site map


October 29, 2007 | Tate Linden
I've been sent perhaps a dozen free books on branding and marketing in the year and change I've been blogging. I've never written about them - mostly because there's rarely anything about naming or verbal branding in them.

This book doesn't have that disconnect...

The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly is an impressive book. And it is almost entirely related to what I do for a living. I'd suggest that it's one of the more advanced books on the concept of corporate identity, and it is backed by a slew of research (and the Wharton School.) While I didn't read it cover to cover yet, I did read the chapters that discuss the role of identity in situations that matter to naming - such as mergers, acquisitions, the beginning of new brands, and such. All of 'em were spot on - or a least headed in the right direction.

As an example - the book identifies the ingredients of Successful identity Change as:
  1. Vision
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Consistency
  4. Leadership Continuity
  5. Luck and Positive Signals
While Stokefire's number one ingredient is missing (leadership involvement!) the list is one that is worth spending time to understand. It is clear that without any one of the five items a project will likely fail. They've at least provided a good starting point to work with.

Other interesting tidbits:
  • An analysis of evolutionary vs. revolutionary change
  • The difference between organizational and brand identity
  • The downside(s) of branding (narcissism, id conflict, drift, & fragmentation)
  • How to handle mergers, spin-offs, joint ventures, and more.
  • Four leaders who've managed identity well, and four who haven't.
  • Transitioning from a single brand to a portfolio...
If these topics don't get you motivated to read the book then chances are excellent you're not in the naming field. Or, as a former SecDef might say, "you don't know what you don't know."

Perhaps most refreshing was the near total lack of talking-heads from major branding firms that typically populate books like these. We get to see things through the eyes of employees, stakeholders, and customers - not the guys that developed (and are defending) the brand. Who cares what we, the creators of the identity, think. If the people who live the brand don't say it then it ain't real.


Many thanks to Wharton School Publishing for the comp. I've dog-eared so many pages that it's beginning to look like there's been trouble at the printer (since most of the upper-outside corners appear to be missing.)
October 26, 2007 | Tate Linden
A few readers of the blog and even a couple clients have pointed out that I am prone to the occasional rant. (But they've also been kind enough to note that it is informed or at least well researched ranting.)

As noted on an earlier comment today, I rant for a reason. I question stuff I don't get. I challenge people to defend their brands. When it doesn't make sense to me I'll say so.

I wouldn't call it ranting though, I'd suggest that I'm poking - and perhaps provoking.


I poke because I care. Naming is seen by many in marketing and branding as something you throw in for free when taking on a design project. And the work produced in these instances tends to be exactly the sort of stuff that gives the naming field (such as it is) a bad name. I make my living in an industry where almost every name is a potential Exxon Valdez for the field. When one of us messes up it affects all of us. And even if the product was given away for free it still drags us down (a free oil spill is still an oil spill.)

I provoke because provocation gets read. And they get forwarded. And people respond to them. Naming has low visibility. If I poke at someone's brand for not making sense chances are excellent that if they're legitimate they're going to respond - perhaps by poking back, or by actually addressing the issues that I raise. If they don't respond then the bad brand stands exposed and identified as below the norm. Either way the industry gets more visibility, a high likelihood of some smart discussions, and more people passionate or informed about brands and names.

I poke because I've got to be me. One of Stokefire's founding principles is that we're supposed to be who we are. (No sense putting on a costume to help other businesses try and be themselves - it gets too complex.) I'm a guy that believes all the cards should be on the table. When I screw up you'll know it. When I believe your brand can be improved I'll tell you. And when your brand is strong enough that you don't need my help (as happened last month with DARKSKY) you'll know that too.

I poke because I believe. If I didn't believe that branding worked I wouldn't bother. But good branding does work. I'll point out branding companies that use the same technique for every project (much as Igor pokes Landor on occasion.) I'll poke names that say more about the gutsiness of the namer than they do about the brand they're supposed to represent. I'll rage against names that have such obvious issuses with them that they never should have left the concept stage. I'll express my astonishment at those who suggest what you're called and how you convey yourself to the market doesn't matter at all.

I poke because it clarifies my thinking. Often I'll start writing and will change my opinion as I begin to think things through. Or it'll come when someone points out that I've been ignoring a critical aspect of an issue. But I had to put my thoughts on the page - in the virtual public - for it to happen. It helps me to figure out what's really at the center of an issue.

And... it feels pretty damn good. Try it yourself. Find something in the branding world that doesn't make sense to you and just start poking at it. Try to figure out what the creator of the brand was thinking - or not thinking. What was the goal of the name, tagline, or brand campaign? Pretty soon you'll start seeing all brands that way. And all those compulsions that branders everywhere are trying to force into your head will suddenly not be so compelling.

October 24, 2007 | Tate Linden
The Utilimetrics team is doing a great job getting the word out about their new name and it seems they're just beginning to try to get traction with their name as an industry descriptor as well. You'll note that the author of the article below keeps referring back to "advanced metering" when referencing the industry. The leaders of Utilimetrics, however, appear to use the "metering" term only when referencing the box on the wall.

Changing industry terminology doesn't happen overnight. But it does happen.

We'll post more on this as it happens.

Creating new words ain't easy. Just ask Erin McKean over at the Dictionary Evangelist. (Though we're not above trying to bribe her to accidentally slip a few of our words into the next Oxford American Dictionary. Wonder how far a fiver would get us...)
News From Utility Automation & Engineering T&D

Biggest little city hosts Autovation 2007


by John M. Powers, online editor

Autovation 2007, the Automatic Meter Reading Association's (AMRA) annual international symposium, celebrated its 20th anniversary in Reno, NV from September 30 to October 3 and, from the outset, sent a message to those attending: The industry is changing. It became clear to attendees that today's advanced metering involves a lot more than just a box on the back of a house and a tool to read said box. These days it's all about the data.

To drive the point home, outgoing AMRA president Jim Andrus announced at the first general session that the association is changing its name to better fit the growing scope of advanced metering. To further highlight the changing landscape, the Autovation 2007 keynote featured in-depth financial analysis of the market and opinions from heavy hitters in the industry along with days packed full of educational presentations about new initiatives and technologies.

At a press conference about AMRA's decision to change its name, Andrus and AMRA president-elect Stephen Carrico of Lee Lake Consulting (recently featured on episode 7 of Currents) explained that the name change, from AMRA to Utilimetrics, is a response to the shift from the advanced metering industry emphasizing "the physical box and the technology needed to read it" to a greater emphasis "on the data collected from the meter."

"We knew we had to roll out a new image," said Carrico.

Andrus and Carrico said Utilimetrics hopes to become more visible to regulators and policy makers by being a neutral voice "providing information on metering technologies and the value that can be derived from their uses." The name change, said Carrico, "is our first step to being noticed." But Utilimetrics won't have to do all the work to get recognized. The market will do some of the lifting, too. According to Andrus, the advanced metering market is growing and will continue to do so, which will attract attention from outside the traditional boundaries of metering.
[Click here for original article with more text...]
October 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
Boy... I didn't know how peeved I could make people until I threw down the gauntlet.

Interestingly I got notes from a handful of folks that provide name lists telling me where I could stick my gauntlet, but none actually picked it up. There were never any topical responses on the blog. Ever since that post was written participation on the blog by other namers has dropped off dramatically. I think maybe even completely.

I'd hoped that the post would spark a debate amongst those in our industry who provide different levels of service. I'd hoped that someone would challenge my assertions. It didn't happen. Life went on...

But as I thought more about this over the past couple weeks I realized that ultimately I am not really a namer either. I think that most in the naming business aren't namers at all. We're Listers, Coaches, Fact Checkers, CYA-ers, Linguists, and such. In all but the rarest of instances it is the CLIENT that is the namer, not us.

The difference between someone who stops after the creative process and one who provides detailed analysis and guidance to help a client select the right name is not one that should affect ones right to wear the title of Namer. Because, as I see it now, we really don't want that title at all. The moment we pass from an advisory or creative role into a decision-making one we become namers - and we become unemployable.

Whether we provide a short list and stop there or a massive list with five hundred pages of supporting data we still don't actually name anything. Our clients would revolt if we stepped over the line. Imagine just giving a single name (with or without justification) ... do you think that anyone would actually be happy with that? The amount of convincing we do is irrelevant - just a matter of degree. Some people are self-serve and others are full - there's a place for both. But in both cases the choice of what goes into the tank is left up to the person putting down the money.

So... to all of the folks in the industry formerly known as naming... I've picked up the gauntlet myself. The title of namer is not meant for us. We are the advisors. We are the coaches. We are the counselors. And yes, we are even the name listers.

We are the people that ENABLE great names to exist, and we may be the people that conceive of them. But we are not, and will likely never be, the people that actually name anything but our own children and pets. (And if you're a daddy you know that even there we're only really in an advisory role...)

Note: It's a scary thing when I actually have coffee in the morning. I can think myself out of a job.

NoteNote: Major props to my main man Immanuel Kant for his influence on this post.
October 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
The Stokefire team has been focused on pushing through two RFP responses and one RFQ response for some pretty cool naming projects over the last two weeks. We know we're not pullin' our weight on the blog (especially since we missed an easy joke by Jeffry last week that we only today figured out...) but we're gonna try to get back to it.

Pretty amazing that our 'lil shop is getting invited to play against the big boys. And girls. Mostly we're getting sub work - where a major firm goes after a contract and gives us the naming piece so they can focus on adding to their stable of logos, promotions, and advertisements. There's still no serious venue for naming awards, so there's little recognition for the firm that develops the name. Maybe that's why folks are so willing to give us work.

You might think it's thankless, but it isn't. We just got a note from the executive director of an association we just named. Three months to rename a 20 year old organization. He signed off the note with two (TWO!!) exclamations after the name of the organization. Seems that our thanks come direct from the source rather than a jury.

And our partners seem to like it. Everyone we've partnered with has invited us back for more opportunities. It has us thinkin' we're pretty good. It took a comment from one of our spouses to make us think otherwise.

The comment: "Maybe you're just way under-priced."

Damn. Time for more competitive research. (Wonder how I can casually ask Nancy, Marc, Mark, Andrea, Susan, and the other San Francisco Namers without them catching on... I'm sure I'll think of something.
October 19, 2007 | Tate Linden
hellomynamewas.jpgWhile looking for "hello my name is" stickers for a promo event we came across this goodie.

We bought a bunch.

We'll mix 'em in the pile and see if anyone notices. ...and no fair hoarding them all for yourself if you find 'em.

Oh - and we are indeed serving chicken skewers...

This does relate to naming, so don't be hatin' us for being more than a little off topic.
October 15, 2007 | Tate Linden
I actually happen to like the AMA quite a lot... So it is with a bit of sadness and angst that I question the addition of what appears to be a new feature in the Marketing News magazine. In September the acronym was "USP." They give us a friendly hint that it doesn't have anything to do with the Postal Service. And then they tell us that it means "unique selling proposition" and go on to explain what that means. If you know marketing you know what USP means - and if you don't you probably won't be reading a magazine only given to AMA members...

This month the acronym is SaaS - standing for "Software as a Service" which the folks at the AMA seem to think "effectively renders the terms ASP (application service provider) and on-demand obsolete."

A few points:

One - ASP deserves to be rendered obsolete. Why go to the trouble of making an acronym that means something and is pronouncable and then ignore both the meaning and obvious pronunciation? I see the letters A, S, and P and I say "asp." One syllable. Neat. Maybe a little scary. Why make it three? Weren't acronyms meant too save us effort?

Two - There's no way SaaS will make ASP obsolete. SaaS is almost impossible to type correctly on the first try. Most word processors automatically switch the last letter to lower case. Mine did so, then suggested that what I really wanted to say was Seas, Sagas, Saabs, Sass, or Salas. At least ASP doesn't violate any word processing standards that I can think of.

Three - How would you pronounce SaaS? Does the last letter give it emphasis? Does a double A give it a long vowel sound? It could be "Sass" or "Sayce" or "Says" or "Sayz" or "SaySUH" or something else.

Four - If SaaS is the acronym of the month then why isn't it found anywhere on AMA's website?

There's more, but I've got proposals to write and clients to serve.

This all begs a single question for me.

Why would an organization teaching about marketing suggest any acronym as being "of the month"? Acronyms are shortcuts. Acronyms eliminate the message. Acronyms take the oomph out of marketing. Acronyms cost more money in the long run...

When was the last time you thought to yourself... THAT is one beautiful acronym? (FCUK excepting...)

P.S. - I do know that the feature is meant to be educational... but if that's the case then why suggest that the acronym is good? Ah well. Perhaps I'm just grouchy today.
October 12, 2007 | Tate Linden
The Washington Business Journal has (had? It was a while ago...) a new column called "Problem? Solution" that helps business owners solve their troubles by hooking them up with area experts. Sadly, no one seems to be asking for naming help there, but I did get the chance to show my ignorance (and apparently my propensity for sentences awkwardly phrased) when it comes to designing affordable but cool office space.

You can check out the article here (from the Friday, May 11, 2007 edition.)
Problem: Tate Linden's Stokefire Consulting Group has been working out of the Business Incubation Center of the Community Business Partnership in Springfield. He is ready to leave the nest but wants some help designing and setting up a "professional, creative and stylish office environment" on the cheap. "In my business," Linden says of his branding company, "I can't afford to have all the 'coolness' limited to my marketing materials -- it has to convey via our environment too."

Sadly it didn't include a link to our little corner of the world. But what's worse is that in the words that I wrote I can almost see the "finger quotes" around "coolness." (...and I always forget that the way I talk and the way I write are different... Who says "convey via our environment" anyway? Not me.)

Many thanks to Lucy Webb and Barbara Wrigley for setting this up. Thanks as well to Dave Denny at Hickok Cole for his advice.


Amen, brother.
October 11, 2007 | Tate Linden
Oh the stuff that Thingnamers get to do...

I had the opportunity yesterday to help judge the Brass Ring Awards for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions with numerous other leaders in the Association Marketing space. My judging team selected the Best Integrated Marketing Campaign, Best Seasonal or Special Event Marketing, Best Print Advertisement, and Best Outdoor Advertisement.

While I'm not at liberty to say who won in the various categories, I was surprised to discover many trends in verbal and visual branding that become apparent only when you're confronted with 120 campaigns all selling what is essentially the same thing - a day of entertainment for the family.
  1. The smallest organizations fall into two categories - either they mention every single attraction the park offers (in the hopes, we assumed, that at least one would be interesting to the audience) - or they were completely off the wall and creative. The smaller parks typically have no guidance from a corporate office somewhere so if the marketing department knows what they're doing they get the chance to be amazingly strange (and effective.) They also don't get the coaching that the mid- to large-sized parks get and aren't prevented from putting out adverts that look an awful lot like catalogs, penny-savers, or junk-mail. Lesson learned: If you're a small park you shouldn't see marketing campaigns as places to save money or try shotgun marketing - see them as places to take a stand. The ones that just said "this is who we are and why we're cool" really impressed us.
  2. Animal parks, zoos, animal events, and animal experience sites were far and away the most creative. I'd assumed I'd be leafing through pages of "come see the baby panda" and "Hey kids - come for your birthday - our elephants won't forget to give you a present" sort of stuff. I was wrong. In an age where kids and adults are more likely to watch a video or simulation of animals the zoos have really risen to the challenge and come up with some great ways to show not only what they have to offer, but why it is important that we (as people, families, society) really need to experience it. While quite obviously the visuals were stunning, the words they used were also spot on. When the awards are announced I'll spend more time on this.
  3. We'd been drooling over the prospect of judging the batch of major theme parks - the biggest in the world. Sadly, this group really let us down. What we discovered was a batch of very clean advertising with a singular message (textbook, really) that had absolutely nothing unique about it. They were often beautiful to watch, but gave the viewer nothing to connect with. They really contrasted with the low-production-value small parks with interesting messages. Many were the sort of thing you'd expect to see on an intercontinental flight between movies. They felt canned. Sponsored. Fake. Empty. In a few instances we had trouble finding a runner up (or even a winner) because every single park took the exact same approach to an event. Corporate thinking... isn't.
  4. Most entertaining (though not always award winning)? The rare literal break-out piece. A billboard being broken into pieces. A sign flipped sideways to give better perspective on an attraction. Using the edges of an advertising space to help convey the size of something at the park. The most effective pieces were so great that I wanted to hang them on my wall... They really show how closely linked art and marketing can be. The best ads tended to be visually striking - and made all the judges in the room immediately say "I want to do *that*."
And a side note to potential entrants of contests... if you're going to submit multiple entries you may want to consider submitting low multiples. It's really hard to see how unique a particular park is when they submit (say) five similar campaigns in every single category. Sure, odds seem to point to a better chance of winning... but it also means that every single one of your campaigns seems less special.

Awards judging is similar to the original point of marketing. You want to stand out. You can't do that if you create a crowd as soon as your entries hit the table. Pick your best... leave the rest.(tm)?

Hey... that slogan works for the ad campaigns too.

Many thanks to my fellow judges for a fun day and to Eamon Connor for selecting a Thingnamer such as myself for such a cool project.
October 9, 2007 | Tate Linden
How do you talk about "metering" without mentioning the meter?

That was just one of the challenges we faced while working on this project.

We're proud to announce another of our clients (The Automated Meter Reading Association - or AMRA) has launched their new identity. They needed a name that appealed to their core audience of senior leaders, could double as a new name for the industry as a whole, and avoided the verbal association between "meter readers" and "men in overalls" that seemed to be a bit misleading.

UTILIMETRICS was launched on October 2nd after over a year of brand analysis, development, and design. Check 'em out.

The AMRA/UTILIMETRICS team really impressed us with their understanding of what was needed to reestablish their brand. It isn't every day that you see an association take such a progressive step. Kudos also go to Bates Creative Group for their work on the graphic identity.

Can't wait to see what's next for the organization and the technology they represent.