Hidden meanings behind brandsMan: “How was I supposed to know that?”
Woman: “You should just KNOW!”

This refrain repeats in household arguments frequently. I feel qualified in making this observation, as I’m the woman in my household, and have had to bite my lip several times to circumvent this particular script. Typically, I’m not a fan of making generalizations about the genders, but this one I have actually witnessed with countless couples, multiple times. What is it about what women presume they communicate that men just totally miss?

Believe it or not, this has some interesting implications for brand naming. Every time we think of a name or try and articulate a brand, we’re trying to tell a complex story in just one or two words. Oftentimes, the most-liked names are those that convey multiple meanings, whether they be double-entendres (i.e. BitterEnd Beer) or names that just resonate with people on different levels (i.e. “Brita” Water sounds like crisp water to some, has a deep mythological meaning regarding inner purification to others (check out the description on their website), sounds more sweet and nurturing to still others, etc.). So, all this thought and context that we put into these names and enrich these brands with, does it work?

I’d argue yes, but others may disagree. Take Seattle’s Best coffee for example. They have just released a new level system, “rebranding” their coffee – “rebranding” because none of these coffee flavors have names, just numbers. The levels go one through five: one being the weakest in flavor, five the strongest. The confusion, as Brandweek’s article points out, is that some people will “presume that the numbers correspond to the actual level of kick.” The irony with coffee is that frequently darker blends (or level 5’s) often have less caffeine than the lighter blends (level 1’s) because of the longer roast times associated with darker blends. Since most Americans drink coffee for the energy boost that comes with higher levels of caffeine, take the rising popularity of the espresso shot as an example, many might be misled by this new level system. Has dumbed-down branding really simplified communicating the right context and story or just complicated it?

I posit that while something stripped down and simple might be easy to understand, it’s not easy to remember. Most of us can understand the concept of a tree. But what makes that tree different from the one down the street, or the one in a different state, is ALL about context: this is a Giant Sequoia from northern California. That name and description are much more significant, visual, and memorable than the lone word, tree.

This brings about the answer to the question regarding perceived meaning behind brands and names: is it really worth it to go to all that effort to build unique identities for every product and service? Graphics.com has some really interesting insight about the role context plays in strictly visual communication of brands (or logos). It discusses that “brand essence exists only in the memory of people. The logo is the highly visible reminder.” Brand essence is inextricably tied to memorability. Additionally, a logo, exactly like a brand name, evokes associations in people, persuasions and biases, and a sign of recognition (much like a wave or a high five). Those are powerful tools all wielded by brand names. If a brand has an identity, something ownable and communicable, why not create the message, make it exciting, and give rise to what you envision? Do you want to be a tree or a Giant Sequoia from northern California?

As a woman, the psychology behind why I think I’ve communicated something when I clearly haven’t, I think will forever perplex me. But, I can certainly work on my communication skills. On the other hand, brand names only have to contend with the hurdles we put in front of them. Creating a clear path and sending the correct message isn’t a bad thing, it is a critical element that we focus on when developing new names for clients.  Consistency and  delivering the right message, in a compelling and differentiating way, is what good brand building and effective product naming is all about.

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