Aug 5, 2014

Inventing A Brand Name To Avoid Embarrassment

Making your company name portable in international markets can be very challenging. A name that is memorable and catchy in one language can be completely inappropriate in another:

  • Wash your clothes in Barf. In the Middle-East Barf is a popular brand of laundry detergents. In Farsi the name means “snow.”
  • Do you really want that on your face? Puffs Facial Tissues are popular in North America. The brand doesn’t sell as well in Germany, because “puffs” is their colloquial term for “whorehouse.”
  • Add a splash of toilet water to your gin & tonic. Schweppes Tonic Water isn’t very appealing in Italian, because it translates to “Schweppes Toilet Water.”
  • It’s delicious to the bone. One of my favorite branding blunders is KFC’s slogan, “Finger-lickin’ good.” In Chinese it translates to “Eat your fingers off.” Now that’s some good fried chicken.

International markets are cultural land mines for brands. A small misstep can lead to hilarity. To get around these brand name mishaps use invented names: Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, Acura, Exxon, Accenture, to name a few.

Pick a name to fit your goals

Finding the right name for your business requires clear goals.

In 2002 Media Consulting changed their company name to Solgenia. The company was founded in Italy in 1994, and they are pioneers in developing software systems for the Internet and cloud computing.

They have offices in Italy, Canada, United States and Mexico, and their products are used in over 57 countries. They didn’t want to come up with a different name for each region they operated. They wanted one name that worked everywhere.

Ermanno Bonifazi, Founder and CEO of Solgenia explains, “We wanted a name that was international. The requirement was to find a name that you could pronounce in eight languages, and still write correctly in each language.”

Blend names to create new names

The spark of inspiration can come from unexpected places. The name “Solgenia” came from blending two names: DAMASOL and NETGENIA.

The firm hired an advertising agency to help them rename the company. Ermanno explains, “Our agency proposed two names: Damasol and Netgenia. None of us liked these names. We were in a management meeting struggling with the names for a few hours debating them, and trying to decide what to do. Finally one person at the table, Rita, said, ‘Why don’t we put these names together and create Solgenia. It’s a mix of the two.'” That spark of inspiration resonated with the team, and it stuck.

Finding an invented brand name that resonates requires a lot of experimentation. Pairing the right consonants is both artful and accidental. It takes playing with a variety of phrases to find the right mix: easy to say, easy to remember, and portable to any language or culture.

Invented names are empty vessels

Invented names work in any culture, because they don’t carry any meaning.

Acura means luxury, Japanese car. When you think of Acura you think of your experiences with the car company. Verizon means American Telco, and it takes on the meaning of the company and its services — both the good and the bad.

The meaning and understanding of an invented brand name comes from the customer experiences. The more your customers interact with your company, the more meaning gets packed into the name.

You can avoid international embarrassment by working with invented names. They are empty vessels you can fill up with your brand and your customers’ experiences.

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