Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Lexicon Branding

Have you ever wondered how some brands manage to stand the test of time, while others transcend time and language entirely? Think Google, Uber, Kleenex or even Jacuzzi. What do all of these brands have in common? Why, they have become part of the English language’s lexicon!

What is lexicon branding?
Lexicon branding is the art of creating brand names that become synonymous with the product they represent. So much so, that people use them as the go-to word for said product or they create an entirely new word or expression.

How many of you can relate to this anecdote by Marketing Mag’s Jason Dooris:

‘’I was Hoovering the other day, and all the dust in the air had me reaching for a Kleenex. Unfortunately, we were all out, so I Googled the closest store that sold them, scribbled the address down with a Biro, then Uber’d my way over there – although not before my wife reminded me to pick up some Vaseline and Onesies.’’

Many of these brands have become so integrated into our language that many of us aren’t aware that they began as trademarks.

Good brands don’t use other brand’s intellectual property.
As you can imagine, such companies are protective of their intellectual property, and while it may be a marketer’s dream, some companies don’t welcome having their product enter the common vocabulary.

Take Gerber and its Onesies. I know a few ‘adult’ people who think they own a Onesie, but actually they have what’s called an ‘adult bodysuit’. Calling it a Onesie infringes intellectual property rights and the shop it was bought from could be in trouble if they said otherwise.

Not a onesie, but an adult body suit.

According to the company, “Gerber Childrenswear is proud of the outstanding name recognition of Onesies® brand in the marketplace (95%) and will continue to be aggressive in protecting our trademark”. “The Onesies® trademark, or any variation thereof (i.e. Onesie), cannot be used as a generic descriptor and should only be used when referring to the Onesies® brand by Gerber®.”

One would think that any brand awareness is good brand awareness, but that isn’t always the case. In 2006, shortly after ‘google’ made it to the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, the company published a blog post seeking to clarify how and when you can Google:

“A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device that identifies a particular company’s products or services. Google is a trademark identifying Google Inc and our search technology and services. While we’re pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let’s face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we’d like to make clear that you should please only use ‘Google’ when you’re actually referring to Google Inc and our services.”

So unless you are googling on Google, you can’t use the trademark. If you want to use another search engine, like Yahoo, you must use the verb ‘search’.

What’s in a name?
Lexicon branding is the ultimate marketing tool for reaching such a level of market saturation that the name of your company or product becomes synonymous with – or even replaces – a centuries-old word. However, while there are hundreds, if not thousands of brands whose names have become the standard verb that defines the market they have helped create, some are more effective than others. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Google

By far the most famous lexicon brand, the verb
‘google’ made its way into most major dictionaries in 2006. Google completely defined the search engine market it helped to create. To google something simply means to use a search engine, regardless of which one.

2. Uber 

American online transportation network company, Uber has largely replaced ‘taxi’ or ‘cab’ in the markets where the ride-sharing service has taken off. But originally, the German word, Über means "above", "about", "over", or "across".

3. Onesies

Onesies is a brand trademark owned by Gerber Childrenswear, meaning a body suit for children.

4. Biro

The humble Biro was subject to a British patent in 1938, filed by its creator, Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro.

5. Rollerblades

Who knew that Rollerblades are actually a brand for in-line skates? Rollerblades, the company (and term) were founded in 1983 by Scott and Brennan Olson. Since then, they have made many innovations in the skate-shoe, including an active brake and decreased weight.

6. Scotch Tape

What sounds better - pressure-sensitive invisible tape or Scotch Tape? Richard Drew created Scotch Tape in 1925 at a company called Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. These days, we know the company as 3M; Scotch Tape’s name remains the same.

7. Velcro

Let’s face it, Velcro rolls of your tongue much easier than mechanical-based fastening product. Created in the 1940s and trademarked in 1958 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral, the French words for velvet (“velour”) and hook (“crochet”) were combined to make Velcro. Perhaps that’s why the Velcro company has thrived for the past 75 years.

8. Sharpie

Back in 1964, the marker industry was booming, according to Sharpie, the “first pen-style permanent marker.” The company took advantage of its celebrity status by getting celebrity endorsements from Johnny Carson and Jack Parr.

9. Bandaid 

What is an adhesive bandage? Oh, you mean bandaid! Bandaids were invented in 1920 by Johnson and Johnson and they still remain the first thing someone will ask for when they have a cut, scrape or wound.

10. Hoover

Finally there is Hoover. Infinitely more entertaining than vaccuming, Hoovering is a verb owned by American vacuum cleaner company. During the early and mid 20th century, Hoover dominated the electric vacuum cleaner industry to the point where the "Hoover" brand name became synonymous with vacuum cleaners and vacuuming.

So how hard is it to get a brand in the lexicon?
It’s harder than you think. In an article about The Art – And Science – Of Creating A Brand Name, Susan Krashinsky Roberson, from The Globe and Mail, explains how popular brands become household names.

David Placek, the founder of Sausalito, Californian-based Lexicon Branding Inc. specialises in giving brands their names. The creator of household names such as Swiffer, Dasani, and here in Canada, BlackBerry explains just how important a name is.

“Just how important is a name? My simple answer to this is, nothing will be used for a longer period of time or more often than a company’s name,” Mr. Placek said. “It’s not just a creative exercise. It’s a strategic one.”

Building a brand identity - otherwise known as branding, is one a company’s most valuable capabilities, so it’s important to get it right. Brand association, whether good or bad, can have a profound effect on consumer’s perceptions of a product, affect sales, and in some cases even change the category. So before settling on a name, it’s best to go out and do some research, talk to employees and customers to create a brand association map and then debate long and thoroughly about which name to choose. Because branding, once done, isn’t easy to undo and it’s best to get it done right the first time around.

Alyce Brierley

Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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