Branding Tips Presented at Brooklyn Park Design Event

What is a brand? More than just a product itself, a brand is the overall identity that a product, service, or company takes on in the minds of its current and potential customers. It is this intangible quality of brands that can make them difficult to understand.

Three design experts presented their branding tips at a recent design event at the Rasmussen College Brooklyn Park, MN college campus. Pollywog Inc. executives John Stucker and Devon Thomas Treadwell, and John Eastman of Edge Advertising and Eastman Design presented their branding tips and insights on June 2, 2011, as a part of the School of Technology and Design's new lecture series: File>New. During this unique design and branding presentation, the guest speakers dove into the underpinnings of brands and strategic naming.

Branding Tips from the Design Event

Stucker, Treadwell, and Eastman spent about an hour sharing their branding knowledge with the 100+ member audience who attended both in person and virtually through video streaming service, Justin.TV. After the presentations, School of Technology and Design instructor John Mindiola III moderated questions from the audience.

Key branding tips from the speakers:

  • In order to be effective, brands must gain our attention. To gain our attention, brands require novelty and relevance
  • Brands must also be memorable to be succesful. We remember things based on connections, emotions and meaning
  • A good brand name takes into account the brand's promise to its customers and its main differentiators from its competitors
  • Many brand names fail because those that do the naming don't consider the implications of a bad name. Which name worked better in this case: gravitationally totally collapsed object or black hole?
  • There are branding challenges with both internal brands (the human resources department, for example) and with external brands (example, an entire company)
  • Personal branding is the next big thing in branding

Overall, the Brooklyn Park design event was a huge success. Rasmussen College would like to thank our speakers and audience for attending the branding tips lecture, the first in many design events to come. The next File>New event is coming up later this summer at the Brooklyn Park campus. Be sure to follow Rasmussen College on Facebook and Twitter to receive the latest details when they become available.

The video, presentation, and transcript are available below at your convenience. 

Branding Tips Video Presentation

Branding Tips Presentation Slides on


John Mindiola III: Well, everyone, thank you for joining us tonight. My name is John Mindiola III. I'm on the Multimedia faculty in the School of Tech and Design at Rasmussen College. I know some of you all in here already know that. Online viewers, hello. Thank you for attending online. We are very excited tonight to kick off a brand new design lecture series featuring three great individuals in the industry. They are John Stucker and Devon Thomas Treadwell from Pollywog Incorporated, downtown, and John Eastman, Creative Director for Edge Advertising.

We're very excited, especially for everyone online. We're broadcasting this via Obviously you know that. We'll be tweeting during the event. You can use the hashtag #RasDesign. Also, if you don't want to tweet, you can use the chat on to sign in and create a free account. If you're in the room here, just write your questions down on the little note cards provided, and at the end we'll get to those questions. Another way, if you're online, just email, or connect to us on Facebook at the extremely long URL, /RasmussenTechDesign.

I'll introduce John and Devon real quickly, and I'm going to read this so I don't screw up. Again, they're the founding principals at Pollywog, a full service naming and branding agency. Under their unique patent pending methodology, every step of the brand creation process has evolved resulting in brands with maximum power. This new way of creating brands eliminates guesswork and provides brands with everything they need to start strong. We're very pleased and honored to have them here tonight. Let's give them a warm welcome.

John Stucker: All right. Thank you everybody, and thank you, John, for that beautiful introduction and thanks so much for inviting us here tonight. Thanks to all you guys for coming out and for everybody who's following us online. We are going to be talking about brand names. The title of this presentation is "Fail: Why Most Brand Names Suck and How Yours Can Be Great."

Again, I'm John Stucker, and this is Devon Thomas Treadwell. We are the principals of Pollywog. We're Pollywog because we work with brands in their formative stages. We do naming and brand creation, everything from brand strategy through visual brand identity, design, and brand launch. A core part of our business is naming, so that's what we're going to be talking about with you here today.

So first of all, we want to look at how names can make a difference. Can anybody tell me what this is called?

Audience Member: Black hole.

John Stucker: Okay. I did not hear. Can we move that up a little bit so we get the bottom of the projector on the screen? Thanks. It's just cutting off on the bottom. Okay.

The name I was looking for was gravitationally totally collapsed object. This is a phenomenon in space that was discovered in 1917, and when it was discovered, the scientists who found out about it gave it this catchy moniker, and nobody outside of the astrophysics community really cared very much. It wasn't until 1967 when another physicist started calling them black holes that anybody really paid much attention outside the scientific community. But once this name was used, it all of a sudden became very interesting to everyone, so much so that it created stories, even full length movies. There actually was a Disney movie called "The Black Hole".

Really, this illustrates the power of a name. Gravitationally totally collapsed object is an incredibly boring name. It's very descriptive, but as far as catching attention, it's terrible, and that's why nobody really paid much attention to it. But black hole is much simpler. It's something that we can understand. It engages us on an emotional level. So that's why it draws us in. So, a good name can really make the difference in getting lay people interested in scientific phenomena. It can also make the difference in business. Strong brand names make more money.

One example is the company Logitech. You guys are probably familiar with the computer peripheral manufacturer. They had a scanner that they created in the year 2000, which they imaginatively titled Scanner2000, and the sales were tepid. They decided to just rename it ScanMan. They just changed the name on the packaging, and without any addition advertising or marketing efforts, sales doubled in 18 months. So they created a name that was more human, that connected with people better, and it had a significant effect.

Goldzilla is a brand that we created as a pro bono project, working with a nonprofit group called "Rescue a Golden of Minnesota." What they do is they rescue golden retrievers and find homes for them. They had an annual picnic that they had just titled the RAGOM Picnic that had been going on for a few years, and really the only people who knew about it were people within the organization. But still, it was a fundraising event for them.

They really wanted to make more off of this, and they wanted to draw in more of the public, draw in all golden retriever owners and enthusiasts. So we worked with them and developed this new brand, Goldzilla. The reason for that is because it is the largest golden retriever event in the Upper Midwest, and we believe the nation. The effect that it had for them was that they tripled their fundraising from this event just from implementing this brand.

So we know that names that are strong can have an effect, whether it's in making science more accessible, making more money, whether it's for a for-profit business or a non- profit organization. But why is that? To find the answers to why some names work better and some names really work poorly, we look to the brain science that's been done with how we absorb names and brands. Devon's going to take us through that.

Devon Treadwell: John, I hate to interrupt, but we have some builds coming up, and we're not going to see the builds unless we're in presentation view. So I think we're okay with not cutting off the bottom on the rest of these slides. Sorry about the interruption there.

There's a lot about how the brain works that we don't understand, but because of all this research that's been done in the last 10, 20, 30 years, there's a lot that we do know for sure. With replicated peer reviewed studies, we have some sound science that says this is a fact about how the brain works. One of the things we do know for sure about the brain is that we don't pay attention to boring things, and you as students probably know this better than anybody. So what do we pay attention to? Novelty, stimuli that are unusual, unpredictable, or distinctive, that's what gets our attention.

These essential truths about how the brain works can be applied to branding, and I'm going to explain to you as we go along how we do that. So the lesson that branders can learn from this is different is good. Familiar is risky. If you're familiar, you risk being ignored. An example of this, think back to the '80s if you were alive at the time. Apple Computer came on the scene, and they said we're going to have the world's first personal computer. They came into a competitive situation where the other companies that sold computers were very technical sounding, very scientific, impersonal, clinical sounding. They said, "Our computer is for people. It's for use in the home." They chose a brand name that was very distinctive for the time, Apple, and it got a lot of attention.

What else do we pay attention to? Relevance. We are more interested in things that we find important to us. So for branders, what does that mean? Know who you're talking to and know what they want. Here's a great example of knowing who you're talking to and knowing what they want. When game consoles were first developed, they were really about the single gamer playing by themselves. Through their research, Nintendo realized that what families want is the ability to play together. So they developed the console that was technologically capable of doing that, to have two, three, four players playing at once, and they gave it the name Wii. This resonated very quickly with the market, and Nintendo captured a huge share of the market because of this need out there and the fact that it was very relevant to families who wanted to play together.

What do we remember? Remember that brand effectiveness is about impact and memorability. You need to have impact, you need to stand out, but you also need to be remembered. So what do we remember? We remember connections. Memory is enhanced by creating associations between ideas. Let me give you an example of that in just a minute. But for branders, for more memorability, what you want is to create a name that evokes an idea outside of the obvious functionality of what you're selling.

For example, Bumblebee is a personal assistant business that we branded for an entrepreneur who came to us originally with the name The PA4U. She knew that was a weak name, and when you look at it, there's not a lot of connections you get from it. It almost looks like a random selection of letters. It's clear what she was going, but it had no other connections. So we created the brand Bumblebee for her, and right away you think of this little bee flitting from flower to flower. You think of high industry. You think of busy as a bee. Lots of little connections that you can make around that brand, and that helps it be more memorable.

What else do we remember? Emotions. The brain remembers emotional components and experience more than any other aspect. Emotion causes the brain to release dopamine, and that actually helps you encode a memory. That's why when there's a really powerfully emotional event, like 9/11, the death of a family member, you remember where you were. That's because of literally the chemical reactions in the brain. Now we can't probably hope to have a brand as powerful as 9/11, but we can try to leverage this learning by creating brand names that have emotion in them.

For example, these two jobs databases. I can remember when I first heard of Monster. I was standing in a hallway at an agency I was working at, and someone said, "Have you checked Monster?" We were all trying to get out. CareerBuilder, I cannot say the same thing. Monster stirs emotions. It's big, it's scary, it's powerful, it's negative, and yet, what they were going for with the brand is exactly that power. We have the power. We have a huge database. CareerBuilder, very straightforward, very descriptive, evokes practically no emotion at all.

Finally, what do we remember? Meaning. The more meaning something has, the more memorable it becomes. What we can learn from this as branders is that names rich with multiple allusions offer more opportunities to find personal connections and meaning. An example of this, these two SUVs - Cayenne versus Touareg. Cayenne is made by Porsche. When I hear that word, I think of spicy, fun, hot. I might even think of eating peppers in Mexico. When you have multiple allusions in a name, you enable your listener to go to all those places, and that helps it to be more memorable. Touareg, does anybody know what a Touareg is?

Audience Member: An SUV.

Devon Treadwell: Yeah. It's actually something else. Do you know where the word came from?

Audience Member: No.

Devon Treadwell: No? Okay. It's actually the name of a nomadic tribe in Africa, and now you know. But without that understanding of what the word means, there's no meaning to you, and so that name is easily forgotten. There are a lot of ways that branders are creating names without meaning. The foreign word that not enough people know is one way. Legerity is an English word, but not enough people know what that means, so that's easily forgettable. Amgen is what we call a train wreck, where you take a syllable from one word, a syllable from another, and you smash them together. Cision is what we call a Latinette [SP]. It's a Greek or a Latin root, but without the full word it doesn't have enough meaning. I don't know whether they're going for incision or decision or precision.

Audience Member: Indecision.

Devon Treadwell: Indecision. Good one. Then there's a whole category of nonsense names that sprang up. We call them Web 2.0 names. Doostang is a good example of that. Does anybody know what Doostang is? You would never guess. It is actually a professional networking site that's a competitor to LinkedIn.

So, obviously, we don't want to create names that don't have meaning. How do we ensure that the names that we do create, the brands that we do create are meaningful? For that, we have to go through a process. Before we actually start coming up with names, we need to lay a foundation to make sure we know directionally where we were going, and that's what we call positioning. John's going to explain what that is.

John Stucker: All right. So the importance of positioning is really twofold. What we need to do is make sure that we are creating a brand that is relevant to the audience, as Devon already mentioned. The other aspect of it is making sure that we're creating names for that brand that really connect with what the brand is about.

So, to illustrate that, we're going to use a case study example. We did a project for the Animal Humane Society, and they were creating a spay and neuter veterinary service for low-income pet owners. We look at a number of questions when we're developing a positioning, but two of the most important are: What's your promise? In other words, what is it that you're offering to your audience? Secondly, what makes it different from your competitors? What is that key difference?

So those answers for this particular project were, what's your promise? Now you can afford the high quality spay and neuter services for your pet that will save pet lives by preventing unwanted litters. This was something that they knew from research was very important to people who couldn't afford veterinary services. They were very troubled by their animals having pets that had to be put to sleep. Then, what makes you different from your competitors? Because the service is subsidized by donations, which allows it to have lower cost and therefore be more accessible.

So the name that we finally came to through a lot of exploration and presenting a number of options to the client, and finally deciding that this was the best name option to connect with all of this - This Kind of Cut. The cut obviously getting to the actual surgery and providing some trigger, some emotion. We feel a little twinge when we hear that, and we know it's associated with spay and neuter services. But kindest, associating with the donations and also the fact that it is low cost and also that it allows us to save pet lives by not having unwanted litters. Then we've got a literary connection, for those of you who have studied Shakespeare, actually coming from a turn on the unkindest cut of all.

So when we are generating names, we come up with a lot of ideas. Usually, we're looking at hundreds to thousands of names to get to a single brand name on a project. Over the course of this, we often come up with a lot of names that have power that fulfill a lot of those rules in brain science for being able to get attention and be memorable, but if they don't fit the positioning, they're not something that we can use. So some of the ones that we came up with on this project were fun but had problems.

So, Budget Cut. Obviously, it has connections. It's a low cost service, but it doesn't communicate that this is a high quality veterinary service. There's nothing low budget about the quality of this service. It's just that it's subsidized that makes it less expensive. Queen of Spayeds. Again, connections to things beyond what this is about. Things that make it interesting, but we're doing neutering as well as spaying, so it didn't really provide that umbrella. Queen sort of elevated it to something that doesn't sound like it's low cost.

Alter Boys. Obviously, this one is a lot of fun, but it has a connection. It's always great to have connections outside of what the brand is really about, but this one connecting to religious ideas really didn't have anything connected to what the brand was about.

One of our favorites was Womb Raider. Obviously, very powerful, really too powerful for this. It sounds too violent, and again it's specific to females, so it has a couple of strikes against it. F-Stop. We're really talking about the net effect of this service, but obviously referencing profanity, not really in keeping with Animal Humane Society's brand image. They were just getting this now on the other side of the room here. Finally Neutorious. Again, a lot of fun, memorable, but it is only connecting with neutering and not spaying.

So really, these are names that our clients never even saw, because we had to reject them for not fitting the positioning. We did present the clients with a number of names, but you guys actually are the first people to see these other than Pollywog. So they can be a lot of fun and they can have a lot of things going for them in terms of brain science and being attention getting and memorable, but if they don't have that connection to the positioning, they can't be successful.

So just to recap what we've talked about. The brain pays attention to novelty and relevance. The brain remembers connections, emotions, and meaning. To be effective, names need to fit a solid brand positioning.

So, why do so many brand names suck? We often ask ourselves this, and it really comes from a lot of factors. One is that a lot of people who are doing naming don't know about the brain science that's been done and how naming can use those factors that have been established, and we can develop names that actually connect with what we're looking for. Another aspect of it is that, a lot of times, people don't think that naming should be difficult, and a lot of times naming isn't difficult.

How many people in this room have named a pet? Can I see a show of hands? Okay. It's got to be pretty much everybody, right? We name stuff all the time. We give our friends nicknames. We name our pets. We name our kids. So it's something that we feel like we should be able to do, and at a lot of times it doesn't matter whether a name has power or not. Really the only criteria is whether we like the name or not.

That's fine unless you're naming a business. When that comes into play, then there is another level of criteria that really needs to be looked at. Some of the outcomes of not paying attention to things like the brain science aspects lead to names that suck, and sometimes they suck because they're boring. This is a lot of the cases. Gravitationally totally collapsed object is a great example of that. But the more fun ones are the ones that have unintended meanings that really supersede what the namers were going for. So we're going to leave you with us some epic naming fails here that we think are hilarious.

So we're guessing this was the founder's name, but it took on a little bit different meaning. The Kum & Go. This is actually a really successful gas station chain. What's that?

Audience Member: You don't forget it.

John Stucker: Exactly. You don't forget it. It's memorable, but it's for all the wrong reasons. It actually has worked on a business level for these guys. But we wonder about how many people want to say, "Yeah, I work at the Kum & Go." Going there is funny. That's where I'd get my gas. This just seems like a terrible idea.

So again, we're guessing this was probably the initials of the founder. Yeah, to get all the way to putting that on a sign and not realize that that's really wrong, I don't get it.

Finally, one of our favorites. Yes. Analtech is a real company, and yes they are serious, and no it doesn't have anything to do with what you're thinking about. Actually, it's a business that even reading their website I couldn't understand. They create some kind of film product, and they have a reason for their name. I believe it has to do with breaking up those first syllables, the "An" and the "al" and putting it together with tech. I believe it is a train wreck name, but we think that any name that starts with anal is probably not a great idea.

So, thank you very much for your time today. It's been great talking with you. I think we're taking questions after. John? Okay, great. Thanks everybody.

John Mindiola III: Thank you, John and Devon. I didn't expect it to be so humorous, but I'm glad that it was. There is a lot of that I'll never forget. I used to live in Iowa, and Kum & Go's are as prevalent as BP's are here. It just speaks a lot about Iowa unfortunately.

All right. Our next speaker is John Eastman, as you can see in the slide here. Let's see how deep I am. Okay. He's a Creative Director of Edge Advertising in Plymouth, Minnesota. Again, I'm going to read so I don't screw this up. I want to give him all the credit he deserves. Award winning graphic designer, art director, 20 years of industry experience. In 2010, he joined the team at Edge Advertising as a Creative Director. Edge is a support agency for manufacturers and distributors of aftermarket motorsport parts. John is responsible for the conception and development of print and electronic marketing collateral with an emphasis on the Harley Davidson/V-Twin aftermarket. So let's give a warm welcome for John Eastman.

John Eastman: Hi everybody. First of all, I'd like to thank John for inviting me, and I want to get an idea of who I'm talking to. Who's students? And faculty? A couple faculty. Are we designers, tech people, what do we kind of have going here? Everybody. The whole world. Okay. So, what I'm going to do is just give you my point of view on this whole branding thing. When John came to me and talked to me about this, I was like, okay. Let me try and figure out what you want me to say, because it puts a lot of elephants in the room in my perspective.

To me, as a visual communicator and a creative director . . . first of all, let me just back up a minute and say that I've been doing this for 20 years and I've been doing it in a lot of different industries. Where I'm at now at Edge, I started in November of last year. So I've only been doing this particular job for a short time. I was at a company called VI for 11 years, and VI deals with a lot of internal communications and a lot of incentive programs. So I did a lot of working with internal communications and internal branding. Then I worked freelance for a while, and I'm going to show you examples of that as well.

So branding in my perspective is one of those words and one of those ideas that I think has become almost like Kleenex in our industry in a lot of ways. People don't really know exactly what it is. When you say branding someone, they think of naming, they think of logos, and they think of visual treatment. To me, branding is much bigger than that. Branding is an overall essence of image. What does your brand say about you? It goes way beyond anything visual or even naming. However, starting with a great name, we don't want to butcher that as graphic designers, and that's kind of where my challenge is. Looking at that Analtech image was funny, because if you looked at the image beyond just the name, the graphic itself, I don't want to go into detail, but think back and look at that and let your mind wander, because it was even more funny.

So anyway, every piece that you work on is a branding opportunity, and that's something I take a look at when I work on something. But right now, I think we face new challenges as communicators in the sense that we're dealing with a bigger world beyond just what we're putting out there. You're dealing with a post-modern generation who is Facebook, Twitter, online. So everything is constantly changing and evolving, and if you put something out there that's not true to your brand, people are going to hear about it right away, and they're going to start bashing you or bashing your brand, and the brand is going to fail. Even if it could be the most awesome name, the most awesome treatment, if you're not backing it up with the image, it's just not going to work.

Okay. So, one of the challenges that I've dealt with is internal versus external. When you're working with a corporation, a lot of the times you'll deal with clients that are, for example, HR. The examples I'm going to show you are HR, Human Resources examples. What they'll do is they'll come to you and they'll say, "Hey, I want to do this communications campaign to my internal people." They may or may not want to follow the internal brand or the brand that is for the corporation. If they do, it's making them stay with that brand and not butchering it. If they don't, it's taking them away from the brand and making sure that they're cohesive with some kind of messaging that's around the audience.

So the first example I have here is something I worked on just last year for Rosemont Incorporated. Rosemont Incorporated is a technology company, and they came to my client. I was freelancing at the time. They asked us to develop a brand for their HR department. They wanted to get across several different messages.

What they had done is they had merged the department from two or three different departments into one, and they had all these different messages across the board that really weren't cohesive. They had an idea of where they wanted to go, but they had this PowerPoint. They had this pillar system that looked like a Greek column, and it was just this real mess of triangles. Everything was all over the place visually. You had no idea what you were talking about or seeing when you're looking at it. So, what we wanted to do was take a step back and say, first of all, how close do you want to be to the Rosemont brand? The Rosemont brand is v

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