Creating a brand is like having a child; a flash of passion followed by months of discomfort, culminating in the birth of something you hope will one day grow up to support you. Or at least not spend you dry and dent your car.
Naming companies, programs or products can be one of marketing’s most creative and rewarding opportunities. Or it can be a bottomless time-vacuum.
To avoid the latter, here are three questions that may help get your bed-wetting bundle of business love off to a well-named start.
What’s your story?
The best names often encourage the reader to ask ‘why?’ This is a much stronger question than ‘what do you do?’ The chance to engage a prospect with your brand story is one of the most powerful opportunities in marketing.
In the case of ‘Sole’, a boutique coffee produced on a single farm in Costa Rica, the name means the same thing in English and Spanish – the ‘sole’ or only producer. Sole also happens to be the name of the Mamacita of the farm itself. This name led us to use photos of the actual farmers on the packaging, offering a sense of local pride that stretched all the way to the shelf.
How different is good?
Being another Robert, Jane or Jack comes with its comforts. A strong, stable, familiar name puts you in good company and is not likely to encourage taunts around the playground. But in the corporate world, the familiar may not stand out on a resume or in a busy market scape, either. Businesses also face the complex challenge of trademark. Get too close to a competitor’s registered name with your corporate baby and you could be quick pen pals with their law firm.
Online marketing is another reason to look at staking out new naming turf. Securing a strong series of web domains is tougher and tougher these days, and in a crowded market space your SEO could be confounded. I often recommend considering names that have a lateral connection to the category; that at first glance seem unusual, but upon further reflection, make a lot of sense. Fresh Canvas Spa is a good example of this. To begin with, the spa started up in a building that for decades was home to a local art gallery. We made the new instantly familiar while opening up a whole range of possibilities in the customers‘ imagination.
Will it grow on you?
Many of the most successful names I have worked on have not been big client favorites right out of the gate. I like to compare this to the ‘B-Side’ album effect (for those retro enough to get the metaphor) The pop song you heard and instantly liked often wears quickly. It’s the quirky track further back in the album that gets its hooks into you, speaking to your life stages even more meaningfully as years progress. OCION was one such name. As the identity for a water clean-tech company, it evokes a global image of vast horizons of pure H20, while incorporating the ions that are at the heart of the technology. When first presented, some thought it too unusual, and difficult to pronounce. But it has gradually won over its detractors, and is now leading the re-branded company into a larger market future. (You can find out more about the process here)
That’s what I always try to coax out of a brand identity – a focus not on who a company is, but who it wants to be. Your name should have layers of meaning that can unfold as the company or product matures. It should grow to surprise and delight you, taking on a life of its own that will make you proud to say you brought it into the world.
We have all seen painful tightly-scripted talking head videos, detailing how the company is responding proactively and looking towards the future, blah-de blah-de blah… A more effective approach can be to simply have a conversation, and capture key moments that really tell the tale. This takes dedication to the art of interviewing, and a lot of time in editing, but it’s well worth it for more authentic, relaxed results. If you want to create an unscripted video story of your own, here are 3 steps to get you started.
Step 1: Prepare for the Interview. Draft talking notes around issues you want to cover and get them approved. I often put these in the form of a script ‘outline’, being sure to mark it ‘OUTLINE ONLY – ACTUAL DIALOGUE TO BE TAKEN FROM INTERVIEWS’ Create a logical flow, but prepare everyone to be flexible.
Step 2: Interview with dedicated curiosity. Ask questions that lead your subject to tell the story in their own words. Then ask again in a different way. Look for topics that bring out passion and watch for lines or phrases that resonate. It’s OK to ask them to repeat something they said in a slightly different way. Take as much time as you can, and cover things more than you think you need to.
Step 3: Look for the Gold. This can be the toughest part – identifying the best bits from hours of footage and stringing them together to form a narrative. I like to look for the most passionate ‘openers’ and ‘closers’ and build around that. Be prepared to re-arrange the whole thing to a different format than your outline if that’s where the material leads. Don’t worry about having too many cuts in the interview – that’s where the rest of the beautiful footage goes!
In the examples posted here, a series of videos Unicycle Creative recently directed for the London Drugs What’s the Green Deal? program, we put COO Clint Mahlman in the unscripted interview chair. Clint is one of that rare species of executive who is both committed to a more sustainable path, and plugged in to the real-world issues that can make it happen.
Working with the London Drugs Media Services team, we talked with Clint for several hours on a sunny day in a green ravine. We also did unscripted interviews with two key buyers around their upstream procurement practices. We shot footage in-store with real-people models and employees and created simple on-screen graphics to show off the stats.
In the post-broadcast world, people are looking for authenticity and transparency. If you want to put the personality of your company out there for all to see, throw away the script, buy a few more memory cards and get the organic coffee brewing for those long days in editing.
As the voting for the Prior Ski Topsheet Art Contest winds down in Whistler, I humbly present my entry in its entirety. In pen, ink and pixels, my journey from Vancouver to my art studio at Lillooet Lake and beyond – a trip I have been making for over 15 years. Here’s a little list of things to look for: A speed trap; a grow op; a garbage bear; The Hairfarmers; a rail disaster; a political disaster; an ATM; public urination; graduated licensing; the 20cm rule, and an oil spill.
If you’re in Whistler, stop by Millennium Place before October 25th and vote. There are a lot of amazing artworks on display, so don’t feel you have to vote for mine. And don’t forget to enjoy the drive.
The Prior Ski and Snowboard company has been making awesome skis and boards out of their Whistler factory in Function Junction for years now. (Check this 2011 Green Briefs blog article) They are also building a great tradition of using artists from the area for their ski designs, spicing it up by creating an annual contest and art event in the process.
This year I threw my artistic toque in the ring, crafting a design at my art studio at Lillooet Lake (about 45 minutes north of Whistler up highway 99) It was a definite challenge, designing to such a long thin format, knowing it has to fit skis and snowboards… I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say it’s a very local theme.
I made the cut for the show, and on Tuesday September 24th I will be hobnobbing with 19 other chosen artists, at the Cabin Fever Party. This is a co-launch with the Prior topsheet contest and the Out of Bounds – Tales from the Backcountry Photo Exhibition, all presented by Whistler Arts.
The winning Prior design will be chosen by voting, between September 24th and October 25th – no doubt the competition will be fierce! I am very honoured just to be chosen for the show, and I can’t wait to see what the other artists did with that long, tall format.
Should be a great party! Come on out! Vote early, vote often!
Left Coast Naturals is a food company built on the principles of sustainability. So how can they tell that complex story in a way that is engaging, concise and as organic as their product?
Unicycle Creative proposed an animated web video, built around a storytelling voice from the Left Coast President himself.
But to begin with, we wanted to develop a strategic platform that would be unique and targeted to the context of the Left Coast brand.
SustainaFoodAbility became the title and unifying principle of the film. Through a series of candid interviews with Ian Walker, we compiled hours of anecdotes and values. Then we prioritized and organized the Left Coast story and illustrated it with hand drawn visual cartoons by Lorne Craig.
The result is a 4-minute overview that touches on history, brand advantages and genuine sustainability going forward. Check it out on YouTube, or find out more on the Left Coast website.
As an added bonus, the illustrations were drawn on an iPad using a digital sketchbook program called Paper by Fifty-Three, then layered and animated in Photoshop, exported as image sequences and edited in Final Cut Express.
Not a single sheet of drawing paper was used, saving at least one twig.
Working with London Drugs I get to profile a lot of interesting products as one of the voices of their What’s the Green Deal? program. Recently I got to see what happens when an empty lot is turned into a rich opportunity.
Part of that assignment involved sketching some of the sights and scenes of the neighbourhood, in as genuine a way as possible.
Rediscovering the scans of these images on my hard drive, I spent an enjoyable evening playing around with photo textures and a fascinating Photoshop filter set called Machine Wash.
Gastown is now a rapidly changing area, but still retains a grittiness and authentic sense of history. Let’s hope it can retain that balance.
The 21 Doors development went on to sell readily, and offer a bridge between expensive gentrification and relatively affordable ownership.
Some people didn’t see it that way, as it was home to the Pidgin Restaurant protests that made so many headlines in the summer of 2013. But I think the future of the area lies in mixing the old and new, the richer and poorer.
When my friend and colleague Jacqueline Ottman asked me to create some brand imagery for her blog, WeHatetoWaste.com, it seemed like the perfect job for my favourite iPad drawing application.
Paper by FiftyThree, is an elegant, easy-to-use app that turns the iPad into a digital Moleskine notebook. I created a series of drawings on the iPad, emailed them to myself and combined them in Photoshop to create a crowded web banner, and some pretty darn happy call-to-action characters.
From a strategic perspective, we created the ‘We Hate Waste Parade’ banner to let waste-haters know they are not alone. By being part of the blog, they join a diverse community of like-minded folk, all finding and sharing their own innovative ways of wasting less while living life to the fullest.
I also re-purposed the artwork for a custom designed ‘People Towel’ – a small cloth hand towel, designed to promote the blog and save on disposable paper towels. (If you haven’t heard of People Towels, check them out here – it’s quite the regular thing in Japan!)