevish (“pulverish”?) – e-mail telling me that if I had taken the time to read his site, I’d know that his conference was not about Twitter but about the emerging “real-time internet”…
Funny thing though, I had read the site, like this part on the home page: “#140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business. To his credit, Jeff is now shifting from emphasis on “140” to a new master name “State of Now”, so perhaps we’re seeing the name change. Real time.
- Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). And speaking of changing. Here’s an example of an organization that got the message, saw the disconnect, and made the name change. And they took the heat for it from pundits like Glenn Beck who misread this as a move away from the “Christ” part of their name. But as John Piper responded:
The problem was not “Christ”. The problem was the limiting word “campus” (when CCC ministers to millions that have nothing to do with any “campus”) and “crusade” (which for millions of people has one main connotation: Medieval crusades against Muslims). Beck’s approach is not responsible journalism but careless hype for the religious right.
So how about you Brand fans? What are you doing to make Glenn Beck angry? Any examples of misleading names you’d like to see changed? Fire away in the comments below!