Naming in an A.I. Age Episode #6
Welcome back, listeners! We have Jay Acunzo to thank for this week’s podcast topic. Our team has been focusing on building relationships with our clients more intentionally, and the quote “you don’t do story, you become a storyteller” from one of the “Unthinkable Podcast” episodes, kicks off the conversation between Mike and Adelaide. Mike further discusses the NameStormers experience with Amfac Parks & Resorts which rebranded to Xanterra under the supervision of the firm. Listen to episode six to learn more about how to adapt the naming and storytelling process in the age of AI.
Episode Six of “Naming in an AI Age” Podcast
Welcome back to “Naming in an AI Age,” for what I believe is our fifth or sixth episode. I’m here again with Mike Carr, our Founder and CEO of NameStormers. I’m super excited today. If you know Mike, you know he’s always eager to learn more, whether it’s a new book, a new podcast. We always tease on our weekly team meetings about the new concept we’re wanting to introduce. But Jay Acunzo of the Unthinkable podcast had a point that has stuck with you for the past couple of years that you wanted to bring up.
On one of his episodes, he had focused on storytelling and relationship building. And one quote you particularly loved was, “You don’t do story, you become a storyteller.” How do you think you have pulled this mantra, this concept, this quote, into your daily life, either or both personally and/or professionally?
Yeah. It’s a great question, and I think it extends to all types of relationships. So, I think in meeting someone new and trying to get them to know you and you know them, talking a little bit about yourself in the form of a story. You know, like where you grew up and some of the crazy fun things you did maybe growing up, builds that personal connection, builds that humanity and that authenticity in the conversation. And certainly, with clients and in developing names, having that story both helps you build a personal relationship with a client knowing more than just to them as a customer, but as a real person with certain hobbies and interests.
And then for a name, we are creatures of story. The human species is the only species that we know of that learns from a story, and it’s been passed down for the millennia, so it’s in our DNA. We love stories. Names that have great stories tend to be stickier. They tend to be differentiating. They tend to be much more relevant if the story is crafted in such a way that it really relates to the value proposition. Jay talks about this some in some of his “Unthinkable” podcast episodes. Another podcaster that I really love is Mark Schaefer. He has a podcast called “The Marketing Companion.” He’s also an author of many books.
And there are a number of other marketing branding folks out there that talk about how important it is to create relationships, to build communities, to have content that provides value, and all of that is grounded in story. Like why is something important? One of our clients years ago was Amfac Parks & Resorts. They were the outfit that manages the big national parks like Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon, and they had a black eye. Amfac was sort of associated with cabins that were a little bit rundown, parks that had litter over it, around it.
It wasn’t a real clean, modern, hip, caring kind of image. A new CEO came in and he wanted to change the culture. He wanted to change the reputation, and the image, and really the story around this company that takes such great care of these national treasures. And I would certainly say that any of our big national parks are national treasures that we would really want to preserve and take care of. So, the name we developed for them that they ended up going with was Xanterra, very different kind of name than Amfac Parks & Resorts, right? It’s not even spelled with a Z. It’s spelled with an X. So, it’s X-A-N-T-E-R-R-A.
It came from this idea of Xanadu, this idyllic paradise. This wonderful place you’d want to go and spend time. And then “terra” as in the Earth, our planet. So, it was this combination of grounding things in nature, in Mother Nature, and recognizing how important it is to preserve our natural resources and our natural parks. Hence, terra. But also, with this idyllic image that these are going to be beautiful. They’re going to be magnificent. The accommodations are going to be pristine and clean. We are going to do everything we can to make your stay incredible. And that’s the Xanadu.
So since then, not only have they been successful I think in the US, but I think they’ve rolled that name out to other resorts in other parts of the world. That’s an example where the story, where did that sort of modern different kind of name come from? Once you hear the story, it makes sense. It tends to make the name stickier. It certainly distances you tremendously from the old Amfac name, which was that alphabet soup acronym that no one knows or could remember what it stood for. And it gives them that more modern, hip vibe, which I think was one of the things that really helped them move forward.
Yeah. Well, you mentioned that was a couple years ago, and Xanadu I think is an older reference even too. In this modern day, in the age of AI, how do you personally differentiate the human value, the importance of people in the naming or storytelling process versus AI capabilities or platforms?
Well, certainly a lot of folks are using ChatGPT, or Bard, or one of the other new AI tools out there to construct stories, and then they’ll tweak it. I think that’s a great way to think about AI is, it is a super partner. It’s a great collaborative aid. It’s a great researcher. It will find references and articles that’ll make your research much richer, your story much richer and relevant, in less time. But it doesn’t have the ability to sort of craft the story that’s really relevant and really resonates with your audience because it doesn’t have that depth of understanding or that future look, right?
So much of AI is based on what has happened. It’s based on things that are very well-defined. And relationships often are a little bit iffy or a little bit scary. You’re trying to build a relationship with a person, or with customers, or with employees, and you have a vision or dream as to where you want to take it, or where you want them to take it, but you’re not sure you’re going to get there, and you’re not sure how you’re going to get there. So, AI in general is not very good at all at uncertainty. It’s great, the algorithms are great at things that are well-defined like playing chess, things like that. It’s not very good at, “Well, we’re not really sure exactly how this is going to evolve.”
And that’s where I think the human being is so important. Another example was for Hilton. They came out with a new chain of hotels that were targeted at millennials, and so they wanted a name that was very different than their hallmark Hilton brand names. So, we just came up with Tru, T-R-U. It wasn’t even spelled as the word true. We dropped the E off of it, just T-R-U. And it was this idea that, look, Hilton is telling a story now, and trying to position this type of property, and the experience you have is very authentic to what a millennial or a younger traveler is looking for. It didn’t have all the amenities. It didn’t have all the extras that your parents would perhaps value. But it had great Wi-Fi, the rooms were clean.
It had the modern amenities that a traveler that was younger was fine with and didn’t have to pay the price of a traditional Hilton hotel. So, Tru is an example of a name that’s wrapped in a story for a particular target that’s worked really well for that target, and it was told by human beings. I don’t think any AI tool would ever come up with a name like Tru. And it certainly wouldn’t be able to craft the story around it that the human would. I think that’s true whether you’re talking about a name, whether you’re talking about just a brand in general, or even personal relationships with friends, and family, and significant others.
Yeah, I think it was Mark Schaefer who in one of his more recent newsletters talked about that 80/20 percent split. There’s the 80% is like the technical, the more analytical side, and then 20% capability is more human, the storytelling nature, the ability, as you said, to kind of wrap a brand around a name, wrap a story around a name, which is much more difficult to do in a creative way just from that AI analytical perspective.
But how would you recommend that companies or individuals differentiate or promote their brands in this kind of day and age? I know that marketing specifically isn’t our niche, it’s like the naming portion, but what are some things that you’ve seen or some recommendations you may make from the Jay Acunzo storytelling aspirational perspective?
Well, I think part of telling a story is then embellishing that story over time, encouraging community members or brand advocates, super fans, to participate. So, it’s sort of like it’s not static. I think one of the biggest problems that our largest clients have, and it’s very closely correlated with the size of the company and how old the company is. But these companies that have been around for many decades, they have a dominant market share, and they’re a bit complacent, they’re a bit set in their ways, and so they don’t want to evolve that much. They’re very happy with the status quo.
Whereas these newer, younger companies, they may be quite large if they have a lot of VC backing and they’ve got a cool product, they like change, they like disruption. I think part of what’s key about building and maintaining great relationships is having stories that are organic, and living, and growing, and changing. And the way that happens, in my opinion the best way, what we’ve seen some of our customers do is, it’s not just coming from internal. It’s not just the employees, or the branding folks, the marketing folks internally trying to tell the story.
It’s having that engagement with the community so that you do have outside participation, and they share with you how they’re using your product. So, you have on Instagram pictures and videos of people using your new shoes, or your new microwave over the grill, whatever it is, I mean in different places, and so it brings it alive. It has that real, “Hey, these are real people. They’re like me. They’re using these things in very cool settings, and I didn’t even know they could use it that way.” So, it’s that kind of interaction, and that kind of nurturing the community and the content so it’s never static, it’s always changing, it’s always evolving as the needs and the uses evolve.
That’s some great, great insight, especially with the number of marketing VPs or heads of marketing for different companies that you’ve interacted with that we’ve presented to for different naming exercises. Well, thank you so much for this insight, and thank you to Jay Acunzo out there for giving us this quote, this concept to chew on and think about a little bit. Please join us next week as we dig a little bit more into the analytical side of our process, name testing, and that gold standard, and how we have chosen to leverage AI in this whole process. So, thank you so much, Mike.
Thank you, Adelaide. See ya.