Martyn Tipping. Creating a brand name that can start a movement. This week on the POD Martyn Tipping one of the world’s foremost naming authorities talks with Scott Goodson about brand names that people want to follow, names that start conversations vs names that don’t. Join us on Uprising and please give us your feedback, ideas AND five stars on iTunes. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Scott: Hello, I’m Scott Goodson in New York City overlooking the beautiful Madison Square Park and you’re listening to the Uprising Pod. Names like Uber, Krisper, Orange, Bluetooth, sound like names at the front of a movement. Bluetooth, the technology name developed by Ericsson of Sweden together with HP, was named for the famous Bluetooth scandinavian viking. There’s the Smart Car, the B segment two seater that I helped launch, that was at the forefront of the movement to reinvent the urban environment with the motto “Reduce to the max.” There are brand names like Google, Blue Apron, Fresh Direct and Bonobos, and many others. So today on the Uprising Pod, the question we wanna ask is: is there such a thing as an awesome brand name at the front of a movement? Or, are there really really bad ones?
And joining me today is Martyn Tipping, one of the world’s foremost naming professionals. Welcome to our show, Martyn.
Martyn: Thanks a lot Scott!
Scott: You’re in the hot seat, and we have some major questions for you. Basically we’d like to talk about naming. So, with this in mind, are there names in your opinion that perform better for brands or organizations that want to lead a marketing movement?
Martyn: When it comes to naming, the best names are those names that tell a story. When you have a name that allows you to tell a story, when a story is connected to the movement. For example, the Honest Company. The name itself gives you permission to tell the story of that company’s focus and it’s mission to sort of produce toxin free and simple, pure product. So when you’re starting a new brand from scratch, having a name that aligns with that story and gives you permission to tell that story, that’s very important. It’s not about communicating and telling the whole story in the name, because that story is gonna change, and it’s going to evolve over time. Stories tend to be a lot longer than you are able to convey in eight letters or less. Having a name that allows you to tell that story is important, but I don’t think there’s such a thing necessarily as a good movement name or a bad movement name. Names that obviously have a call to action in them make really strong movement names. Something like WeWork, for example, is an active, almost call to action in the name itself. But you can look at names like Toms or even brand names like Dove that have built strong movements around their brand, they’ve done so almost in spite of the name and what the meaning is. There’s nothing inherent in the name Toms. It could have been Dick’s, or maybe not Dick’s but it could have been Harry’s for example, and they still would have been able to do what they’ve achieved under the Toms name. There’s nothing about Toms that enables them to sort of build that movement around that name.
Scott: So why couldn’t you call it Dick’s shoes?
Martyn: Uhm, I think you could call it Dick’s shoes. (Scott laughs) I was being flippy. Part of being a movement or a strong movement is that people want to identify with the brand. You might wear a button that says “I’m a Dick,” you might not!
Scott: Obviously you are from the UK, you moved to New York from there. How do modern disruptive brand names differ here in the United States versus your experience in the UK or in Europe.
Martyn: In the UK, and I think what you’re starting to see is there tends to be brands that are thinking not just about names and the brand names itself, but they’re thinking about the whole role of language and the brand. If you think about it, we’re living in an age where brands are creating more verbiage, they’re using more words than they’ve ever had to use in the past. If you’re on social media and you’re right posts, you’re creating probably as much language in the space in a month as would have gone in an annual report in the past. But you’re doing this month after month after month. So thinking about tone of voice and the way you use language is very important. I would say some of the earlier brands that did a really good job of this sort of capturing unique tones of voice and being really distinctive with their language, some of those brands that we sort of use as role models sort of came out of the UK. One in particular I’m thinking about is Innocent Drinks.
Scott: That’s a great brand.
Martyn: Yeah, the language that they have on the back of their packaging. You would buy one of their bottles and no exaggeration, you could have as much fun with reading the package and looking at what they’ve written even in sort of small places. So the copyright symbol, they would just put the word “cow free” next to it, as in there’s no cows in this product. I know we’re not copywriters but it’s these little moments of delight that you can achieve with words, that I think started or I saw it earlier, I was more aware of it when I was back visiting the UK, but that’s definitely crossing over here. You do start to see that now brands are starting to place a lot more emphasis on words.
Scott: I worked in Europe for many years and I remember back in the 1990’s and even the 2000’s and there was so many great names coming out of the UK. There was a bank brand that was launched by Prudential called Egg, as in Scrambled Eggs. Such a innovative and unconventional name. I remember when Orange launched against British Telecom and other competitors. It just felt like such a, I don’t know, fresh. It just encapsulated environmentalism. It was a fragrance to it. It was a fresh feeling. A completely disruptive name in the telecoms business, I just thought it was, I don’t know, very much UK culture, they’re just incredibly innovative and fresh with the way they think about naming.
I came across one the other day which is this wonderful cosmetic brand in the UK called Ordinary. Have you heard about that one?
Martyn: I haven’t heard about that one. It’s a great name.
Scott: Great name, yeah. But these are brands that just feel like you can get behind them, right? They feel like they’re value based, they have an idea. As you said there’s a backstory, but to me I feel like a brand named Orange sounds like more of a movement than British Telecom. The Body Shop, it was a movement for a long time, but it felt like a brand movement versus Clarence. Naming a business since you started has changed so much. Can you talk about today versus when you started?
Martyn: I think that emphasis on not just the name but the whole brand language is something that’s becoming more important. So as they say, being able to create content, create manifestos, create points of views, and a brand like Lulu Lemon, or even a brand like Old Spice did where they essentially reinvented that entire brand almost exclusively through the tone of voice. Sure they had the great ad “I’m on a Horse” but it’s the words of that that were just so strange and compelling and sort of made you think in a whole new way about the brand. So you’re starting to see brands pay a lot more attention to the words. I think another thing that’s happened is frankly companies are creating far fewer new brands than they were 20 years ago. They’re relying primarily on, and certainly the big companies, are relying on brand extensions. Brand extensions tend to have more descriptive and more straightforward names because they’re relying on parent brands. So when you see a lot of the excitement and innovation happening on the naming front tends to be at the smaller, start-up end of the spectrum. Which isn’t how it always used to be, in fact it used to be kind of the opposite, start-ups would just give straight forward and uninspired names until they got big enough to where they had to worry about changing their name. Where as now, if you want to stand you sort of have to have a distinctive name as a start up. It’s the big guys who are really seeing a lack of innovation in naming. I think the other thing we’re starting to see, and again 20 years ago, I worked on the naming of Ultria and Excentra and Verizon, and all of these coined names and part of the reason you ended up with a coined name as that is because big companies were concerned about trademark law and they wanted to have something as distinctive and protectable and notable as possible. And you compare that with something like Google changing their name of the holding company to Alphabet. I guarantee there’s a legal department kept busy over the changing of the name to Alphabet for many many years to come. But I guess for the sake of having a good name, certain big companies are willing to sacrifice some of the distinctiveness and some of the uniqueness of a name and say look, we’re google people will know we’re Alphabet in time, and if there’s any problems along the way we’ll take care of it.
Scott: So do you think that today it’s harder to come up with a name and register it compared to 10 or 20 years ago when you were starting up?
Martyn: Coming up with names has always been easy. We always used to say “anyone can come up with good names, the challenge is coming up with a good name that nobody else has come up with in your class.”
Scott: It must be really difficult. I mean there must be so many names where you come up with it and go oh that’s a brilliant name, and then you check and go oh jeez, it’s taken.
Martyn: Yes, 80-90% of what we come up with in creative sort of ends up failing at preliminary legal screening or failing for legal searches. Even if it clears full legal searches, you don’t find out that it means something offensive in Brazil or another key market. The company that’s selling the products, the linguistic criteria, companies as they get global are more concerned about those things. If your product meant something offensive in Romania or China, you wouldn’t necessarily find out about it or it certainly wouldn’t be on the internet as a viral meme within 48 hours, but now that’s not the case. You have to be much more sensitive to the linguistic side of things. But again, I think what you start to see as the companies are willing to say “look, we don’t need to own this name in every single trademark class or in every single category. We just need to own it for the specific goods and services were offering, and then we’ll build a brand behind it over time.” So in some ways it’s become harder, and in some ways as people become more realistic about what their name is going to be used for, in some ways it’s become easier. And then of course you have to hold a whole domain name thing, which again now people are more used to accepting work arounds if the url is not available, and even if a url is available and is registered, going back 15 years people would want to charge fifty hundred thousand dollars to sell a url they were squatting on, and now those prices have become more reasonable.
Scott: Lets say someone came to you and asked you to develop a cultural movement brand versus a traditional brand. What advice would you have for them from the beginning if you were to say “here’s what you would need to do in order for me to come up with this.” How would you work with them, what advice would you give them?
Martyn: I think it’s really important to understand how the name is going to be used, and where it’s going to be used, and having a name that could be, like Google, as a verb or sounds like a call to action or a rallying cry is really important. I think the trend now, particularly for movement brand, is you have to have authenticity in your name. So I think brands again are typically trying to move away from the Altria or the Excetra or latin or greek based names. They want a name that just sounds real because that’s what we connect to, something we connect to is something we recognize, something that if it was written on a plaque or put on a t shirt, people would understand what you use or what you stand for.
Scott: In your opinion, what’s the difference between a name like American Airlines and a name like Virgin, or Tinder, or Air BNB?
Martyn: You look at something like Virgin Atlantic, that was all about disrupting the whole British Airways, American Airlines model of no entertainment, lousy food, uncomfortable seats and transforming the experience. Virgin had that sort of fresh, irreverent attitude that’s inherent in that name. It takes sort of a bold attitude to label yourself Virgin. It’s quite exciting to say Virgin, were new to this category, and were going to shake this up. And that’s been their attitude for every new category they’ve gone into. They’ve gone mobile and fitness and trains, they’ve gone into these typically monopolistic old school industries and they’ve had this attitude of shaking things up.
Scott: Is that the same thing as Trump, in a way that they’ve gone into different industries?
Martyn: I’m not sure that Richard Branson would appreciate the comparison. I think Virgin may have a higher batting average in the industries they’ve gone into than Trump, but it’s a similar model in that you have a brand that allows you to, because of its perception, allows you to enter different categories. I would argue that Virgin has more substance to it than Trump does because the Trump promise is essentially one, I think that brands that promise you wealth and power and a successful lifestyle, I think when you start applying that to clothing in Macy’s, steaks, water, vodka, all of those kind of areas, there is very little connection between the promise and the delivery and the experience, so I think those brands are always going to disappoint. I think what Virgin is promising is not quite as intangible, they’re not promising you a lifestyle. They’re not promising you something aspirational. They’re promising something they can actually deliver on. And you appreciate that delivery, from the moment you first encounter that brand. So when you first step onto a Virgin plane, or even from the minute before you step on the plane, when you went into check-in or went on the website, you knew you were dealing with something different and they were able to start delivering on that promise. At every touch point, every little thing they did reinforced that sense that you were a part of something bigger and you were a part of a movement. And I would argue that with Trump steaks and water and ties and all of that, they’re not reinforcing success and power with every touchpoint. You’re not feeling more powerful and successful when you walk into Macy’s and buy a Trump, or you used to be able to walk into Macy’s and buy a Trump tie. It didn’t make you feel powerful and successful and in many ways it was sort of almost, the brand never lived up to that promise. And that’s a fatal mistake for any brand, particularly a movement brand. You have to be authentic, you have to deliver on what it is you’re promising.
Scott: I really much appreciate you spending time with me today on the Uprising Podcast. Martyn Tipping runs one of the most successful naming companies here in New York City and he joins me today on the Uprising Podcast. One final question, so as someone that creates names for huge companies, what are some of the big movements that you see in the current environment out there, and how is it changing the way you think about brand names and how you develop them for your clients?
Martyn: It’s an interesting time for brands and branding. I think a lot of brands are trying to figure out how they play or sort of exist in this crazy new world we seem to be living in in 2017. And lots of brands are trying to figure out if they should take a stand or not to. And if they do, which side of the fence they need to be on. And I think we’re going to see consumers looking at brands to be more accountable for the decisions that they make and the way they behave. And I think we’re going to start to see successful brands figuring out a way to do that well. And some brands will be rewarded for it, and some will be punished. But I don’t know, for some brands staying on the fence won’t be an option. For some it will, but for the brands we feel most connected to, brands are kind of like buttons, and literally for fashion. You have your Ralph Lauren polo or Adidas stripes, you literally have that button on your apparel. I think for a lot of people they wear their brands with pride and they want to know what these brands stand for. Brands who are able to stand for more than an expensive price will be successful. I think storytelling continues to be a huge movement as well with branding and starting or continuing to see brands that tell stories or leverage stories to get people emotionally connected, and that’s why I think the types of stories brands tell and the way they use these stories to build connections is going to be really critical to sort of fostering that sense of movement
Scott: Martyn, this has been very interesting and I very much appreciate your time. If anyone wanted to find you, do you have a Twitter handle or an Instagram handle or something like that? What’s your name in the social space?
Martyn: You can find us on Twitter at @mehtip, and website is TippingGardner.com
Scott: Awesome, thanks for joining us, much appreciated.
Martyn: Thanks a lot Scott!